Having recently flown back to Sydney from London on Virgin and back on BA both in Premium Economy I would like to comment on the marked differences between the two products:
BA wins here - for me being able to preselect a bulkhead seat is a BIG plus. BA lets you (having no status) whereas Virgin seems to block the entire front row. Booking process was the same for both (using call centre as I needed to make side trips as part of booking).
2. Pre flight
Virgin wins hand down. They have dedicated check in desks (although the staff were a bit snobby and short). I requested a bulkhead to be told one was left and it couldn't be given to me but to try at the gate. I then went to chance my luck at Economy check in, where the guy was soooo nice and friendly and told me that was nonsense and that I could have it! (usually I am very timid and wouldn't have tried my luck again). Anyway this turned out to be a big mistake as I was on the aisle but in the centre block which means at the bulkhead one cannot stretch your legs straight (unlike on BA). On the side blocks its also like this but with about 3-4" extra but still not enough. The 'normal' seats are a better bet on Virgin.
Virgin wins on the basis of the following: priority boarding in London and HK, not having to stand in long queues. Pre flight drink is a nice bonus if youre thirsty! newspaper is a nice touch too, as is the hot towel. The food comes as a choice of 3 meals on china - very tasty. BA's economy meals are very average. (choice of 2). flight attendants mixed- good and bad on both. BA has a nice snack bar at the back filled with goodies.
I found BA's seat more comfortable for the 23 hour trip. The bulkhead was great (VS's was horrid, see above). VS has the upside of having its own bathrooms whereas on the 777 I was on BA shared with Economy. Relatively the same sized cabins.
VS wins again with priority luggage. My bags were about 10th off the plane in Sydney and I was out through customs first as all the others were caught in the overseas queue
Overall, VS wins handsdown in terms of extras. They don't cost the airline too much money but it really gives the product a totally different feel to economy. BA however doesn't and it just feels like economy with a bigger seat.
I myself can go without the pre flight drink, but the priority checkin, boarding etc is all great (again I could go without but its a nice touch). It's hard to say who I would pick in the future as the seat on BA is superior for me which is the no. 1 thing on such a long flight- plus being able to pre select bulkhead - great.
I'd be interested to hear other people's opinions who have flown on both.
Also, I have head Air NZ's product is more like business class too. However I don't get the 3-2 seating on the upper deck (yes the food and service is top notch but being stuck in the middle seat or having to climb over 2 other people is not my idea of fun and I would much rather be on BA/VS).
(p.s. of note, Qantas' new product follows more that of BA's. It is however a little mroe expensive - maybe 10% more based on random dates I picked! How are they going to make this work?)