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What are the best Virgin Atlantic airline partner awards you can book?

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There were a few comments in our articles on the new Virgin Atlantic credit cards last week asking about Virgin Flying Club airline partners and the ease (or not) of getting reward availability.  In particular, what the impact of Air France and KLM as partners will be.

I ran a version of this article last September but I felt it was worth running an update as the new credit cards may have changed your view about the merits of focusing on Virgin Flying Club.

As a reminder:

You CAN apply for the new credit cards – and get a sign-up bonus – if you already have the MBNA Virgin Atlantic credit cards (which history suggests will be closed in a couple of months anyway)

The free Reward card has a 5000 miles sign-up bonus, earns 0.75 miles per £1 and comes with a 241 or upgrade voucher for spending £20,000 per year

The £160 Reward+ card has a 15000 miles sign-up bonus, earns 1.5 miles per £1 and comes with a 241 or upgrade voucher for spending £10,000 per year

The cards are issued by Virgin Money so it is very unlikely that you will be conflicted due to having any other cards from the same bank

You can apply for the free Reward card here and the £160 Reward+ card here.

I need to tell you that the free Reward card has a representative APR of 22.9% variable.  The Reward+ card has a representative APR of 63.9% based on a notional £1200 credit limit and the annual fee.  The representative APR on purchases is 22.9%.

Virgin Flying Club adds Air France and KLM

Big changes are coming to Virgin’s airline partnerships

Potentially the biggest upheaval in the UK frequent flyer game in late 2018 / early 2019 is going to be the addition of Air France and KLM as Virgin Atlantic Flying Club partners.

As I wrote here, Air France and KLM are, subject to regulatory approval (which takes a while), buying a 31% stake in Virgin Atlantic.  Virgin, Delta and Air France / KLM will form a joint venture to cover their combined transatlantic routes, sharing revenues and profits.

From a miles point of view, this has some serious repercussions:

You will be able to redeem Virgin Flying Club miles on Air France and KLM.  This opens up a huge new range of redemption possibilities.  Virgin Atlantic has become very USA-centric in the last few years but this new partnership will open up pretty much the entire world.  Choosing Virgin over BA will become more attractive when you have such a wide choice of redemptions.

UK flyers who travel with Air France or KLM (which I know is a lot of HFP readers) will be able to credit their flights to Virgin Flying Club instead of Flying Blue.  It is likely that they will count for status, and that Air France / KLM will recognise that status when you fly with them.

I am quite excited – mainly because my wife has 1.2 million Virgin Flying Club miles!

Until then, you have to stick with Virgin’s existing airline partners.

Who are Virgin’s airline partners?

Virgin Atlantic is not in a major airline alliance, despite Delta Air Lines – a core plank of the SkyTeam alliance – being a 49% shareholder.

Despite that, the airline does have a number of airline partners with whom you can earn and redeem Flying Club miles.  These include :

Virgin Atlantic

  • Air China
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Jet Airways
  • SAS (earning only)
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Virgin Australia

… plus of course its shareholder Delta.

There is no standard partner redemption chart in terms of miles needed and it is difficult to get your head around what is a good deal.  A few years ago, US blog View from the Wing published this piece on making the best use of Virgin Flying Club partner redemptions which is the most detailed discussion I have seen, albeit that Virgin America no longer exists so ignore those references.

From the UK, the best options appear to be:

First Class, Air China, London to Beijing for 75,000 miles return (or Business Class for 63,000 miles) – this is exceptionally cheap

Business Class, Air New Zealand, London to Los Angeles for 75,000 miles return

In reality, you can pretty much forget the Air New Zealand option unless you want a regional flight.  It makes very little award space available from London for Star Alliance members, let alone partners.

You can also forget Singapore Airlines for long haul, because “Redemptions in Business Class and First Class on Singapore Airlines’ A380, 777-300ER and A350-900 aircraft types are not available” which covers virtually every aircraft they fly from Europe.  You can book regional Singapore Airlines flight around Asia which may be handy if travelling in the region.

You CAN book the Air China redemption very easily.   In fact, I booked one myself last year as I wrote here.  Unfortunately it ended up being cancelled due to a change of plans.  Virgin appears to be able to access the same availability as Air China shows to its Star Alliance partners.

(There are some stories of Air China unilaterally cancelling Virgin Atlantic award bookings if they suddenly find that a flight is selling well.  I have no personal experience of this, either from myself or any other HFP readers, but I just mention it as a reported potential downside in booking with them!)

A Head for Points reader has just returned from Beijing on this Air China service in business class.  I hope to run a review in the next few days.

