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Who has the best premium economy seat and product – Virgin Atlantic or British Airways?

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Who has the best premium economy product – Virgin Atlantic or British Airways?

Ever since EVA Air introduced it in 1991, premium economy has proved hugely successful. The CEO of Emirates has recently spoken publicly of his regret at not introducing it sooner, following the launch earlier this year.

As well as proving popular with corporate clients who want to restrict access to Business Class, it has also worked well with the leisure market. The more cynical, of course, will argue that booking Premium Economy in 2021 is simply getting you the same seat that an Economy ticket would have got you in 1980, before the days of 10-across seating.

British Airways World Traveller Plus

Virgin Atlantic has traditionally had a superior Premium Economy offering, but British Airways has been investing in the cabin in recent years. Has the gap narrowed? Let’s take a look.

Who has the best Premium Economy seat?

Let’s face it.  Premium Economy is not a half-way house between Economy and a Business Class bed.  It is simply a higher quality Economy product.

This comparison between BA and Virgin is only for guidance, especially as the exact specification will vary by aircraft type.  In general, following recent improvements by British Airways, both airlines now offer comparable premium economy products although Virgin Atlantic retains a slight edge.

Here is a comparison of some key areas.  This is primarily taken from the Premium page of the Virgin Atlantic website and the World Traveller Plus page of the British Airways website. Where cabins differ across the fleet we have tried to use the figures from the latest generation aircraft  – the A350.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy seat

Free seat selection at time of booking:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  No (for non-Silver and Gold customers)

Seat width:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  18.5 – 21 inches
  • British Airways:  18.5 inches

Seat pitch (gap between consecutive seats backs):

  • Virgin Atlantic:  38 inches
  • British Airways:  38 inches

Dedicated check-in desk:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  No

Priority boarding:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  Yes at Heathrow via the new group system, No otherwise

Lounge access:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  No
  • British Airways:  No

Priority baggage handling:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  No

TV screen size:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  13.3 inch on the A350
  • British Airways:  12 inch on the A350

Food and drink:

  • Virgin Atlantic: All meals served on china with metal cutlery, all meals upgraded vs Economy
  • British Airways:  All meals served on china with metal cutlery, all meals upgraded vs Economy

Power socket at seat and wi-fi:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes (wi-fi on most aircraft)
  • British Airways:  Yes (wi-fi on most aircraft)

Luggage allowance:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  2 x 23kg
  • British Airways:  2 x 23kg

Dedicated cabin crew:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  No

Frequent flyer miles earned on non-refundable PE ticket:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  100% of miles flown
  • British Airways:  100% of miles flown

Frequent flyer miles earned on flexible PE ticket:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  200% of miles flown
  • British Airways:  150% of miles flown

Can you upgrade your ticket to Business Class with points?

  • Virgin Atlantic: Yes, but Virgin also allows Economy tickets to be upgraded to Business Class (requires a reward seat to be available in Upper Class)
  • British Airways: Yes – World Traveller Plus tickets can be upgraded to Business Class, but standard Economy / World Traveller tickets cannot (requires a reward seat to be available in Club World / Club Suite)

Whilst it used to be true that Virgin Atlantic Premium used to be significantly better than World Traveller Plus, in recent years British Airways has been closing the gap. In early 2019 it revealed a new, dedicated meal offering for premium economy served on china, and has also introduced new amenity kits, blankets and pillows which are genuinely good.

Virgin Atlantic has also rolled out new amenity kits in the form of its sustainable ‘Goody Bags’ although the design of these is, frankly, a little plain. Premium on Virgin Atlantic still benefits from priority check-in which British Airways does not offer.

For a closer look, Rhys reviewed British Airways premium economy (World Traveller Plus) on an A380 in late 2019. We hope to run a similar review with Virgin Atlantic in the future.

You can learn more about Premium on Virgin Atlantic here and World Traveller Plus on the British Airways website here.


How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (November 2021)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.

You can choose from two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (apply here, one has a bonus of 15,000 points):

Virgin Rewards credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard

The UK’s most generous free Visa or Mastercard at 0.75 points / £1 Read our full review

Virgin Rewards Plus credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

15,000 points bonus and the most generous non-Amex for day to day spending Read our full review

You can also earn Virgin Points from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for a year and comes with 20,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 20,000 Virgin Points:

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 30,000 Virgin Points:

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Points

(Want to earn more Virgin Points?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

Comments (97)

  • ChrisW says:

    So… what’s the answer to the headline??

