An industry disrupter since its founding in 1984, Richard Branson’s flagship Virgin Atlantic has a definite “I’m not a regular airline, I’m a cool airline” vibe. The London-based company has always marketed itself as the cheeky alternative to staid British Airways, with flight attendants in striking red, Vivienne Westwood-designed uniforms, purple on board “mood” lighting, and sassy aircraft names like Miss Moneypenny and Lucy in the Sky. Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class is known not only for their in-seat personal spaces, but also social spaces, with exclusive onboard bars and airport lounges. So how does their mid-priced premium economy—now called just Premium—compare?
For Virgin Atlantic, introducing one of the first international premium economy classes in the early nineties was mostly notable for giving passengers a snazzy amenity kit and a pre-takeoff glass of bubbly. Premium cabins have had some “hard” upgrades since then with some of the widest seats available outside of most airlines’ business class, but it’s the brand’s irreverent attitude and high marks for service that have made it a Skytrax winner for Premium class.
What to know about Virgin Atlantic premium economy
After retiring the last of their 747s in 2020, Virgin Atlantic has a mix of 787 Dreamliners, A330s, and A350s on their all long-haul routes. Each plane offers a mix of Economy (Light, Classic, and Delight), Premium, and Upper Class. The older 787s and A330s have some of the widest Premium seats available at 21” (nearly comparable to first or business class on many airlines) of space, and all reclining seats have a 38” pitch, giving a lot more legroom than Economy.
With a hub at London Heathrow Airport, Virgin Atlantic connects passengers from 10 different US cities, including Boston, New York, Orlando, and Los Angeles, with the UK cities London, Glasgow, and Manchester (and more seasonally). Additional routes through London fly direct to Africa (Johannesburg and Lagos), Asia (Delhi, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Shanghai), the Caribbean (including Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia), and Israel (Tel Aviv). While the price of Premium vs Economy fares may be greater depending on the route length, passengers on Virgin Atlantic can count on a true premium product on every flight.
How Virgin Atlantic premium economy compares to regular economy
Virgin Atlantic’s leather Premium seats are quite a bit roomier than most of their Economy seats, with an extra inch or more in width, 2-3” in recline, and up to 7” in pitch/legroom than standard economy. It’s not quite the same as the lie-flat seat, but those extra inches count on a long-haul flight.
Slightly less expensive than Premium but more than Economy Classic, Virgin Atlantic Economy Delight rows have a few more inches of legroom, and also include priority check-in and boarding, though meals and seats (other than legroom) are otherwise standard and fabric. All seats have an adjustable headrest, but Premium seats also have a pull-out footrest.
While all Virgin Atlantic seats come with touch-screen, in-seat entertainment, headphones, a pillow and blanket, and USB power port, Premium seats also have an AC port (110V for US or UK plugs) and “premium” headphones (though hardly a step up from economy and probably not as good as what you may have brought from home). Screens are also wider (13” vs 11.5”) in Premium.
Premium Virgin Atlantic tickets also earn 150% Virgin Red points and 50 tier points that count towards status, at least double that of economy flights.
How Virgin Atlantic premium economy compares to business class
While more plush than economy, there’s no comparison of Virgin Atlantic’s Premium seats to Upper Class. Seats in Upper Class are fully lie-flat, stretching to over six-and-a-half-feet long when reclined to a bed (which will be extra cozy with the Upper Class duvet and “sleep suit” pajamas). Upper Class also has an on-board bar or “social gathering space” on the plane for passengers to stretch their legs and enjoy a drink or even a tasting—a bit more sophisticated than Premium’s Wander Wall of packaged snacks and canned drinks.
Finally there’s the much-vaunted Virgin Clubhouse airport lounge, exclusive to Upper Class Virgin Atlantic passengers and select elite credit card holders. Should you find a way in at London Heathrow, you’ll find it in Virgin’s exclusive Upper Class wing, which gives you skip-the-line express check-in, a Peloton gym, and top-notch food and drinks.