Tokyo is also a good choice

There is another good option – ANA, the Japanese airline.

Assuming you are based in the UK, these are the key numbers you need to know:

Economy return flight (London to Tokyo) – 65,000 Virgin miles

Business return flight (London to Tokyo) – 95,000 Virgin miles

First return flight (London to Tokyo) – 120,000 Virgin miles

Note that one way redemptions are not possible.

These are exceptionally good rates in Business and First.  For comparison, this is what you pay using Avios for a BA or JAL redemption:

Economy return flight (London to Tokyo) – 39,000 Avios off-peak / 60,000 Avios peak

Business return flight (London to Tokyo) – 150,000 Avios off-peak / 180,000 Avios peak

First return flight (London to Tokyo) – 204,000 Avios off-peak / 240,000 Avios peak

The price gap between Avios and Virgin miles is stunning.  Even with a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher, it is STILL a better deal to use Virgin miles most of the time when travelling Business or First Class.

Even better, there are no fuel surcharges added to ANA redemptions using Virgin miles.  You will have to pay the usual Air Passenger Duty, Heathrow departure taxes etc.

Anika flew down to Tokyo with ANA last Easter and you can read her review of ANA’s Business Class product here.  It is good.

But in general …..

There is a Flyertalk ‘sticky’ thread dedicated to the problems of booking partner redemptions on Virgin.  It is not an easy process.

Apart from Delta redemptions – which are easy to get as long as Delta is opening seats to its own members – Air China does seem to be your best bet in terms of actually getting a seat.  There are also good reports of booking seats on ANA (there is a dedicated Flyertalk thread on that).

You will have a better chance of getting flights on other partners if you are looking for regional flights rather than long-haul tickets from the UK.

And a quick note on the new credit cards ….

Whilst the new Virgin credit cards come with a 2-4-1 redemption voucher and an ‘Economy to Premium Economy’ upgrade voucher, these are only valid on Virgin Atlantic flights.

You cannot use them to fly on partner airlines, including Delta.

Conclusion

If you choose to use the new credit cards as a springboard to building up some Virgin Flying Club miles, there are some interesting opportunities for booking redemptions with partners.  In truth, though, it is often a confusing mess – especially in terms of being able to actually book – and the arrival of Air France and KLM as partners will hopefully be a step change.

The website for the new credit cards is here.  My two articles from Wednesday describing the package of benefits are here and 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.)

Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history.  By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker.  Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

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Comments

  1. Tony M says:

    One way air china can now be booked as mentioned above. Have recently booked one way Beijing to London.
    Anyone know if ANA, LON-TYO or reverse can now be booked as a one way from recent experience?
    Thanks

  2. Mr Dee says:

    If we could book partner redemptions online that would be boost a lot of redemptions IMO

  3. Hi. Totally OT, but does anyone here know how far in advance you can drop your bags off at Heathrow T2 for an Air China flight. Am flying with them next week in the eve to Beijing and thought about getting there early and pottering around for a bit. Is it 3 hours? Or can I do it earlier? Thanks, J.

    • Flew with them a couple of years ago, although I flew from Paris on the outbound and check in opened 3 hours before, there was no way of checking in online either so there was already quite a queue at this point.

      It was the same situation departing from Sydney and in both directions from Beijing so I can’t see it being any different from Heathrow

  4. No bits today so I’ll post here (OT)

    I recently applied to upgrade my gold charge card to the plat charge card to make use of the 20k upgrade offer. Got a letter today saying that my application was unsuccessful.
    Has this ever happened to anyone before? I currently hold the PRG card and 2 other amex credit cards, I’m struggling to understand why my application was denied.

    • I think they’ve became much more strict on approving certain people. I’ve not been able to get approved for the gold charge card again since the last time I cancelled, and I also got rejected for the rewards credit card (which I applied for 6 months after getting turned down for the gold).

      The strange thing is, after this they trebled the credit limit in my BA card! Which makes absolutely no sense.

  5. Sorry for beginner question – I have 100k+ VS miles and am based in HKG. Quite keen on looking into ANA flights. How do I begin to check availability etc. I believe I need to call virgin to book, but is there a way of seeing flight options and availability before, so I don’t run through multiple options online?

    Thanks

  6. Hi there – I currently have the Black MBNA Amex / Visa combo and use it extensively. I have just done the card checker to see if I can get one of the new Virgin £160 fee cards and it has told me that I am not eligible. I am confused…..is anyone else experiencing this problem?

  7. Way O/T!!

    Just wondering if anyone knows whether I can send avios from BA to Avios.com. Or with the closure of avios has that now been completely closed?

    Many thanks

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