Unlock incredible value with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Jan 30, 2020

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It’s frustrating to realize that a loyalty program you previously overlooked offers significant value. For years, I didn’t take a deep look at Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club as I knew it charged ridiculously-high carrier-imposed surcharges for award tickets on Virgin Atlantic flights.

It wasn’t until an American Express Membership Rewards transfer bonus to Flying Club in 2017 that I took a deeper look at the program, and I was impressed by what I found. Even better, Flying Club’s partner award charts have remained largely unchanged for years. That means that Flying Club stands out today as offering incredible value for some redemptions.

So, let’s go over the basics of the Flying Club program and then dive in to show you the sweet spots that make the Flying Club program so valuable.

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In This Post

Earning Flying Club miles

Before you can take advantage of Flying Club’s award charts, you’re going to need to get some Flying Club miles. There are four primary ways of earning Flying Club miles directly:

Flying

Yes, you can still earn airline miles the old fashioned way: flying. When you fly on Virgin Atlantic or one of its partners, you can credit flights to your Flying Club account. We recommend checking your operating carrier and fare class on WhereToCredit for the best option for your flight.

Related: Banking miles to an airline partner — a reader success story

Credit card

You can also boost your account balance by signing up for the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®. Currently, you can earn up to 50,000 bonus miles within the first year. That bonus is broken out as 30,000 bonus miles for spending at least $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening, plus additional bonuses for adding authorized users (2,500 each up to 5,000 total) and hitting spending thresholds.

Most airline cobranded cards aren’t worth using as a general-spend card as they only earn 1x mile per dollar spent. However, the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard earns 1.5x miles for every dollar spent. At TPG valuations of 1.5 cents per mile — which is conservative when you consider some of the redemptions below — you’ll get a return of 2.25 cents per dollar spent.

Even better, you’ll earn 7,500 anniversary miles after you spend a minimum of $15,000 with your card within your anniversary year and an additional 7,500 anniversary miles after you spend a total of $25,000 within your cardholder year. That means you’ll earn at least 52,500 miles (37,500 from purchases + 15,000 spending thresholds) for spending $25,000 in a calendar year. That’s a rate of more than 2 miles per dollar spent.

The information for the Virgin Atlantic card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The best airline credit cards

Miles Booster

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.

Other earning partners

There are also several partners through which you can earn Flying Club miles through shopping or traveling:

  • Car rental partners: Flying Club partners with Avis, Alamo, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Sixt to let members earn Flying Club miles.
  • Heathrow Rewards: You can earn points for shopping or parking at Heathrow airport and then transfer them to Flying Club
  • Rocketmiles: You can earn between 500 and 10,000 Flying Club miles per night for booking hotels through Rocketmiles.
  • Shops Away: You can earn Flying Club miles by making purchases at over 1,000 retailers through Virgin Atlantic’s shopping portal. For example, you can currently earn 2x miles on Apple purchases and 5x miles on Macy’s purchases.
  • Virgin Group: From Virgin Hotels to luxury Virgin properties, you can earn Flying Club miles through several Virgin Group partners.

Related: The beginner’s guide to airline shopping portals

Flying Club transfer partners

However, most TPG readers aren’t going to need to earn a single Flying Club mile directly, as the easiest source of Flying Club miles is by transferring points from a bank or hotel program.

You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards (instant transfer), Chase Ultimate Rewards (instant transfer), Citi ThankYou Rewards (instant transfer) and Diners Club points to Flying Club at a 1:1 ratio.

Related: Maximize your wallet with the perfect quartet of Chase cards

Also, 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. In TPG testing, Marriott transfers to Flying Club take less than 48 hours to complete.

Between these five programs, many TPG readers should easily compile a large enough balance of Flying Club miles to book the sweet spots below. However, if you’re still shy of a great award, you could consider topping off your account with transfers from World of Hyatt (5:3 transfer ratio) or IHG Rewards (5:1 transfer ratio).

Virgin Atlantic award chart

Many beginner mileage collectors may assume that the best use of an airline’s miles are for award flights on that airline’s own flights. That’s rarely the case, and Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club is one of the starkest counter-examples.

