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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)

  • NFH says:

    Don’t forget to mention Virgin’s unusual cabin baggage size limit – 56x36x23cm. Virgin won’t even allow a Ryanair-compliant 55x40x20cm case, whereas BA will allow a full-size 55x45x25cm case like EasyJet, Iberia and Finnair. Having to buy separate cabin baggage to fly with one airline is a significant disincentive.

    • pigeon says:

      Never had it enforced in PE (until one day….)

      • NFH says:

        But I don’t want to risk it. I don’t want the stress or worry that I might have to surrender my cabin baggage. If the 35cm maximum width isn’t enforced, then they should increase the published maximum width to 40cm.

    • Richie says:

      The larger size is an IATA size.

    • Roy says:

      Also, Virgin has a very low cabin baggage *weight* limit. I remember flying many years ago with a rather clunky work laptop, and really struggling to get my cabin bag below 10kg.

      Again, maybe not typically enforced, but do you want to take the risk?

      • NFH says:

        That is also a very good point. But I’m less bothered by weight limits on cabin baggage, because it’s impossible for airline staff to visually identify an overweight bag, and therefore airlines rarely check cabin baggage weight compared to how often they check size. Also if the fare includes checked baggage, then it makes no difference to an airline whether heavy cabin baggage goes in the cabin or the hold.

  • pigeon says:

    Without at least silver status, BA’s WTP is clearly well behind Virgin’s PE. Then on BA you get long airport queues and then risk ending up in a middle seat; the usual hassles of travelling remain. Otherwise, everything is pretty much the same.

    With a silver card, the broader BA network and lounge access could swing the balance.

  • Andrew says:

    Isn’t it more that BA is the outlier nowadays?

    United – 56x35x22cm
    Delta – 56x35x23cm
    American – 56x35x23cm
    JetBlue – 56x35x23cm
    Alaskan – 56x35x23cm

    If you buy a 56x35x23cm bag, not only will you be able to carry it on a BA flight, but also a connecting American or Alaskan flight too.

    (Easyjet standard cabin bag size is now 45x36x20cm, you have to pay more to take a larger case.)

    • NFH says:

      No, you’ve quoted the size for US airlines, which nearly all have this unusual 35cm width restriction. No European airlines, except for Virgin and KLM, have this unusual restriction. Even the crappiest European budget airlines allow a minimum 40cm width.

      Budget airlines’ misleading indication of price, whereby they exclude from headline fares a surcharge to take normal cabin baggage on board (other than a small bag that fits under the seat) is another matter.

  • littlefish says:

    The BA route network (especially when combined with AA’s premium economy product) certainly is a major plus in BA’s favour … however, the various soft products on Virgin, in Premium, have been consistently and noticeably better than BA WTplus in my experience. Maybe the gap will close post-covid. We’ll see.
    The big differential which I wish these type of articles could make clearer is BA flat-out don’t do toilets for their WTplus cabin. Virgin do.
    When things move on to the Joint-Ventures level, that sort of detail becomes very helpful within comparison articles. In most of their Premium Economy cabins (not all aircraft types) AA do have a toilet; I’m not so sure about Delta. Or United or AF for that matter.

  • A says:

    In premium, it is Virgin, by a country mile.
    More than a few times irrops have led VS to move me across to BA, and I hate it. It feels just like economy with a tiny bit more room. Virgin does not.
    It isn’t even close.

  • Mike says:

    On my own money I am quite happy to pay for VS PE but I can’t bring myself to pay for BA PE as it just awful. With VS PE I feel I am getting value for money and an acceptable level of service (check in and on board). Whereas BA it is just like sit here “we have made the seat / seat space a bit bigger” – give me double / triple the econ fare !!

  • Toppcat says:

    Have to agree with the other comments here – the pros / cons list and the conclusion don’t seem to match up very well. Personal experience (not on an A350 I accept) is also in favour of Virgin. Free seat selection, dedicated check in desk and (generally) wider seat are all pretty big factors for me.

  • TimM says:

    Are Virgin’s premium toilets more luxurious than BA’s economy ones?

    • TimM says:

      We need more toilet reviews on this site.

      • CarpalTravel says:

        I am not sure I would want to hear the description or results of any tests they may decide to do.

      • Phil W says:

        I can highly recommend the public toilets in North Berwick and Dunbar as being amongst the best I’ve ever experienced in the UK when completing ad-hoc and/or unplanned ablutions of various sorts. Zero waiting time, clean cubicle with adequate space even for a rotund gentleman of 1.94M in height. The fragrance utilised was of a high quality and did a more than adequate job of pseudonymising any distinguishable odours.

        Is this type of review you are after TimM?

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