Virgin improves Flying Club – should BA flyers switch?

If you are a member of Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club, you will have received an email last week outlining a number of genuine improvements to the scheme.

If you are not a member, and current fly exclusively on British Airways long-haul, you probably haven’t heard the news. I thought it would be useful to run through the changes and see if they justify switching some flights over to Virgin.

Flying Club improvements

Here are the key changes:

Earn 100% of base miles flown on cheap Economy tickets

This is simply Virgin playing catch-up to BA, who moved to this model a couple of years ago. (To be fair, it puts Virgin and BA ahead of many non-UK frequent flyer schemes.) It is very generous, though – a cheapo Economy return to San Francisco (10,500 miles flown) would earn you enough for 3 one-way UK domestic flights on Virgin.

Fuel surcharges reduced on Economy Class redemptions

This is a very clever move by Virgin, and puts clear water between them and BA on some routes. Historically, redeeming for Economy flights was a bad deal because of the surcharges. This is no longer necessarily the case at peak times. Here are some sample surcharges I calculated recently, plus the miles required for Economy return redemptions:

New York £240 (British Airways: £359)  35,000 miles (40,000 Avios)

Barbados £237 (British Airways: £328)  45,000 miles (50,000 Avios)

Las Vegas £213 (British Airways: £356)  42,500 miles (50,000 Avios)

Johannesburg £362 (British Airways: £400)  50,000 miles (50,000 Avios)

Dubai £243 (British Airways: £335)  38,500 miles (40,000 miles)

Amount of miles you can buy annually increased from 30,000 to 100,000

Given that they are poor value at 1.5p each (although not as poor value as Avios, which cost even more!), I can hardly get excited about the chance to buy more! If you need to top-up your Virgin miles, get yourself an Amex Gold (20,000 Virgin miles as sign-up bonus) or Starwood Amex (25,000 Virgin miles as sign-up bonus)!

Transaction fee removed for ‘miles booster’

Miles Booster is just weird – see this post. I don’t see the point of it, especially now that the ‘buy miles’ limit is raised to 100,000 miles anyway.  (EDIT:  It appears that Virgin has recently reduced the price of miles purchased via ‘miles booster’ to 1p per mile.  On this basis, it actually represents a very good deal compared to buying miles directly.  I also retract my criticism of it :-))

Lifetime Gold membership after 10 consecutive years of Virgin Gold or 1 million base miles flown

Full details of Lifetime Gold are here.

All I can say here is: remember that we are talking about the ‘lifetime’ of Virgin Atlantic instead of your lifetime! If you think this is a great deal, I have plenty of ex-BMI ‘lifetime’ Gold members who will convince you otherwise! I absolutely would not change my flying patterns because of this.

And, as someone with a globetrotting wife who is also the mother of two children, the idea of needing 10 consecutive years of Gold for lifetime status is morally wrong – unless you expect people to be racking up long-haul business class flights during maternity leave.  It probably also leaves Virgin open to a legal challenge for discrimination.

It is not clear if people who receive free Virgin Gold via the Amex Centurion charge card will also receive lifetime status. It is also not clear if the ‘base miles’ requirement is purely on Virgin Atlantic or also partners.

Reduced entrance fees for No 1 Traveller lounges at Heathrow T3, Gatwick (North and South) and Birmingham

The price is £22.50 to £20 depending on your Virgin status, and you earn Virgin miles too. You can often find offers for No 1 Traveller elsewhere if you have a dig around, but this is not a bad one. Virgin Gold members earn a whopping 750 miles, which offsets a fair chunk of the £20 fee.

It is worth noting that even base level Virgin members get a discount, so it is worth joining Flying Club just to get a discount on the No 1 Traveller lounge if you’re interested.

In conclusion ….

The real winners from these changes are those who fly in Economy and redeem in Economy. And you can’t complain at that.

What Virgin DOES still miss, though, is a Family Account. At present, only Flying Club Gold members can set up accounts for children under 12, which feed the miles into the account of the Gold card holder. (Once over 12, a child can have their own account.)

For a family of four with 2 children under 12 flying to, say, Florida, you would still earn substantially more miles flying with BA (unless I misunderstand how the Virgin scheme works). A British Airways Household Account lets you earn miles from all 4 passengers at 100% of miles flown. Flying Club would only allow the two adults to earn miles, and those cannot be pooled when redeeming.

(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles? Click here to see recent articles on Virgin Atlantic, Little Red and Flying Club, and click here for the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

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Comments

  1. BritBronco says:

    And still no change to the cancellation policy? That is the main reason I have never collected a mile with Virgin.

  2. I think he is referring to the draconian Flying Club cancellation policy – lose 25 per cent of miles when you cancel, lose 100 per cent when you cancel within 7 days.

    Compared, say, to BA’s ‘full refund outside 24 hours of departure’ rule.

    Good old BMI let you cancel at any point, even when sitting in the departure lounge!