Examples of deals we've found Scott's Cheap Flights members on Virgin Atlantic
- Portugal for $1,046 roundtrip in premium economy
- London for $2,175 roundtrip in business class
- Mumbai for $1, 085 roundtrip in premium economy
The Virgin Atlantic premium economy experience at the airport
Virgin Atlantic premium economy lounge access
The Virgin Atlantic lounge—called the Clubhouse—is only for Upper Class passengers, or certain gold and platinum card holders or elite status members (such as Delta SkyMiles Diamond Medallion or Flying Blue Platinum) flying between the UK and US. Premium economy passengers aren’t entitled to lounge access, but a Priority Pass membership or elite credit card may give you access in certain airports such as Boston Logan (where the Clubhouse is currently being refurbished and Priority Pass guests may use the Air France lounge).
Virgin Atlantic premium economy check-in
Virgin Atlantic Premium passengers may use a priority check-in desk at the airport which is dedicated to Premium and Economy Delight passengers, and generally has shorter lines than the rest of economy. Currently, all check-in desks also handle COVID-related documentation such as vaccine or test verification and EU passenger locator forms, which means each party spends longer at the check-in desk but saves you from waiting in separate lines. While there’s no special security area for Premium passengers, you may find some airports may allow you to use an expedited lane. Premium travelers also have Priority boarding after Upper Class.
All Virgin Atlantic passengers except deep-discounted Economy Light get one free checked bag included in their fare, Premium passengers may check two bags for free, up to 50 pounds (23 kg) each. Bags are tagged with “priority handling” which theoretically makes them first off the plane on arrival.
The Virgin Atlantic premium economy experience in the air
Virgin Atlantic premium economy seats
- 787-900 Dreamliners: The most energy efficient of Virgin Atlantic’s fleet has 35 Premium seats in a 2-3-2 configuration. The leather seats are the biggest in their class: 21” wide (up from 17” in economy), with a 8” recline (compared with 5” in economy), and 38” pitch (from 31” or 34”). Dedicated bathrooms and a galley kitchen are located behind the Upper Class bar.
- A350-1000: Virgin Atlantic’s newest aircraft has 7 rows of Premium seats (56 total) in a 2-4-2 configuration. The leather seats are 18.5” wide (an inch more than economy), with a 7” recline (compared with 5” in economy), and 38” pitch (from 31” or 34”). Premium bathrooms and a galley kitchen are located behind the Upper Class “social spaces.” The in-seat entertainment may be paired with a smartphone for easier control than a touchscreen.
- A330-300: Common on Virgin Atlantic flights from the US to the UK, there are 48 Premium seats in a 2-3-2 configuration on the A330. The leather seats are 21” wide (up from 17” in economy), with a 7” recline (compared with 6” in economy), and 38” pitch (from 31” or 34”). Two WCs, a galley, and the Upper Class bar is in front of Premium.
Note that each aircraft layout can be found on all of the transcontinental routes, so check the flight details and compare fares when you book if you are hoping for a specific aircraft.
Benefits of premium economy on Virgin Atlantic
Premium amenity kits are available on Virgin Atlantic night flights, with an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, and a pen. (Though curiously, they were not provided on my overnight BOS-LHR flight but were waiting in our seats for the daytime LHR-BOS return.) The case and contents are made from recycled materials which is a nice gimmick but not substantial.
The in-seat entertainment (named Vera, along with the in-flight magazine) has a slightly bigger screen in Premium (13” vs 11” in most cases) with a good selection of current films, TV shows, and games. The touchscreen can have issues (we frequently were unable to operate the screen on the A330) but can also be controlled with the pullout remote control. The screens on the new A350 planes may be paired with a smartphone to control as well.
Virgin Atlantic premium economy meals
Meals in Virgin Atlantic Premium class are a step up from economy, served on china with glass and silverware. Menus developed by Irish chef Donal Skehan (of Food Network UK fame) offer a choice of three warm entrees, plus a starter and dessert. Daytime flights (mainly from the UK) also feature a Mile High Tea with warm scones and sandwiches in Premium.
