Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Are the Amex and Tesco bonuses a reason to start collecting Virgin miles?

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A fortnight ago, two interesting transfer bonuses were announced, both of which I covered.

American Express is offering selected charge card holders a 20%-30% bonus on transfer from Membership Rewards to BA, Virgin or hotel scheme Club Carlson.

Tesco is offering a 30% bonus on transfers of Clubcard points into Virgin Flying Club.

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.

Virgin Atlantic

1. Diversification

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.)

Virgin is also running a promotion at the moment offering economy redemptions to much of the US for just 25,000 miles – 15,000 less than BA.

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)

3. Availability

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 (1:1.5) 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.

(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.)

Comments (32)

  • Linda says:

    I have flown exclusively Virgin for the last 10 years, but this year have continuously searched for reward or miles plus money seats to Vegas and LAX on UC to no avail. maybe its the route that is so popular, we can go at any time of year but do prefer spring or autumn times.

    Last year there were plenty and the years before, so we have now decided to collect Avios and try Ba’s offerings, and taking out the prem plus card, buying some on the offer and have a few Tesco points to convert, so hopefully when we qualify for the Companion voucher, the world will be our oyster so to speak.

    On the v-flyer site, there is general consensus that with the new CEO there are not so many reward seats available due to trying to recoup some of last years losses. We still have 100,000 miles each left to use so will still be trying different routes on reward availability. Ba will certainly get our business in the future and we look forward to trying Club for the 1st time.

  • Toby says:

    Interesting – worth thinking about. I think I’ll hold off until Virign joins an Alliance.

    A UK based *A option would be great.

    • ian says:

      I love *Alliance but doesn’t Virgin fit in better with SkyTeam with it’s Delta tie up?

      I’ve managed to bag a First class Paris – Tokyo – New Zealand – Australia return for this winter’s Ashes for 150,000 *A miles (at 0.6p per mile) and a grand total of £179 taxes.

      Asiana outbound and Thai on the return from Sydney.

      My missus thinks we’re travelling coach. 🙂

  • Bobby says:

    Good option if you want to redeem on Malaysian (A380 from LHR).

    115k for business (BA=140k) and 145k for First (BA=210k).

    Remember you can only book return on VS with partners, still some big savings with the 30% bonus.

    Bobby 

    • CV says:

      Are your numbers based on using Enrich miles on MAS website?

      On BA Exec website, flying on MAS to KL still requires 140k, also First availability is rare on BA website.

  • boi says:

    two questions:
    1. for those who took the 5000 miles offer with ISA, how much did you loose/gain when you cancelled at 6 months?

    2. where is it best to check and book star alliance availability?

  • whiskerxx says:

    I travelled to Vegas, and returned from Orlando on a reward seat in Virgin Upper Class in July.
    Strangely I had the same seat on the same plane for both flights. I really didn’t like the product.
    In the lie flat position my head seemed to be on top of some kind of metal grill in the bulkhead (I did have a pillow!) and the seat configuration meant I spent a good deal of time looking straight at the people sitting directly opposite, and they spent a good deal of time looking straight back!
    Give me CW any day.

  • What's the Point says:

    I have to say that I preferred the whole VA UC experience vs BA CW on two recent trips to USA and Canada. Virgin just make you feel a bit more special, and I thought their in flight catering was superior. Their T3 lounge is the best I have ever visited.
    That said I still collect both, and will be looking at a LHR – Shanghai in UC and return Beijing – LHR with CW for later in 2014. (Virgin don’t fly to/from Beijing)

  • Oliver says:

    80K return to NYC in upper class seems like a good deal to me… that is only £247 in clubcard tokens during the current bonus…. calc: (80000/812.5)*2.5 = 246.1538

    But the 241 on BA is keeping my loyalty there I’m afraid.

  • Kathy says:

    Hmm, I think once I hit my Avios target for the future redemption I have in mind, I might start building up a Flying Club balance too. It can’t hurt to have some extra flexibility and the good value economy flights are tempting.