It is, of course, hugely frustrating to find that you can book half of a reward ticket but cannot find seats for other leg. On short haul flights it isn’t so bad, because British Airways sells one-way fares on its short-haul routes which you can match with a redemption seat in the other direction.
On long-haul, though, it is usually a different matter. In general, the only one-way tickets you can buy on long-haul routes are hugely expensive flexible tickets, which cost substantially more than a refundable return ticket. This is no help at all with your award planning.
Things are a little different with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, however. Virgin has CombiFares.
As you can read here, CombiFares allow you to book a flight with one leg booked using Flying Club miles and the other leg booked for cash. The key, though, is that the cash element will be 50% of the equivalent return ticket, not the extortionate cost of a one-way ticket.
The cash leg of a CombiFare is only valid in Economy and Premium Economy, not Upper Class. However, you can mix them with an Upper Class redemption leg. It is OK, for example, to redeem miles for an Upper Class seat outbound and then ask for an Economy cash seat on the way back.
Let’s imagine, for example, that you can find Upper Class seats from New York for 40,000 miles plus $420 tax. Assuming there are no Economy reward seats going out, you could add on an Economy CombiFare ticket instead. If an economy return ticket for your dates would be £400, then in theory you’ll be charged £200 for the outbound leg. (It is not clear if they adjust for taxes, ie whether Virgin halves the base fare and then adds the actual taxes for each leg.)
The full range of fare classes is included – in Economy, that means Y, B, R, L, U, M, E, Q, X, N and O fare classes. This means that you will be able to mix and match from the cheapest available cash ticket. If you want, though, it is also possible to construct a CombiFare using a more expensive cash ticket if you want the ability to cancel or change it.
I am guessing that it is not possible to cancel the cash leg if a redemption seat becomes available later – you effectively have a non-refundable, non-changeable ticket unless your CombiFare uses a flexible cash ticket. That is arguably a small price to pay for the ability to book the trip you want even when seats are not available both ways, though.
These tickets can only be booked over the telephone, not surprisingly given their complexity.
(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles? Click here to see recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club, and click here for the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)