If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know that while I’m obsessive with luxury when it comes to travel, I usually (sadly) fly Coach. It’s just too big of a difference in price for such a short part of my vacation to justify spending the money ($10,000 vs. $1,000 often) or the miles IMHO. So I suffer through economy class (yes, even on my honeymoon) so that I can spend that money once I’m in my destination on hotels and restaurants. Seriously the money I save on not upgrading can almost cover my entire trips.
When I heard about Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy though I was intrigued. The idea that I could pay a fraction of a First Class fare for some of the added benefits? Yes, please!
Virgin offers 3 classes of service between New York (JFK) and London: Economy, Premium Economy and Upper Class. On my most recent trip to London (I was part of a blogger’s trip through Visit Britain) I was offered the chance to fly Premium Economy–and they were paying so what did I have to lose? What I found is that a little goes a long way! While Premium Economy isn’t quite Upper Class–for instance the seats don’t fully recline and you can’t sit at the awesome bar, there are several little things that in my opinion make it a nice little upgrade if you have a few extra hundred dollars (or miles) to spare but can’t quite stretch to Upper Class prices. Premium Economy to me is a nice way to make international flights more bearable without blowing your entire vacation budget.
The experience is similar to what a business class experience would be. There are a few dedicated counters for Premium Economy flyers. They had shorter lines than economy and were very quick. They also tag your bag with a Premium Economy tag, which made me feel like my luggage had a higher chance of reaching my destination. When possible your bags are the first off the plane. And this really was true. I saw all the Upper Class bags come out first and then Premium Economy followed. This is a huge perk to me because you can beat most passengers to the customs line and save yourself some time.
Next, (at JFK at least) I was able to wait in the security line with the First Class passengers, which I thought was a major perk. The economy line at JFK seriously was about ten times the size.
The boarding process was similar to Upper Class, though they have their own entrance. But, Premium Economy was able to board with Upper Class before Economy. I never understood this perk though, I have no need to be on the plane earlier. My favorite part of the boarding experience (I’m sure you’ll all be surprised to hear) was the complimentary welcome glass of bubbly. Yes, please!
The Premium Economy seating layout on my way out was 2-4-2 and on the return it was 2-3-2. This is an upgrade from a 3-4-3 or a 2-4-2 layout in Economy. It’s not quite a Business Class configuration though, which would be a 2-3-2 or 2-2-2 on comparable aircrafts. That said though, the little bit of extra room makes a pretty big difference.
The seats themselves were purple leather–leather! Such a selling point for me. This way I could take out my little wipe and feel like everything was good (and sanitary) as new. I felt kinda like I was sitting in a big arm chair. They were definitely better than any Coach seat I’ve experienced. The seats did not fully recline but they did lean back quite a bit further than Coach. So much so that when I reclined my seat as far as it would go the woman behind me freaked out and asked me to lean it up. I begrudgingly agreed to put it up (but then proceeded to lower it back down a little at a time).
There are foot rests that come out of the seat in front of you, which I found to be really helpful for keeping pressure off my back. They also had foot rests for those without seats in front of them that they took down during the flight. In addition to the recline button there was also a button for lumbar support–I couldn’t really see a difference from fiddling around with it though.
The power situation was somewhat disappointing–on the website they advertise that the Premium Economy seats offer laptop power. However, in order to take advantage of this you need to purchase a pricey (nearly $100 USD) adapter. I think that there should be a regular outlet (especially considering Virgin America offers this in every seat). However, there is a USB outlet that you can use for charging as long as you are using the device you have plugged in. You can’t just put something in to charge, as this is a fire safety concern, which seems fair enough.
There are individual screens in the seat in front of you. The entertainment selection was fabulous. There is an excellent selection of (inclusive) movies and TV shows. There were many movies that had just been released to DVD, including the recent Oscar winning films and nominees so I was quite pleased to sit back and relax.
Food & Beverage
Okay, so it’s airplane food–I didn’t have particularly high expectations but both meals I had were pretty good (again for airplane food, I’m not comparing it to New York restaurants). In Premium Economy there were three choices, including one vegetarian option (no choice for appetizer or dessert). The vegetarian for me is always the best, it’s simple and no fuss (but again I have vegetarian tendencies so take it for what it’s worth). The meals are served on china with stainless steel cutlery, which makes you feel a little more like a person and a little less like cargo. Score.
The wine was pretty good too. Not sure what they served in Economy but I was quite satisfied. And then they served an after dinner liqueur, which I thought was a classy touch.
The outbound flight to London didn’t really serve snacks because most people are sleeping (I was on the 10PM out of JFK) but on the way back they came around a few time with little treats like popsicles, tea and candy.
In addition to a pillow and blanket, Premium Economy passengers were given an amenity kit on outbound flight (it’s given on all night flights). It comes in a cute little wallet and contained essentials for a great flight like a toothbrush, toothpaste, sleepmask, purple (signature color) socks and earplugs. I think it could use a face wipe but I was pretty pleased. I thought this was a nice touch and really made me feel like I was part of an upgraded experience.
The service was great, I found that there were always attendants going up and down the rows either with snacks or to take garbage.
You have a dedicated bathroom that you share with the Upper Class passengers. Again, this made me feel truly upgraded. I especially loved the soap/lotion in the bathroom. It was Cowshed brand and every time I left the bathroom I swear I just kept smelling my hands. It was a grapefruit and something hand soap (kicking myself now for not writing it down).
So there you have it. I think that if you can find Premium Economy tickets for just a few extra hundred dollars that it’s totally worth it for a long, international flight. For more information visit Virgin Atlantic online.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph my flight was paid for courtesy of Visit Britain and Virgin Atlantic. However, I am not being compensated to write this post in any way. I just wanted to share my wisdom. And as always, you can’t buy the love here!