If you are booking any flight nowadays you are often offered the choice of upgrading your Economy cabin to what is known as premium economy. The level of service and cost of this upgrade varies wildly between airlines from little more than a few free drinks to a near first-class experience. For our latest Hawaii adventure, we were flying Virgin Atlantic and decided to upgrade to Premium Economy so we could provide our 2020 Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Review.
We were booked onto the latest Virgin Atlantic 787 Dreamliner and were looking forward to flying in style. Upper-class is well beyond our budget so looked forward to Virgin’s Premium Economy. Many people want to know, is premium Economy worth the upgrade. Our review should help you decide if the upgrade is worth the extra or if you should continue to slum it in coach!
The Virgin Website is a fairly well-polished site and we had no problem booking at any point and this is for a pretty complicated Multi-stop booking. As we required a few days in L.A to explore and recover before Hawaii we had to book 3 flights. The booking system had no issue with this and came back with a great price for economy, Just before confirmation it offered us the upgrade of £250 for all flights. As we see below we happily took this option especially considering the 2-night flights we had to take!
Is it worth Upgrading to Premium Economy?
This question is impossible to answer really and that is because of the huge range of potential prices between Economy and Premium. Depending on the flight and current booking level we have seen upgrades from £50 to £600 and upwards per flight! Also, value is very different to some people. For some, the thought of “slumming it” back in economy is horrifying for others, like us, we really rate the Virgin Economy Product so an upgrade is a luxury rather than an essential.
For the flight we took as our review flight we paid fairly little for the upgrade. We were flying From London Heathrow to Hawaii on the following routes:
- LHR – Los Angeles – Operated by Virgin
- Los Angeles – Kahului – Operated by Delta
- Kahului – Seatle – Operated by Delta
- Seatle – LHR – Operated by Virgin
The TransAtlantic legs were operated by Virgin and the USA Legs were operated by Delta. We were offered an upgrade at booking for £250 per person for all 4 flights. With the Delta flights upgraded to Comfort plus. This works out at just £62.50 per person per flight. At the time Virgin was charging £30 per seat to reserve seating (this has changed somewhat with the new Economy Product recently introduced) So we would be getting all the benefits of Premium economy for just £32.50 per flight. At that price we can say resoundingly YES it is worth it. But when prices are £600+ it would feel an awful lot of money compared to the current Economy product!
We feel the best way to decide is to look at the benefits and simply work out based on the price if that feels like value to you. So let’s take a look at what you get and what the flights are actually like to help work out if it represents good value for you!
So What do you get?
- Premium Check-in
- Seat Selection Included
- 2x23kg Baggage – Yes, you read that right 2 bags EACH
- Priority Boarding
- Welcome Drink
- Much Larger leather Chair in 2-4-2 config
- Premium Cabin
- Premium Cabin Crew
- Upgraded Meal with Real Plates and Cutlery
- Upgraded Wine Offering
- After Dinner Liqueurs
- Wander Wall – Help yourself to Snacks and non-alcoholic drinks in-flight
- Extra Airmiles and Tier Points
- Access to First Class Bar***
This all sounds great but how does it play out in practice and is the product as good as it sounds? Let’s take a look at our experience.
Out Bound – Day Time Flight
Airport and Boarding
Our flight left Heathrow at a pretty reasonable hour and we headed to the airport around 8 am. Arriving at T3 the went straight to our first perk dedicated check-in, While this was excellent and we wheeled our 4 cases straight to the front with absolutely zero queues. Great, but in all honesty, the other economy desks were basically empty too. So it didn’t save us much. But that’s a good thing. After checking the cases we headed to security. There are no added benefits to get through security so we joined the masses.
After security, we grabbed a coffee and sandwich while we waited for boarding. After they called for boarding we headed for the gate. Here we had our own dedicated boarding desk and basically walked straight onto the plane. Well, we would have if the TSA had not preselected Kate for additional Checks…No level of service can get you past the TSA if their random computer falls on you.
