Flight Review: Virgin America Main Cabin Select – Is It Worth It?

by on March 14, 2012 · 24 comments

in Trip Reports, Virgin America

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Main Cabin Select is rows 3 and 10, the first row of coach and the exit row.

TPG Managing Editor Eric chimes in with his thoughts on Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select, which I gave him for a work trip, since I got a 3 pack of flights at a great discount with Gilt City.

With more and more airlines putting in some sort of “premium” product in their coach cabin—see TPG’s recent post on Delta’s Economy Comfort and the imminent Main Cabin Extra on American—I thought I’d write up my recent experience flying Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select from LAX-JFK.

Main Cabin Select on Virgin America basically refers to the bulkhead and exit rows—so on the A320 I was on, that was row 3 and row 10, a total of 12 seats. My flights were pretty light, so I opted for row 3 since it looked like there would be an empty middle seat, and it meant I could be one of the first on and off the plane and not have to worry about overhead space.

My seat with the tray table pulled out--didn't quite make for a good work desk.

The Difference
Regular Main Cabin seats are black leather, have 32 inches of pitch, and are just shy of 20 inches wide, with 3-5 inches of recline and individual seatback video screens for entertainment. Movies and TV shows cost $8 to view, and you have to pay for food and drinks other than soda, juice, coffee, tea and water.

Though they’re essentially just coach seats, Main Cabin Select seats have six inches of more legroom with 38 inches of pitch—so I didn’t have to bend my legs at all if I didn’t want to. The fare included:

-Complimentary food and drink including alcohol and specialty drinks like bottled iced tea.
-All the entertainment was free.
-I got priority check-in and security screening in the premium class lines (which actually were faster this time at both LAX and JFK!).
-I was one of the first to board since Main Cabin Select boarding is right after first class, which is just 8 seats.
-I could also check a single bag of up to 50 lbs for free (instead of paying $25), which was good since my trip was for just about a week.

A row of regular Main Cabin seats.

The Experience
I’m a bit of a control freak, so I like going onto a flight knowing as much as possible about what’s going to happen and be available on board as possible. I checked out the Flying With Us tab, and was able to scan all the entertainment options including movies on demand, satellite TV, radio and games, and everything on the menu (since my flight was over 2 hours).

I also liked the fact that I knew for sure my flight would have GoGo in-flight WiFi, which meant I could spend the flight working and wouldn’t lose an entire day of productivity flying from coast to coast.

For the seat itself, yes, it was nice having the extra room and not having to get up every time my seatmate wanted to use the lavatory, plus it was nice to scroll through the movies and be able to pick anything I wanted to watch. If my flights hadn’t been early morning ones, I might even have indulged in a cocktail or two since they would have been free, but I settled for some snacks and a sandwich. Here’s a note of advice: order early because they ran out of options I wanted on both flights.

Because I had the bulkhead seat, it was also difficult to use the table as a desk since it was so far away from my seat, so I had to keep my computer on my lap in order to get work done, though it was nice to have a personal power port to keep my laptop charged (every row of the plane has two).

All snacks, meals and food are free for Main Cabin Select passengers.

Here’s where we get to the real question: is the experience worth it?

I priced it out, just to check. My flight would have cost just $279.60 in the Main Cabin, but the same itinerary costs nearly four times as much in Main Cabin Select, ringing in at a grand total of $1063.60. Luckily I had a voucher that I used, so I wasn’t on the hook for the fare.

In terms of Elevate points I’d earn, which are calculated at the rate of 5 Elevate points per dollar spent on base fare (excluding taxes and fees), I’d earn 1,290 points on the base fare in Main Cabin, and 5,210 in Main Cabin Select.

Just to put it in perspective, in Elevate points, the same roundtrip itinerary would cost me either 12,000 points plus $5 for Main Cabin, or 48,466 points plus $5 for Main Cabin Select—over four times as much!

There is a last-minute upgrade option that opens 24 hours in advance on Virgin America, but for some reason on my flights, it wasn’t available for moving from Main Cabin to Main Cabin Select or from Main Cabin Select to First Class, even though there were open seats. However, according to this chart on Virgin America’s website, for my flights, to upgrade from the Main Cabin to Main Cabin Select on each leg would have cost $129 each way plus taxes and fees. Much more affordable, though it basically doubles the base Main Cabin fare, and you’d be hard pressed to order enough entertainment and food to make up the cost.

Personally, I like the perks of priority check-in, boarding, baggage and not worrying about being nickel-and-dimed for every little expense while basically being held captive aboard an airplane, but the price differential is just way too expensive for the actual difference in service and product you get flying Main Cabin Select.

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  • Crissy

    I flew main cabin select from LAX to JFK last year, they do have last minute deals on it, I only paid around $125 for the upgrade. I spent about half that on the food, drinks and movies I ordered (though I wouldn’t have spent that much if I was paying for each item). At $125 I thought it wasn’t a bad value, but I agree for $1000 for the flight it would be a total rip off.

