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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)

  • mutley says:

    Its still Virgin by a margin, factor in the friendlier cabin crew and it was a no brainer for me. Flying PE on Virgin to JFK on the 8th November!

    • CarpalTravel says:

      Enjoy!! I’ve a fair while to wait but look forward to being out there once again. 👍

  • Kevin D says:

    Coming back from Mexico I upgraded to World Traveller Plus on a 787. Was nice to have a little more space. My friend, who didn’t upgrade was then left with 4 seats to himself at the very back row – so a lie flat bed for nothing! Grrr

    • John says:

      That’s why I feel PE is a waste of money 90% of the time. Either just pay for J or be uncomfortable for a short while and save some money

      • Qrfan says:

        Is every mid range product lost on you then? Is anyone not driving a budget hatchback or a six figure supercar wasting their money on the middle ground? Staggering approach to spending money. I have no idea why anyone would wish to start and end their holiday with discomfort, as you suggest, if they can afford not to. If PE is the best you can afford then of course it’s not a waste.

      • Sam says:

        The argument is that you won’t always get a free row to yourself – also the mini cabin in most Premium Economy classes has a bit of tranquility and peacefulness that a busy EY cabin can’t give, so each to their own.

    • Richie says:

      787 is 3-3-3 in economy.

  • Jon Redding says:

    Hello. Use Clib Europe on BA regularly and a few corrections to your article. Lounge access is included as is dedicated check in desk as is priority baggage and boarding as is dedicated cabin crew. Of the many flights I have had with BA and Virgin the experience is edged by Virgin and that is down to cabin staff attention being consistently slightly more engaging.

    • Alex Sm says:

      Club Europe is business, not premium economy

    • WearyTraveller says:

      Premium economy is not available on European flights with some occasional exceptions when they fly a bigger plane, e.g. on routes to Turkey. Club Europe as Alex said is business class. People wouldn’t make this mistake if BA used normal naming conventions like most airlines do.

  • Sam G says:

    I haven’t flown VS Prem Econ for quite a long time now but I’ve flown both more times than I care to remember over the years over the Atlantic. As @Rob & @Rhys say the gap has narrowed – BAs new seat is very good and the soft product is greatly improved from the days of it being economy food.

    For me it made sense to switch to BA because I could easily get a Silver card & then have the lounge on my Euro hops for work & city breaks. The other big difference at the time was no upgrades on K class tickets vs their T class equiv though that is fixed now. BA generally has better availability though in my experience. Virgin could/would sometimes do a space available miles upgrade at check in (at Newark at least) – not sure if that is still a thing

    For a couple splashing out on a treat on a long haul I’d say Virgin still has the edge – it just feels a bit more like something special than BA WT+ does with priority boarding etc + free seat selection usually makes it cheaper overall (as for a couple you’d absolutely want a window pair!)

  • David says:

    It’s “better”, not “best”. Only two being compared…..,,,,

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