Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which we receive financial compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). However, the credit card information that we publish has been written and evaluated by experts who know these products inside out. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse. This site does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers that are on the market. See our advertising policy here where we list advertisers that we work with, and how we make money. You can also review our credit card rating methodology.
We may be compensated when you click on product links, such as credit cards, from one or more of our advertising partners. Terms apply to the offers below. See our Advertising Policy for more about our partners, how we make money, and our rating methodology. Opinions and recommendations are ours alone.
When flying between New York and London, there’s no shortage of routes to choose from. While U.K. carriers and major U.S. airlines have your bases covered, competition for this route is fiercer than ever, thanks to newer entrants like JetBlue and Norse Atlantic.
For flyers, having more choices is always a good thing. Unfortunately, most transatlantic flights depart in the evening, so the flight time from New York to London can feel markedly too short for a red-eye.
For an upcoming summer trip to Europe, I switched things up and booked an economy ticket on Virgin Atlantic’s daytime flight between New York (JFK) and London (LHR). The total cost was just 7,500 Virgin Points and ~$150 in taxes and fees as I took advantage of a Virgin award sale a few months prior.
Closer to departure, I successfully bid for a Premium economy seat using Virgin’s online upgrade auction. Here’s the full price breakdown and whether Virgin Atlantic’s Premium economy may be a good option if you’re hopping across the pond anytime soon.
You’re not alone if you’re looking for more comfort for the ~6-hour flight but can’t stomach the cost of a lie-flat seat. Instead, many travelers can book Premium economy in the Goldilocks zone. Whether you’re paying cash or with miles, you’ll first want to compare prices for economy and premium economy.
I faced a similar dilemma in the winter for my upcoming summer trip around Europe. With astronomical airfare and low award availability, booking economy on the daytime flight (and avoiding the red-eye over to London) seemed the right move.
Virgin Atlantic’s award chart makes it easy to know exactly how many points you’ll need as it’s region-based with standard or peak pricing. Below, we’ll focus on one-way award rates on Virgin’s routes from the U.S. to the U.K.:
|Route To/From U.K.||Economy||Premium||Upper Class|
|Northeast (Boston, New York, Washington, D.C.)||10,000||
|Midwest and South (Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Tampa)||12,500||25,000||22,500||32,500||47,500||57,500|
|West (Austin, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle)||15,000||30,000||27,500||37,500||67,500||77,500|
As you can see, the points difference can be quite reasonable on Virgin Atlantic. For an additional 7,500 to 12,500 more miles, you can book a premium economy seat at the standard rate if it’s available when booking.Hot Tip:
Periodically, Virgin has award sales on select itineraries — including its popular New York (JFK) to London (LHR) route. I booked a one-way, economy ticket for just 7,500 Virgin Points during the last sale. A 25% discount from the off-peak award rates felt like an excellent deal for a flight to Europe in the summer.
On the other hand, when booking with cash, Premium economy can often be more than double the price of an economy ticket. In that case, booking an economy ticket might make sense, then hoping for an upgrade opportunity to Premium economy later.
No matter how you book, you cannot upgrade Virgin’s Economy Light tickets to Premium or Upper Class. Therefore, you must book an Economy Classic fare or above to upgrade later.
Virgin Atlantic makes it relatively easy to upgrade your flight, either with cash or points. Here’s a quick overview of each option.
Around 45 days before departure, I received an email from Virgin Atlantic asking if I was interested in upgrading my seat via its online auction program. Intrigued, I visited the personalized link that invited me to submit a bid.
There is a starting price, so don’t expect to throw in $5 as an acceptable bid. Of course, the price will depend on the route you’re flying. On the website, you can toggle the amounts you’d like to bid for each cabin class. In my case, upgrades to Premium economy started at $315 and $990 for business class.
Virgin states that “all bids will be assessed between 7 and 2 days before the scheduled departure date of your flight.” Sure enough, 3 days before my flight, I received an email that Virgin had accepted my bid of $315 for my flight to London.
In total, I paid 7,500 Virgin Points and $465 in cash for my flight, and the cash amount accounted for my bid and taxes and fees. I paid with The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel (up to $500,000 per calendar year, then 1x).Hot Tip:
Read our guide to learn how to use ExpertFlyer to find award space and upgrade availability!
You can also upgrade your ticket with Virgin Points by calling Virgin Atlantic Flying Club‘s customer service at 800-862-8621. Fortunately, the rates are transparent, so you can find out exactly the number of points you’ll need.