  • APH

    A few weeks ago, I had to book a very last-minute ticket from JFK-LAX for a funeral. I checked fares on different airlines every 30 min. and was amazed at how they all changed, up and down, in that time.

    Finally, a window of opportunity opened with Virgin: they were running a special–Main Cabin Select for the price of a regular Main Cabin seat! It was $349 for the one-way fare. I was still trying to decide, so I didn’t jump on it and, of course, later that day, the special was no more.

    But, as luck would have it, when I went online again the following morning, the magic special was back! So I booked it. I don’t drink alcohol when flying, but, as I would have paid the same fare for regular Main Cabin, it was certainly worth it for me for the entertainment options and lunch!

  • APH

    Of course, the additional room and early boarding (I chose Row 3, too) was a major plus as well.

  • Eric

    For some reason the upgrade at check-in wasn’t available for my flights even though there were open seats, but I’ve updated the post to include Virgin’s fees for last-minute upgrade. Thanks!

  • AC

    Virgin has some known issue regarding to upgrade at T-24 window that it’s broken after last November’s IT update. The best way is to call to upgrade but the hold time could be long…

  • whendoublewidesfly

    main cabin select is ONLY worth it if it’s still available for upgrade at check in! I did it ONCE from LAX to Sea and it was $39 to upgrade. I figured the bag I was going to check would have cost me $25, so for $14 more dollars I also got food, drinks + leg room. Only down side is the flight is just over 2 hours, and cabin service was SO slow, that they didn’t use their red ordering system AT ALL! By the time the FA finished getting their first round of food and drinks for the main cabin, they sat down, turned off the Red ordering system and called it a flight, 20 minutes later we were starting our initial descend! Alaska airlines does beverage service in the main cabin 2x on this SAME route!

  • goamit

    As others said, Main Cabin Select is worth it if you upgrade 24 hours prior to takeoff (the ability to upgrade to First Class opens up 6 hours prior to takeoff).

  • RakSiam

    how much more would first class have cost?

  • Christian

    Come on, you can’t compare the price of a non-refundable ticket to that of fully flexible ticket without so much as mentioning it — that just makes this article tabloid level! Price difference on your itinerary seems to be more like $200, which is still arguably not worth it, but less horrendous…

  • Butterball11

    I also purchased the Gilt deal – a 5 pack for the Long Distance flights. They expire in mid June, and I have yet to use a single one. If anyone is interested in buying (or trading for points) one of the flights, let me know.

  • Cosmicclues

    Can you sell these to a non-family member? I am flying from SFO to NY in May.

  • Shahyan
  • Kris

    Do you know of any coupons for travel on Virgin America as we need oneway tickets from FLL to LAX or SFO..its coming v expensive..Thanks in advance..

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  • Connortusa

    I feel like with the addition of Elevate Gold (ME!) and Silver the Main Cabin Select seats will get mostly filled up with people who are on Gold or Silver because of that massive price differential.

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  • JOhn

    “Regular Main Cabin seats are black leather, have 32 inches of pitch, and are just shy of 20 inches wide”

    20″ wide? stop believing the VX marketing hype, they are lying through their teeth. They will be out of business in 24 months as the transcon wars are heating up and VX now has the worst product.

  • bg

    Never again VA. You can’t recline the seats. The arm rest is super uncomfortable since the remote control is on top of it. You don’t even get a bag of nuts in a 6 hour flight, you have to pay for it; which means you need to get you cc out of the overhead compartment but everything is so tight you fear you break you ankles.. The airplane kitchen is almost in the tiny bathroom. Yak. The stewards have hardly room to manage anything. But the have a rap song to tell you how to put on your seat belt….

  • none thank you

    Just home from SJD-SFO – i have to agree about the lousy drink service, bad seats, old aircraft, etc. I ordered using the RED service right as I sat down, and didn’t receive my order until 90 minutes into the flight (granted, I was sitting in the back of the plane, but I assumed, since they had placed my order, it could be run right out – instead, they did a normal drink service – serving EVERYONE before me…. when he got to me, he had no idea I pre-ordered, at all… anyway – I know how difficult a job being a FA is, so I tried to make my comment as nicely as possible – - I was saying that, you know, waiting for drinks I already ordered and paid for, while waiting for the crew to serve the rest of the non-pre-orders first, was frustrating – the guy literally told me that I should go start my own airline…
    F-Off Virgin – I’ll stick with dingy old UA – at least I know what I’m paying for, get great deals, acrue a boat load of miles, and fly wherever/whenever I wish. You guys can keep your snarky “cooler than you” attitudes, and nickel and dime charges, old, cheap-o tiny seats, – I’ll likely never fly you again.

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