Once boarded we were very quickly offered our welcome drink, a choice of Fizz or Orange juice, which for us is no choice. we were then provided Newspapers to while away the time before take off.
Cabin and Seating
The Premium Economy cabin is separate from both the economy Cabin and the upper-class cabin. This gives it a pretty exclusive feel. With only 30 seats in 5 rows of six (2-4-2). it is a quiet and refined space which feels really personal. We love the 2-4-2 seating layout. 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 leads to us being trapped into our row should we want a window seat, which we do. More often than not a solo traveler will occupy the single seat and solo travelers have a habit of getting some sleep in. Meaning any excursion into the aisle for the toilet or getting drinks or even just to stretch the legs means disturbing the poor soul. Having just the two seats to ourselves just works so much better. And we hate having to pay for assigned seats so would have needed to pay for this also, although seat selection is again included in Virgins economy price assuming you don’t go for the economy light option.
The Seats are also a Significant upgrade. They are a lot more spacious and far more comfortable than standard Economy seats. We think they are far better than most Premium products even and are pretty much on par with most first-class products that are not of the lie-flat variety. A big thumbs up here from us!
Being on the 787-9 Dreamliner also has a few extra benefits. The Aircraft has much larger windows than most aircraft and plastic manual blinds are a thing of the past. The windows are now electronically controlled blackout windows. A press of the button darkens or lightens the window. The big upside is you can put a 50% tint on it meaning you can still see out the window but still see the IFE Screen properly. This makes for a great flight experience. Of course, this is also enjoyed by the Economy and First class passengers.
There is also the “Wander Wall” at the front of the Cabin. Here there is a selection of drinks (non-Alcoholic) and snacks for you to help yourself too during the flight. The selection was quite intriguing with lots of unexpected items like pepper and lemon corn kernels and various crisps and chips and chocolate. You can also pop your head round to the Upper-class bar. While not strictly a Premium Economy Perk we were advised by the Cabin crew this would be ok.
A lot is made of the 787’s mood lighting but tbh we hardly noticed it and didn’t feel it really affected the flight in the positive or negative, it seems mostly a gimmick. What we did notice was the Cabin pressure” Obviously not directly, but the reduced altitude pressurization (8,000 ft instead of the usual 10,000ft) Made for a much more comfortable flight. Normally flying to the west coast of the US from the UK would leave us tired and grotty with dry mouths and irritated sinuses. This flight we couldn’t even tell we had been flying. Of course, we were still tired but no different from a day at work or such. Again this is shared by all passengers not just Premium.
The Vera IFE is one of the best we have used and is rammed with the latest films, TV, and Music. After 20+ hours in the air, we were left frustrated as there were still things we hadn’t got round to watching! The Touch screens on the 787 were also really fantastic and were actually responsive and easy to use, a rare thing for Aircraft touch screens!
The only negative we really have is the system is the same for all passengers. So not a real negative it just doesn’t add to the Premium experience as everyone has the same fantastic system.
There were also AC and USB Power sockets in case any of your own devices were running low or you wished to work.
Food and Drink
One thing you will never want for on a Virgin Premium Economy flight is food. Apart from the Wander Wall where snacks are available for the entire flight you are constantly plied with food. Right after take-off, you are given pretzels with your first drink. after 1-2 hours depending on the time of flight the Meal service comes round. The Premium economy meal is pretty much what you get in economy but the little touches of it being served on real crockery with real knives and forks just make it that bit more special.
Our meal for this flight was a starter of Walnut and Orange Salad, a choice of Lasagne, Chicken in herb cream sauce and Mousaka. We both went for Lasange. And for dessert was a sticky toffee Slice. All accompanied by a choice of red or white wine and a bottle of water. The Starter was … a bit rubbish. The lasagne was fairly tasty and the dessert not great a little dry and a bit nothingy. But really Airline food is never fantastic and this is as good as any other flight. To be honest we just think we lucked out on a less than brilliant menu day as the return flight suited us better.
