Wednesday 10 April 2019

Flying to the Maldives direct with British Airways // a guide to the REAL difference between economy, premium economy and first class

No, this is not a fancy collaboration where British Airways took me on all expenses paid trip to the Maldives (a girl can dream!). Nor is this is a sponsored post or being compensated for in any shape or form. This written piece came about when I was booking flights to the Maldives and literally at my wits end about which airline to go with and whether to book economy seats or to spend more. There is such a vast difference in cost for the different pricing bands and when you've never flown to said destination before or experienced the plane or the layout, it's overwhelming. For long haul flights like these you want to be in comfort, but at the same time is spending more worth the extra money? 

When flying to the Maldives from further afield, you have two options:

  1. fly there direct (to my knowledge, British Airways is the only airline that offer this currently)
  2. have a punctuated journey (usually a stopover in Dubai) which a lot of the other airlines offer

It's a double edged sword. The direct flights are obviously more expensive, but then you pay extra for convenience. It enables you to spend less time travelling (for me, 11 hours was more than enough!) but they only fly on particular days of the week at particular times. Flying with other airlines like Virgin, Qatar and Emirates offers some degree of flexibility as when I searched I found more flights / times / options to play around with and also cheaper flights. 


I kid you not. Say you wanted to splash out and treat yourselves to premium economy or first class, paying thousands on plane tickets won't stop there. In order to secure a seat, you will need to pay from £50-60 per person each way. This really took me aback as I hadn't flown long haul in years and hadn't experienced this before. And note that this is from £50-60 per person each way. The £50 seats were literally the cheapest ones at the back of the plane. If you want to be on or around the wing to avoid the worst of the turbulence and / or aircraft noise, this then jumped in price. I complained to my travel provider about this (as this is never highlighted during the booking process) and they reimbursed some of my travel costs so I could put the money towards pre-booking my seats. So definitely worth making a noise about this if this happens to you too.

Alternatively you can save spending the extra money on seats if you are happy to chance it on the day (BA will place you in whatever spare seat they can find). However with this you risk not being sat with your family / significant other (something I was not willing to do!).


When choosing my seat, I found it very hard to find a seating plan online for my British Airways flight. The seating plan they had on the seat booking portal implied there were seats available in the very first row of economy which I snapped up immediately and paid extra for. When on the flight, I discovered these were in fact NOT front row seats. The front row in economy turned out to be the very last row of premium economy which had been smooshed into economy for whatever reason. And not only that, but this front row was specially tailored to families with babies and had a fold down shelf where a baby carrier / bed could be installed. Paying extra money to pre-book my seats (as per previous section) and then find out that I wasn't where I thought I would be, and to have a crying baby in front of me for the whole overnight flight... wow.

Not only that, but the British Airways seat booking portal also shows a few seats without access to a window. As it was a special occasion (and trust me, I'm not going to be flying to the Maldives that often!), I wanted to ensure that we had a window seat and could see the islands when landing. I spoke to British Airways customer service both online via contact forms, social media AND on the phone, who all assured me that the seats I had my eye on were by a window. Guess what? THEY WERE NOT (the above pic is from the seaplane and has no relation to my BA flight). Which left me regretting my decision to pre-book my seats, because what is the point if you are not sitting where you have paid to sit?


If you are departing from London, direct flights to the Maldives with British Airways depart from London Gatwick airport. I booked economy as when it comes to booking a trip away, I'd rather spend more of my budget on the hotel as this is ideally where I am spending the longest period of time.

I had this fantasy that we'd check in and be surprised with a complimentary upgrade because the flight was empty. However there are zero BA check in desks now in use at London Gatwick. It's now a case (no pun intended) of you having to lift your own cases onto the conveyor belt, weigh them and apply the tag thingy yourself. Staff cuts and all that. Some of these conveyor belts had someone to help you lift and process your case, but no one to physically to check you in. Check in can be done online 24 hours in advance or you check in yourself at the airport on machines.

So other than being waved over to a conveyor belt that snatched our cases off of us, we didn't really have all that much human interaction. The overall process was very "do it yourself". On the way back the flight was completely full (apparently it was the last direct flight of the season) so zero chance of an upgrade. Don't rely on an upgrade. You won't get one.


I understand some people may be tempted by first class for a special occasion like an anniversary or honeymoon but in all honesty, on the BA direct flight to the Maldives, there wasn't a huge difference in space / experience between the three. In fact I would have been seriously miffed if I'd paid for first class or premium economy. I was glad I stuck to my guns and opted for economy and to spend more on the holiday itself. To explain quite how much the price differs, here are the average costs in relation to economy:

  • Premium economy - typically £300-500 more than economy
  • First class - £3,000+ more than economy (typically just shy of £5k per adult!)

Some first class seats were backwards (something that would really piss me off if I'd paid all that extra money). You are sat in individual pods but they are not all that private or spread out. In fact people in economy and premium economy walk through first class to get to their seats. It felt very claustrophobic and I think I would have felt really cheated if I'd paid all that extra money to be sat in first class. I feel like other airlines do first class so much better.

What were the main differences?

