How do you book Virgin Atlantic flights using Virgin Points?
This article is Part 3 of our new ‘Virgin Redemption University’ series to run alongside our existing ‘Avios Redemption University’ – which itself will get a much-needed update next month.
If you want to earn more Virgin Points, our review of the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard credit card is here (15,000 bonus points) and our review of the free Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard credit card is here.
Here are the other 12 articles in the series:
- How does Virgin Red differ from Virgin Flying Club?
- How many Virgin Points do you need to fly to ….?
- How to redeem Virgin Points on SkyTeam flights
- How to redeem Virgin Points on ANA and other partners
- How to upgrade your Virgin Atlantic flight with Virgin Points
- How to convert Virgin Points to Hilton or IHG hotel points
- How to use Virgin Points for a Virgin Holidays discount
- How to redeem Virgin Points for hotel rooms via Kaligo
- Is Virgin Atlantic’s ‘Points Plus Money’ feature a good deal?
- What’s the best non-flying use of Virgin Points?
- What is the cheapest way to top up your Virgin Points?
- Get cheaper Virgin redemptions with a credit card voucher
How do you book Virgin Atlantic flights with Virgin Points?
In this article I want to run through the key principles of how to redeem your Virgin Points for flights on Virgin Atlantic.
Most of the principles are the same for searching and booking flights on partner airlines but we will look at the key differences in Part 4 in a few days.
Fundamentally, it is as simple as going to Virgin Atlantic’s homepage, entering your destination and dates you want to fly and selecting ‘Points’, an option which is hidden under the ‘Advanced’ button. In reality there is a lot more to it.
There are many nuances you need to understand when it comes to Virgin Atlantic reward flights. Much of it will come from experience, but here are some of the key points.
How many seats does Virgin Atlantic guarantee for reward availability?
One of the improvements to Flying Club that Virgin Atlantic made during the pandemic was to guarantee a minimum number of seats for redemption on every single flight.
This makes it much easier to find and book reward flights on Virgin Atlantic and comes close to matching the guaranteed availability that British Airways has offered for years.
In total, Virgin Atlantic guarantees 12 reward seats on all flights:
- 8 in Economy Classic
- 2 in Premium
- 2 in Upper Class
The Economy and Premium numbers match what British Airways offers. The Upper Class number is half of BA’s four guaranteed seats, primarily driven by Virgin’s smaller cabins. Some aircraft have as few as 16 Upper Class seats.
This is just the minimum number of guaranteed seats. Virgin Atlantic may choose to release further seats on less busy flights and usually does. At the bare minimum, however, you can expect to see 12 seats per flight.
According to Cirium data, Virgin Atlantic is scheduled to operate around 24,000 flights over the next year, which means there are 288,000 seats guaranteed for redemption.
Missed the guaranteed seats release?
SeatSpy is a paid-for service which continually monitors reward seat availability for Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and various other airlines. You can take a look here.
You can set up a SeatSpy alert to receive an email or SMS if Virgin Atlantic releases reward seats in a particular cabin(s) on particular date(s).
SeatSpy has an extra feature exclusively for Virgin Atlantic searches. On routes with multiple daily flights, you can specifiy exactly which services you want to be contacted about. This is handy if you only want (for example) the day flight back from New York.
Gold members can unlock ANY seat – at a price
As an extra perk, Virgin Flying Club Gold members can book ‘Gold Reward Seats’. This feature lets you open up any seat in any cabin on any flight for redemption. The big catch is that you need to pay double the usual points and book at least 60 days in advance. The seats can only be booked over the phone.
Whilst useful, Gold Reward Seats are not particularly good value unless you want super-peak flights, such as a Christmas and New Year trip to the Maldives.
You cannot combine Gold Reward Seats with any other benefit, such as a Virgin Atlantic credit card 2-4-1 or upgrade voucher. They are also excluded from Virgin Atlantic’s occasional reward seat sales where points discounts of up to 30% are available.
You can book reward seats 331 days in advance
Virgin Atlantic makes reward seats available 331 days in advance. This is later than British Airways, which releases seats at 355 days before travel.
Some people with both Avios and Virgin Points find this difference frustrating, because they feel obliged to book the BA seats at -355 days even if they would prefer Virgin Atlantic – why take the gamble on getting those later? Some will later rebook on Virgin Atlantic and pay the £35 per person cancellation fee to British Airways.
Seats appear at around 5am, which we believe is because the airline uses Delta’s reservation system which runs off US Eastern Time. This clearly isn’t hugely convenient for making a booking from the UK, especially as none of the call centres are open.