The meal was followed by a tea/coffee in a real mug. and then a choice of Cognac or Amarula Liqueur. And we then settled into our big comfy chairs and the IFE system.
As the flight went on we were fed at regular intervals. First an Ice Cream, then later a Steak Pasty, and then finally shortly before landing a Cream Tea, which was excellent.
Drink-wise, we were left a touch disappointed. After lunch, the cabin crew seemed to disappear. We had received two drink services plus wine and a liqueur so it’s not like we’re starved of alcohol but after a gap of around two hours we were ready for another and our personal crew were nowhere to be seen. Call buttons unanswered. When they finally reappeared and provided us with our drinks they suggested going forward to pop our heads into the Upperclass bar, just behind the curtain if we needed anything again quickly.
This is possibly a little picky and it hardly ruined our flight. It was just a bit odd to have such difficulty in getting a drink. We were not intent on getting sloshed but when stuck on a plane with nothing to do but sit, eat, drink, and watch, it was a bit disappointing when one is taken away. A small thing really. That aside the bar trolly had the usual selection of beers, wines, spirits, and mixers.
Apart from the disappearing act mid-flight the service was excellent. Being in the premium cabin means you have a dedicated crew serving just the 30 seats in that cabin. This gives a very personal, fast, and attentive service. It feels pretty special and does add to the feeling of exclusivity. We never like to rag on any service personnel as long as they are trying their best. We have been on the other end and know what a hard thankless job they are doing. We see so many examples of them being treated poorly and never wish to contribute to this. The Premium Cabin crew are really a cut above the norm though, it is not just false praise. You are just treated to a much more intimate level of care for the majority of the flight.
The final two perks are all related to arrival. And these can be big advantages when trying to get through US Customs. Premium Economy is second off the plane only behind the upper-class guests. This means you get the run on the immigration desks. If you haven’t been to the US, let us just say the immigration can be painfully slow. Any advantage you can get here is a big plus. On arrival at LAX, we were lucky to get to immigration with almost no queue knowing there were hundreds of people from our flight behind us.
On top of this, your bags are prioritized. Getting off the plane and through immigration first is kind of pointless if you have to stand for an hour while everyone else’s bags get to the conveyor first. Being in Premium means your bags are among the first onto the conveyor.
The upshot of all this is from the moment the doors opened to us getting to the car rental was less than an hour. This is truly incredible considering how big and difficult to negotiate LAX is. We were literally on an almost non-stop walk from the plane to the Hire Car bus.
One Perk not included that would have been much appreciated was the “guaranteed L.A Sun”, this is not what we expected on arrival! Of course, we can’t really blame Virgin Atlantic for this…Can we?
Return Flight – Night Flight
Our return flight left Seatle at 14:00 and was due to land in London around 7:30 am the next morning. We had already taken an overnight from Kahului so our recollection of this flight is a little hazy! The return flight was much the same in terms of basic perks and service levels but there are some notable differences due to the fact the majority of the passengers want to attempt to get some.
Food and Drink
Drinkwise the service was very top-heavy. Plying us with as many drinks service as possible in the first part of the flight to help us get off to sleep. We were also provided with a nice Herchel branded Amenity kit, which makes a nice change from the basic plastic wallet type kits handed out in Economy, although it didn’t actually contain many extras. The provided pillows also feature a cut-out to try to assist sleeping and we had the customary Virgin purple blanket as well.
Food-wise it’s quite different. Dinner service was the same as lunch on the outbound and included the after dinner Liqueur. But after another drinks service, the cabin crew dim the lights and leave you pretty much alone for the rest of the flight. While on the outbound we resented the lack of presence, throughout the night any lack of disturbance was most welcome. The cabin was dark and apart from the Hum of the engines and 600mph winds rushing by, very quiet. It was the perfect environment for sleep.