Premium meals also come with Virgin Atlantic’s adorable, highly covetable, and often-stolen (some come stamped “pinched from Virgin Atlantic”) salt and pepper shakers, Wilbur and Orville, shaped like planes.
In between meals, peckish Premium passengers can find the self-service Wander Wall in the galley in front of their cabin, filled with snacks like popcorn and gummy bears, along with beverages.
Starting in summer 2022, Premium passengers will be able to pre-select their meal choice up to 72 hours before their flight.
As with most international flights, alcoholic beverages are complimentary for all Virgin Atlantic passengers. Those flying in Premium get a welcome aboard drink of Champagne (or juice or sparkling water if you prefer). During meal service, wines are a choice of (respectable-tasting, but still in a can) red (Malbec) or white (Sauvignon Blanc) from UK brand NICE. (The canned wines were introduced as part of the airline’s return to flying in summer 2020 and may be more COVID-friendly, but are also significantly lighter and easier to recycle than glass so they may be here to stay.) A selection of beers and liquors are also available.
How to book Virgin Atlantic premium economy
How much does it cost for a premium economy ticket on Virgin Atlantic?
Premium seats on Virgin Atlantic are generally around 50% more than standard economy (called Economy Classic) but may be a difference of a few hundred dollars, depending on the flight. Premium fares are less than half or more than Upper Class, and often double the cheapest fare in Economy Light.
Looking at dates in November 2022, most economy fares from the US East Coast were around $800-900 for Virgin Atlantic Economy Classic to London, an additional $140-180 for Economy Delight, and $1200-1500 for Premium. Scott’s Cheap Flights has found deals as low as $1,121 from DCA to London on Virgin Atlantic.
How to upgrade to premium economy of Virgin Atlantic for free
Free upgrades are unlikely unless you are an elite member of their Flying Club program and your flight has overbooked your (not steeply discounted) economy fare.
How much does it cost to upgrade to premium economy on Virgin Atlantic?
Passengers may pay “cash” to upgrade to Premium or Upper Class after they’ve booked their Virgin Atlantic tickets, but prices aren’t publicly posted. Generally speaking, fares may decrease from the actual published difference closer to departure and you may save from the original higher fare if you hold out and hope for an upgrade.
It’s also possible to bid auction-style for a seat in a higher class before your flight using Your Bid up to 2 days before the flight. Minimum “good” or even “fair” bids are often over $1,000 per leg, per person, and depend highly on the route and demand.
How many miles to upgrade to Virgin Atlantic premium economy?
During standard season (essentially outside of peak December, spring, and summer holidays), it costs 17,400 Virgin Points to upgrade from Virgin Atlantic Economy Classic or Economy Delight to Premium for a flight between the US (Northeast, about 5,000-10,000 more from Atlanta, Florida, or west coast). Hoping to go all the way to Upper Class? It’s 47,400 from Premium, 71,200 from Economy Classic or Economy Delight.
Peak season upgrades from the US to UK on Virgin Atlantic range from 27,400-37,400 for Premium, and 57,400-116,200 for Upper Class. As a Delta partner, you may also use Delta SkyMiles on flights operated by Virgin Atlantic.
It’s important to note that upgrades are subject to taxes, fees, and surcharges, which can be more than $500 round trip going to or from the UK due to their hefty Air Passenger Duty on all flights departing British airports.
If you are flying across the pond and are looking for a more comfortable seat, a nicer meal service, and more expedited airport service, Virgin Atlantic Premium won’t disappoint for a price a fraction of Upper Class. However, if you are looking for a true lie-flat seat, gourmet meals and wine, and lounge access, start hoarding those miles for Upper Class.
The booking process with Virgin Atlantic was also more straightforward than other airlines. While Delta flights can mix ComfortPlus (similar to Virgin Atlantic Economy Delight) and Premium Select (a big step up, like VA Premium) when searching for premium economy fares, Virgin Atlantic has them clearly labeled and coded with amenities. British Airways would offer wildly different fares for premium economy, and would end up with a mix of basic economy and premium at the booking summary.