Pillows - Economy doesn't even have a pillow case - it's essentially just cushion filling. Premium economy allows you the luxury of actually having a pillow case for your pillow. And then first class... a far nicer pillow case.

Blanket - Economy had a really thin, basic, scratchy blanket. We had an overnight flight and I was FREEZING. Premium economy had a much thicker blanket which was quilted (oooo) and first class probably had a full on duvet (I can't recall).

For the sake of a thicker blanket, nicer cushion and a TINY bit of extra leg room, paying extra for premium economy or first class just didn't seem worth it or good value for money (but hey, that's just me).  I have been on other long haul flights where first class has been generously spread out, had a bar area and been a lot more private (not that I've ever flown first class!). The layout for first class, premium economy and economy on the BA direct flight is one long room with no sense of privacy. Once the plane takes off, they draw the (thin) curtain but this doesn't stop sound. Which leads me onto my next point nicely.


If you've ever seen BBC drama The Cry (or read The Cry by author Helen FitzGerald) you will know all about the joy of a baby crying during a long haul flight. On our overnight flight a newborn screamed for 9 out of the 11 hours so we only managed about 2 hours sleep. All classes heard it. You can sit in your private pod sipping champagne, but trust me, that curtain didn't stop anything. If I'd paid almost £5,000 for a seat and experienced all that noise during an over-nighter and not been able to sleep / work, I would have been grouchy as.


It goes without saying, premium economy has more leg room than economy. But not by much. First class also has more leg room but isn't as spaced out and private as you would hope for the cost. But to me, the extra leg room didn't warrant spending hundreds of pounds (premium economy) or thousands of pounds (first class) extra on seats.


I can't comment on what premium economy received, but I imagine that first class would have had nicer food options (and probably champagne as standard). Saying that, economy was perfectly fine and did the job. I don't have a huge appetite when I'm travelling anyway. On the way there, economy had a choice of mac and cheese (vegetarian meal) or chicken with winter vegetables. I had the chicken and it came in a really lovely sauce with cheese and chive mashed potato. It also came with a lemon and mint edamame and rice salad, a bottle of water, cheese and crackers, a bread roll and a mango and passion fruit posset.

Breakfast the next morning was not so good. I requested the Traditional English Fry Up and got given the vegetarian option(!) This comprised of an mushroom omelette (not my favourite), a creamy sauce (something I can never face on a long flight) and crispy potatoes. It was all a bit slooshy for a overnight flight, so I picked out the solids (mushrooms and potatoes). It also came with a fruit bag, orange juice and a blueberry muffin (I can't get behind muffins that aren't chocolate). A few mushrooms, potatoes and pieces of fruit weren't really enough to set me up for a long day.

On the return flight, I had chicken, vegetables and potato wedges, a bread roll, cheese and crackers, a pasta salad and a KitKat. The veggie option in economy was pasta - which seemed like a poor choice given that the accompaniment was... a pasta salad. No pictures of this I'm afraid.

I'd be interested to know what they serve in first class. But is it worth spending £3,000+ more? Unless my food comes out topped with gold and diamonds, I reckon not.


Yes they do. Everyone has their own individual screen in the back of the seat of front of them. The screen size was tiny and not great quality. It was enough to keep you distracted during a a long haul flight, but for films that rely on special effects and great sound, it wasn't a great medium to watch them on. BA supplies in-ear headphones but I recommend bringing your own. If you get terrible ear ache and turbulence on flights like I do, over-the-ear headphones do the job nicely. Noise cancelling headphones are the ticket and block out the noisiest aspects of the aircraft in flight.

It was amusing how people sat in the front row went from being smug about having all the extra leg room and then discovering that they didn't have a screen to watch films on. If you are front row, the screen will not be in the back of the seat in front of you. Because there is no seat in front of you to speak of. Fiddle around your arm rest vicinity and hey presto, your screen will swivel out precariously on a flexible arm type fixture. Fear not, you won't be without films and TV for 11 hours!

Film choice was good. I was able to watch some of the latest film offerings of the time. Some of these being Bohemian Rhapsody, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Crazy Rich Asians and Smallfoot. Episode choice ranged from current (ish) titles to older offerings. I loved re-watching old episodes of Fawlty Towers and documentaries like Joanna's Lumley's Silk Road Adventure (I could listen to her voice all day long!).


I booked my holiday through Virgin Holidays but booked British Airways flights. The Virgin site was a joy to use, but whenever I had to transfer through to British Airways for the flights aspect of my booking, it was clunky, slow and felt dated. The British Airways site could really do with a refresh so it's a little more user intuitive and user friendly.


I'm not kidding, but gin ran out on the flight fast. Cue lots of grouchy people facing the majority of an 11 hour flight without their poison of choice to mellow them. If gin is your tipple of choice, get in there quickly.


Hope this travel guide is a useful read! I personally would have loved to find / read something like this before booking my flights as it would have confirmed to me that there isn't really any value to spending more on premium economy or first class (at least that's my opinion!). If you have any other questions about British Airways flights to the Maldives, hit me up in the comments below and I'll be more than happy to answer your questions!

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