At first glance, the Flying Club award chart for Virgin Atlantic miles seems pretty reasonable. Even during peak travel periods, you can fly between the Northeast U.S. and the United Kingdom for just 20,000 miles each way in economy, 27,500 miles one-way in premium economy or 57,500 miles for a one-way business-class award.

Related: How to fly to London with points and miles

However, the redemption value is severely eroded by the outrageous “carrier-imposed surcharges” that Virgin Atlantic charges for awards on its flights. Round-trip surcharges between the U.S. and the U.K. are going to add at least $440 of out-of-pocket cost to economy round-trip awards. Upper Class flights could have up to $1,500 in fees for a round-trip.

Related: How to avoid fuel surcharges on award travel

When cash fares are cheap enough, there are times when you can get negative value out of your Flying Club miles. For example, would you rather pay $410 for a cash fare (that earns miles) or pay 20,000 miles plus $435 for an award flight?

It’s awful redemption examples like this that is the primary reason I ignored Flying Club, and it’s why I generally don’t recommend flying Virgin Atlantic with Flying Club miles.

However, there are occasionally decent redemptions. For example, you can book premium economy award tickets from the Northeast U.S. to London/Manchester during off-peak times (Jan. 6 to April 2; April 22 to June 19; Sept. 7 to Dec. 11, 2020 and Jan. 6 to March 31, 2021) for just 17,500 miles each way. That’s an excellent mileage rate for a very well-rated premium economy flight allowing you to be comfortable on your hop across the pond.

Related: 3 reasons to fly premium economy (and 1 reason not to)

Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Premium Economy. Courtesy Nick Ellis.
Virgin Atlantic 787-9 premium economy. (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy.)

But still, taxes and fees are going to be very high. For a one-way from NYC to London, a premium economy award is going to cost 17,500 miles plus $275 in taxes/fees. From London to NYC, premium economy awards are pricing with £353 ($460) in taxes and fees.

That means you’re going to pay at least $735 in taxes and fees for Virgin Atlantic premium economy awards between the U.S. and the U.K. (Interestingly, the taxes and fees price are at least $881 when you book the premium economy flights as a single award ticket.) Whether you book it one-way, two one-ways or a round-trip, that’s a lot of out-of-pocket cost.

Virgin Atlantic premium economy fares start at just $1,050 round-trip. That means you can get less than 1 cent per mile after factoring in the taxes/fees on the award.

Related: Save money on Virgin Atlantic award tickets by booking one-way flights

However, if you’re only looking to fly one-way on Virgin Atlantic, the redemption rate gets much better. And there’s no shortage of award availability:

Flying Club airline partners

Although you’re going to struggle to find good redemptions on Virgin Atlantic itself, there’s plenty of value to be found by booking awards on partner airlines. So, let’s go through Flying Club’s airline partners.

Virgin Atlantic isn’t a member of any airline alliance. SkyTeam members Delta (49%) and Air France-KLM (31%) own a large majority of the U.K.-based airline, but most of Flying Club’s partner airlines aren’t part of the SkyTeam alliance.

There are currently eight different airlines you can book award flights on using Flying Club miles:

Also, 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 — and there can be different terms and conditions from airline to airline. For partners other than Delta and for some Delta routes, you must call Flying Club at 800-365-9500 to find partner availability and book tickets.

Best uses of Flying Club miles

Of those eight partners, half don’t provide outsized value — but I’ll still discuss them in detail later. However, let’s start with the four that provide the best bang for your Flying Club mile.

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 U.S. mainland to New Zealand on Air New Zealand is 62,500 miles each way. That’s a deal compared to what most airlines charge for business-class flights between the U.S. mainland and New Zealand.

Related: It’s Kiwi to me: A review of Air New Zealand’s 777-300ER in business class

It gets even better for flights between Hawaii and New Zealand with business class costing just 45,000 miles each way. And flights between Los Angeles and South Pacific also cost just 45,000 miles each way in business class.

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 U.S. and Japan.

