Virgin Atlantic increases miles needed for upgrades but makes them easier to achieve

Apologies for the delay in covering this announcement (well, it isn’t an announcement as Virgin has not actually notified people about it!) due to my holiday last week.

I had a few emails pointing out that Virgin Flying Club was increasing the cost of upgrades.

However ….. Virgin is also allowing cheaper ticket classes to be upgraded.  In a bad bit of PR, Virgin didn’t tell anyone about this second change.

Some of the people who emailed me were unhappy.  I am more realistic.  What would you rather have?  Cheap upgrades from expensive ticket types you were never likely to buy, or more expensive upgrades which can at least be applied to the cheap ticket you bought?

Virgin Atlantic miles upgrade costs increasing

Let’s go back a step.

On 15th February, Virgin Atlantic changed the Economy fare classes that can be upgraded using miles.

You might think that an Economy ticket is an Economy ticket.  Not true.  There are different types of ticket at different prices, reflecting different terms for refunds and changes.

The Virgin economy fare classes are Y B R L U M E Q V X N and O.

Until 15th February, the cheapest upgradable Economy class was ‘M’.  In reality, this was often more expensive than buying an inflexible Premium Economy ticket and so there was no point in upgrading.  It only benefited business travellers who were forced to travel Economy due to company policy but ended up with semi-flexible tickets because they booked late or had uncertain plans.

The changes brought in E, Q and X to the ticket classes that can be upgraded.

This is a major improvement.  For the first time, it is likely that the average leisure traveller in Economy may have a ticket class they can upgrade.

Similarly, booking class H in Premium Economy can also now be upgraded using miles.

But what is happening to upgrade prices?

Virgin giveth, and Virgin taketh away …..

Take a look at this page on the Virgin website and click on ‘Upgrades Table’.  It says:


Economy to Premium – increase of 5,000 miles per sector

Premium to Upper – increase of 10,000 miles per sector

Economy to Upper – increase of 15,000 miles per sector

These are, without doubt, chunky increases.  Using New York as an example:

Economy to Premium Economy jumps from 10,000 to 15,000 miles, one way

Premium Economy to Upper Class jumps from 10,000 to 20,000 miles, one way

Economy to Upper Class jumps from 20,000 to 35,000 miles, one way

However, as I said at the top of the page, you need to see these in context.  It is unlikely that you would have previously had an Economy ticket that could be upgraded so the cost was immaterial.

Virgin is now allowing cheap Economy and Premium Economy tickets to be upgraded and, to my mind, the new costs reflect that.

If you want to know how to book the cheapest ‘X’ class Economy and ‘H’ Premium Economy tickets, I strongly recommend reading this article on Flyertalk.  It will tell you everything you need to know.

Does this mean full redemptions will increase in price?

Possibly, possibly not.

Let’s put it this way.  Upgrading an Economy ticket to Upper Class now costs 70,000 miles return.

Booking an Upper Class redemption from scratch costs just 80,000 miles return.

That doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, until you remember that Virgin has BA-style fuel surcharges on Upper Class redemptions (£500+ return).  When you factor that in, the two scenarios above are not so far apart in terms of costs and value.

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

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  1. Yes, actually inclusion of these booking classes for upgrade eligibility does add value to miles.

    If only Virgin had a couple of more useful destinations..

  2. Hmmmphh, was already thinking of moving away from virgin, shame that they couldn’t apply the off-peak model to upgrade pricing.

    As I reallyvalue free BA connections on long haul, its ooking like my VS UC/PE redemption later this year will be my last, have really liked using them, great frendily crew and atmosphere on board.

    Farewell my friend.

    • Colin MacKinnon says:

      Actually, BA connection to long-haul is not free!

      By the time you add the extra taxes, charges etc you are often better off buying a connecting RFS ticket from Scotland. You then can get about 2p per avios value!

      Now if you are cash rich and Avios poor, go for the ” free” connection.

      Maybe Raffles should do an article?

      • Are the charges cheaper if you connect in LGW (or even LCY)?

        Previously you used to be able to book a free domestic onto a RFS, but you could have a “stopover” at home for 12 months if you wanted – if you do this with longhaul, and don’t depart from LHR does that reduce the charges?

      • barnaby100 says:

        I agree- it is almost the same price to book a seat from LBA to LHR as to use the ‘free’ connection and you don’t get miles or tier points etc

      • I didn’t realise there was a different in charges (am sure there used to be none), but they don’t seem that bad?

        Picking a random date in November for a one-way:
        50000 Avios + £ 332 ex-LCY vs 345 ex-EDI (connecting LCY)
        50000 Avios + £ 336 ex-LHR vs 338 ex-EDI (connecting LHR)

      • Let’s test this….

        Quick sample, Club World return to JFK

        100000 Avios

        £504 from Scotland
        £480 from LHR

        So £24 extra for RTN connecting flight (from Scotland),

        A RFS would be extra £35 + 8000 Avios RTN

        Err no thanks… (Assuming my maths is OK)

        • Actually RFS is 8500 Avios & £35…

          So for me an extra £24 for a rtn connecting flight isn’t “Free” but its no extra Avios & cheaper than a RFS.

          Thing is I connect from LGW or MAN, so easyjet & flybe, neither of which are as cheap.

  3. I assume by upgrading from Economy to Upper Class, you also pay the difference in taxes? Which adds to the “value” of the upgrade, or rather takes away from its value!

