Virgin Australia upgrades Boeing 777 premium economy to 'business lite'

By David Flynn , July 27 2016
Virgin Australia upgrades Boeing 777 premium economy to 'business lite'

Virgin Australia’s new Boeing 777-300ER premium economy is clearly more 'premium' than 'economy' – sufficiently so to drop the e-word entirely, reckons Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti.

"We wanted to re-invent premium economy, to take it up a notch and make it more 'business lite' than 'economy plus'" Borghetti says of the new in-between class, which the airline now markets simply as Premium.

"We've labelled it Premium because that's what it is now, a true premium product."

As part of the overhaul – which also includes an upgraded business class cabin and bar – the premium economy cabin has been downsized from 40 seats to just 24, resulting in a more intimate vibe.

But legroom has gone up from 38 inches of seat pitch to a very generous 41 inches.

To put that in perspective: on the same Australia-US routes as flown by Virgin's Boeing 777s, Qantas offers a standard 38 inch pitch in premium economy, with 35-36 inches in the 'economy plus' cabins of American Airlines and United Airlines.

Those extra inches make a lot of difference around the knees, which is where it counts the most on long flights – there's enough room to cross your legs and relax.

(Another benchmark for comparison: it's three inches more legroom than you'd get in domestic business class.)

The Premium seats, which are a comfy 19.5 inches wide, also recline a further nine inches (one inch more than before) – and once you allow for the extra spacing between each row of seats, there's no risk that the passenger in front of you will suddenly lurch into your personal space.

Apart from the 2-4-2 configuration, Virgin's Premium class is in many ways akin to what business class used to be like a few decades ago, as well as the shorter-range 'regional business class' of some airlines today.

That's mirrored in the inflight meals, which are closer to business class than economy with plated courses served from the galley on business class crockery, plus Nespresso coffee on call, while a self-service Premium Pantry provides snacks and drinks throughout the flight.

The seatback video screen is slightly larger, at 27cm versus 25.4cm, while passengers can charge up their BYO tech with AC and USB power sockets.

There's also one toilet dedicated to Premium passengers with a second shared by the first economy cabin.

Also read: Take a 3D tour of Virgin Australia's refreshed Boeing 777-300ER

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

Premium Economy is a ridiculous choice of two words. Glad to hear they have been given the Virgin Australia heave ho.

Yes, but will the price tag be justified? You're not getting a lie flat bed. At the end of the day it is still a seat, albeit with more space. Is double the price of cheapest economy worth it for a little more space, better food presentation etc etc?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Mar 2014

Total posts 574

You're also not paying for a flat bed! 

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

Nor qualifing entry to Business lounge before flight.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

and most sadly, presumably herded on at the last moment with hundreds of Y's.  Does PE have it's own boarding regime?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 446

I checked out flights in Feb 17 BNE - LAX return on low cost days of the week and found Econ for $1000, Prem for $4400 and Business for $5200.  It is probably the best "Premium" product on the market, but no I don't think the price tag is justified.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

I'd pay the extra for J.

Here here. It's not often I agree with your Emirates fanboy. But on this point you are absolutelye spot on!

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

IMHO no-one yet offer PE that worth money asked. What they offer should be 50% more than economy to be attractive. And for such difference (less than a grand!) I easy skip it altogether and if I can afford $4400 then I rather add another $800 and will be in “true” business.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2012

Total posts 126

This ISN'T a premium "business-light" product if you have to share the armrest with the person seated next to you. I'd rather have 38-39 inches of leg room, with descent side space (wide armrests) between my neighbour. This is where most other premium economy seats in the market excel, compared to Virgin Australia's "Premium" product.

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

Exactly my thoughts – they aggressively shoveling into my face unwanted business perks to the point that they do not like even call their product “economy”, yet they offering me overpriced economy seat (albeit with generous pitch) while all I need is flat (or even lie-flat!) bed! It is clearly not “business-light ”, but mere overpriced economy with tad more knee space. It may be better than other offers, but it still economy, period.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2011

Total posts 345

But you'd still be flying Virgin Australia and I'd choose them second over Qantas any day

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2012

Total posts 226

Unless there's a price premium I'd tend to do the opposite. The new J is excellent and I've rearranged my next 3 US trips from QF to VA.

07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1256

I'd make a choice after considering the best product available and the price. 

Airlines aren't exactly loyal to their customers, and whilst I like QF, if a VA J seat and QF J were priced to same to the US, I'd take the VA seat.

