We have already compared British Airways vs. Virgin in Premium Economy. Now we review Virgin Atlantic Business Class named “Upper Class” vs. Premium Economy; the cost, the seat, the food, the check-in, and the airport lounge. Is it worth paying to upgrade your next flight from Premium Economy to Business Class?
In this review, we focus on the worst and best Premium Economy and Upper-Class seats on Virgin Atlantic. We discuss whether it’s worth upgrading from Premium Economy to Business, particularly if you are flying on an unrefurbished plane.
Wherever you choose to fly, we reveal the secret to getting the best deal at luxury hotels, once you get to your destination, so that you not only fly but also stay in style.
1. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Why Virgin?
Virgin Atlantic is a small airline with a limited number of routes but keep in mind that you can spend their air miles on different airlines if their limited and largely transatlantic route network doesn’t work for you.
I’m a big fan of Virgin Atlantic. They are a fun airline. Their management team and staff have a jolly mindset and genuinely seem to care.
Add to this. Their Premium Economy product is a lot better than the Premium Economy offered by British Airways. Virgin’s Premium Economy has so many advantages.
Virgin enables you to select your Premium Economy seat for free. A feature that British Airways reserves for its Gold and Silver tier members only.
Virgin offers a special Premium Economy check-in desk. On BA, you have to check-in with coach passengers.
Virgin offers priority boarding all over the world for Premium Economy passengers. BA only offers priority boarding out of Heathrow.
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy is supposed to be 2.5 inches wider seat than British Airways (according to published figures). However, real-life experiences suggest that the two seats feel like they are of a similar width.
Virgin Atlantic offers priority baggage handling to Premium passengers. British Airways doesn’t.
Virgin Atlantic has a dedicated cabin crew for the Premium cabin. This is not the case with British Airways.
When comparing BA Business Class vs. Virgin Business (Upper Class), British Airways has a great new Business Class while Virgin has an inconsistent Business Class across its fleet, so the winner is not so clear cut.
2. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Flying Club Miles
Flying London Heathrow LHR to New York JFK one way costs 20,000 Virgin Club miles in Economy + taxes and fees, 35,000 Virgin Club miles in Premium Economy + taxes and fees, 95,000 Virgin Club miles in Business/Upper Class + taxes and fees. This means that Premium Economy is less than half the price of flying in Business in Flying Club Miles.
It is fairly easy it is to collect Flying Club miles, even without flying Virgin Atlantic or its partners. You can shop via their shopping e-portal which will earn you miles from everyday grocery and clothing purchases etc. Flying Club is also a transfer partner of most of the major point currencies:
- UK & US American Express Membership Rewards (1:1, instant transfer)
- US Readers: Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1, instant transfer)
- US Readers: Citi ThankYou Points (1:1, instant transfer)
- Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points, less than 48 hour transfer time)
- That means that it’s easy to earn transferable points to transfer to Flying Club
Remember, if you collect flying club miles, you are not restricted to using them on the Virgin Atlantic route network only. You can book Premium Economy, Business, and First on other airlines.
For starters, ANA offers the best and most cost-effective way to fly from Europe to Asia and the Business Class deal is so good that you don’t even need to consider flying Premium Economy (you can also earn Virgin Flying Club miles when booking cash tickets on ANA):
- Economy return flight (London to Tokyo) is 65,000 Virgin miles
- Business return flight (London to Tokyo) is 95,000 Virgin miles
- First return flight (London to Tokyo) is 120,000 Virgin miles
One-way redemptions are not possible.
These are brilliant rates in Business and First when compared to British Airways Avios redemptions. This is what you pay using Avios for a BA or JAL redemption:
- Economy return flight (London to Tokyo) is 39,000 Avios off-peak or 60,000 Avios peak
- Business return flight (London to Tokyo) is 150,000 Avios off-peak or 180,000 Avios peak
- First return flight (London to Tokyo) is 204,000 Avios off-peak or 240,000 Avios peak
There are no fuel surcharges added to ANA redemptions using Virgin miles. You will only have to pay the usual Air Passenger Duty, Heathrow departure taxes, etc. If you can’t find availability on the ANA flights from London, they also fly to Tokyo from Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, Brussels, and Paris.
3. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Price
If the price is your biggest factor when making the decision on which class to fly in, you should probably choose to fly Premium Economy. After all, the entire plane will get to its destination, whichever class you are sitting in.
In terms of pricing, expect to pay in the region of £300 GBP return for the cheapest “economy light” fare on Virgin Atlantic from London to New York. Premium Economy is usually more than £800 GBP, and Upper Class, which starts at around £2,800 GBP, almost ten times the Economy Price.
