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One of the most frustrating situations is realizing that a loyalty program you previously overlooked actually offers significant value. For years, I didn’t look at Virgin Atlantic Flying Club since I knew it imposed ridiculous carrier-imposed surcharges on its own award tickets.
That changed in 2017 when American Express launched a transfer bonus to Flying Club that had a lot of us points and miles nerds taking a second look at the program. And particularly as Flying Club’s partner award charts have remained largely unchanged for years, it stands out as offering some incredible value.
Today, I’ll cover some of the basics of the program along with the sweet spots that should make Virgin Atlantic Flying Club a top transfer destination for your points.
Earning Flying Club Miles
Often when you find great award redemptions, earning enough miles to utilize the sweet spots can be a challenge. That’s not the case here. You can transfer American Express (instant transfer), Chase (instant transfer) and Citi (instant transfer) points to Flying Club at a 1:1 ratio.
In addition, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to Flying Club at a 3:1 ratio — with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring at least 60,000 points. These transfers take around 24 hours to complete.
Between these four program, many TPG readers should easily compile a large balance of Flying Club miles — more than enough to book the sweet spots below.
Even better, now through June 22, you’ll get 30% more Flying Club miles when transferring Citi ThankYou Points. And, now through July 1, you’ll get the same 30% transfer bonus when transferring American Express Membership Rewards to Flying Club miles.
If you’re all-in on earning Flying Club miles, you can sign up for the Bank of America Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard — which is currently offering a 30,000-mile sign-up bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. While many airline co-branded cards only earn 1x mile per dollar spent, you’ll earn 1.5x miles for every dollar spent. You can also earn a 15,000-mile anniversary bonus and 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user.
If you’ve flown a Virgin Atlantic-operated flight — whether you paid cash or miles for it — you can use Flying Club’s Miles Booster to score some extra miles for cheap. You usually have the option of paying £0.010 per mile or $0.016 per mile, but Flying Club also periodically runs promotions offering 30% bonus miles.
And then there’s the old fashion way of earning miles: actually flying. You can credit paid flights on Virgin Atlantic and its partners to your Flying Club account. We recommend checking your operating carrier and fare class on WhereToCredit for the best option.
How to Redeem Flying Club Miles
You can easily search for award flights and redeem miles on Virgin Atlantic’s homepage. Just click Advanced Search and then select the Miles option:
Alternatively, you can start on Virgin Atlantic’s main booking page, which lets you specify a five-week search window. I’ve found that this is especially helpful for finding award availability when your dates are flexible:
The calendar of results displayed can easily be limited to nonstop options (“direct only”) and you can toggle between economy, premium economy and “Upper Class” — which is Virgin Atlantic’s name for its business class product.
This process may seem incredibly easy so far, that’s not always the case. When it comes to partner award searches with the engine, the Virgin Atlantic website can fall short. That’s because Virgin Atlantic only allows you to search award flights to/from airports it’s loaded into its system.
For example, you can use the Virgin Atlantic engine to find and book Delta-operated flights. But, not all of Delta’s 300+ destinations can be searched on Virgin Atlantic’s website. Let’s take a look at two of Delta’s transpacific flights out of Atlanta. You’ll have no issue searching flights to Tokyo:
But you won’t be able to search awards online for Atlanta to Seoul, South Korea (ICN):
For certain destinations, you may need to click the pin icon in the origin or destination box to find a destination. But, South Korea isn’t a country destination option on the list:
Unfortunately, there’s not a work-around. If the city pair that you want to search isn’t available online, you’re going to have to call a Flying Club agent to find availability and book the award.
Another problem has become less common, but we want to cover it in case you run into this issue: the option to select “pay with miles” can be grayed out and can’t be selected:
There’s no foolproof process to ensure you’ll always be able to select “pay with miles.” Instead, you can complete an award search on a Virgin Atlantic route like New York to London where you can always select “pay with miles,” then click the “refine search” option in the upper-right portion of the screen and input the route you actually want to fly.
Even after completing the initial award search with “pay with miles” selected, sometimes when you input the routing you want, the engine will revert back to “pay with card.” You just have to keep refining searches or starting over until the website allows you to select “pay with miles.” It can be incredibly frustrating, but worth the effort.
Rules and Fees
Here are a few general notes for award flights booked with Flying Club miles, including partner-operated flights:
- Change your travel date, routing and class of service prior to travel for $50 (plus mileage difference) for flights originating in the US.
- Cancel your ticket and receive all your miles back for a cancellation fee of $50 for flights originating in the US if you cancel at least 24 hours prior to departure. Once you’re within 24 hours, miles become non-refundable
- Hold award seats for up to 72 hours — even if you have no miles in your account. This is true even with partner awards, as I confirmed in early May 2019 with an ANA award.
- Open jaw itineraries are allowed. The mileage cost will be half the cost of a round-trip for each of the legs booked.
- Terms specifically state that “miles cannot be passed to the ‘Make-A-Wish’ charity.”
