Virgin Atlantic Announces Lower Economy Redemptions and Better Earning Benefits

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Virgin Atlantic sent out a slew of announcements yesterday to members of its Flying Club about updates to the frequent flyer program.

Screen shot 2013-08-15 at 7.00.46 PM

The highlights included the following:

-100% of base flown miles even on lowest Economy fares

-Economy reward flight for less miles

– Lower fuel surcharges on long haul Economy reward flights

– Increased limit you can buy or gift miles in each calendar year from 30,000 to 100,000 miles

– No more transaction fee on Miles Booster flights (This used to be 15 GBP, or about $22.50.)

The parts of this I was most interested in was the economy awards. The fact is, these new award levels and lower fees have been in place for a while, if not advertised, but awards on Virgin Atlantic have been pricing out at them for a few months now – and at least since May or June.

Here’s the old Virgin Atlantic redemption chart:

Virgin Atlantic award miles chartAnd here is the new chart:

Virgin Atlantic Award Chart newAs you can see, there are some key differences including the fact that Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington are all new 35,000 miles roundtrip instead of 38,500, and Miami and Orlando are now 42,500 instead of 45,000 while the biggest discount is for Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which have all dropped down from 47,500 to 42,500 miles roundtrip. The rest of the levels are still the same.

More importantly, however, the taxes and carrier-imposed fees have also dropped hundreds of  dollars – though they’re by no means inexpensive. To see what was really going on, I priced out a sample economy roundtrip award from Newark to London in September and got the following award:

Screen shot 2013-08-15 at 6.14.21 PMFor 35,000 miles and $443 – seems like the new award chart is pretty spot on. Just for comparison’s sake, I priced out an itinerary on British Airways the same exact dates and got the following redemption:

Screen shot 2013-08-15 at 6.16.01 PM40,000 Avios and $682 in taxes and fees. Not only does British Airways require 5,000 more miles, but they’ll also charge you $240 more to fly them!

Also to compare, I called up Virgin Atlantic to see about redeeming Flying Club miles on a Delta economy itinerary from JFK to London since I wasn’t finding any availability online and was able to nail down some dates in September, which the rep I got priced out at 60,000 miles and $212 – a lot more miles, but a lot fewer dollars.

If I were transferring Amex points for a redemption and trying to choose between flying Virgin and flying Delta, I might choose Virgin. I’d be saving 25,000 miles at the cost of about $230, or valuing those Amex points I’d save at about 0.9 cents each, which is a value I’d consider.

This was just a quick sample, but I suspect it will hold true across the various cities Virgin and British Airways service with flights to/from London. I can only hope that this large fee discrepancy might for once work in consumers’ favor and bring BA’s fees down as well so their award tickets don’t include outrageously high cash co-pays.

Even better would be if both carriers slashed their fees on premium economy and business/first class tickets, too. Ah well, dare to dream.

The other bit of good news is that all paid tickets will earn at least 100% of base miles. In the past, discount economy tickets in E, Q, V, X, N and O classes all earned just 50% of base miles, while you had to buy a Y, B, R, L, U or M economy ticket for 100% miles and that could be hundreds of dollars more expensive. Now at least everyone on the flight is earning at least the miles flown.

All in all, I’d say these are positive and much-needed changes, but I’d like to see those carrier-imposed fees come down even further. What do you think about the changes? Do they make you more likely to fly Virgin Atlantic?

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