A fortnight ago, two interesting transfer bonuses were announced, both of which I covered.
And, of course, via the recent Starwood Amex promotion, a lot of Head for Points readers will be sitting on 20,000 SPG points which would transfer into 25,000 Virgin miles.
There is therefore a window, even for someone without a Virgin Flying Club account at the moment, to build up a pile of miles from scratch very quickly.
It is not up to me to tell you if this is a good idea FOR YOU or not. However, here are a few points to consider.
British Airways can fly you to pretty much anywhere that Virgin Atlantic can. However, that doesn’t mean they can get you Avios seats when you want them. Having a balance in another programme gives you more chance of getting seats on the dates you want them.
Both BA and Virgin allow one-way redemptions, so with a Virgin balance you could mix and match a trip as availability allows. Virgin also partners with Delta in the US and a number of other airlines.
However, Virgin and BA are both UK-focussed airlines, so you are likely to face an identical squeeze around UK school holidays. You may want to expand into Star Alliance and redeem on, say, Lufthansa if you want a better chance of seats at – say – UK half-term.
2. Fewer miles, cheaper taxes in Economy
Virgin recently announced lower taxes on Economy redemptions. These are quite aggressive – New York is £120 cheaper than BA. Virgin also requires fewer miles – New York is 35,000 in Economy vs 40,000 with Avios. However, Upper Class flights generally match BA in the miles and taxes required.
(BA also lets you redeem on carriers such as airberlin and Aer Lingus who charge minimal taxes, far less than even Virgin does. BA is also planning to trial reduced taxes on long-haul economy flights – on certain routes only – this Autumn.)
Here is a sample of charges from my July post:
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)
I do not redeem on Virgin, so cannot comment on how easy or hard it is to get availability. In general, though, Upper Class cabins have fewer seats than BA Club World cabins, with subsequent squeezes on availability. Is it easy to get 4 Upper Class seats on Virgin for a family? I don’t know. It isn’t a problem with BA on many routes.
A random test showed that I could get 4 Upper Class seats to Dubai on various dates. However, I would not expect to be able to get seats this late in the year for half term or Christmas, and I wasn’t disappointed. It does seem possible though.
You can check availability on the Virgin website without having enough miles in your account to do the redemption. You should spend some time researching your favourite routes before deciding whether to commit miles to Flying Club.
4. No 2-4-1 Amex voucher, but an upgrade voucher
There is no equivalent of the BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher. The Virgin credit card does give a 2-4-1 voucher but ONLY ON FLEXIBLE CASH TICKETS. You can, however, get a voucher with the Virgin credit card to upgrade Economy redemptions to Premium Economy for no extra miles. The two Virgin credit cards are reviewed here and here.
5. Fallback option of transferring to Hilton HHonors or IHG Rewards Club
Rare among airline schemes, Virgin lets you transfer miles out into Hilton HHonors (1:2) or IHG Rewards Club (the Holiday Inn etc scheme) at 1:1. If you found yourself struggling to use your Virgin miles, you could also move them across – although this feature could be discontinued at any time.
6. Finally … a much improved cancellation policy
It used to be that if you had to cancel at 7+ days out, you lost 25% of your miles. If you cancelled within 7 days, you lost ALL your miles. BA, on the other hand, lets you cancel up to 24 hours before the flight with no penalty at all.
As I posted here, Virgin seems to have changed its rules. Whilst there has been no official announcement, the revised text is clearly on the website and is now very similar to BA. Thank goodness for that.
7. The Heathrow Clubhouse
The Virgin lounge at Heathrow, for Upper Class passengers, is widely regarded as one of the best airport lounges in the world. Get a haircut, have a massage, eat a proper meal, chill out in the audio or TV rooms or do one of many other (admittedly ‘boys toys’ type) activities. Well worth trying once in your life.
Note that, whilst full fare cash tickets in Upper Class also get a free chauffeur to and from the airport, reward tickets do NOT get this. Some airlines do – I have an Emirates chauffeur booked for a few weeks time on a reward ticket.
8. Easy to collect additional miles
It is now as easy to collect Flying Club miles as it is Avios. You can transfer from Tesco, Amex Membership Rewards and Heathrow Rewards, as well as all the major hotel schemes. As I wrote here, some major hotel chains do not give Avios but do offer Flying Club miles.
There is a shopping portal similar to the Avios estore. There are also decent promotions, eg 5,000 miles for opening an ISA.
So, a few things to think about.
One of the emerging features is that Flying Club has a lot of offer the person who redeems in Economy. Lower taxes, fewer miles required and the ability to upgrade to Premium Economy for free via the credit card voucher.
You even get the option of selected long haul departures from Manchester, which BA abandoned long ago.
For business class redemptions, it is less clear cut. Smaller cabins, a smaller route network and fewer daily flights may make it trickier to find seats, whilst taxes and miles required tend to mirror BA. And there is no Amex 241 voucher, which for a couple effectively makes a ‘once a year’ redeemer require twice the miles. (It has a proportionately lower impact on a family of 4 taking multiple long-haul flights each year.)
My current plan, for what its worth, is to use the current Amex transfer bonus to get 50,000 Virgin miles in my account. Next time the rest of the family goes off to my parents in law, I will try to combine them with my 50,000 American Airlines miles from the credit card promotion to visit the US and back. It would take a bigger transfer bonus – say, 50% out of Amex – to persuade me to move enough miles over to, say, take my entire family away in Upper Class.
If you have any other Virgin queries, please post them below. No guarantee that I will know the answer (!) but I am sure that someone else will.