Miles Redemption with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club - How It's Done
Virgin is an often-overlooked airline for points redemptions because they seem not to play with any other airlines. This isn’t actually accurate however, as they have great partnerships with a dozen different airlines from different alliances to be utilized. In this article, we’ll show which deals are worthwhile and how to find them.
Most notable is the partnership with Delta and Air France/KLM. Delta holds a 49% stake in the airline, and Air France/KLM are close partners due to Virgins inclusion in the SkyTeam transatlantic joint venture. Virgin Atlantic is also a partner of its former stakeholder Singapore Airlines, as well as Japan’s All Nippon Airways and Virgin Australia, with all of whom they also share frequent flyer partnerships.
From a points perspective, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citibank ThankYou Rewards. All three transfer points at a 1:1 ratio.
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A round trip in business class with Virgin Atlantic between New York and London will set you back 95,000 miles in standard season or 115,000 in peak season. In addition to the miles, taxes and fuel surcharges are levied so you’ll be looking at paying in excess of $1,500 USD in addition to the miles.
The best use of Virgin Atlantic miles is therefore partner redemptions, here are a few examples:
All Nippon Airways can take you in first class from California to Japan for 110,000 miles and approximately $350 in taxes and fuel surcharges.
Delta Airlines business class from the continental US to Europe will set you back 100,000 miles and only $100-$200 in airport taxes (Delta doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on award travel).
Availability may be hard to come by, in particular saver availability between California and Europe, so while the above examples may provide excellent value, it comes at the expense of scarce availability.
Working out the cost of a Flying Club award ticket
As of December 2020, Virgin Atlantic uses a traditional pricing structure of fixed award chart though there have been indications that this may change again in the near future. Similar to many other non-alliance airlines each partner airline has its own award chart. For full pricing, refer to the award charts on the Virgin Atlantic website.
Seasonality changes prices in Virgin's own award charts
In addition to its airline partners, Virgin Atlantic has a separate award chart for its own flights. What makes the Virgin award chart slightly complicated is the fact that it has different pricing based on seasonality, in other words you can expect to pay a higher award rate for travel during peak holiday seasons such as Christmas and the summer months. Seasonality pricing also applies when redeeming Flying Club points on Delta, who is a joint venture partner.
It is widely held that using miles on Virgin’s own flights seldom represent good value, mainly due to the fact that the airline imposes very high fuel surcharges on its own flights. These can run upwards of $1,800 for a business class round trip departing from the United States.
Book with partners instead
The biggest value of the Flying Club program lies in its partners, with whom it’s possible to fly for a fraction of the cost compared to the partner’s own programs. One such example is All Nippon Airways First Class which can sometimes be booked using Flying Club for 120,000 points round trip from New York to Tokyo. The exact same trip booked using ANA’s own Mileage Club program will set you back upwards of 165,000 miles.
Delta flights are also a good example of the arbitrage that can be achieved through Flying Club, more specifically long-haul flights in Delta One. Another such example is for nonstop flights between the US and South America where Flying Club charges just 90,000 points round trip between Atlanta and Santiago. The same flight booked using Delta SkyMiles would set you back a cool 260,000 SkyMiles.
Finding award availability and booking flights using Flying Club
Virgin Atlantic, Delta, Air France and KLM flights can be searched and booked directly on the Virgin Atlantic website. No account is needed for this, you simply type in the destination and dates, and make sure to tick the box, “book with miles”. This will give you all the search results in miles, including the cost of taxes and fees.
For partner airlines, things become slightly trickier as they have to be booked over the phone
What we’re perhaps most interested in is All Nippon Airways which is searched on the United Airlines search engine. The same booking classes apply for awards with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club:
X for Economy
I for Business
O for First
In other words, if you find award availability in O-class using the United search engine, the same seats can be booked by Virgin Atlantic by calling their hotline. This also applies to their other Star Alliance partner airlines Singapore Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand and South African Airways.
Working out the cost in taxes and fees
As mentioned previously, Virgin Atlantic passes on the fuel surcharges to the customer, and for Virgin’s own flights departing the US these can reach upwards of $1,800. These can be avoided by flying on partner airlines that don’t take out fuel surcharges like Delta Airlines. Other airlines such as All Nippon Airways take out lower fuel surcharges that can amount to roughly $300 for a long-haul flight.
The easiest way to calculate the taxes and fees is to look up the itinerary on the search tool on Virgin Atlantic’s website. If the itinerary is not bookable online, then the best way to calculate the taxes and surcharges is by finding the same itinerary in a GDS or by using ITA Matrix.
Routing rules and award booking conditions
Award booking rules are fairly straight forward for Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
One-way awards are possible and charged half the cost of a round trip award
Open-jaws are possible
The only exception is on All Nippon Airways redemptions where you cannot book one-way travel, you must book a round trip or open-jaw.
Stopovers can be expensive
Stopovers are technically allowed, though you will be forced to pay the additional cost in miles for the stopover leg as Virgin prices it the same as a one-way flight within or between regions. In some cases, that may not represent good value, which is why it’s always good to compare prices beforehand.
Changes and cancellations
Flying Club awards can be changed and cancelled up to 24 hours prior to departure. No changes or cancellations can be made beyond that point, which means that you can’t do any changes to a trip that has already started. The fee for changes and cancellations is $50 per person.
Virgin Atlantic allows you hold awards for up to 24-72 hours at no additional cost. This is useful when you’re waiting for the points transfer to clear.