Virgin Atlantic Promo: 25% Discount on Economy Awards- Worth It?
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Now through June 17, 2013, Virgin Atlantic is offering an award discount promotion where you can book economy award seats for 25% fewer miles than normal. Concurrently, the airline is also offering a buy/transfer/gift miles bonus of 15%.
A roundtrip flight from New York JFK or Newark will normally cost you 35,000 miles, but with this promo the mileage requirement is only 28,000 miles. Los Angeles or San Francisco to London - normally 47,500 miles - would only require 35,000 miles, pretty low for a roundtrip award travel between North American and Europe- especially during peak season (check out this post for more on offpeak awards). Reduced fares are also available from the Caribbean/Mexico, Dubai, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong/Sydney.
You'll also notice the "Taxes & Carrier-Imposed Fees" column in the table above which states that these charges on economy tickets run in the range of $700, but according to this special award chart just for the promo, it actually looks like taxes and fees will actually only run in the $450 range for economy tickets - and it looks like Virgin's taxes/surcharges will remain around this lower level beyond the promotion period too (note, you must be logged into your account to view the new surcharges/fees). Hopefully British Airways will start to match and travel to/from London will start coming down in price! At least on award tickets.
I actually priced out an itinerary a few weeks in the future in June from New York to London and came up with 26,000 miles and $371 in taxes and fees:
$371 still isn't cheap, but considering the same flights are going for $1,294, you're saving over $900 and using just 26,000 miles, giving you a per-mile value of 3.55 cents. Note: you don't earn miles on award tickets, nor can you upgrade them like you can paid tickets so take that into consideration when deciding if this promo is worth it.
Although there's also a 15% buy/transfer miles bonus if you need to top up your account, remember that Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards if you have a card like the Premier Rewards Gold or Platinum, and Chase Ultimate Rewards now if you have one of Chase's premium travel cards including the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold and Ink Plus, and points from both programs transfer at a 1:1 ratio, so topping up is an inexpensive option, though consider whether transferring to other partners may make more sense.