Chase Ultimate Rewards Adds Virgin Atlantic As New Airline Transfer Partner

by on April 8, 2013 · 16 comments

in Chase, Ultimate Rewards, Virgin Atlantic

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Over the weekend, Chase Ultimate Rewards announced it was adding a new airline transfer partner: Virgin Atlantic.

Ultimate Rewards Virgin AtlanticSo that means if you have a Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus card, you can now transfer to Virgin Atlantic in addition to British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest and United plus hotel partners Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Priority Club, as well as Amtrak. This is an interesting move for Ultimate Rewards since Virgin Atlantic is also a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards (as is British Airways).

My 1,000-point transfer from Chase showed in my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club activity instantly although my mileage balance didn’t update until a few hours later.

Just to test it out, I transferred 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points (the minimum increment you can transfer) to my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account and the transfer registered with Virgin immediately in my account transaction history, though it took about 3 hours before my account was actually credited with the mileage.

This also means that, since you can transfer Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to Hilton HHonors points at a ratio of 1:2 like I did back in December, Hilton is now essentially a fifth hotel partner of Ultimate Rewards (though transfers won’t be instantaneous). Of course, that’s not nearly as enticing a prospect post-devaluation, but you could still potentially snag a second-to-top-tier Category 9 hotel for 50,000 HHonors points (and thus only 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points) depending on seasonal availability, or if you can take advantage of Hilton AXON awards before the levels change in June. You could book four nights at a Category 7 hotel for 145,000 HHonors points, which would require just 72,500 Ultimate Rewards points – that could save you nearly 95,000 HHonors points given current high season redemption levels, or 47,500 Ultimate Rewards points based on this transfer strategy. Here are some other ideas on maximizing Hilton HHonors points post-devaluation.

One of the reasons I haven’t transferred Amex points to Virgin Atlantic specifically to fly the airline in the past is because, like British Airways, Virgin tickets to and from London include exorbitant fuel surcharges and taxes that can top $1,000. However, availability in Upper Class (business class with lie-flat beds) is usually very open, both close-in and in advance, so if you value being able to use your miles easily (and you’re going to have to pay the taxes and surcharges anyway if you fly through London), then this could be a good redemption option for you.

Also, if it’s a question of transferring miles to Virgin Atlantic or to British Airways, it’s always worth having a look at Virgin’s mileage chart and comparing it to BA’s mileage calculator to see which requires more on your route. For instance, JFK to London on Virgin only costs 38,500, 60,000 or 90,000 miles roundtrip in economy, premium economy and business class respectively, while BA would charge you 40,000, 60,000 or 80,000 Avios for the same classes of service, so in economy, I’d do Virgin to save a few thousand miles, but for business class, I’d choose BA and save 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points!

There are also quite a few other ways to get a lot of value out of those Virgin miles. For example, redeem them for upgrades on paid tickets. For instance, from JFK, Boston, DC or Chicago, you need just 10,000 miles each way to upgrade from economy to premium economy or premium economy to Upper Class on the airline, and 20,000 miles each way to upgrade from economy to Upper Class (skipping premium economy). You can find tickets in the upgradable fare classes by searching for flights on this page at the bottom.

Upgrading is one of the best ways to use Virgin Atlantic miles.

Upgrading is one of the best ways to use Virgin Atlantic miles.

So if you were to buy a ticket from Chicago to London in an upgradable economy fare in May, that would run you about $1,252.

This upgradable M class fare is $1,252 in economy.

This upgradable M class fare is $1,252 in economy.

An Upper Class ticket on the same dates would be $4,145. So if you were to use 40,000 miles to upgrade, your value per mile would be about  7.2 cents per mile – not bad!

Your 40,000 miles would get you over $3,000 in value.

Your 40,000 miles would get you over $3,000 in value.

Virgin Atlantic also has an interesting roster of airline partners including: Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Cyprus Airlines, Gulf Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Jet Airways, Malaysia Airlines, SAS, Singapore Airlines, South African Airwyas, US Airways, Virgin America and Virgin Australia. Now, Virgin Atlantic is a little cagey when it comes to redemptions – it doesn’t publish charts for partner award redemptions and you have to call in to book awards, but its addition to Ultimate Rewards does open up award flights on all these airlines to members of the program as well.

Virgin Atlantic has a ton of great airline partners.

Virgin Atlantic has a ton of great airline partners.

All in all, I’m glad Ultimate Rewards continues to add travel partners, though I’d love to see another legacy carrier in the US as well as another European and Asian carrier as well.

The other element that I’d love to see Ultimate Rewards add is transfer bonuses since we haven’t seen any of those yet and it would be a major enhancement to the program, so fingers crossed!

Hat tip: View from the Wing.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • sfomsp

    FYI that M fare becomes closer to $1,600 when you add taxes. But still a good deal for upgrading versus the other options … analyzed here:

  • Dieuwer

    With the new Joint Venture between Virgin Atlantic and Delta, do you think that one will be able (in the near future) to earn Delta miles flying the M fare while upgrading using Virgin miles? What other possibilities are there?

  • jmw2323

    with the exception of Gulf, Cypurs, and VA, the other partners of VS already are partners of UR airlines

  • thepointsguy

    Yes- at some point. Timing is TBD at this point because I think they are still waiting on government approval

  • Justin

    More than anything it’s encouraging that they’re not resting on their laurels. It’s possible that they could add more European or Asian partners, but I think an American one is probably beyond reach with all of them tied up to other banks. Alaska is a possibility, I suppose, and that would be a VERY welcome addition.

  • Nick Aster

    Seems like it might be a lot of work to figure out if this is actually a good deal.

    The fees and taxes are completely insane…. 47500 miles plus about $700!

    the actual fare right now is $1400 …. so you’d really be saving only about $200

    Logic: about $500 in rewards points = 47500 miles plus the $700

  • RockStar

    This was an excellent article, TPG. All of the major FF blogs covered this story, but you’re the only one who gave me something worth reading. Your post included examples and explanations to help a newbie understand the values of Virgin Atlantic’s FF program and how that interplays with UR points. Nice work!

  • Dnznpnda

    I see how to transfer 1:1 from Chase to Virgin but can I transfer the other way 1:1? I’m thinking of applying for the Virgin card and then moving the points to UR after because I never fly with Virgin. Thoughts?

  • thepointsguy

    I wish! Sadly you cannot transfer into Chase UR from outside programs

  • Dnznpnda


  • STG

    If you were trying to book a flight using your UR points on Virgin America, would you have to transfer the points to to Virgin Atlantic and then transfer again to Virgin America? Or is an elevate point an elevate point? I think the Virgin America flights have great redemption rates.

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  • L.A. Lady

    Just saw this post… Thank you VERY much for the detailed review. Almost all of the other blogs gave this transfer a thumbs down without looking at the upgrade options (7.2 cents is indeed an incredible value–would totally be willing to pay for an upgradeable fare to get into Upper Class with points). I really like flying both Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America so this is awesome.

  • L.A. Lady

    I think (and anyone can please correct me if I’m wrong since I’m planning on doing this shortly), you would need to

    1. Transfer UR points to Virgin Atlantic.
    2. After the points have gone through and posted to your Flying Club account, call Virgin Atlantic and book your award ticket through customer service. I’m pretty sure you have to call them when booking award tickets through any of their airline partners, including Virgin America.

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