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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.

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.

How to earn Virgin Atlantic miles from UK credit cards

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Flying Club miles 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 Flying Club miles.  That page is regularly updated with the latest special offers and will still be accurate even if you are reading this article months after publication.

(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. Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    Shame that ANA only seems to release a single F seat on LHR-TYO flights. Great if you’re travelling solo though.

  2. Thomas Howard says:

    If you’re an aspirational F/J flyer isn’t Flying Club pretty much game over for Avios? BA are likely to devalue Avios further in the next year and its already miles behind Virgin in terms of value per point. Redemption on OW partners is now all Avios has going for it.

    • Upper Class value is fairly equal with BA CW (Virgin is better value in Economy) and Virgin has no 241.

    • Genghis says:

      I think we forget that it’s natural for reward schemes to devalue over time.

      • It is natural for revenue-based schemes to devalue, because otherwise inflation would mean you were earning more points year after year from the same room booking.

        It is not natural from a scheme based on miles-flown to devalue, if you don’t want it to.

        • The link to miles flown has become so tenuous I wonder whether it’s time they scrapped it.

        • Genghis says:

          I think even a miles earning scheme would devalue. Generally speaking, as the supply of currency increases, ie more avios in circulation which we see, either prices increase or quantity of goods need to increase for equation to hold true. And I don’t see loads more availability…

  3. Off topic: I was at a hampton by hilton sunday night and asked for late checkout. I am hilton gold. Asked for 4pm optimistically. They had availability, but said only the first hour of late checkout is free, and it would be £10 for each additional hour.

    Does this sound correct?

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      I recall that the T&Cs are rather vague for late check out. I’d be tempted to moan at Honors on Twitter, if only to get a clarification and (probably) some points.

    • HGI downtown PHX only offered 2pm to a platinum for free (2hrs). Anything longer was charged at half a day rate.

    • Thank you Andrew and John. Think I was mixing up with Marriott gold which has free late checkout to 4pm.

  4. OT: Bumped from overbooked Vueling flight from Rome to LGW. Airline organises alternative flight via Milan into LCY, scheduled landing 90 mins after the original time. Milan-LCY leg then cancelled due to weather at LCY, and by then there are no alternative flights to London before the next day. What’s the position on compensation?

  5. I flew Air China first class one way to Beijing last month. Fairly easy to book, although you need to contact air china to select a seat.

    It was my first first class flight so it was all rather fun. Particuarly enjoyed the united lounge before hand. Staff on air china all very nice, drinks kept topped up. There was only one other person in first which was nice. Food was ok, lots of it, but i had eaten in the lounge and was pretty stuffed. Good beds. Wines fairly medicore.

  6. Cate ⛱️ says:

    A little help please…

    1) Will the routes Air France and KLM cover be just to the USA?
    2) Will there be award availability in biz and first?
    3) What are the taxes and fees like?

    Thanks

    • Will be global. No chance of getting Air France F as they don’t allow anyone to book it on miles, KLM doesn’t have it. Taxes are up to Virgin ….

      • Mr Dee says:

        so at least business will be available I presume?

      • will KLM still give you one of those little houses for flying business if you book with Virgin miles 🙂

  7. Cate ⛱️ says:

    Thank you Rob.

  8. cisoard says:

    Will the new credit cards help extend/avoid expiration ofFlying Blue airmiles somehow? That for me is the biggest issue with FB. I fly KLM/AF often enough to get good numbers, but not often enough to prevent them from expiring.

  9. Have 20000 dormant klm miles. Any chance of merging these with virgin club miles?

    • No, although you could book a one way on KLM with them and use Virgin to book a flight back.

  10. 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

  11. Mr Dee says:

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

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