Redeeming for Virgin Atlantic-Operated Flights
As you can see from the above search examples, when you find flights operated by Virgin Atlantic (IATA code VS), the fuel surcharges are outrageous. A round-trip between New York City and London can cost more than $500 in taxes and fees for an economy flight or more than $1,500 for an Upper Class flight.
You can easily find economy revenue flights to Europe for less than the taxes and fees Virgin Atlantic puts on award tickets. This is one reason I long ignored the program, and it’s why I generally don’t recommend flying Virgin Atlantic with the airline’s own miles.
One possible exception is premium economy award tickets from the Northeast to London/Manchester. During off-peak times (April 23 to June 21 and September 9 to December 12, 2019; January 6 to April 2; April 22 to June 19 and September 7 to December 11, 2020), you can fly premium economy from Boston, Newark, New York Kennedy and Washington Dulles to the UK for just 17,500 each way.
That’s an excellent mileage rate for a well-reviewed premium economy flight allowing you to be comfortable on your hop across the pond.
Taxes and fees are currently $299 one-way from NYC to London and £347 ($437) one-way for the reverse. When booking those two legs separately, that adds up to $736 total in taxes and fees. However, it costs $886 to book a round-trip award. Either way, that’s a lot of out-of-pocket cost.
However, round-trip premium economy fares on Virgin Atlantic are ~$1,500 — equating to at least 2.2 cents per mile if you book the two one-ways. The redemption rate gets even better if you’re looking for a one-way. Flights from NYC to London cost over $3,200 one-way in premium economy on almost any day this year, giving you up to a 16.8 cents-per-mile redemption value.
And there’s no shortage of award availability:
Unlock Incredible Value With Partners
Virgin Atlantic isn’t a member of any airline alliance. However, Delta owns 49% of the UK-based airline, so many of Flying Club’s partner airlines are part of Delta’s SkyTeam alliance. There are currently eight different airlines you can book award flights on using Flying Club miles:
- Air China
- Air New Zealand
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- Virgin Australia
In addition, you can earn Flying Club miles — but not redeem them — on Air France, KLM and SAS.
Each partner has a different award chart — some are distance-based and others are zone-based. Check each partner airline’s page for full details and terms and conditions. Besides Delta (and even for some Delta routes), you must call Flying Club at 1-800-365-9500 to find partner availability and book tickets.
Flying Club’s partnership with Air China allows just one redemption option: from London to Beijing. This used to be a sweet spot in the Flying Club award chart at just 75,000 round-trip in first class, but this sweet spot has since been gutted. A first-class award now costs 200,000 miles round-trip.
You can use Flying Club miles to fly Hawaiian Airlines between the US mainland and Hawaii. Business class awards cost 40,000 miles each way between Hawaii and the West Coast or 65,000 miles each way between Hawaii and the East Coast.
Although Flying Club is a partner of Singapore Airlines, you can only redeem for economy awards on flights to/from the US. The best deals are on Singapore’s fifth-freedom routes: New York City to Frankfurt for 25,000 miles each way, San Francisco to Hong Kong for 30,000 miles each way and Los Angeles to Tokyo for 30,000 miles each way. However, Singapore limits award availability to partner airlines, so it can be really hard to find bookable options.
Flying Club’s award chart for Virgin Australia flights is mostly distance based — meaning that it could be a good value for short and expensive intra-Australia flights.
Now, let’s look at the partners that offer incredible value:
Air New Zealand
While Air New Zealand award availability is typically really hard to find, it’s worth considering using Flying Club miles in the rare cases when availability opens up. Flying Club’s award rate for business class awards from the US to New Zealand on Air New Zealand is 62,500 each way. That’s a deal compared to AA’s 80,000-mile rate, United’s 80,000-mile rate and whatever Delta feels like charging.
But, it becomes an even better deal when paired with one of the ongoing transfer bonuses. The 30% transfer bonus means that you need to transfer just 49,000 Membership Rewards or ThankYou points to get enough Flying Club miles to book a one-way award. Or, transfer just 97,000 points to get enough to book a round-trip award.
ANA (All Nippon Airways)
Virgin Atlantic’s incredible redemption rates for ANA-operated flights have been well documented here on TPG, especially relating to the Amex transfer bonus. Even without that transfer bonus, ANA awards booked through Virgin Atlantic should always be a consideration if you’re looking to get between the US and Japan.
The following prices are for round-trip travel. One-way awards price at the same price, but you can book an open jaw if you’d prefer. And domestic connections in either the US or Japan cost extra.
For everything you need to know about this sweet spot — especially during the ongoing transfer bonuses — check out this guide to maximizing Flying Club on ANA flights.
The incredible value that you can get from Flying Club miles on Delta awards has justified its own post on the topic and numerous deal alerts and guides, such as:
- How to Book Delta One Suites to Europe for 39,000 Amex Points
- Deal Alert: Excellent Delta One Award Space to Asia for Just 47,000 Points
- Book This, Not That: SkyTeam Award Tickets
But here’s a quick rundown:
- You can book Delta-operated flights using Virgin Atlantic miles with no fuel surcharges, including transatlantic and transpacific routes with the exception of flights to or from the UK. As covered above, Virgin Atlantic imposes stiff surcharges on these routes starting at $500 round-trip.
