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