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Virgin Atlantic increases miles needed for upgrades but makes them easier to achieve

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Apologies for the delay in covering this announcement (well, it isn’t an announcement as Virgin has not actually notified people about it!) due to my holiday last week.

I had a few emails pointing out that Virgin Flying Club was increasing the cost of upgrades.

However ….. Virgin is also allowing cheaper ticket classes to be upgraded.  In a bad bit of PR, Virgin didn’t tell anyone about this second change.

Some of the people who emailed me were unhappy.  I am more realistic.  What would you rather have?  Cheap upgrades from expensive ticket types you were never likely to buy, or more expensive upgrades which can at least be applied to the cheap ticket you bought?

Virgin Atlantic miles upgrade costs increasing

Let’s go back a step.

On 15th February, Virgin Atlantic changed the Economy fare classes that can be upgraded using miles.

You might think that an Economy ticket is an Economy ticket.  Not true.  There are different types of ticket at different prices, reflecting different terms for refunds and changes.

The Virgin economy fare classes are Y B R L U M E Q V X N and O.

Until 15th February, the cheapest upgradable Economy class was ‘M’.  In reality, this was often more expensive than buying an inflexible Premium Economy ticket and so there was no point in upgrading.  It only benefited business travellers who were forced to travel Economy due to company policy but ended up with semi-flexible tickets because they booked late or had uncertain plans.

The changes brought in E, Q and X to the ticket classes that can be upgraded.

This is a major improvement.  For the first time, it is likely that the average leisure traveller in Economy may have a ticket class they can upgrade.

Similarly, booking class H in Premium Economy can also now be upgraded using miles.

But what is happening to upgrade prices?

Virgin giveth, and Virgin taketh away …..

Take a look at this page on the Virgin website and click on ‘Upgrades Table’.  It says:

PLEASE NOTE FROM 01 MARCH 2016, THE MILEAGE LEVELS FOR UPGRADE REWARDS WILL INCREASE BY THE FOLLOWING AMOUNTS

Economy to Premium – increase of 5,000 miles per sector

Premium to Upper – increase of 10,000 miles per sector

Economy to Upper – increase of 15,000 miles per sector

These are, without doubt, chunky increases.  Using New York as an example:

Economy to Premium Economy jumps from 10,000 to 15,000 miles, one way

Premium Economy to Upper Class jumps from 10,000 to 20,000 miles, one way

Economy to Upper Class jumps from 20,000 to 35,000 miles, one way

However, as I said at the top of the page, you need to see these in context.  It is unlikely that you would have previously had an Economy ticket that could be upgraded so the cost was immaterial.

Virgin is now allowing cheap Economy and Premium Economy tickets to be upgraded and, to my mind, the new costs reflect that.

If you want to know how to book the cheapest ‘X’ class Economy and ‘H’ Premium Economy tickets, I strongly recommend reading this article on Flyertalk.  It will tell you everything you need to know.

Does this mean full redemptions will increase in price?

Possibly, possibly not.

Let’s put it this way.  Upgrading an Economy ticket to Upper Class now costs 70,000 miles return.

Booking an Upper Class redemption from scratch costs just 80,000 miles return.

That doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, until you remember that Virgin has BA-style fuel surcharges on Upper Class redemptions (£500+ return).  When you factor that in, the two scenarios above are not so far apart in terms of costs and value.


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 (40)

  • Stuart_f says:

    Just bear in mind that I’ve not yet updated the FlyerTalk sticky to account for the increase in miles required post 1 Mar so the table at the bottom comparing values is only valid for another week.

  • ankomonkey says:

    What miles would you earn by buying an economy ticket and upgrading using miles? Economy miles or actual cabin flown miles? This may be worth factoring in as a straight redemption will earn nothing back.

    • Stuart_f says:

      Fair point.

      You get the miles and tier points you would have earned on the revenue fare you booked, not the cabin you end up flying. I’ll factor in the miles earnt when I re-do the calculations for the 1 March change.

  • Gavin says:

    Do these changes now include Virgin economy fares booked via Virgin Holiday packages?

    • Rob says:

      Not entirely clear. The T&C wording has changed to remove references to Virgin Holidays not counting but at same time it says you must book direct.

      • Gavin says:

        Guess we will not know until someone tries it.

        • Gavin says:

          Looked at an old Virgin Holidays flight booking and it was V class, which I believe all Virgin Holiday flight bookings are. So it looks like these flights are now available for upgrades as V class will be added.

  • Simmo says:

    There were some comment s a few days back about people using miles to upgrade at the gate.
    Wondering : Are there any benefits of doing this at the gate? (i.e is it less miles, then check-in / Prior? my thinking is as you do not get the Lounge etc..)

    • Stuart_f says:

      The advantage is that, if you get a helpful agent, there doesn’t need to be reward availability to upgrade on the day. Once control of the ticket has passed to the airport most of the normal rules go out the window.

      • Waribai says:

        Ok, does this work on BA too?

        • Anon says:

          Not tested it on BA, have upgraded a”non-Upgradable” ticket to UC at the airport.

          NB: CheckIn not gate. So full access to Clubhouse. 🙂

          Have done this Twice.

          One of the plus points of Virgin…

          • Jonathan says:

            how much were the upgrades please if you don’t mind me asking?

          • Anon says:

            Normal difference between PE and UC, £60 +12,500 miles.

            No brainer for a 9 hour flight to Orlando on a EC reward ticket that had used a AMEX upgrade voucher to PE.

            Did I say it was for both of us too… :-

        • Chris C says:

          No because BA does not do same day upgrades using avios only with cash

  • Jamie says:

    Does anyone know if this adjustment in applicable fare classes will also be applied to the currently useless VS AMEX Black companion ticket?

    • Pol says:

      According the website companion tickets booked with miles are valid in the new buckets, so I would assume this applies to the voucher too.

      • Jamie says:

        Thanks for confirming Pol. I quite literally just jumped for joy!! I only have to wait until June for my card anniversary for all of the vouchers to be added now.

        • Pol says:

          The companion voucher posts immediately on reaching required spend, no need to wait for anniversary date.

  • Anders says:

    I’m actually quite happy with this. Getting the additional miles on Virgin isn’t that hard and you’d save quite a bit of ££ by booking in a lower class. Our last trip we used miles to upgrade M class economy tickets to Upper. Being able to upgrade a lower fare class is definitely a bonus!

  • dom says:

    tried to book an H class PE companion ticket with a view to using miles to upgrade to UC (before the 1st march deadline) but was told that companion tickets achieved through spending on virgin black amex cannot be upgraded using FC miles. can’t see anything about that in the t&c?

  • Gavin says:

    It article may need to be edited?
    The changes brought in E, Q, V and X to the ticket classes that can be upgraded.

    E, Q & X class tickets have been added to the Reward Flights web page but not V. So looks like flights booked Virgin Holidays package are not included. That’s a real shame.