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Simon Calder

Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: BA or Virgin on Premium Economy to New York?


Q. I am planning a visit to New York, early November, and wonder is there anything to choose between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic using their Premium Economy rate? Having had a very uncomfortable BA flight to Singapore recently, in economy, I am not doing that again, ever. And Trailfinders are offering a very good deal at the moment from Heathrow to New York, for £900 return in Premium Economy.

M James, Esher, Surrey

A. Virgin's Premium Economy and BA's World Traveller Plus are very similar: an extra seven inches of legroom, wider seats, and other enhancements ranging from dedicated check-in to fancy inflight entertainment and catering. On the relatively short flight between Heathrow and New York you would probably have an excellent experience in either.

If you think you can sense a "but" approaching, you are right. Booking a Premium Economy seat outbound from the UK is far worse value than inbound. That is because Air Passenger Duty doubles from £67 to £132 as soon as you seek anything better than basic economy.

The UK tax applies only to the outward leg. Coming home, the vast majority of flights are overnight, when you are likely to appreciate the extra comfort more (though if you are working out the cost on a "per hour" basis, note that inbound journey from New York is shorter due to the effects of the jet stream). Looking at ba.com for early November, the price for economy out/premium economy back falls to £621 return.

Another option worth considering: the premium for World Traveller Plus on the inbound leg is £194 at present. But if you turn up at the airport in New York with an economy ticket and ask at the BA desk to buy an on-the-spot upgrade to World Traveller Plus, it could well cost $250 (£167) or less. Few travellers seem to know that at-airport upgrades are usually available at a reasonable price.

If, on the other hand, you are comfortable with paying £900-ish for a return ticket, then consider buying an actual business-class return on Kuwait Airways' Heathrow-JFK link. The current fare is £945 return at kuwaitairways.com. Don't expect the full flat-bed experience as offered by mainstream transatlantic airlines, nor any inflight alcohol, but it is certainly the cheapest business-class option you will find.

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