(We have little reader feedback of booking Virgin Atlantic flights at 5am UK time. Please let us know in the comments if you have done it and how you found it. We will update this article later.)
How are Virgin Atlantic redemptions priced?
Virgin Atlantic prices its reward flights based on region, rather than mileage. It has grouped all its routes into eight different zones.
The cheapest Virgin Atlantic redemption is an 18,000 Virgin Points off-peak return in Economy to Tel Aviv. This is also Virgin Atlantic’s shortest flight.
The most expensive Virgin Atlantic redemption is 155,000 Virgin Points for a peak day Upper Class redemption to US West Coast cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Tickets for lap infants (under the age of two at time of travel) come with a nominal surcharge:
- 2,000 points in Economy
- 4,000 points in Premium
- 10,000 points in Upper Class
To add a infant to your booking you need to contact the Virgin Atlantic call centre.
Can you mix cabins inbound and outbound?
Yes. You may want to do this if, for example, you are happy flying TO the United States in Premium but would prefer to come back in Upper Class to get a flat bed on the overnight leg.
However, there is a trick you need to know if you want to book mixed cabins online.
If you select ‘Premium’ or ‘Upper’ when you search for flights, the website will only show you flights in that cabin. This means that you can’t mix and match.
You need to select ‘Economy’ when searching, even if you have no intention of flying in Economy. This will bring up all travel classes and let you select Premium out and Uppper Class back, or whatever combination you prefer.
How are connecting flights on Virgin Atlantic redemptions priced?
Whilst not hugely relevant for UK HfP readers, the cost of a connecting reward flight on Virgin Atlantic – usually done if travelling from the US to Israel, Dubai or Asia – is easy to calculate: all you have to do is add up the individual segments.
For example, say you wanted to fly from Washington DC to Cape Town, off-peak via London, in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic-operated flights. This would comprise the following segments:
- Washington DC to London: 47,500 points
- London to Cape Town: 57,500 points
- Cape Town to London: 57,500 points
- London to Washington DC: 47,500 points
In total that would be 210,000 Virgin Points, return, per person.
What taxes and charges are due on Virgin Atlantic redemptions?
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The cost of your reward flight will also include a charge for ‘taxes and charges’. This is mainly a Virgin Atlantic ‘carrier surcharge’, which goes directly into Virgin’s pocket, and the UK Government’s Air Passenger Duty. Other charges include airport taxes etc.
Surcharges have got worse in the past year. Here is an example, based on return (off-peak) flights from London to New York in December 2023:
- 95,000 points + £997 in Upper Class
- 35,000 points + £537 Premium
- 20,000 points + £283 in Economy Classic
Although the charges and fees appear high (and they are, for supposedly ‘free’ tickets!) let’s compare them to the cash fares for the same dates for Friday 8th December to Monday 11th December:
- £2,682 in Upper Class
- £825 in Premium
- £558 in Economy Classic (which is what reward tickets are booked into)
These cash rates would be higher if you were not staying over a Saturday night.
As a general rule, business class redemptions offer the best value. In this case, that means you are getting 1.8p per point on an Upper Class redemption, 0.8p in Premium and 1.4p in economy.
The Premium result here is surprisingly poor. However, you also need to factor in whatever value you put on having a fully refundable reward seat vs a non-refundable cash seat.
Arguably – given the level of taxes and charges – much of the value of a Virgin Points redemption is now in the ability to cancel or change your ticket. On the New York example above, you’d probably find that JetBlue was cheaper for cash in ‘Mint’ (Business) and Norse Atlantic was cheaper in Premium – and Norse’s Premium cabin has FAR more legroom than BA or Virgin Atlantic.
Using the Virgin Atlantic credit card voucher to save points
One way to maximise your Virgin Points is by using the upgrade / companion voucher from the Virgin Atlantic Rewards credit cards.
When used as a companion voucher, you’ll only pay the points for one person, with the second person travelling ‘free’ – although you’ll still have to pay the full taxes and fees for both travellers.
It’s a big saving: instead of requiring 270,000 points for two people to fly to Los Angeles in Upper Class you’d only need 135,000, or 67,500 per person.
The snag is that you need Silver or Gold status in Flying Club to use your 2-4-1 voucher in Upper Class – for everyone else it is effectively ‘2 for 1.5’ as we will explain in a later article. Non-elites get a ‘true’ 2-4-1 in Premium and Economy Classic.
