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.
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
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.
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.
How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (September 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 30,000 Points until 15th October 2021):
You can also earn Virgin Points from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for a year and comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 30,000 Virgin Points:
Until 2nd November 2021, there is a special offer on The Platinum Card from American Express.
You will receive a sign-up bonus of 60,000 Amex points which converts into 60,000 Virgin Points.
(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.)