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Yesterday, I reported that American Express launched two simultaneous transfer bonuses starting today, October 15, 2013. From now through December 31, 2013, Amex will be offering a 20% bonus on points transfers to partner British Airways. Also starting and running just through November 30, 2013, Amex will be offering a 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic. There’s no need to register for these bonuses as they will just be automatically hard coded into the transfer pages for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic respectively.
As I promised shortly after the news broke, I wanted to go into more detail about these transfer bonuses along with ideas on when they could be worth taking advantage of and in what class of travel.
In general, I think BA Avios are more valuable than Virgin Atlantic miles and if I had to choose one or the other I would choose them. However, Virgin does have great availability on certain routes and arguably their Upper Class is a more enjoyable product, plus the transfer bonus is a full 10% more than to British Airways, so it is definitely something to consider.
Partner redemptions also often provide great values, so I’ll be taking a look at those in a fture post, but here is a side by side comparison of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic redemptions.
BA’s 747 comes in 4 classes with either a 299-seat or a 345-seat layout. First class has 14 open seats with a pitch of 78 inches and width of 21; Club World (Business) has 70 lie-flat seats with a pitch of 73 and width of 25; World Traveler Plus (Premium Economy) has standard 30 seats with a pitch of 38 and width of 18.5, and World Traveler (Economy) has 185 with a pitch of 31 and width of 17.5.
Just to note, BA’s Club World (business class) has included fully lie-flat beds for several years now and on their 747-400, they have 8 seats across in a 2 x 4 x 2 configuration which really makes for cramped seating and very minimal privacy.
Each seat has a personal TV with their High Life Entertainment system of movies, on-demand TV and music, along with a full bar of drinks, meals served and in-seat power. Premium Economy has the extra perk of a blanket and amenity kit with toothbrush, toothpaste, flight socks and eye mask; Business offers access to private lounges and spa treatments, along with a luxury amenity kit with Elemis skincare products, a larger 10.4 inch flat screen TV and noise-cancelling headphones. While First has private, spacious suites with a mattress, duvet and pajamas, along with premium skincare products including eye gel, lip balm and moisturizer in a signature Anya Hindmarch bag.
If you are lucky enough to fly in British Airways’ new 787-8 Dreamliner, however, you will get to experience a lighter, quieter and more fuel-efficient aircraft that has enhancements throughout the cabin. As of October 1, 2013, the Dreamliner flies from London to Newark, and has 35 flatbed seats in Club World (with a pitch of 73 inches and a width of 20), 25 seats in World Traveler Plus (with a pitch of 38 inches and a width of 18.5 in a 2-3-2 formation), and 154 in World Traveler (with a pitch of 31 inches and a width of 17.5 in a 3-3-3 formation).
Windows are 30% larger than on most aircraft and brightness can be controlled with the touch of a button instead of pulling shades down. In-flight entertainment comes on a TV screen 35% larger than before with 130 movies, 650 TV shows, 550 audio albums, and 225 radio shows. There is also 110V in-seat laptop power ports and 2 USB power sockets in Club World and World Traveler Plus. The pod seats in Club World are in a staggered formation with some facing the front and others the rear, and a privacy screen that can be pulled down between neighboring seats.
Also running the Boeing 747 and Airbus A340 aircraft to and from Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic’s 747 has three seat classes: Upper Class with 44 lie-flat seats with a length of 78 inches and a width of 22; Premium Economy with 62 recliner seats with a pitch of 38 and a width of 21; and 261 Economy seats with a pitch of 31 and a width of 17.5. Each seat has personal TVs airing Virgin’s Vera entertainment system, but only premium and upper class have in-seat power. All classes have a full bar and meal service, while premium fliers get stainless steel cutlery, a linen tablecloth and an amenity kit, and upper get pre-flight champagne, gourmet dining, a personal suite with a 10.4 inch TV, access to their Clubhouses, private security at Heathrow, and chauffeur transfer services.
Virgin Atlantic recently rolled out its new upper class suite on flights from Heathrow to New York (along with other routes to the US, Caribbean, Africa, Middle East and Asia), featuring one of the longest lie-flat beds in business class and a new comfort system and extra padded sleep sheet. Each suite has direct aisle access and a window built in to give you more light. In-flight entertainment comes care of 2.1 inch touchscreen monitor and handset, loaded with our their new entertainment system called JAM so you can connect your phone, USB stick or tablet to access your own content and charge your device. In addition, 15 of their new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners will start operation across the network in 2014, bringing larger windows and higher ceilings to the 250-290 passengers in upper class, premium economy and economy. The two-aisle planes are made of 50% composite materials and boast of new levels of fuel efficiency and noise emissions per seat for a quieter and more fuel-efficient flight.
