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.
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
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.)