Sweet Spot Sunday: Book short-haul Delta flights using Virgin Atlantic points
You probably wouldn’t suspect one of the best options for booking U.S. travel to be through an airline based in the United Kingdom.
Delta Air Lines is one of three juggernauts regarding domestic flights. But the number of miles it charges for its awards is very unpredictable. That’s because it practices “dynamic pricing,” which means Delta reserves the right to charge as many miles as it wants depending on route, date, time, etc.
Virgin Atlantic is a partner of Delta. You can book Delta flights with Virgin Points — and know exactly what you’ll pay thanks to Virgin Atlantic’s Delta-specific award chart. For short-haul flights, Virgin Atlantic's prices are often cheaper than Delta's.
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And as we’ll cover in a minute, Virgin Points are significantly easier to accrue than Delta miles — making this method even more attractive for booking Delta flights. Let’s take a look.
Why it’s special
Virgin Atlantic offers extremely competitive prices for short-haul trips on Delta flights. Oftentimes, you can find flights for nearly half the price you’ll pay when booking directly with Delta.
Virgin Atlantic prices these award flights based on:
- The distance you fly.
- The number of segments you fly.
Below are the prices you’ll pay for each segment you fly.
The sweet spot for Delta Main Cabin is nonstop flights up to 1,000 miles. The sweet spot for Delta One/first class tends to be nonstop flights up to 500 miles.
For example, a nonstop flight from Cincinnati to Atlanta is a 373-mile journey. When booking through Virgin Atlantic, you’ll therefore pay 7,500 Virgin Points for Main Cabin and 17,500 Virgin Points for first class.
But if you book the same flight through Delta instead of Virgin Atlantic, you’ll spend 14,500 Delta miles in Main Cabin and 26,000 Delta miles in first class. Of course, this won't always be the case, but it's worth comparing prices every time you book a Delta award ticket.
TPG valuations peg the value of Delta miles at 1.41 cents each, on average — so that savings is nothing to sneeze at:
- 7,000 Delta miles each way in Main Cabin equals $98.70 in savings.
- 8,500 Delta miles each way in first class equals $119.85 in savings.
Related: Unlock incredible value with Virgin Atlantic points
How to book
Step 1. Estimate your flight distance
Again, Virgin Atlantic implements a distance-based award chart— and the sweet spot is usually for flights of 1,000 miles or less. You can quickly estimate the distance of your flight by entering your origin and destination airports into Great Circle Mapper. We’ll search for a flight from Minneapolis to Charlotte.
Step 2. Enter your information on the Virgin Atlantic website
To book an award flight, you’ll have to log in to your Virgin Atlantic account. You can search for flights without logging in, however.
Enter your origin and destination, dates, etc. And make sure you’ve toggled the price to “Points.”
Step 3. Find availability on the Virgin Atlantic site
The Virgin Atlantic site is a bit quirky in that it won’t show any availability unless the date you search contains available awards during that same week.
You can save yourself a bit of trial and error if you begin your search on the Delta website. Delta has a fabulous “Price Calendar” that lets you see a month of availability at a glance.
Don’t bother searching on the Virgin Atlantic site for dates that aren’t marked “LOWEST” — they almost certainly won’t be available. The “LOWEST” dates aren’t all available on the Virgin Atlantic site, either — but many of them are.
Step 4. Select your dates
Once you find availability through Virgin Atlantic, a calendar week will appear. Hopefully your desired dates are available, but you may have to be a little flexible. Virgin Atlantic’s prices are way cheaper, but they also don’t have as much award inventory to choose from.
Note: You can view Virgin Atlantic availability in one-month increments, though you’ll have to tamper with the page’s URL. Simply change the word “dates” to “calendar.” Hat tip to Frequent Miler for this trick.
Step 5. Confirm and pay
This particular trip between Minneapolis and Charlotte is a nonstop flight of 930 miles. That means you’ll pay 8,500 points in Main Cabin and 27,500 points in first class.
For the sake of comparison, the same flight when booked through Delta is much more expensive for Main Cabin (14,500 miles) but slightly cheaper for first class (24,000 miles).
How to earn points for this award
Unlike Delta, Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of all the flexible rewards currencies. If you have any of the following points, you’ve got Virgin Points:
- American Express Membership Rewards (1:1 transfer ratio).
- Bilt Rewards (1:1 transfer ratio).
- Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1 transfer ratio).
- Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1 transfer ratio).
- Capital One miles (1:1 transfer ratio).
- Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 transfer ratio, with a 5,000-point bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred).
Delta is only a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Marriott — so Delta miles are not as easy to amass.
If you’re low on any of these flexible points, we recommend the following cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 80,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 on purchases within the first six months from account opening.
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 75,000 Capital One miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.
- Citi Premier® Card: Earn 60,000 Citi ThankYou points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening (see rates and fees).
Virgin Atlantic also has its own credit card — the Virgin Atlantic Mastercard — which comes with up to 50,000 points within the first year of account opening. You can read our Virgin Atlantic Mastercard review for more details.
If you intend to book a short flight on Delta, it’s worth taking a look at the prices you’ll pay with Virgin Points before booking your flight with Delta miles. The sweet spot tends to be flights with a length of 1,000 miles or less.
It’s worth mentioning that you should also never go directly to the Virgin Atlantic website, as Delta often has random rock-bottom deals that are even cheaper than Virgin Atlantic. You may occasionally find flights for just 4,000 Delta miles one-way. Always compare prices before booking through either of these sites.
Feature photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images.