If I had $8,000 to $10,000 to blow on Business flights to the US ex-AU, who would I fly with?

If I fly regularly, then it's logical for me to be part of an FF programme. Naturally (and logically) the choice would be to fly with a carrier that is aligned to my programme.

As a Velocity member that choice would be VA or DL. Between the 2 VA wins. Upgrading the new J seats may bring little change in market share from that segment.

As a QFF the choice would be QF BUT if QF prices were rediculous, would I be compelled to fly AA? Perhaps this is the audience whom  VA is pitching their new J seats to? Personally however I don't think there will be much movement from QF to VA. The benefits of QFF/OW is too diverse and all encompassing to make a dent. So competing on price will be the main strategy for VA.

Hence this talking up/rebranding of Premium Economy. They've got to make up for yield somewhere, and we all know PY is a soft spot and represents low hanging fruit. They're going to try to tap consumer surplus to the limit.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Jan 2016

Total posts 61

The extra space looks good, but the seats have no leg support.  The foot rest on the non front row seats will be useless for anyone under 6ft.   The extra space will also mean that the cost will need to go up to ensure the return. So when you look at sample prices for next year in these seats the price can be uncomfortably close to business.   And I know which one I would go with.  I expect these seats will see a lot of point redemption activity and bid me upgrades.

Looks amazing, I'd love to experience it.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

Ah, luxury...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 May 2011

Total posts 229

I'm going to go trade mark the terms 'Business Express' before someone else takes it. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 303

Clearly the benchmark for flights across the Pacific.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 254

Excited to travel in Premium again soon to LAX with VA, but I was a tad smarter and paid for a Flexi Ticket and used points to upgrade to Premium. Which I will do again! Worth it, but as this is a new Premium, it'll be worth it once again! Fantastic to see the upgrade and quick review David!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

27 Jul 2016

Total posts 1

Flying to LA and back in a month in Premium. This will be my first time in Virgin and first time oversea in 16 years. I decided based on my height and weight and recent back issues to spend the extra on Premium and if I get to USA and back and not have back issues due to squeezing in, then it is worth it. I like the extra leg room even more than when I booked it, Qantas in PE had similar dimensions. I got my ticket when around $2400 and Econ was about $1100 (obviously all saver fares). Would I have purchased a Economy + seat....essentially a exit room seat with more leg room only....prob not as I wanted the extra wiggle room when sleeping. I truly wish I could have gone the business, but not able to. Did like the 3D walk through though.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Jul 2016

Total posts 23

when VA had PE on sale to LAX for around $2K it was good value.

Anything over $2500 and you have to really want the small increase in comfort

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 38

Gosh, I've looked carefully at the pics and I would definetly put this in the economy + category not business lite!

What's with the singe arm rest?  One of the great pleasures of true premium ecomony is the double arm-rest with cocktail table between the seats. This is what QF and BA have adopted. 

The seats don't look especially wide, so it seems VA is compensating with extra pitch - which is a tactic used by economy + carriers. 

Simply not premium enough for me to switch from PE on QF, BA or Cathay. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2012

Total posts 126

i agree with your point GoldenClub and I'm surprised such an obvious point wasn't made in the article.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

13 Mar 2015

Total posts 79

I was checking carefuly their first row (bulkhead in thsi case) and they have the same failure of comfort as NZ (773 only), AC, BR and BA does, not providing a folding foot rest for the frotn row seats as QF, CX, JL, SQ, NH does... absolutely horrible for long haul flights and that is the reason I stopped flying Premium Economy in AC or BA because that.. I always pick the first row because even with 41" seat pitch, the front seat reclined it is not comfortable to standing up from the window, nor the aisle... Love the new design from CX that the person in the aisle seat can turn to the side without staing up to allow other passengers apssing thru easier... Not sure how people do not think on this "details" that can make the difference. VS used to have a cubed "cushion" type of thing that they provided during the flight for those bulkhead seats... not sure if they still doing it or not, but it was a good solution back then. Defientely I will pick QF and AA on this... or NZ when 787 or 772 is listed for my flight.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

14 Mar 2017

Total posts 147

They still provide the cubed-cushion, however the leg room on the bulkhead is inadequate and the TV positioning awful. Better off in one of the other two rows, IMHO.

I'm pretty sure Premium Economy boards with business.

The main benefit of premium outside of the seat and food, is just being away from the masses of economy. If you can't afford it - don't do it. I'm flying VA premium to LA just after Christmas - it was $4,500 return, which I'm happy to pay.


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