    • BritBronco says:

      Yes exactly, the cancellation policy on award bookings. As a BA gold I’m able to make unlimited changes without cost or loss of miles. I see no reason to transfer to Virgin while this difference exists.

      • woggly says:

        Well, in which case, you have my humble apols for my misunderstanding. Yes, the 25% is harsh, given BAs policy. You can ask for a refund of the taxes, as, well, they are taxes. However, the bulk of the taxes is YQ, and you won’t be seeing that again! Still, much reduced, which is nice.

  3. Dominic says:

    I think Raffles is (as ever!) correct to say there is good news here for those who pursue economy class redemptions. I try and use my stash of miles to fly in premium cabins, and I joined Flying Club simply to replace my BMI Amex with a Virgin Amex when BMI was subsumed into BA. I now have about 130k Virgin miles, and have done one UC flight to the States with them…. and the sad thing was that, from the point I left the Clubhouse to board the plane, I realised I don’t like Virgin. While BA is not what it once was in either Club or First, I still think its product (and the Exec Club) is miles better than Branson’s offerings, at least at the front of the plane.

    • Why would you replace your BMI Amex when you now get 2 Avios per £?

      I’m not sure I would ever fully switch to Virgin, but it has its charms. Starting with the Clubhouse of course, but also the seating layout, which I much prefer to anything BA offers (apart from the upper deck on a 747). AVOD is generally better. Service is hit-and-miss on both airlines, but I do find it easier to wander to the “bar” rather than the BA “pantry” or whatever they’re calling it these days…

  4. luckyjim says:

    The discrimination comment is a bit silly. All frequent flyer schemes discriminate against people who are not …erm…frequent flyers.

    • Fine in itself, but I think the point is that if you’re a woman and likely to end up pregnant at any point over the next ten years then you’re missing out on the opportunity to work towards lifetime gold which is open to men of a similar age regardless of whether they elect to have children or not.

      As Raffles says, it may not be worth a great deal in any case, but it potentially has a much bigger impact than just missing out on status for the period you’re on maternity leave and shortly thereafter which would normally be the case.

      • Virgin says on their website that they are happy to make exceptions for maternity leave etc, just let them know. I dont have time to find a link right now, but have seen it on there before.

      • Exactly. Making it 10 years of Gold rather than 10 consecutive years would not be difficult.

        It is bad enough that you cannot ‘freeze’ your status on maternity leave, so you are effectively resigned to losing a tier.

  5. I’ve been considering whether I should switch to collecting Flying Club points . I think at the moment my collection goal is going to be for a long-haul return to LAX I’ll be able to book as a work perk in late 2015, which I’d like to take in Club class rather than economy by using Avios. For me, I think I’ll get there faster through BAEC than Flying Club, due to the oneworld partners. If I was planning on redeeming for economy to New York, as I have in the past with airmiles, I would certainly be tempted – though going the Aer Lingus Dublin route with Avios would still be cheaper than £240, although more hassle.

    • Remember that Aer Lingus has just launched San Francisco – see my post last week.

      • Yeah, I saw that, but when work are paying for my flight to the west coast the taxes and fees are less of a concern! Also, from the sounds of it the BA fully-flat Club seat is going to be more comfortable for a long-haul night flight than the Aer Lingus Busines class seat is.

  6. A female colleague of mine contacted Virgin about the maternity leave a years ago. Apparently they reinstate your Gold Card after a year for those on maternity leave, subject to documentation.

    Also the mileage levels on BA are more than Virgin. The only one of your examples where the mileage is the same is Jo’burg. Other than that Virgin is less miles on all other routes.

    I received the same communication from Virgin and it says you have to earn at least 300 tier points with Virgin Atlantic in addition to the 10 years at Gold, so assume that would exclude most Centurions

    • Is it? I checked Dubai and NYC when I did the post and Virgin quotes 80k for Business, same as BA.

      • Sorry I was referring to Economy levels as I thought that was where the reduction of fuel surcharge applied.

        • Apologies John, you are right and I are wrong! I checked the Business Class redemption levels out of force of habit (!) and then assumed Virgin simply charged double. And they don’t.

          So much still to learn about Flying Club ….!

  7. Thunderbirds says:

    Of course the other issues to be considered (probably covered in other Raffles posts) is route network (they cover all the main destinations) and last but not least quality of service. I was 100% avios until last year when BA customer service let me down and I joined Virgin flying club as well. Looking forward to my first Virgin flights in PE (purchase E upgrade with CC voucher to PE) sometime in the next 3 months. It has been so long since I’ve flown with them (10+ years) it will be interesting to see the changes.

  8. I thought you were able to transfer up to 30k miles a year to another account on virgin in effect merging the points. The limit may of even gone up as it was the same limit as buying points which has increased to 100k as you mentioned.

