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Why Virgin’s new Economy Delight fares can be excellent value for money

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A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the relaunch of Virgin Atlantic’s economy pricing.  

There are now three levels of pricing, offering different benefits.  At the bottom end you have no checked baggage and will be allocated a seat at check-in, with no guarantee that couples will be sat together.  At the top end, you have the new Economy Delight package with premium benefits.  These generally match what is offered by Delta, Virgin’s 49% shareholder:

Economy Light: Hand Baggage Only fare with seats assigned at check-in, cannot be upgraded to Upper Class or Premium Economy with miles

Economy Classic: The old Economy fare with the ability to pre-select seats and with checked luggage included, can be upgraded to Upper Class or Premium Economy with miles

Economy Delight: Extra legroom (34″ pitch), free seat selection at any time, priority check-in and priority boarding, can be upgraded to Upper Class or Premium Economy with miles

Full details are on the Virgin Atlantic website here.

Here is a slightly OTT picture of an Economy Delight seat:

Virgin Atlantic Economy Delight explained

But there’s more …..

When these fare were announced, we were not told how frequent flyer miles and tier points came into the equation.  Now we know:

Economy Light:  earns 25% of miles flown plus 25 tier points each-way

Economy Classic:  earns 50% of miles flown plus 25 tier points each-way (the Virgin website says ‘50% to 150% of miles flown’ and ’25 to 50′ tier points each way but in all my tests yesterday I was only offered a 50% miles bonus and 25 tier points)

Economy Delight:  earns 150% of miles flown plus 50 tier points each-way

These numbers show during the booking process when you select an Economy seat and are asked to pick between Light, Classic and Delight.

This page of the Virgin Atlantic website explains their tier point system.  You need 400 tier points in a rolling 12-month period for Silver and 1,000 tier points for Gold.

Should you pick Light or Classic?

I’m not going to spend much time looking at the price difference between Economy Light and Economy Classic.  Assuming you know whether or not you will be taking a suitcase, the key thing to know is that seat selection before check-in costs £30 each way on an Economy Light ticket.

The price gap, looking at numerous examples on numerous routes, is generally £60 return.

This means that unless you are:

  • 100% certain that you want to take your chances with whatever seats are left at check-in (it will cost £60 return if you change your mind) and
  • 100% certain that you won’t be upgrading to Upper Class or Premium Economy with miles (Light fares cannot be upgraded) and
  • 100% certain you will be fine with hand baggage (because a suitcase will cost you £90 return if added later) and
  • 100% certain that you don’t want the extra 25% ‘miles flown’ in Virgin Flying Club miles

….. Classic offers you certainty over seating and baggage and should be worth the extra unless you are very price sensitive.

Please note that the extra Virgin Flying Club miles means that most Head for Points readers should NOT be booking Economy Light.  On San Francisco, Hong Kong or flights of similar length, you would earn an extra 2,500 to 3,000 miles return which I would value at £25 – £30.  This means that the net price difference between Light and Classic is £30 – £35 return and I would definitely pay that to guarantee a good seat for 24 hours of flying time.

(Virgin’s pricing for additional baggage over your allowance can be found here.)

The only exception to this would be if you have Virgin Flying Club status.  A Silver or Gold member can select seats for free on Economy Light tickets, which means there is no logic to buying Economy Classic unless you want to upgrade or are checking a suitcase.

What is Virgin Atlantic Economy Delight

What is the premium for Economy Delight?

I have done quite a bit of digging into routes and prices.  My view is that it is a no-brainer to book Economy Delight, especially on longer routes.

A lot of people who don’t read HFP won’t work this out, but let me explain my thinking.

In general Economy Delight is priced at £100 return above Economy Classic and £160 return above Economy Light.

However – just looking at the Virgin Flying Club miles received and assuming you value them at 1p – for a long route like San Francisco the additional Flying Club miles are worth £105 over Economy Classic (150% vs 50% of miles flown) and £130 over Economy Light (150% vs 25% of miles flown).

To be clear, on a 12-hour Virgin Atlantic flight the additional cost of Economy Delight is virtually offset by the additional Virgin Flying Club miles you earn.

This assigns no value to:

  • the extra 3 inches of leg-room
  • priority check-in
  • priority boarding
  • the ability to upgrade with miles to Upper Class or Premium Economy if available
  • the extra tier points

Even if you are not a long-term collector of Virgin Flying Club miles, remember that 12,500 miles is enough for a £50 Virgin Group gift voucher.  Fly to San Francisco in Economy Delight and you would earn roughly 16,000 miles which would get you a £50 voucher.  Economy Light would only earn 2,600 miles whilst Economy Classic would only earn 5,200 miles.  The £50 value of the voucher offsets half of the cost of the upgrade from Economy Classic.

Even if you have zero interest in earning 150% base miles from Economy Delight, I still think it makes sense.  On the longer routes, you are paying £100 extra return over Economy Classic to get an extra chunk of leg-room for 24 hours of flying time.  That is £4 per hour.  If you don’t value your well-being at an extra £4 per hour ….

Remember that in reality the £50 Virgin Group voucher you’d get for your 12,500 miles means than the actual net cost of Economy Delight over Economy Classic is more like £2 per hour.  If you are a long-term Virgin Flying Club collector, which means you should be aiming for 1p per mile on a long-haul premium redemption instead of 0.4p per mile via a gift voucher, the Economy Delight upgrade is virtually free due to the extra miles you earn.

Conclusion

All of the maths above is based around the longer Virgin Atlantic routes.  There are two scenarios where it won’t be so clear cut to pick Economy Delight:

If you are on a shorter flight such as New York, because the extra cost is still £160 return but the flying time is shorter and the bonus Flying Club miles are fewer

If you find a route where Economy Classic offers more than the 50% base miles (the range is apparently 50% to 150% but I couldn’t find any examples above 50%)

I would still be giving Economy Delight consideration though, because £80 each way for the additional legroom plus some extra miles plus premium security is never going to be a bad deal.

On the longer Virgin Atlantic routes, I see no real justification – if you can get full value from the extra Virgin Flying Club miles these tickets earn – for not paying the extra £160 return for Economy Delight.

You can read about the different Economy Classes on the Virgin Atlantic website here.

(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles?  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.)

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Comments

  1. To give Virgin credit, this looks like a clever way to come top in the price comparison searches while persuading people to want to pay more for a better (legroom wise) economy product, which is the opposite to the usual direction of travel re price/service. (It seems people in this comment thread at least are talking about whether or not they can upgrade to ED rather than wishing they could get money back to drop to EB.)

  2. dean stannard says:

    The way i read it is that if you are a Gold Card holder and not too fussed about the the tier points or the miles you might as well book Light as you get (subject to availability) and exit row seat and 1 piece of hold baggage (up to 23kg) as GC benefits are 1 additional piece of baggage (hold and cabin) above your fare allowance – hence even on Light you get 23kg.

  3. Nigel Williams says:

    Would DFW count as one of the “longer” no brainer routes from the UK?

  4. Rob I know you dont work for BA, but any idea when info will be released about BA’s hand luggage reduced pricing structure?

    • The links to the internal BA docs are in the original article, I think there was a date in April mentioned.

  5. Richard says:

    Had time to look at some prices now – its a stealth increase of price by 50/60 quid. The cheapest Barbados tickets would previously be around 470 and earn 50% miles. Now without checked baggage the lowest is still 470, but you only get 25% miles,but you have to buy up 60 quid to get the old mileage and conditions

    • Genghis says:

      Just like the size of Mars Bars have been getting smaller and smaller since I was a kid

    • As the whole point of this exercise is to come out equal to Norwegian etc in Expedia search results that would not, on the whole, make a lot of sense. Less competition to Barbados of course …

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