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Virgin Atlantic recently announced the addition of some new routes and changes to existing service. The airline asserts that the heart of its network lies in transatlantic flights, and that its goal is to continue growing that sector of the business. The not-so-great (old) news is that award flights on Virgin Atlantic typically don’t offer good value due to the high cost of government taxes and fees and fuel surcharges they impose.
The airline also has plans to end some older routes that aren’t working for them as early as October 2014. Below is an overview of the upcoming changes, and ideas for how to book them without the additional costs.
The New Routes:
Virgin Atlantic says these new routes and services will be “up for sale soon”, but no exact date is specified.
- A fifth daily service from London Heathrow to New York JFK
- A new daily service from London Heathrow to Detroit with new connections like Cincinnati, New Orleans, Memphis and Indianapolis
- An additional daily service from London Heathrow to Los Angeles
- A second daily service during the summer season from London Heathrow to Atlanta
- An additional summer seasonal service from London Heathrow to San Francisco flying five times a week
- A second daily service during the winter season from London Heathrow to Miami
- A daily service from Manchester to Atlanta
- Partner airline Delta will operate one of their existing London Heathrow to Newark services
- Delta will also launch a new daily partner service from Manchester to New York JFK in summer, 2015
Say Goodbye to These Routes:
- London-Tokyo Narita: The final flight from London to Tokyo will be on January 31, 2015 and the final flight from Tokyo to London will be on February 1, 2015.
- London-Mumbai: The final flight from London to Mumbai will be on January 31, 2015, and the final flight from Mumbai to London will be on February 1, 2015.
- The summer seasonal service from London Heathrow to Vancouver will not return after this season is complete on October 11, 2014.
- The winter seasonal service to Cape Town will operate as planned in winter 2014/15, but will not be renewed the following winter. The final flight from London to Cape Town will be on April 26, 2015 and the final flight from Cape Town to London will be on April 27, 2015.
Award Miles For New Routes:
The two new routes added are LHR-Detroit and Manchester to Atlanta. So far, these flights aren’t bookable on the Virgin Atlantic website, but according to the current award chart, the number of miles needed for an award ticket (plus taxes and fees) will most likely be as follows:
As you can see, the taxes and fees are hefty, which brings me to my next point: how to avoid them.
Tips For Avoiding Virgin’s Taxes and Fees
Virgin Atlantic has 14 different airline partners, giving you lots of creative opportunities to use your miles. Also keep in mind that Virgin Atlantic is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest, so you have plenty of ways to accrue the miles you need for a redemption. Here are a few options for minimizing fuel surcharges and fees, and reducing the number of miles required:
Delta redemptions will cost more in miles, but much less in taxes and fees. Delta is probably your best option if you’re trying to take advantage of some of the new routes or the additional services on existing routes between London and the US, and have a good number of miles or transferable points.
For example, a roundtrip flight in economy class from JFK-LHR on Virgin Atlantic will cost you just 35,000 Flying Club miles, but almost $500 in taxes and fees. On the contrary, if you book using Delta, it will cost you 60,000 miles, but only about $200 in taxes and fees. So you’d be using 25,000 extra Delta miles to save about $300, which works out to a value of 1.2 cents per mile. That’s actually perfectly in line with my most recent valuation for SkyMiles, which makes this a fair deal.
You do have to consider the class of service that you prefer flying in. It’s difficult to find business class awards on Virgin Atlantic–in fact, there were virtually none available in October and November. On the contrary, lower level awards are sometimes difficult to come by on Delta. If you’re cash-strapped but points rich, booking with SkyMiles seems like the better option.
ANA awards are distance based, so to use them for travel on Virgin Atlantic between New York and London, you would need 43,000 miles in economy or 68,000 miles in business class. In many cases their taxes and fees are just as high as those on Virgin Atlantic, but it’s still worth a try. You can’t book Virgin award tickets on the ANA website, so you’ll have to call and ask.
You can use Virgin America Elevate miles to book LHR-JFK or a similar route on Virgin Atlantic. While the taxes and fees are approximately the same, you can take advantage of the different transfer ratios from Amex Membership Rewards to the two frequent flyer programs. For example, here are the redemption levels from JFK-LHR using Virgin Atlantic miles and Virgin America miles, and the number of Amex points you’d need to transfer in each case:
- Economy: 35,000 miles = 35,000 Amex points
- Premium Economy: 55,000 miles = 55,000 Amex points
- Upper Class: 80,000 miles = 80,000 Amex points
- Economy: 15,000 Elevate points = 30,000 Amex points
- Premium Economy: 25,000 Elevate points = 50,000 Amex points
- Upper Class: 35,000 Elevate points = 70,000 Amex points
In this case you’d save by transferring to Virgin America, so be sure to check this option if you’re planning to transfer Amex Membership Rewards points.
Singapore Airlines could be another option to look into if you are hoping to fly some of these transatlantic routes. According to the VA award chart, for roundtrip award tickets on Virgin Atlantic, Singapore would require:
Economy: 50,000 miles
Premium Economy: 65,000 miles
Upper Class: 100,000 miles
Obviously, these require a lot more miles AND Singapore also imposes carrier fees and surcharges on partner awards, which means if you’re flying to/from London, you’re still getting hit with hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in fees even on award tickets. You can call KrisFlyer to book a sample award or ask for pricing, as you can’t book Virgin Atlantic awards online through Singapore, and but most often their taxes and fees are right on par with Virgin Atlantics–or even higher. But you never know, so a phone call may be worth it just to check.
Finally one last option you could consider is to use Starwood Preferred Guest points instead of transferring Amex Reward points, as you get a 25% bonus on transfers of 20,000 points. Of course, this won’t help you with taxes and fees, but it will allow you to use fewer points as per the bonus, saving you at least something.
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- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards