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
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%.
Big changes are coming to Virgin’s airline partnerships
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 :
- 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.
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.
How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (January 2021)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
You can choose from two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (apply here, one has a bonus of 15,000 Points):
You can also earn Virgin Points 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.)