Virgin Atlantic announced it will be making changes to its Flying Club. Whenever I get emails like this I always shudder. I know that cheery subject line is an attempt to get readers excited about some “terrific” new update. In reality, the news usually couldn’t be more opposite.
Since Virgin Atlantic announced its changes, there’s been a ton of doom and gloom across a range of travel hacking blogs. Paid flights and mileage earnings are changing for the worse. Virgin’s doing what a lot of other airlines, like United, Delta, and American have done, which is reward the highest spenders with supercharged mileage earning potential. While travelers who buy cheap economy seats (A.K.A. most travelers) will see the miles they earn take a big hit. This stinks.
To be honest, though, I’m not concerned with earning Virgin Atlantic status. Nor am I terribly concerned with earning Virgin Atlantic miles exclusively. I have transferrable credit cards which allow me to earn miles for a variety of airlines.
For this post, I’m going to focus on how to use Virgin Atlantic miles to Europe for terrific value and show why I’m actually not that disappointed with some of the changes.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: The Basics
- Virgin Atlantic is not a member of a major airline alliance. However, it does have partnerships with Delta, Hawaiian, Malaysia Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, South African Airways, and Virgin Australia. Virgin Atlantic no longer partners with Virgin America.
- Virgin Atlantic is a 1:1 transfer partner for all 4 major transferable points travel-rewards programs, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, Citi ThankYou Points, and American Express Membership Rewards. This means miles are easy to earn!
- Watch out for high taxes and fees! While you’ll see below I think the fees are sometimes very worth it, Virgin Atlantic is notorious for high award travel fees.
- American Express and Citi typically offer 25%-30% Virgin Atlantic transfer bonuses a few times a year. For this reason, these are the best points to use for Virgin Atlantic awards.
How I’ve used Virgin Atlantic Miles to Europe
In 2016, Virgin Atlantic miles for flights to Europe figured in twice to my travel plans. This was with the current, soon to be old, Virgin Atlantic award chart.
- I traveled solo on a one-way ticket to London this summer before continuing on to Romania, Stockholm, and Swedish Lapland.
- I also booked an absolute steal of a girls’ trip to the European Christmas Markets in Prague and Munich with my mom and sister for December by first flying to London one-way on Virgin Atlantic.
Here’s how the Virgin Atlantic stars aligned.
- During a Virgin Atlantic 30% reward seat sale, one-way flights from Virgin’s defined Northeast U.S. region were reduced from 17,500 and 27,500 miles in economy and premium economy to only 12,250 and 19,250 respectively.
- American Express also ran a 30% Virgin Atlantic bonus transfer during part of Virgin’s sale.
By taking advantage of both of these promotions, I needed to transfer just 10k Amex MR Points to Virgin Atlantic for my summer economy flight to Europe and just 30k Amex MR Points for 3 one-way economy flights across the pond for my mom, sis, and me!
Yes, there were taxes and fees on the one-way economy flights of about $135 each ($235 Premium Economy). But, 10k Amex MR points + $135 for a nonstop, comfortable flight on Virgin Atlantic from New York to London is a great value.
You can stop in London for a couple of days (like I did) or continue on right away to a further point in Europe using a budget airline or different miles for a short-haul flight.
Booking a one-way, though, is essential. The value of a deal like this is lost on roundtrip flights from the U.S. to London. The airline fees in both directions combined with the U.K.’s hefty departure tax back to North America is too much out of pocket.
Ideally, you’d visit London and take the train or a cheap short-haul flight out of the U.K. to avoid or minimize departure fees. Then, you’d use different miles with an airline that has minimal taxes and fees, like United or American, for a one-way back to the U.S. Flexibility is key in order to be a successful travel hacker!
What’s Changing with Virgin Atlantic Miles to Europe
As of January 16, 2017, all bookings on Virgin Atlantic will go by the new award chart.
The new chart is broken up into off-peak and peak sections and divided by class. In 2017, the peak dates are March 31 – April 18, June 22 – September 6, and December 13 – 31. The remaining 2/3 of the year counts as off-peak.
Instead of just 2 U.S. regions, the new award chart has 4 different regions.
- Northeast: New York JFK, Newark, Boston, and Washington, D.C.
- Midwest: Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit
- South: Miami, Orlando
- West: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Seattle
The new Virgin Atlantic award chart below shows roundtrip award prices. One-ways are half of the number shown. The numbers in red are the old (until 1/15/17) mileage awards.
To/From the U.K.
|2016 Awards (Econ/P. Econ)||Economy (Off-Peak)||Premium Economy (Off-Peak)||Economy (Peak)||
Premium Economy (Peak)
Midwest & South U.S.
Economy and premium economy awards are going way down during off-peak times and up just a bit during peak times. Sorry luxury travelers, except for a small reduction in awards from the Northeastern U.S. region to London, all upper-class awards are going up (and up!) Not to mention the taxes and fees increase and eliminate any value with the overall redemption.
Travelers in the newly formed Midwest region lose out a bit because they’re no longer grouped with the Northeast. Yet, flying Virgin Atlantic during off-peak times from Atlanta, Chicago, or Detroit was reduced by 10k miles in economy and premium economy. If you live in Florida, Virgin has sent you a gift! The South region is not grouped with the higher redemptions for those folks out west. It’s now more than 8k miles cheaper for you to fly from Miami or Orlando to London. Happy times!
From the Northeast, it’ll now just cost 10k (instead of 17.5k!) Virgin Atlantic miles + about $135 in taxes in fees for a one-way to London!
To further justify the money spent in taxes and fees, time your points transfers from Citi or Amex during one of their 25%-30% transfer bonus periods for a one-way London redemption UNDER 10k miles. Aside from a $99 WOW Air one-way ticket or Norwegian promising to bring roundtrip flights to Europe for about $200, this new Virgin Atlantic award chart is a stand-out way to use miles and points as an access point to Europe.
So, what do you think of Virgin Atlantic’s award chart changes? What 2017 European trips would you like to plan using Virgin Atlantic’s new award chart?
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