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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.
Here at TPG, we often sing the praises of Virgin Atlantic Flying Club as one of the most underrated and high-powered frequent flyer programs out there. However, just because it’s valuable doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to use. TPG reader Cindi wants to know which Virgin Atlantic partners she can book online …
I’m searching for Hawaiian Airlines awards but nothing comes up on the Virgin Atlantic website. How do you find and book these awards?TPG READER CINDI
Even though Virgin Atlantic isn’t a member of one of the three main airline alliances — Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam — it’s still managed to build an incredibly valuable loyalty program by striking up individual partnerships with airlines, much like Alaska Airlines. Some of these partners can be booked online, while others require you to hunt for award space on your own and call in to book. Let’s take a look at how a few of Virgin Atlantic’s top partners stack up.
Virgin Atlantic’s award chart for ANA is almost too-good-to-be true, and for premium cabins, it’s arguably the single best sweet spot out there. Round-trip, first-class awards from the US to Tokyo cost either 110,000 or 120,000 miles, depending on your departure city. This is less than some programs charge for a one-way ticket. While that price is pretty exciting on its own, ANA first class is a real treat and one of my favorite, all-time flight experiences.
There are only a couple of downsides. First, you’re only allowed to book round-trip flights — though you can build in a double open-jaw to increase your flexibility with finding award space. Second, ANA awards can’t be booked on the Virgin Atlantic website, so you’ll have to find award space somewhere else. I recommend searching on ExpertFlyer or the United or Aeroplan websites and then calling in to book once you find the seats you want. This extra step is a small price to pay for such a good deal.
Even with its new Delta One suites, Delta’s premium product isn’t nearly as aspirational as ANA first class. However, with Delta taking dynamic pricing to the extreme and often charging 300,000+ miles for one-way, international, business-class awards, using Virgin Atlantic to score cheap awards is a better deal than ever.
Delta’s dynamic award pricing is both confusing and unpredictable, but Virgin Atlantic will often sell awards on nonstop Delta flights for fewer miles than if you booked directly with Delta. Since both are 1:1 transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards (and Virgin also partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards), this can be a great deal. If you need to book a Delta award, you should definitely search through Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program in addition to Delta.com, as many of these awards are bookable online.
This exact same award booked directly through Delta would cost three times as many miles.
However, it’s critical to point out that not all Delta flights appear on Virgin Atlantic’s website. If Flying Club won’t recognize the airport code you’re typing in, you should definitely call customer service to see if they can book those flights for you. Otherwise, you could wind up spending thousands of extra miles booking through another program.
Two other notes about booking Delta flights through Virgin Atlantic:
- Award inventory is a subset of the seats available to SkyMiles members. It should roughly correspond to other Sky Team carriers, but if Delta is making awards available at astronomical prices, you may not be able to redeem Flying Club miles for those seats.
- Stick to nonstop itineraries. Virgin Atlantic has a fixed award chart, but it charges separately for each segment. As a result, booking nonstop flights is almost always advised, since every additional connection will result in additional mileage.
And now back to Cindi’s original question. While not all of Virgin Atlantic’s partners offer attractive redemption rates, Hawaiian Airlines does under the right circumstances, especially if you’re able to take advantage of a transfer bonus from Amex to Virgin Atlantic. Inter-island flights are only 7,500 miles each way, and you can fly to Hawaii from the West Coast of the US starting at just 20,000 miles each way in economy.
Note that Hawaiian Airlines did shift toward more dynamic pricing earlier this year, so you may struggle to find saver-level award seats bookable through partners — like Flying Club. Unfortunately you can’t book Hawaiian Airlines awards on the Virgin Atlantic website, so you’ll need to find award space first and then call in to book.
While Virgin Atlantic is relatively unique by not belonging to any of the major airline alliances, the answer to this question is the same for most airlines out there. Some partners awards can be found and booked directly online, while others require a little extra legwork and a phone call. You’d obviously prefer things to be as easy as possible, but this is a small price to pay for some of the incredible redemptions that are possible through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
Featured image by Ethan Steinberg/TPG
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