The actual main meal was basically the same as the outbound but a different menu and one that suited us better. Kate having four cheese pasta and I had beef stroganoff. The Starter salad was a little more substantial and the lemon and pistachio dessert much better than the dry Sticky toffee slice.
After a night of fitful and restless “sleep,” we were brought round by the rising sun and the cabin lights. Coffee or tea was served and then breakfast. The breakfast was actually one of the best we have had on a plane. Often we are served Soggy Sausages some flaccid eggs and maybe some baked beans. After 10+ hours in the air, this is the last thing you need. Our breakfast was a fresh-tasting, warm, Pan Au Chocolat with a granola yogurt, and some a fresh fruit salad served coffee and Juice. It was just what the doctor ordered and helped clear a little of the fog that had descended overnight.
We didn’t get any pictures as we were so tired and irritable at this point we just couldn’t be bothered. We were at 50 hours + Since actually getting any decent sleep so taking photos of our breakfast had become pretty unimportant!
Like the outbound flight, we received nothing but excellent service and witnessed the crew sort out a disruptive couple who had not bothered to book seats, a free perk for Premium, and were complaining they were not happy with their seats. While under no obligation to help they managed to reseat some passengers to allow them to be next to each other.
The Cabin crew retired from view for the majority of the flight as they were aware of the need for most to try and sleep but we did notice frequent trips through the cabin, in stealth mode, offering juice and water to anyone who was awake. There was also the Wander wall obviously for anyone wanting to grab their own Snacks.
Like the Outbound flight, our early disembarkment from the plane allowed us to get through immigration and baggage in super-fast time. Unfortunately, this leads us straight out into horrendous rush hour traffic and it was nearly 3 hours after landing before we were free of London and heading home. this was unfortunate timing, nothing more.
So, IS it Worth it?
As we said this is all very personal. It is certainly not helped by the fantastic Economy product offered by Virgin Atlantic. But that also means the Premium product is a very high quality offering to try and set it apart from the cheaper economy product.
Really the offering is far more akin to some upper-class products. Virgin’s upper-class product is out of this world but for other airlines, it gets you little more than the premium product offered by Virgin. So the question of value really boils down to how much you are being asked to pay, how much your budget is, and simply how much the above extra’s mean to you. We often hear from the older generation that “Flying just isn’t what it used to be” In Premium Economy, it is far more like that experience. It even helps ease the process at the airports each end.
The extra bag each is also great value for those that travel heavy or are going for a long time. We were heading to Hawaii for nearly 3 weeks so need quite a lot of baggage having two bags each really took the pressure off. This combined with the seat selection would have cost us the upgrade alone so the rest of the benefits are basically free! It’s hard not to argue that would be great value! However, our next VA flight is too New York for a long weekend. Virgin was asking £200+ per person. This is way above what we want to pay the economy fair was only £330, and we don’t NEED some of the extras so this time chose to go economy.
So as you can see it’s a question with many variables and hard to answer. You just need to ask yourself if the perks you get are worth it to YOU for your trip. What we can say very clearly that the Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Product is a fantastic offering. It’s right up there with some first-class products and is a brilliant luxury way to travel that can be bagged for a brilliant price on certain flights. We would not hesitate to book if the price is right!
In A Nutshell
Hugely variable pricing can mean excellent value or a pretty overpriced product. Packed with tons of really helpful and worthwhile perks that really enhance the flight experience. While the virgin Economy product is already fantastic upgrading to Premium really does up the ante on your flight experience. You won’t regret it, as long as the price is right!
Have Your Say
Let us know about your Virgin Premium Economy Experience? Did you enjoy your experience? What aircraft were you on? Did you feel it good value? What is it like compared to other Premium experiences? Just drop us a comment below, we love to hear from you. Also, drop us a comment below if you have any questions?