Let’s take a look at the number of points you’ll need on those same routes (one-way):
|Route To/From the U.K.||Economy to Premium Economy||Premium Economy to Upper Class||Economy to Upper Class|
|Northeast (Boston, New York, Washington, D.C.)||7,500||
|Midwest and South (Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Tampa)||10,000||25,000||35,000|
|West (Austin, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle)||12,500||40,000||52,500|
There are a few interesting things to note about this upgrade chart. First, the upgrade rates are the same whether you’re flying during a standard or peak date. That means you can save some serious cash (or points) when booking an economy ticket during a peak travel date — like the middle of July — and then call in to upgrade your flight.
Of course, the caveat would be that you’ll need to ensure there’s award space, but Virgin Atlantic makes it easy. If the same flight in your desired cabin class is bookable with Virgin Points on the airline’s website, then you should be able to call in and upgrade your existing reservation without a problem.
The U.K.-based carrier operates several long-haul aircraft on its transatlantic routes. I happened to be flying on one of Virgin’s Airbus A330-300s, where both its economy and Premium economy cabins are arranged in a 2-4-2 layout.
Here are the quick facts so you can see the differences between the 2 classes on Virgin’s A330-300:
|Number of Seats||48 (rows 18 to 25)||185 (rows 40 to 65)|
|Seat Pitch||38 inches||21 inches|
|Seat Width||21 inches||18 inches|
|Style of Seat||Plush, leather recliner chairs||Standard cloth seats|
In Virgin’s economy class on this flight, you’ll get 2 meals, full drink service, and access to in-seat power.
If you can’t secure an upgrade to Premium economy on this aircraft, booking one of the aisle seats in economy may be a favorable option and offer much more comfort than a seat in the middle row.
Premium economy is located to the right of the boarding door, just past the onboard bar. As we boarded, the flight attendants poured up glasses of bubbly and orange juice as a welcome drink for Upper Class and Premium passengers.
Unfortunately, the onboard bar is only accessible to Upper Class passengers. But if you can book a seat in the front rows of Premium economy, the upside is that you’ll deplane the aircraft in no time.
Despite the A330-300 already starting to show its age, I liked the purple leather seats (in contrast to the red and beige cloth seats in economy), instantly giving it a more premium feel.
The seats were also quite wide and cushy, and more importantly, they were just as comfortable when seated.
A few items were on my seat when I arrived, which unfortunately felt less than premium. The thin white pillow offered no added support, and the amenity kit felt just as flimsy. Inside was a cheap eye mask, a pair of socks, and earplugs.
The purple blankets were also passable, keeping me warm throughout the chilly flight. The headset felt like it was from the 1990s with pretty abysmal sound quality, and it was wrapped in paper that doubled as a donation envelope for a nonprofit.
For a daytime flight, though, I suppose the poorer quality of these amenities wasn’t as important.
I’m glad a window seat was open, as I only had 1 neighbor instead of multiple in the middle row. The recline worked fabulously, and having 38 inches of pitch made me instantly reaffirm my decision to pay for this upgrade.
There was a footrest, which you could adjust to your liking. However, you likely won’t find much use in this footrest if you’re taller.
The touchscreen is starting to look outdated compared to other newer inflight entertainment systems, but it still worked with relatively no issues. I decided to catch up on work during my flight and paid for a full-flight Wi-Fi plan.
For around $26, it was a decent price for the entire flight. The Wi-Fi was slow at times, and I had trouble loading more complicated applications or downloading files, but it was certainly nothing a little patience couldn’t wait out.
Overall, Virgin Atlantic successfully fills the niche for a premium economy cabin. Between the mood lighting and the plush leather recliners with plenty of legroom, it was a fantastic option for those who don’t need a lie-flat bed for a daytime flight.
It was also nice to receive a paper menu detailing this flight’s offerings. As the flight took off in the morning, I could pick from a savory breakfast or a sweet crepe offering for my first course, served within an hour after takeoff.
For the “later” meal served around 1.5 hours before landing, I had my pick of lunch or dinner. No matter the time zone it was back home in New York or my final destination in London, I could choose between a lemongrass chicken, cod fishcakes, or an edamame risotto. All 3 options sounded better than anything I’ve had on a mainline U.S. carrier!