If you are booked onto an unrefurbished plane, you may be extremely disappointed by both the Premium Economy and Business Class seats. The cabin can be a little worn and tatty.
The new Upper-Class product features an all-new flatbed seat measuring 6ft 10in, a sliding privacy door, and an area known as The Loft for socializing can be found on Virgin Atlantic’s new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft on the Heathrow-New York JFK route. These are the best Upper-Class seats in the fleet.
The Loft is unique and follows the trend of Emirates with their onboard bars, “As the largest social space in the airline’s fleet, it’s designed for customers to gather, chat, enjoy a drink or dine with friends,” says Virgin.
While Premium Economy does have more space and better food than the Economy as well as more and better drinks, business Class or Upper Class is better, particularly on the A350 aircraft. If your company is paying for your flights, book Premium, or Business, or First Class!
4. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Why Upgrade?
Following on from my comments about the price, you may wonder whether it’s worth upgrading from Premium Economy to Business Class at all! Well, it is. The biggest reason to upgrade from Premium Economy is to get sleep. Flat seats allow you to sleep. Sleeping upright, even reclined upright, is difficult. Or impossible.
The result of these upright seats is that you can feel pretty grotty after no sleep on a Premium Economy flight when you get to your destination. You would feel much better if you flew in Business Class. This matters if you are potentially ruining the first day of your trip because you’ve not spent the extra on upgrading your flight.
Even if the price is your biggest factor when choosing between Premium Economy and Business Class, Premium Economy can mean that you avoid wasting a day of your holiday, which may ultimately be worth more than the price difference.
5. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Check-in
There is a dedicated Virgin Atlantic Upper-Class check-in. Virgin also offers priority boarding all over the world for Premium Economy passengers, after their Upper-Class passengers have been asked to board. Virgin Atlantic also offers priority baggage handling to Premium passengers as well as Business Class passengers.
6. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Baggage
You get 2 hold suitcases when traveling in Premium Economy, which is a big bonus. But they can’t be cumbersome. Travel in Premium Economy, and you get 2 bags at 23kg each. Fly in Club Europe or Business Class, and you can take THREE bags at 32kg each. This is a major advantage of flying in Business Class and a major advantage over British Airways, who let you have only TWO 32kg bags each.
7. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Lounges
The good news is that if you fly in Upper Class, you don’t have to faff around with Priority Passes or Lounge Passes, or credit cards. You just access the lounge with your Business Class ticket. The Virgin Clubhouse lounges are super fun and also offer a larger variety of food and drinks than the Priority Pass and paid lounges, which are your only option if you are flying Premium Economy and are not a high tier member. Virgins Clubhouse lounges and great, so they offer a major advantage if you are flying in Business Class over Premium Economy. Virgin’s Clubhouse lounge is one of the best airport lounges in Gatwick.
When flying in Premium Economy, you don’t get access to any Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounges unless you are a high tier member. Other than qualifying elite status passengers, Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse access is reserved for passengers flying in the Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class or Delta One cabin with Delta Air Lines. If you want lounge access, you can buy or use a Priority Pass to access alternative lounges.
You can access Gatwick South Lounges for free with the free (in the first year) American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card, which comes with two Lounge Club passes that can be immediately used at the Priority Pass lounges to enjoy free drinks and food.
I usually book my flights for free on air miles and American Express Rewards, which convert directly to Avios (along with other airline miles). The free Amex Gold Card is an incredible deal with a huge free bonus of Membership Rewards and even more if you apply through our referral link. You also get limited free airport lounge access with this free card. You can apply for the UK & US card right here.
How To Get Unlimited Airport Lounge Access
For unlimited airport lounge access, you will need to apply for the Platinum card right here. With my referral link, you will get more Membership Rewards points.
8. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Unlimited Airport Lounge Access
For unlimited airport lounge access, whether you are flying Economy or Premium Economy, Business or First, you will need to apply for the Platinum American Express card. You then get up to 4 unlimited free airport lounge passes as you can get two people into the most Priority Pass and all Centurion airport lounges by flashing your Platinum card. If you order a supplementary card, you get entrance for four people. With my referral link, you will also get bonus points. Contact us via our Luxury Travel Concierge page to get a referral link and the extra bonus points.
If you have an Amex Platinum card, you have one less reason why flying in Business Class is significantly better than flying in Economy.
9. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Cabin
On the 747, the Premium Economy cabin is situated between Upper Class and economy and features 35 reclining seats arranged in a 2-3-2 layout. Each one is 21 inches wide and has 38 inches of pitch. In fact, the width of Virgin’s Premium Economy seats ranges from 18-21 inches. The seats themselves are lovely and make you feel like you’re in a better class than a regular old economy. You also have a touch screen High Definition TV, a USB power plug, as well as the TV remote control.