- Virgin Atlantic has access to additional Delta award space other partners cannot see. Traditionally, you have to find a Delta flight with the lowest level of availability in order to use a partner program to book the flight. That’s not the case when using Virgin Atlantic miles to book Delta flights.
- You can book domestic Delta economy segments for 12,500 miles or domestic first-class segments for 22,500 miles. You can book these flights right on Virgin Atlantic’s website, and all have just $5.60 in taxes and fees. You’re charged per segment, so this is typically only a good deal on nonstop domestic flights.
Here are a few examples of the savings on both mileage required (compared to booking Delta using SkyMiles) and fuel surcharges (compared to flying Virgin Atlantic transatlantic) if you book Delta using Virgin Atlantic miles.
Lie-Flat Domestic Options
TPG has an entire guide to where to find Delta’s best business class seats on domestic routes. Since Delta ditched its award chart years ago, it can charge whatever it wants to for awards on these flights. However, Virgin Atlantic will charge just 22,500 Flying Club miles — requiring just 18,000 transferred points during the ongoing transfer bonuses. Let’s show one example:
Delta Flight 791 from Atlanta to Los Angeles in Delta One on October 15:
22,500 Virgin Atlantic Miles or 40,000 SkyMiles
While flying cross-country in economy isn’t much fun, you might as well pay as few miles as possible if you have to do it. Delta is currently charging a reliable 26,500 miles one-way for its awards on the nonstop from Atlanta to San Francisco, but you can pay just 12,500 Flying Club miles (under 10,000 transferred points with the transfer bonus) instead:
Delta Atlanta to San Francisco in economy:
12,500 Virgin Atlantic Miles or 26,500 SkyMiles
How about spending New Year’s Eve in Tokyo? I rung in 2018 in Tokyo and highly recommend the unique experience. If you want to do so, make sure to check Flying Club availability first.
Delta Flight 295 from Atlanta to Tokyo in Delta One on December 29:
60,000 Virgin Atlantic Miles or 120,000 SkyMiles
Last but not least, let’s take a look at transatlantic flights.
Delta Flight 42 from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Paris in Delta One on November 12:
50,000 Virgin Atlantic Miles or 105,000 SkyMiles
There are plenty of examples across the board that show you should always first look at booking Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles before turning to SkyMiles. Availability is not always great for certain international routes, but if you’re flexible you can find fantastic deals. Don’t forget that booking Delta One transatlantic using Flying Club miles also allows you to skip the $1,000 in fuel surcharges for business class that Virgin Atlantic charges for its own flights.
South African Airways
A South African Airways fifth-freedom route has arguably the most stunning mileage redemption price in existence. For 25,000 miles, you can fly Washington Dulles to Dakar, Senegal in business class. That’s North America to Africa in business for 25,000 miles on South African’s A330-200.
The route operates on Fridays and Sundays and continues on to Johannesburg from Senegal. But, if you want to book all the way through it will cost you an additional 50,000 miles for 75,000 one-way in business. While you can use United’s calendar award search to find availability, you’re going to have to call Flying Club to book awards on this route.
You also might be able to get good use out of Flying Club miles intra-South Africa (10,000 miles each way in economy) and intra-Africa — where business class awards range from 15,000 to 25,000 miles each way.
If you find yourself with hundreds of thousands (or millions) of Virgin Atlantic miles, you can trade them in for an extraordinary level of luxury — or altitude:
- Virgin Balloon Flights: 30,000 miles will get you a three- to four-hour ballooning experience.
- Mount Rochelle: Stay at Sir Richard Branson’s Cape Town winery for three nights for 155,000 miles.
- Kasbah Tamadot: Spend three nights in Branson’s Atlas Mountain retreat in Morocco for 255,000 miles.
- The Lodge: Stay three nights in Branson’s 9-bedroom Swiss Alpine resort during the summer for 380,000 miles.
- Mahali Mzuri: Spend three nights in a luxury Kenyan safari camp for 600,000 miles or five nights for 800,000 miles.
- Ulusaba Private Game Reserve: 550,000 miles for a 3-night stay for two people in a Safari Lodge room or 800,000 miles for a 5-night stay for two people in a Safari Lodge room
Or enter for a raffle to fly in space on Virgin Galactic (once commercial flights begin operating) for a cool 2,000,000 miles — all of which must have been earned from flying Virgin Atlantic.
Other options include spending 40,000 miles to attend an all-day Flying Without Fear program — which includes a flight with a Virgin Atlantic captain who provides “full narration of every movement, squeak, wobble explained from start to finish.”
Or, you can burn 12,500 miles for a £50 ($63) Virgin gift card, but that’s an awful redemption rate of just 0.5 cents per mile.
Featured image by Nicky Kelvin / TPG
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