I am looking at the changes in detail across two articles. Part 1, which looked at changes to earning rates at Virgin Flying Club, is here. To put it simply:
miles earned from flights will be linked more closely to what you pay
status will be tougher to earn
peak and off-peak pricing for redemptions will be introduced
Economy and Premium Economy redemptions are generally getting cheaper whilst Upper Class is generally getting more expensive
Miles Plus Money can be used at 0.6p per mile and can cover the entire cost of a ticket, including taxes
there are NO changes to partner earning or redemption rates – everything unrelated to earning or spending miles on Virgin Atlantic remains untouched (this has been confirmed to me by Virgin although it is not mentioned on the website)
In Part 1 of this article (click here) I looked at changed to earning miles and tier points when flying Virgin Atlantic.
Today, I want to look at the changes to how you spend your miles.
Change 1: NO CHANGE to partner redemptions, either airline or non-airline
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. The miles required for redemptions on partner airlines or for non-airline partners are not changing.
This means that popular options such as transferring miles to IHG Rewards Club in order to earn IHG status will remain open.
The option to use 1.2 million miles for a week on Necker Island will also remain. Whilst you might think this is out of reach, a Gold member flying to San Francisco each month on a flexible Upper Class ticket would now be able to do this after just 18 months. It is also surprisingly good value given the cash cost of Necker Island holidays.
Change 2: Peak and off-peak pricing introduced
Virgin Atlantic is following British Airways in introducing peak and off-peak redemption pricing.
At present, this only appears to apply to redemptions on Virgin and not on partners.
Here are the peak dates for 2017:
31st March – 18th April
22nd June – 6th September
13th December – 3rd January 2018
I find this approach a bit odd to be honest, for three reasons:
Peak dates are linked to UK school holidays, when business travel is low and Virgin has plenty of premium seats going spare – or at least not being sold for the usual high prices. Why charge more for redemptions at such periods?
For members outside the UK, with different school holiday patterns, the choice of dates seems even odder. At least – unlike Avios – half-term holidays have not been blocked. British Airways Executive Club members outside the UK can’t understand why random weeks in February and October are charged at a higher rate!
It doesn’t take into account the seasonality of the destination. Dubai in August, with its 50 degree heat, is not exactly a popular tourist option but you will pay the peak price. Barbados in February, peak season, is charged at an off-peak price.
Change 3: A new reward chart
This is key table that most people are looking for (click to enlarge):
Not sure why the figures are in $ ……
Here is the current chart (click to enlarge – apologies for blurring – or click here to read it online):
The changes are relatively clear:
At off-peak times, the cost of Economy redemptions is cut sharply. New York drops from 35,000 miles to 20,000 miles for example. I would caveat that with two points:
Virgin previously ran regular mileage sales which brought down Economy redemptions to roughly these levels, so it isn’t new to be able to fly to New York for circa 20,000 miles
You still need to pay full taxes and charges
The requirement to pay full taxes means that some Economy redemptions will remain a bad deal. However, others will work well. I’m pretty sure that, say, Barbados in the February prime tourist season will work out nicely even after you’ve added taxes and charges.
Some Premium Economy redemptions are cut sharply and these are the new ‘sweet spot’ in the Virgin redemption chart
New York in Premium Economy was 55,000 miles at all times. It remains 55,000 miles on peak dates but is down to just 35,000 miles off-peak. Similarly, Hong Kong looks like a steal. It was 80,000 miles return but that has come down to 65,000 miles peak and 45,000 miles off-peak.
The snag here is availability. Premium Economy is a small cabin so you will never find huge amounts of seats offered up for miles.
Upper Class takes the biggest hit but the changes are not uniform. For example:
New York – was 80,000 miles return, now 115,000 / 95,000
San Francisco – was 100,000 miles return, now 155,000 / 135,000
Orlando – was 100,000 miles return, now 115,000 / 95,000 (so cheaper off-peak)
Hong Kong – was 120,000 miles return, now 135,000 / 115,000 (so cheaper off-peak)
Dubai – was 80,000 miles return, now 95,000 / 75,000 (so cheaper off-peak)
Delhi – was 100,000 miles return, now 95,000 / 75,000 (cheaper at all times)
Johannesburg – was 100,000 miles return, now 135,000 / 115,000
In general, the US routes have got more expensive whilst other routes have fared better but there exceptions to both of those statements.
These changes do not take effect until 16th January 2017. You can book at the old rates until then.
Change 4: New ‘Miles Plus Money’ options – and they now earn miles
‘Miles Plus Money’ is being simplified and rolled out more widely.
You can’t argue with this one – for a lot of people it will be valuable even though the value per mile is ‘low but not terrible’.
You can redeem as many miles as you want (minimum 3,000) for 0.6p per mile off a Virgin Atlantic cash ticket. You can even pay the taxes this way so your flight is genuinely free.
This creates some interesting maths around partner conversions. 1 Tesco Clubcard point is therefore worth 1.5p off a Virgin Atlantic flight, for example. This is pretty poor at the standard rate, but a decent conversion bonus would make a difference.
For the first time, ‘Miles Plus Money’ tickets will now be treated as ‘normal’ cash tickets and will earn miles and tier points back.
Change 5: New upgrade costs
Finally, we have changes to the way that upgrades are charged.
The biggest hit is the cost of moving from Premium Economy ‘S’ Class to Upper Class which is currently relatively nominal. Some people currently pay the extra for ‘S’ over ‘K’ in order to be able to upgrade due to the low number of miles needed – I doubt this will continue.
You can upgrade FLEXIBLE economy tickets to Upper Class for 75% of the cost of an Upper Class redemption or to Premium Economy for 50% of the cost of a Premium Economy redemption. Given that flexible economy tickets are expensive in the first place, this does not appear to offer great value.
You can upgrade FLEXIBLE Premium Economy tickets (not K class) to Upper Class for 50% of the cost of an Upper Class redemption. This is no longer as good as a deal as it is at present.
Remember that upgrades require reward availability to be there for the class you want to move into.
Again, these rates come into force from 16th January.
Whilst this article only looks at the changes to spending your miles, you can only look at it in isolation if all of your miles come via Tesco or credit card spend. People who earn most of their miles in the air need to look at the changes to their earning and burning before they decide if they are better or worse off. It even varies by which routes you tend to redeem on.
There is no doubt that redemptions to the US West Coast in Upper Class have been hit hard – and it is on a 12 hour flight like that where you would be most likely to want an Upper Class flat bed.
Other routes do better. I think most people would be happy with Premium Economy for a day flight to New York, for example, and you can’t quibble with 35,000 miles. I doubt you will ever find more than a couple of PE seats opened up for miles, though, so this is unlikely to benefit a family.
It was only a matter of time before Virgin moved Flying Club more in line with the new Avios reward charts. If I had to sum up the changes in one phrase, I would say ‘could have been worse’.
(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.)