    I’ve flown both (not on A350), neither are amazing. Virgin slightly better.

    Both are definitely a slightly better economy product, not even close to a poor business class product.

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      …just as they should be for a product named “premium economy” not “budget business”. 😉

  • David S says:

    As well as the hard product you also feel like you are being treated as a Customer by Virgin

    • CarpalTravel says:

      This. ^^^

      With Virgin not only do I get the feeling the crew are happy to be there, I also feel that they are happy I am there with them too. Subjective? Yes of course, entirely, but true nonetheless.

      Excluding the draw scores, I count the above as a 6-0 victory to Virgin. Based on that, I am not sure it can be judged that the gap has been closed by all that much, even if before it might have been a 10-0 victory.

  • Nick says:

    Great idea for an article, but the execution isn’t the best. An independent and thorough look at the different permutations would be more useful.

    Imaging buying a Traveller Plus ticket on BA based on this article, and finding out on board that the onboard power socket needs you to purchase an EmPower adapter before your trip to make it work!

    • Alex says:

      Interested in the comment about purchasing an EmPower adapter for BA. I’ve flown premium economy a fair few times and never needed one…what have I missed?

      • Nick says:

        British Airways’ unrefurbished 777s, lucky you.

        Obviously it doesn’t fit in with the always positive house style of this blog, but – frankly and to be honest, in a world of frequent equipment changes that leave you stuck on the aircraft of the airline’s choice (with no recourse to a refund or change in booking) let’s face it that the article of more relevance would be which airline has the _worst_ premium economy, not the _best_

        • Richie says:

          The sooner BA changes the unrefurbished B772 situation the better. Retire is my hope.

          • Lady London says:

            Did 9 hours on too many of those when SQ rsn them from SIN to AKL. Never have I been so glad when an airline finally retired an aircraft.

    • Journeying John says:

      Or that the screen / seat doesn’t work, the WiFi is amongst the most expensive globally and that’s after the BA premium charges for seat choice.

      • Rob says:

        BA wi-fi is cheap compared to the other carriers I’ve used recently – typing this on it @ £12 for 4 hours. It also works.

        • Journeying John says:

          They’ve seriously dropped their prices and charging structure then. Last time I used it (LHR>MAD) payment was by data volumes not time.

  • Jk says:

    I’ve flown both on the A350 just prior to Covid and Virgin was miles ahead. The service and seat is very good. Wish the article had mentioned what food service is like right now, we all know it’s pretty grim on BA while Virgin went back to “normal” a lot earlier than BA has. Pre Covid BA WT+ was just a main meal from business wasn’t it, rest was standard economy?

  • Doug M says:

    Virgin’s PR people hit the comments hard today.
    Can someone explain to me how in the same width fuselage with the same number of seats across the VS one is 2.5” wider? Maybe they have a comedy tape measure.
    I’ve flown PE on both, the VS service was better, but the seats are nothing great on either.

    • Richie says:

      How close is the seat arm to the window?
      How wide is the aisle?

      • Doug M says:

        None of which changes your actual perceived space. How wide is the seat at the shoulders? Anyone that really considers this knows the idea of a meaningfully wider seat in the same configuration on the same plane is a nonsense.

  • Alex says:

    This article was always going to rile up the Virgin fanboys. The conclusion of the article is on the fence and I agree: there really isn’t that much between them. In my experience, and I am an outlier in this comments section, I prefer BA’s Premium
    Economy….!

  • Rivo says:

    I am not sure how anyone would consider PE to be Business “Lite”. It’s pretty obvious from the branding that you are getting a step up from Economy. Having flown to JNB with Virgin and BA and in both economy and PE, I know that I would poke myself in the eye with a fork than fly economy. PE is a world apart.

    Out of the 2, Virgin provides the better product, however, the reality is Virgin only fly to a handful of destination in comparison with BA and on the whole BA tend to be more cost-effective.

    • Shaw West says:

      Finnair is doing business lite . LHR-BKK for ~£1000. No baggage, lounge, priority. Just the seat

  • Andrew says:

    Were the results ever published on that market research/competition for 2x premium economy tickets to JFK that HFP did years ago?

    • Rob says:

      Virgin won. Virgin always wins these polls when you strip out miles etc from the equation.

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