The breakfast was surprisingly delightful, as I got to nibble on a banana crepe, a dairy-free yogurt (ideal for lactose intolerance), and a fresh fruit plate featuring pomegranate seeds and grapefruit. Tied together with a black coffee, this may have been one of the better inflight breakfasts I’ve had.
The first meal kept me quite full for the flight, but passengers can visit the “Wander Wall” at the front of Premium economy for a selection of packaged snacks.
I was feeling adventurous for my lunch/dinner course and chose the cod fishcakes. Having seafood on a plane can be questionable, but to my surprise, I also enjoyed this course. While the fishcakes were a bit salty, I liked the fresh Greek salad and the slice of key lime pie to balance out the meal.
If not for the wider seats, you should definitely upgrade to Virgin’s Premium economy for a superior meal. Back in economy, you may receive a packaged meal with much fewer options, but I was quite impressed with the meal service I had.
Admittedly, I didn’t notice much difference (if at all) in inflight service between Premium economy and economy class.
The flight attendants were cheery and welcoming when boarding the aircraft. However, there was a considerable gap between meal services, and I was quite thirsty during this 4-hour stretch. I pressed the cabin crew call button to get a glass of water, but no one came to my seat for 30 minutes.
This was the only real hiccup of the flight, but don’t expect substantially personalized service as you may experience in a business or first class cabin. Booking Premium economy is about added seat comfort rather than dedicated service.
If you can swing a relatively low cash upgrade offer (like I did) or with Virgin Points, Premium economy can help you be significantly more comfortable for this transatlantic flight.
One way that I like to justify upgrades (to any cabin) is by looking at the cost-per-hour rate. For Premium economy, I aim to spend no more than $50 per hour to upgrade my flight. Therefore, the $315 bid put me right around this mark, with 7 hours of flying time. This $50 per hour figure is, of course, arbitrary depending on your travel preferences and budget, so try to decide whether you’d be willing to spend less (or more) for an upgrade.
You can do a similar cost analysis when you upgrade with points. For example, a Premium economy upgrade on this flight from New York (JFK) to London (LHR) would have been 7,500 points. We estimate that Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points are worth 1.4 cents each, equating to just $105 spent in points. That’s a phenomenal deal in our book, especially given how many transfer partners Virgin has!
Another consideration to help you determine whether this upgrade is worth the cost is if you need to check more than 1 bag. If you’ve booked an Economy Classic fare, your first checked bag is included, but you’ll need to pay an additional $100 to check another bag. Why not upgrade your fare to Virgin’s Premium economy instead, check up to 2 bags for free, and enjoy a more spacious seat?
I wish I could book a lie-flat business class seat for every long-haul flight, but that’s nearly impossible unless you’ve got millions of points to burn. I like to pick and choose my battles, and I am more than happy to fly economy for the relatively shorter flight over to Europe to save my points stash for a longer flight later on.
Ultimately, there are ways to elevate this experience so you don’t suffer from jet lag, whether by upgrading to Premium economy, booking the daytime flight — or both!
With that said, I think Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy is worth the splurge. But rather than booking the ticket outright, it’s worth upgrading your itinerary after booking for some solid upgrade bids with cash or points.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
Yes! You can call Virgin Atlantic Flying Club’s customer service at 800-862-8621 to upgrade your existing reservation with points to Premium economy or Upper Class. Plus, the rates are quite reasonable.
For transatlantic routes, the starting bids will be around $300, and the airline will notify you whether it was accepted between 2 to 7 days before departure. I bid at the starting price point ($315) and was accepted within 3 days of departure, but you should only bid up to what you’re comfortable paying.
With mostly long-haul routes, Virgin Atlantic has heavily invested in its Premium economy cabins to offer a surplus of legroom and elevated meals. If you can snag a solid upgrade offer with points or cash, it can be worth all the difference without splurging for a lie-flat seat.
For Virgin’s transatlantic routes, you’ll need 7,500 to 12,500 points to upgrade your itinerary from economy to Premium economy.
Was this page helpful?
Travel is changing fast... Stay on top of all the points strategies, exclusive offers & pivotal news - and lock in huge savings along the way.
Disclaimer: Any comments listed below are not from the bank advertiser, nor have they been reviewed or approved by them. No responsibility will be taken by the bank advertiser for these comments.
UP's Bonus Valuation
This bonus value is an estimated valuation calculated by UP after analyzing redemption options, transfer partners, award availability and how much UP would pay to buy these points.