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Virgin Atlantic ends Air China partnership – are there any good partner awards left (except ANA!)?

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Virgin Atlantic has announced that it is ending its partnership with Air China.

It issued a statement to say:

“Our partnership with Air China is ending. Termination of the partnership is effective from the 16th March. Unfortunately, no more bookings can be made on or after the 16th March 2020 and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members will not be eligible to earn miles on Air China flights from 16th March 2020.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members who fly prior to 16th March 2020 will continue to be able to retrospectively claim miles for up to 6 months after their flight. Plus, Flying Club redemption bookings made on Air China prior to 16th March 2020 will also be honoured (subject to standard terms and conditions).

If you have any queries or would like to retrospectively claim miles, please contact our call centre.”

If this came as a surprise, it probably shouldn’t.  Late last year, Air France, KLM, China Eastern and Virgin Atlantic signed a deal to extend the existing joint venture between Air France, KLM and China Eastern to include Virgin.  This covers all routes between Europe and China.

The glory days of Air China redemptions had already passed, in any event.   Until May 2018, Air China was THE sweet spot in the Virgin Atlantic reward chart.

You could book Air China in First Class, London to Beijing, for just 75,000 miles return!  If there wasn’t availability, you could get Business Class for 63,000 miles return.

In May 2018, Virgin Atlantic decided that this was simply too generous.  It increased the rate to 135,000 miles in Business Class and 200,000 miles in First Class.  That was almost 300% higher for First!

The Virgin Atlantic / Air China partner page is here.

Virgin Atlantic

Who are Virgin’s other 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 (until March)
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • 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.

We will come on to ANA in a minute, which is the infamously good one.

Apart from ANA, the only deal – on paper – that looks good is business Class on Air New Zealand, London to Los Angeles for 75,000 miles return.

However, 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.  Of course, this doesn’t matter anyway as Air New Zealand will no longer fly to London from October 2020.

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.

Tokyo is your best 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.  You may also find it tricky to find two seats per flight although one is more straightforward.

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 in 2017 and you can read her review of ANA’s Business Class product here.  It is good.  And, of course, you now get (on the right plane) the fantastic new ‘THE Room’ business class suite.   This won ‘Best New Business Class Seat (Editor’s Choice)’ at the 2019 Head for Points Travel & Loyalty Awards.

Big changes are coming to Virgin’s airline partnerships, of course

Potentially the biggest upheaval in the UK frequent flyer game in 2020 is going to be the addition of Air France and KLM as Virgin Atlantic Flying Club partners.

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!  This should go live in the next few weeks.

Conclusion

The loss of Air China, and the end of Air New Zealand’s UK services, are gutting the Virgin Atlantic partner reward chart.  Only ANA remains as a genuine gem if you are flying from the UK.  The arrival of Air France and KLM as partners will hopefully be a step change.

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Comments

  1. You may want to remove Jet Airways from that partner list!

  2. 75,000 to 200,000 was a 166.66% increase, not almost 300%.

  3. The Original David says:

    So is China Eastern an earning and redemption partner now? They’re not mentioned on the Virgin site…

  4. Rob, whats the likelihood that Virgin ends the ANA partnership once the AF/KLM thing is fully done?

    • Less likely – with JAL in oneworld it won’t be doing a JV with them.

      • …..unless Delta decides to buy a minority stake in JAL…..

        • JAL and AF-KLM eyeing stakes in Malaysia Airlines, 25% and 49% respectively. So one never knows how that will end up in terms of Flying Club redemptions if the two airline companies start cooperating on other routes.

          One can dream, of course!

          • Air France already cooperates with JAL on the Paris – Tokio Route. You can already spend FB miles on JAL operated flights. Similar with Malaysia Airlines, you can earn and redeem FB miles on Malaysia – and even cheaper than using Avios, especially if you require a connection.

            BTW AF-KLM denied the are interested now in getting a 49% of MH. They were interested in the past, apparently.

          • JAL would be great for Malaysia since it’s oneworld. I’m sceptical about AF-KLM, they aren’t really pursuing a strategy of minority stakes in other airlines (unlike Delta or Qatar, for example).

  5. SydneySwan says:

    VIrgin’s list of partners you can redeem on is a con. None of them ever have availability.

  6. FlyingChris says:

    Has anyone actually recently booked an ANA redemption? Have been searching for availability ex-LHR and ex-EU on United’s site (is there a better search tool?) and can never find more than one seat in J on a few random dates across the calendar. With the requirement to book round trip as opposed to one ways, presumably it also isn’t possible to book the outbound/return legs separately like with BA as they’re released into the system?

    • Mr. Pie says:

      Both legs need to be booked at the same time yes. You could always take the risk to book a lower class for the return or whichever let you’re missing in the hopes of more space opening up.

      I also used the UA tool. Couldnt find availability from LHR so I went ex -EU instead. I booked back in summer and flew in Jan. Reward space is hard to find and I imagine will be even harder going into peak season +Olympics.

      Remember than Ana releases reward space to their own FFP first before it goes out to *A and VS.

    • I’m flying ANA next month but from Frankfurt. I booked it early summertime last year and availability was wide open from Frankfurt from February onwards, whereas it was very difficult to find return dates that worked from Heathrow. There’s two flight a day from Frankfurt which probably helps too. Taxes were only £200ish as opposed to £350ish from London which softens the blow of having to connect

      • FlyingChris says:

        Thanks, useful tips! Presumably on UA search looking for ANA “Business Saver” award space? Haven’t found more than one seat in the same class so far. Fingers crossed they open up more next year though due to having to travel at peak times (Easter/summer) don’t hold out too much hope!

        • Yeah, I was just booking for myself. If you take the Frankfurt option, both daily flights had 1 seat if I remember. You could go separately 😉

  7. “there are no fuel surcharges added to ANA redemptions using Virgin miles”

    I thought that was like most flights, ie that’s because they don’t exist, especially after the BA class action lawsuit.

    Carrier Imposed Surcharges is the new term?

    • Charlieface says:

      If you’re being pedantic, he’s referring to charges with the code YQ or YR. Those codes haven’t changed

  8. Phillip says:

    I do wonder how long the ANA option will last!

  9. Does anyone know if it’s possible to change flights with ANA when booked as a redemption thru Virgin Atlantic? Booked Frankfurt to Tokyo in three weeks and it looks like I’m on the older seats in both directions. Don’t want to change the dates just to the other daily flight

    • As long as there’s award availability you should be fine, it’s what I did. Although I had to pay an admin fee (£35 I think)

  10. “Heathrow Departure Taxes”

    And what would those be?

    Or do you mean the passenger service fees which aren’t of course proper goverment taxes.

    Please Rib it’s really not hard to get the description right.

  11. Shoestring says:

    ANA – going to Japan? – Japanese for Beginners: Quick and Easy to Understand Lessons (free)
    https://www.udemy.com/course/learnjapanesefromsomeguy/

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