  4. This doesn’t increase actual availability of redemptions though, if anything it reduces it, the UC/PE class still needs to be available to activate your upgrade.

  5. Virgin has been quietly bumping up the price of their upgradable economy for the last few years.

    I did both JFK and LAX around 2012. They cost about 650 base + 150 extra taxes (plus the miles) to do JFK, about 800 + 150 extra taxes to do LAX. Now they are about 300 quid more for each of those. No actual change in fare code, just they’re higher base….

    I used to do the economy upgrade. Long since stopped looking. 100 quid cut in fare won’t change that.

    • The revenue management change is likely due to a fleet change from the 744/A346 mix to 789/A333 mix. The aircraft VS now have, have less seats in YCL so they can remove the lowest fares or cream the higher fares due to the supply/demand combination changing.

  6. I guess a knock on effect is that it increases the benefit of the Virgin AMEX/Visa’s EC–> PE free upgrade vouchers?

    Assuming they’re not quietly planning changing that too (about to cancel mine, ttfn)

  7. I initially thought this was the nail in the coffin for VA as my second FF scheme but on second thoughts it might not actually be that bad.

    Assuming you can upgrade the cheapest PE ticket to UC; is this not similar to UuA pre devaluation in that someone with VA status will get back most of the miles they have used to upgrade from the paid fare?

    Just out of interest Rob, how would you compare VAFC to the FF schemes of Etihad or Emirates?

    • At present, Virgin is far cheaper than either of them for a Middle East trip. However, as most VS flights go West and most Emirates / Etihad flights go East you can’t really compare then so easily.

    • You can’t upgrade the cheapest economy fare.

      The current price of an X for LAX, for instance, is about 982 pounds for off season, near 1,200 pounds for high season (July/August). Add the taxes, and your base redemption for upgradable is nearly 1150 quid plus the miles….

      A PE upgradable fare, for comparison, is 1700 quid.

  8. Sam wardill says:

    The flyer talk link was very handy. Does the same technique work for star alliance? I’ve got some LH miles and I always wonder what I’d have to pay for an ET fare that was upgradeable

    • What “technique” do you mean? It’s the same for any airline – check for availability in the higher class and see which economy booking classes are upgradeable. Personally I don’t think Star Upgrade Awards are very useful.

  9. Just bear in mind that I’ve not yet updated the FlyerTalk sticky to account for the increase in miles required post 1 Mar so the table at the bottom comparing values is only valid for another week.

  10. ankomonkey says:

    What miles would you earn by buying an economy ticket and upgrading using miles? Economy miles or actual cabin flown miles? This may be worth factoring in as a straight redemption will earn nothing back.

    • Fair point.

      You get the miles and tier points you would have earned on the revenue fare you booked, not the cabin you end up flying. I’ll factor in the miles earnt when I re-do the calculations for the 1 March change.

  11. Do these changes now include Virgin economy fares booked via Virgin Holiday packages?

    • Not entirely clear. The T&C wording has changed to remove references to Virgin Holidays not counting but at same time it says you must book direct.

      • Guess we will not know until someone tries it.

        • Looked at an old Virgin Holidays flight booking and it was V class, which I believe all Virgin Holiday flight bookings are. So it looks like these flights are now available for upgrades as V class will be added.

  12. There were some comment s a few days back about people using miles to upgrade at the gate.
    Wondering : Are there any benefits of doing this at the gate? (i.e is it less miles, then check-in / Prior? my thinking is as you do not get the Lounge etc..)

    • The advantage is that, if you get a helpful agent, there doesn’t need to be reward availability to upgrade on the day. Once control of the ticket has passed to the airport most of the normal rules go out the window.

      • Ok, does this work on BA too?

        • Not tested it on BA, have upgraded a”non-Upgradable” ticket to UC at the airport.

          NB: CheckIn not gate. So full access to Clubhouse. :)

          Have done this Twice.

          One of the plus points of Virgin…

          • how much were the upgrades please if you don’t mind me asking?

            • Normal difference between PE and UC, £60 +12,500 miles.

              No brainer for a 9 hour flight to Orlando on a EC reward ticket that had used a AMEX upgrade voucher to PE.

              Did I say it was for both of us too… :-

        • No because BA does not do same day upgrades using avios only with cash

  13. Does anyone know if this adjustment in applicable fare classes will also be applied to the currently useless VS AMEX Black companion ticket?

    • According the website companion tickets booked with miles are valid in the new buckets, so I would assume this applies to the voucher too.

      • Thanks for confirming Pol. I quite literally just jumped for joy!! I only have to wait until June for my card anniversary for all of the vouchers to be added now.

        • The companion voucher posts immediately on reaching required spend, no need to wait for anniversary date.

  14. I’m actually quite happy with this. Getting the additional miles on Virgin isn’t that hard and you’d save quite a bit of ££ by booking in a lower class. Our last trip we used miles to upgrade M class economy tickets to Upper. Being able to upgrade a lower fare class is definitely a bonus!

  15. tried to book an H class PE companion ticket with a view to using miles to upgrade to UC (before the 1st march deadline) but was told that companion tickets achieved through spending on virgin black amex cannot be upgraded using FC miles. can’t see anything about that in the t&c?

  16. It article may need to be edited?
    The changes brought in E, Q, V and X to the ticket classes that can be upgraded.

    E, Q & X class tickets have been added to the Reward Flights web page but not V. So looks like flights booked Virgin Holidays package are not included. That’s a real shame.