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Virgin improves Flying Club – should BA flyers switch?

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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.


HFP Virgin Atlantic Rewards credit card

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (November 2020)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Points

As well as the two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (see here, one has a bonus of 15,000 Points), you can also earn from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.

(Want to earn more Virgin Points?  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.)

Comments (37)

  • littlefish says:

    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.

  • 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.

    • Rob says:

      …. in which case, it is more interesting. Good to see Virgin has finally seen some sense here.

  • 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).

    • Rob says:

      10 ‘consecutive’ years is the key.

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

      • DV says:

        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.

        • Alan says:

          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!

        • Rob says:

          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.

  • 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.

    • Mark says:

      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.

  • 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.

    • Rob says:

      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!).

  • Phil says:

    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.

  • 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….