Related: The new gold standard: Review of The Room, ANA’s new business class on the Boeing 777-300ER

The following prices are for round-trip travel. Unfortunately, one-way awards price at the same price, so you’re going to want to book a round-trip. Open-jaw bookings are allowed so you can check award availability on other routes if your preferred route isn’t available. Also, note that domestic connections in either the U.S. or Japan cost extra.

For everything you need to know about this sweet spot, check out this guide to maximizing Flying Club on ANA flights.

It’s also worth noting that award flights are especially cheap for infants under two years old, with economy rates costing just 2,000 miles round-trip. Flying with an infant in business or first isn’t going to break the mileage piggy bank either:

South African Airways

For years, a South African Airways fifth-freedom route was arguably the best mileage redemption price around. For 25,000 Flying Club miles, you could fly from Washington Dulles to Dakar, Senegal in business class. Sadly, South African cut that route at the beginning of September 2019 — although this route still shows on Flying Club’s award chart:

While that killed off an incredible award, there are still some good redemption options. You can fly between Washington Dulles (IAD) and Accra, Ghana for 55,000 miles each way, and you can fly around 15 hours from New York-JFK to Johannesburg (JNB) for 75,000 miles each way in South African Airways business class.

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.

Using Virgin Atlantic miles on Delta

The incredible value that you can get from Flying Club miles on Delta awards justifies a separate post on the topic and numerous deal alerts and guides, such as:

You can book Delta-operated flights using Virgin Atlantic miles with no fuel surcharges, including transatlantic and transpacific routes. There’s a noteworthy exception: On flights to or from the U.K. Virgin Atlantic imposes stiff surcharges on these routes starting at $500 round-trip, and this can’t be avoided by flying Delta.

Also, 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 to use a partner program to book the flight. However, I’ve been able to take advantage of Flying Club’s excellent Delta award chart for flights that didn’t seem to have award availability.

Domestic U.S. flight options

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.

TPG has a 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 — if you can find availability.

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 25,500 miles one-way for its awards on the nonstop from Atlanta to San Francisco, but you can pay just 12,500 Flying Club miles instead:

International flight awards

My favorite aspect of the Flying Club’s Delta award chart is for long-haul business-class flights in Delta One. You’ll pay just 45,000 Flying Club miles to fly between the U.S. and South America; 50,000 miles between the U.S. and Europe or 60,000 miles between the U.S. and Asia.

In December 2019, I took advantage of the Asia sweet spot to book a nonstop award flight between Atlanta (ATL) and Tokyo Narita (NRT) for just 60,000 Flying Club miles. For the same flight, Delta was charging 240,000 SkyMiles:

With that said, award availability between Atlanta or Detroit and Tokyo can be hard to find — especially with the 2020 Olympics coming up. However, Delta also flies its Delta One Suites to Beijing (PEK), Seoul (ICN) and Shanghai (PVG), and you can save a significant number of miles by booking these flights through Flying Club instead of Delta.

You can also get a great deal on Delta One award flights between the U.S. and Europe. For example, you can book a Delta One award flight from Detroit (DTW) to Amsterdam (AMS) on Delta’s flagship Airbus A350-900 for either 50,000 Flying Club miles or 80,000 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.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for Delta flyers

Less valuable Flying Club partners

The other half of Virgin Atlantic’s redemption partners are either have limited options to/from the U.S., mediocre redemption rates or both.

Air China

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 miles round-trip in first class. However, this sweet spot has since been gutted, and a first-class award now costs 200,000 miles round-trip.

Hawaiian Airlines

You can use Flying Club miles to fly Hawaiian Airlines between the U.S. 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.

Those rates are pretty similar to the rates that Hawaiian’s HawaiianMiles and JetBlue’s TrueBlue charge for the same award flights on Hawaii.

Related: The best ways to fly in a lie-flat business-class seat to Hawaii

Singapore Airlines

Although Flying Club is a partner of Singapore Airlines, you can only redeem for economy awards on flights to/from the U.S. 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 redemption chart for Singapore Airlines, cropped to only show U.S. routes

Virgin Australia

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. The only long-haul flights that touch the U.S. are between Los Angeles (LAX) and Australia for a pricey 47,000 miles each way in economy; 70,500 in premium economy or 94,000 in business class.