So in terms of First Class, only British Airways offers it – clear choice. With business class, you can choose between British Airways’ Club World and Virgin’s Upper Class. If you’re flying a 747, I’d choose Virgin’s new Upper Class over BA’s Club World any day because those seats are packed in so tight at 8 across, but I might just be tempted to try out BA’s new Newark-London service aboard the 787. The Economy seat dimensions are the same between the two airlines, and these redemptions tend not to be a great value thanks to the hefty fees and taxes flying in and out of London.
Now let’s just look at the points transfer options to see which might be bets for you.
Redeeming Amex Points For Flights On British Airways
- Flying JFK-LHR Roundtrip in Economy: 40,000 Avios and $688.75 in taxes and fees. You would need to transfer 34,000 Membership Rewards points with this 20% transfer bonus points promo.
- Flying JFK-LHR Roundtrip in Premium Economy: 60,000 Avios and $796.60 in taxes and fees. You would need to transfer 50,000 Membership Rewards points with this 20% transfer bonus points promo.
- Flying JFK-LHR Roundtrip in Business Class: 80,000 Avios and $1,166.60 in taxes and fees. You would need to transfer 67,000 Membership Rewards points with this 20% transfer bonus points promo.
- Flying JFK-LHR Roundtrip in First Class: 120,000 Avios and $1,166.60 in taxes and fees. You would need to transfer 100,000 Membership Rewards points with this 20% transfer bonus points promo.
Redeeming Amex Points For Flights On Virgin Atlantic
- Flying JFK-LHR Roundtrip in Economy: 35,000 miles plus $449.90 taxes and fees. You would need to transfer 27,000 Membership Rewards points with this 30% transfer bonus points promo.
- Flying JFK-LHR Roundtrip in Premium Economy: 55,000 miles plus 757.70 taxes and fees. You would need to transfer 43,000 Membership Rewards points with this 30% transfer bonus points promo.
- Flying JFK-LHR Roundtrip in First Class: 80,000 miles plus 1,127.70 taxes and fees. You would need to transfer 62,000 Membership Rewards points with this 30% transfer bonus points promo.
Side By Side Comparison
So to put it all together, here are the points and taxes figures for each award side by side:
|British Airways||Using Amex to BA with 20% Bonus||Virgin Atlantic||Using Amex to VA with 30% Bonus|
|Economy||40,000 Avios + $688.75||34,000 Amex + $688.75||35,000 miles + $449.90||27,000 Amex + $449.90|
|Premium Economy||60,000 Avios +$796.60||50,000 Amex +$796.60||55,000 miles + 757.70||43,000 Amex + $757.70|
|Business||80,000 Avios + $1,166.60||67,000 Amex + $1,166.60||80,000 miles + 1,127.70||62,000 Amex + $1,127.70|
|First||120,000 Avios and $1,166.60||100,000 Amex and $1,166.60||-||-|
As you can see, it makes much more sense to transfer to Virgin Atlantic in each case (even when the taxes are slightly higher in Premium Economy) because the 30% transfer bonus means you’re using a lot fewer Amex points for the same redemption. That said, if you really want to fly British Airways, with the exception of an economy redemption which is prohibitively expensive thanks to the huge taxes and fees on the ticket, you won’t be spending that much more money or that many more Amex points to put it out of the question, so you can still consider which product you want to fly.
While these aren’t the most lucrative Amex transfer bonuses that we’ve seen, even recently, they’re still something to consider if you were already thinking about transferring your points to either airline, or if you were instead going to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards from your Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus accounts at a mere 1:1 ratio to either program.
In the coming days I will do partner redemptions to show where these might be good options, so stay tuned!
For more information on this topic, check out these posts: Amex Transfer Bonuses to British Airways (20%) and Virgin Atlantic (30%) Launch Tomorrow Top 10 Lesser Known Amex Membership Rewards Transfer Partners Transferring Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios Versus Cathay Pacific Asia Miles A History of Amex Transfer Bonuses