Tesco has launched a 30% bonus on transfers of Tesco Clubcard points to Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club. This means that you will receive 325 miles per £1 of Clubcard vouchers you convert, rather than the standard 250.
Full details are here. The deals runs to March 31st, and the miles generally appear 1-2 days after initiating the transfer.
Virgin is also repeating its offer of bonus Virgin miles for opting-in for auto-conversion of your Clubcard points each quarter to Virgin. This time, they have increased the bribe to 2,500 miles.
(Nothing stops you agreeing to this and then cancelling after one quarter! If you have a dormant Clubcard account, you should set that up to auto-convert to Virgin Flying Club – based on last year, you will still receive the bonus miles even though nothing is being sent over. You cannot earn this bonus if you have previously had an auto-convert bonus.)
This bonus is substantially worse than the 50% bonus offered last January and identical to the deal that ran last September. It is another sign of a pick-up in the economy, with Virgin less desperate for the cash from Tesco. I also would not bet on British Airways launching any sort of bonus.
Here is a reminder of some of the key features of Virgin Flying Club if you were considering doing a transfer:
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.)
Virgin also runs occasional but fairly regular redemption sales, with big discounts on the miles needed for economy class redemptions.
Here is a sample of charges compared to BA:
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)
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. Their home page is 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 (2:3) or IHG Rewards Club (the Holiday Inn etc scheme) at 1:1. There is a minimum transfer of 10,000 Virgin miles. If you found yourself struggling to use your Virgin miles, you could also move them across.
(Note that the Hilton HHonors ratio above applies from 6 February. I will post more about this tomorrow. Until 6 February, the ratio is a better 1:2.)
A 30% transfer bonus does NOT make such transfers a great deal, however.
I value Hilton HHonors points at 0.3p. A £1 Tesco voucher gets you 325 Virgin miles which is 487 Hilton points. At 0.3p, they are worth £1.46. Terrible, less than 1.5x the face value of your Clubcard points.
Similarly, I value IHG Rewards Club points at 0.5p. A £1 Tesco voucher gets you 325 Virgin miles which is 325 IHG Rewards Club points. At 0.5p that, that is just £1.62 of value. Avoid, unless you are just topping up your account.
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.
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. There are also special sign-up bonuses on the two Virgin credit cards at the moment – 10,000 miles on the free one and 25,000 miles on the £140 version.
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.)
You have until the end of March to decide whether to do a transfer ……
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!
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.)