    • You can transfer miles but it costs money. 1,000 is £22, 10,000 is £90 – which (at 10k) is not much less than I’d value them at in the first place.

  9. Interesting piece. I would like to join Virgin Flying Club as a back-up to avios … simply to give more chances to get reward flights near the dates I want. However, they still aren’t even in the game post these changes (arguably puttting economy up to 100% will simply increase the miles in circulation and make rewards tougher). The cancellation policy is still a killer; as is no genuine 2f1. AAdvantage it will probably be then, which is sub-optimal as pretty much the same inventory.

  10. Vernon says:

    From my reading of Virgin’s Miles Booster page (http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/gb/en/flying-club/miles-booster.html), miles bought via this method now cost only 1p each (+ no transaction fee), instead of the usual 1.5p each.

  11. callum says:

    It is neither “morally wrong” to travel long-haul on maternity leave nor do Virgin leave themselves open to legal action due to “discrimination”. That has to be one of the most absurd paragraphs I’ve ever read on the topic of frequent flier programmes!

    While I can see how it would be difficult to achieve 10 years of gold while giving birth to children, giving birth doesn’t give you a legal right to get everything you could have gotten had you not decided to have children. I fully support the various laws and regulations about maternity leave etc. but special allowances on airline status retention is a bit silly (great should the airline decide to give them, but certainly not a legal matter).

    • 10 ‘consecutive’ years is the key.

      Trust me, under UK law this is almost certainly discriminatory!

      • I think Raffles is right about this. And it is morally questionable to make it harder for a female frequent flyer to obtain a benefit her male counterpart would be entitled to because she has spent part of her working life on maternity leave.

        • Perhaps naively I’d assumed all other programmes (apart from Starwood, as I remember reading more about how they did things) required consecutive years? Didn’t bmi? Regardless I’d say it suits all of us better for consecutive years not to be a requirement – I think it’d makes more sense to look more at total number of miles/TPs, etc. as some of the hotels do. Of course lifetime status is potentially a pretty short-lived concept, as we saw from bmi!

      • callum says:

        What law is that then? While of course there are many protections in place for women when they have children, I’m pretty sure there is no carte-blanche law that states they get special treatment in things like loyalty schemes. Should they also get compensatory miles for the journeys they would have made had they not had the child?

        And arguably, you two are being just as discriminatory against men as they are against women. You are aware men are entitled to 7 months paternity leave (subject to the mother taking less)? Obviously men are in the minority in this regard, but anti-discrimination rules are all about protecting the minority after all!

        • Here is an example of ‘implied discrimination’ taken from a legal website. If a company pays a higher % bonus to full-time staff than part-time staff, then it is acting illegally. This is because women are more likely to work part-time because of child-care requirements, and thus are facing ‘implied discrimination’ in a company that pays full-time staff higher bonuses.

          I struggle to see how this example differs from VS.

  12. luckyjim says:

    But men are entitled to take 26 months paid paternity leave if the mother returns to work. The fact that most don’t is down to the unfavourable terms (in the UK). Ironically Virgin’s policy is only ‘discriminatory’ in countries where men and women do not have equal rights to post-natal leave.

    I do agree though that ‘any’ 10 years would be better.

    • Notwithstanding any trading of parental leave entitlements, there is also the issue that most airlines won’t allow you to fly in the final stages of pregnancy. Admittedly that doesn’t make it impossible to maintain status across consecutive years, just harder, and that’s one thing you can’t trade. To me that would be the discriminatory issue since Virgin will not be concerned whether the qualifying flights are business or leisure related, nor who is paying for them.

      To be honest the consecutive year rule says to me that this is more about dangling a carrot of dubious value that most people will never achieve, rather than genuinely rewarding loyal custom. Most people who travel for work will go through periods where they travel less and may not maintain status – it doesn’t mean they are flying with a competitor necessarily.

  13. Matt H says:

    Virgin status would be a much more attractive proposition if they joined SkyTeam and improved their credit card offering. The lack of an alliance and short haul network keeps me with BA, I do like virgin but not enough to sacrifice my short haul perks such as lounge access within Europe.

    • The credit card itself is OK as far as earning rates go – it is just the 241 voucher which is pathetic (and of course the fact you still pay Virgin’s huge credit card surcharge when you use their card to pay for VS flights!).

  14. Virgin will retain you as gold for maternity and paternity reasons.
    http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/en/gb/frequentflyer/membershipbenefits/goldbenefits/index.jsp
    look under the “Other Benefits” heading. They have always done this.

  15. NohoMan says:

    I had an Amex Centurion card which I cancelled a few years ago after the annual fee became £1500 from around £600. I received virgin gold status card because of it. I had never had virgin status before.I just checked into Virgin economy at HTW T3 and was told I could use the lounge as had a gold card number. They offered this without my asking, however once at the lounge they looked me up in the system and was turned away.

    I guess that tells you the gold card from Amex is not for life….