Whilst British Airways has many operational issues at the moment, it is hard to deny that IAG Loyalty / Avios has been on a roll.
We’ve had the move to 14 guaranteed reward seats per flight (something unheard of globally), the new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard with a crazy 50,000 Avios sign-up bonus and the new partnership with Nectar. IAG has also persuaded Qatar Airways to adopt Avios, and it wants far fewer Avios and lower charges than BA on many core Asian and Australasian routes.
Over at Virgin Atlantic, the loyalty department has not been so busy. Two years on from the launch of the Air France / KLM partnership, the IT still crashes whenever you try to book a partner redemption flight. It even took me 18 months to get the list of how many tier points you earn when flying Air France and KLM.
Until the recent Virgin Voyages deal – which was impressive, probably the redemption of the year – our experience with Virgin Red was reduced to writing about how to claim a free sausage roll with your points.
I spoke with Shai Weiss, Virgin’s CEO, about my concerns a couple of months ago. He told me not to worry and explained why. Today we can share the full details.
Virgin Atlantic is offering GUARANTEED reward availability from today
Virgin Atlantic has taken the bold move to offer guaranteed reward availability on ALL Virgin Atlantic flights.
Since Virgin Atlantic has smaller cabins than British Airways, and far smaller premium cabins, this is an expensive move which will cost them revenue in peak season. It is the right move, however.
Virgin Atlantic will guarantee 12 award seats per flight
From today – and this will permeate slowly through the booking engine as Wednesday progresses – Virgin Atlantic will guarantee 12 award seats on EVERY Virgin Atlantic flight.
- two seats in Upper Class (review here)
- two seats in Premium (review here)
- eight seats in Economy
I’d prefer to see four seats in Upper Class – after all, the majority of Virgin Flying Club members with large balances will be older and have families – but this is a massive improvement.
It is especially impressive given how tight Virgin Atlantic reward availability has been over the last few months.
How is this rolling out?
Nothing is ever simple, of course.
Virgin Atlantic has a 331 day booking window (British Airways is 355 days).
From today, every flight which opens up for booking at midnight, 331 days in advance – so from late May 2023 – will have the guaranteed 12 award seats available.
For existing services (ie every flight currently on sale between 29th July, which is the earliest date it will apply, and late May 2023) extra seats will be released during today as long as 12 reward seats have not already been released.
Put another way, today will see the greatest dump of award seats in the history of Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic is also introducing ‘double points’ availability for Gold members
Virgin Atlantic is also copying British Airways and opening up its own version of BA’s ‘Gold Priority Reward’.
From today, a Gold member can book ANY SEAT on ANY FLIGHT if they use double Virgin Points.
The only rule is that you book 60 days in advance (the British Airways equivalent is 30 days).
To be honest, there is not a huge amount of value here in premium cabins. On British Airways, it only makes sense for most people on European short-haul flights at super-peak dates.
There are very few places where I can see the value in using double Virgin Points, although the Caribbean and South Africa over Christmas and New Year may be attractive for some.
In Upper Class, most routes would require around 200,000+ Virgin Points and close to £1,000 in taxes and charges using ‘double points’, which rarely makes sense.
That said, if you are points rich and are tied to specific travel dates, this is a benefit which can pay off handsomely. As my wife has 1.2 million Virgin Points, I probably fall into this category! The maths looks better if you can book the two guaranteed seats in Upper or Premium at standard rates when they become available and use ‘double points’ for a third and possibly fourth seat.
Virgin Flying Club is back in the game. You can’t deny it. However much flyers enjoy the Virgin Atlantic service and Clubhouse lounges, the lack of Upper Class reward availability in recent months has impacted the willingness of some to commit to the airline.
Everything now changes. Well, it changes if you don’t have any children – anyone with kids isn’t taking advantage of guaranteed availability anytime soon, given the cap of two seats in Upper and two seats in Premium …..
We will run another piece later this week looking at the current Virgin Atlantic route network, in case this new policy makes you more inclined to switch your future flights to the airline.
We’ll also look at the best ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit and charge cards.
It’s good to see Virgin Atlantic listening to customer feedback and making these changes. Competition works, and competition should benefit everyone – airlines and customers – at the end of the day.
For now …. if you have a stack of Virgin Points, today is the day to get booking. Availability will never be better.
How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (August 2022)
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, the Reward+ card has a bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points):
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 20,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 20,000 Virgin Points.
The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 30,000 Virgin Points.
EDIT: Until 25th October 2022, there is an exceptionally generous sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card. You will receive 60,000 Membership Rewards points – double the usual amount – and £200 to spend at Amex Travel. You need to spend £6,000 within six months to earn the bonus.
Small business owners should consider the two American Express Business cards. Points convert at 1:1 into 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.)