You can also use your Virgin Atlantic credit card voucher to upgrade a flight. Rob has a reward booking in Upper Class to New York in October, which cost him just 35,000 points (the off-peak cost of Premium) plus £997 in taxes and charges (the standard Upper Class charges). This is an excellent deal.
A full article on using Virgin Atlantic credit card vouchers will follow later in this series.
Using Virgin Points to upgrade flights
You can also use Virgin Points to upgrade existing flights you booked for cash.
You can upgrade into any cabin. For example, you could upgrade two classes, from Economy Classic all the way to Upper Class.
The cost of an upgrade is the difference in points required between the cabin you booked and the cabin you upgrade to.
You have to pay the difference in ‘taxes and charges’ too. Due to the way the UK Government taxes airlines, this means there is a bigger jump in the taxes and fees when upgrading between economy and Premium versus Premium and Upper Class.
We explain how to upgrade Virgin Atlantic flights with Virgin Points later in this series.
It is also possible to upgrade using a Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card voucher. In this case you would not need any additional points – you just need to pay the difference in taxes and charges.
Do I earn Virgin Points or tier points on reward flights?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes for tier points. Unlike most other airlines, Virgin Atlantic will award you status-earning tier points on redemption tickets, just as it would for a cash ticket.
This change was introduced in September 2020 and makes Virgin Atlantic redemptions incredibly attractive. In theory, you could earn elite status in Virgin Atlantic Flying Club without ever purchasing a cash ticket!
Redemption tickets have a specific tier point earning rate which is equivalent to what you would get for buying a non-refundable cash ticket in that cabin. This is what you would earn:
- Economy: 25 tier points each way
- Premium: 50 tier points each way
- Upper Class: 100 tier points each way
All flights, regardless of distance, earn the same number of tier points, so from a status perspective you are no better off on a 12-hour flight to Hong Kong than you would be on a 5-hour flight to Tel Aviv.
Whilst you can earn tier points on reward flights, you will not earn Virgin Points.
There are two things to note:
- you do NOT earn tier points if you redeem Virgin Points for flights on a partner airline
- you do NOT earn tier points if you redeem miles from a partner airline programme (eg Delta SkyMiles, Flying Blue) for Virgin Atlantic reward flights
This article provides an in-depth look at earning tier points on Virgin Atlantic redemptions.
What about Points Plus Money?
If you don’t have enough points for a full redemption or upgrade, you can also use Points Plus Money. This lets you discount cash tickets using your points.
You don’t have to use all your points – you’ll be given a drop down menu during the booking process to select how many points you’d like to use and what discount you’ll get. Points Plus Money starts in increments of 3,000 points, which gets you £16.50 off a flight.
In general, however, this is poor value. You are only getting 0.55p per Virgin Point. We will be looking at ‘Points Plus Money’ in more detail later in this series of articles.
Remember that you can use ‘Points Plus Money’ on Virgin Atlantic Holidays
As we outline in this article, you can also use Virgin Points to part-pay a Virgin Atlantic Holidays booking.
The rate is the same as part-paying a flight, at £16.50 per 3,000 Virgin Points used. The advantage of using Virgin Atlantic Holidays is that you might make a decent saving over the cost of booking a flight and hotel separately.
What does it cost to cancel a Virgin Atlantic reward flight?
One of the most valuable benefits of booking a reward flight instead of a cash flight is that they are fully refundable or changeable, minus a £30 per person fee, up to 24 hours prior to departure.
For flights originating outside the UK the cancellation fee is US$50.
This is slightly cheaper than British Airways which charges £35 per person. All Virgin Points, taxes and charges – less the cancellation fee – will be returned to you. The points should come back immediately but it can take a couple of weeks to receive the cash.
You can cancel any Virgin Atlantic flight for FREE within 24 hours of making the booking. This applies to both cash and reward bookings. This is a US legal requirement but for simplicity Virgin Atlantic rolls it out to all routes, as does British Airways.
Can I redeem Virgin Points on other airlines?
You certainly can, and the list increased massively when Virgin Atlantic joined the SkyTeam airline alliance in March 2023.
Our next article looks at this topic in detail.
How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (December 2023)
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.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive 30,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 30,000 Avios) with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold. You receive 25,000 points if you spend £3,000 in three months and a further 5,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.
The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 30,000 Virgin Points.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive a huge 100,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 100,000 Avios) with The Platinum Card. You receive 75,000 points if you spend £10,000 in six months and a further 25,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.
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.)