When flying in the Premium Economy seat, the wider seat with additional pitch is incredibly useful. For me, the extra elbow room in the Premium Economy seats enables me to work more comfortably on my laptop. This means that I can work, whether I am flying in Business Class or Premium Economy.
In all honesty, for a transatlantic flight flying New York to London, if I am traveling during the day, Premium Economy does the job almost as well as Business Class. The extra recline also enables me to sleep for a short period if needs be.
The major differentiator comes at night as the Premium Economy seats do not recline to a flatbed so you are unlikely to achieve any length of sleep in Premium Economy when compared to Business Class.
10. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Old Seat
There are various types of Premium Economy that you can fly on Virgin. There’s quite a difference between the Premium Economy seats across the fleet. But the difference is greater between the old and new Business Class or Upper-Class seats.
Virgin Atlantic goes with the herringbone layout for their Upper-Class cabin, where seats are angled, which feels odd, with window seats facing towards the cabin’s center. Across from the seat is the ottoman, which has a seatbelt of its own for guests.
It is worth noting that the Boeing 787 service offers one of the newer versions of the Upper-Class seat (with a curvier seat shell and a new shade of purply leather), but the Virgin seat varies across aircraft types. The newest is on their A350 and is the best. The ones on their A340 are some of the worst and look tatty.
The advantages of the Virgin layout are privacy, as you face a wall rather than another passenger. If you fly on British Airways Club World, you run the risk of being in the middle pair of seats. Every Virgin seat also has direct aisle access (unlike the old BA Business Class seats that still operate on most of its fleet), so no one is going to jump over your feet in the middle of the night.
The downside of this is that the booths are so private that you will have difficulty sharing the flight with your partner or children as you can’t see anyone else!
In conclusion, the older Business Class seats aren’t great, but they are still significantly better than Premium Economy. All of the Upper-Class seats are spacious with 20-22 inches of width. They are comfortable with acres of legroom, and most importantly, the chair converts into a fully flat bed of up to 6ft 7.5 inches.
Your personal space is significantly larger and better in Upper Class than in Premium Economy. Be it the old or the new Business Class.
11. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Food & Drink
A big bonus traveling on Virgin in Premium Economy is better food and drink. What is great beyond the wide reclining chairs with footrests is an enhanced menu offering served on china with stainless steel cutlery. The snack bar on the 787 aircraft also offers a place to walk to and collect free snacks and drinks on a help-yourself basis, which we like.
On my most recent Virgin flight from London to San Francisco, before takeoff, I was offered a glass of champagne and crisps?! The champagne was Gardet Bru Premier Cru and pleasant.
For my main meal, my table was set up with designer linen along with ‘proper’ cutlery, crockery, and glassware. There were plenty of choices, from prawns and caviar starters to chicken, beef, and salmon mains. Examples of puddings include lemon curd sponge, which was very good, and strawberry panna cotta.
To accompany your meal, there was a selection of fine wine from Berry Bros. and Rudd, one of the UK’s most respected wine merchants, or a choice of beers, spirits, etc. To finish, Virgin pushes a traditional cheese and port trolley around the cabin, which is a classy touch.
Later in the flight, you could eat a choice of sandwiches, cakes, jam, and clotted cream scones, or a burger as my flight was a day flight. Overnight flights offer breakfast at the end of the flight.
You definitely get more and a better choice of food when traveling in Upper-Class vs. Premium Economy.
12. Premium Economy vs. Business Class: Conclusion
Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy is a decent product. It’s worth paying the extra to upgrade from Economy if you can afford it. The difference in cost is significant when you upgrade from Premium Economy to Upper Class. Upper Class is significantly more expensive, and the product is but is also inconsistent across the fleet, so you may or may not get lucky with your plane type and the Upper-Class seat you experience on your flight. All that said, whichever plane you fly on for an overnight flight, Virgin’s Upper Class gives you the chance of getting some sleep.
I would not pay to upgrade from Premium Economy to Business Class on a transatlantic daytime flight, particularly on the short ones from London to New York. Still, for overnight flights, the flatbed makes all the difference.
For me, the advantages of traveling in Upper Class are:
- Access to the Virgin Atlantic airport lounges
- Exclusivity. There are fewer seats and a calmer cabin atmosphere
- Seat space and lie-flat. Upper-Class seats are bigger and you can sleep on them
- Better food and more choice of food and drink
- More luggage
- Amenity kit which includes skincare products and various travel accessories
Note: Benefits offered correct at the time of writing but may be amended at discretion of the vendor. Posts may be sponsored by the proprietor or brand being appraised. All opinions remain our own & are in no way influenced.