Unique Flying Club redemptions

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 180,000 miles.
  • Kasbah Tamadot: Spend three nights in Branson’s Atlas Mountain retreat in Morocco for 255,000 miles.
  • The Lodge: Stay three nights in one bedroom of Branson’s nine-bedroom Swiss Alpine resort during the summer for 380,000 miles.
  • Mahali Mzuri: Spend three nights in a “luxury tent” at a Kenyan safari camp for 600,000 miles or five nights for 850,000 miles.
  • Ulusaba Private Game Reserve: 600,000 miles for a three-night stay for two people in a Safari Lodge room or 800,000 miles for a five-night stay for two people in a Safari Lodge room

Or, you can enter for a raffle to fly in space on Virgin Galactic (once commercial flights begin operating) for a cool 2,000,000 miles, but all of those miles must have been earned from Virgin Atlantic flights.

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.”

If you need some activity on your Flying Club account but don’t have many miles, you can donate as few as 2,000 Flying Club miles to WE (formerly Free The Children).

Worst redemption options

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club has several other redemption options that provide less than 1 cent per mile in value:

  • Eurostar: Flying Club members have the option of redeeming 12,500 miles for a £50 Eurostar e-vouchers. At current exchange rates, that’s just $65 — or around 0.52 cents per mile.
  • Hilton Honors points: You can transfer Flying Club miles to Hilton Honors points at a ratio of 2 miles to 3 points. That might sound good, but TPG values Hilton points at just 0.6 cents per point. That means you’re getting just 0.9 cents of value per Flying Club mile.
  • IHG Rewards points: It gets worse when you consider transferring Flying Club miles to IHG Rewards points — which transfer at just a 1:1 ratio. TPG values IHG points at just 0.5 cents per point.
  • Kaligo: You can redeem 20,000 miles for one night at “standard” hotels, 30,000 miles per night at “premium” hotels and 40,000 miles for a night at “luxury” hotels. There might be some value to be found in here in some rare cases, but that’s a steep mileage price to pay.
  • Virgin Group gift card: You can burn 12,500 miles for a £50 ($65) Virgin gift card, but that’s an awful redemption rate of around 0.52 cents per mile.
  • Virgin Wines: Similarly, you can redeem 12,500 miles for a £50 ($65) Virgin Wine gift card, but also at an awful redemption rate of around 0.52 cents per mile.

How to redeem Flying Club miles

Now that you know why you should care about Flying Club, let’s show you how to redeem Flying Club miles for award flights. 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:

After searching, 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 that are 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 isn’t a workaround to this on the website. 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 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 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 frustrating, but worth the effort.

The small print

There are a few general terms and conditions for award flights booked with Flying Club miles — including partner-operated flights — to keep in mind:

Award flight changes

Travelers can change their travel date, routing and/or class of service prior to travel for a service fee of just $50 (plus mileage difference, if applicable) for flights originating in the U.S.

Award ticket cancellation policy

You can cancel your ticket and receive all your miles back for a cancellation fee of $50 for flights originating in the U.S. as long as you cancel at least 24 hours prior to departure. Once you’re within 24 hours, miles become non-refundable

Award hold policy

If you see award availability but don’t have enough miles in your account quite yet, Flying Club will hold award seats for 24 hours — even if you have no miles in your account. While it seems the general rule is a 24-hour hold, I was offered a 72-hour hold for an ANA award that I put on hold in May 2019. So, you might be able to get longer than a 24-hour hold.

Open-jaw and stopovers

Flying Club prices one-way awards at half of the award chart price for most partners. However, for ANA awards, you’ll need to book a round-trip award.

If you can’t find award availability both ways on the route you want, you can book an open-jaw award — which means you’re flying into or out of a different airport on your return leg. There’s no penalty for doing this, and the mileage prices out as half of the cost of a round-trip for each of the two legs booked.

Related: Can I book an open jaw or stopover on ANA with Virgin Atlantic miles?

As Flying Club charges for each flight segment separately, you can build in a stopover in a connecting city. However, it may not be worth the extra mileage cost to book an award with a connection or stopover.

Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy.

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