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How does Virgin Atlantic’s guaranteed reward seat availability and ‘any seat for a Gold’ work?

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Back in June 2022, Virgin Atlantic decided to match British Airways and move to guaranteed reward seat availability on every flight for Virgin Flying Club members.

Since Virgin Atlantic has smaller cabins than British Airways, and far smaller premium cabins, this was an expensive move which almost certainly cost it revenue in peak season. It was the right move, however.

18 months on from the launch, I thought it was worth looking again at how it works.

Virgin Atlantic's guaranteed reward seat availability

Virgin Atlantic guarantees 12 award seats per flight

Since June 2022, Virgin Atlantic has guaranteed 12 award seats on EVERY Virgin Atlantic flight.

This comprises:

  • 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 was a massive improvement. It was especially impressive given how tight Virgin Atlantic reward availability had been running up to June 2022.

How far out can you book?

Virgin Atlantic has a 331 day booking window (British Airways is 355 days).

This is slightly inconvenient if you have the choice of using Avios or Virgin Points for a trip, since you need to decide at 355 days whether to take the BA option or take a chance of grabbing the guaranteed Virgin Atlantic seats.

Seats tend to become available at 5am. This is a side effect of Virgin Atlantic adopting the same booking used by its US shareholder Delta Air Lines.

Virgin Atlantic guaranteed reward availability

Remember that the Virgin Atlantic credit cards have a 2-4-1 or upgrade voucher

I don’t want to talk about the two Virgin Atlantic credit cards in detail here, but you can get a 2-4-1 voucher for a Virgin Points redemption – which is also good for an upgrade if you are travelling solo – on the UK Virgin Atlantic credit cards.

One key difference to the British Airways American Express cards is that the free Virgin Points credit card gives the SAME voucher as the paid card.

You need to spend twice as much to trigger it – £20,000 of spend on the free card vs £10,000 on the £160 paid card – but once you have the voucher the benefits (use it in any class) and the validity (two years) are identical. This makes the free Virgin Atlantic card FAR more attractive than the free British Airways American Express card.

The only downside is that, unless you have Silver or Gold status in Virgin Flying Club, the ‘2-4-1’ voucher isn’t a ‘2-4-1’ in Upper Class. You need to pay 50% of the Virgin Points needed for the second seat, so it’s actually a ‘buy one, get one for half price’ voucher. It IS a true ‘2-4-1’ in Premium or Economy. Anyone can use the voucher to upgrade to Upper Class from Premium.

The upside is that the Virgin Atlantic credit card vouchers work on cash tickets as well as reward. Buy a cash ticket, get another for free (taxes and chages must be paid), although the Upper Class restriction for non-elites remains.

Our review of the free Virgin Atlantic credit card is here and you can apply here.

Our review of the paid Virgin Atlantic credit card, with a bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points, is here and you can apply here.

Virgin Atlantic also introduced ‘double points’ availability for Gold members

Virgin Atlantic also copied British Airways and opened up its own version of BA’s ‘Gold Priority Reward’.

A Virgin Flying Club 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).

Virgin Atlantic guaranteed reward seat availability

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 Class or Premium at standard rates when they become available and use ‘double points’ for a third and possibly fourth seat for your children.

Conclusion

The move to guaranteed availability put Virgin Flying Club 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 had impacted the willingness of some to commit to the airline.

Things are now different. Well, at least 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 Class and two seats in Premium …..

The move to increased leisure flying, such as the recent launches of Dubai, Turks & Caicos and the Maldvies, has also made Virgin Points a more interesting proposition.


How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (July 2024)

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 18,000 Virgin Points and the free card has a bonus of 3,000 Virgin Points):

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

18,000 bonus points and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend Read our full review

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard

3,000 bonus points, no fee and 1 point for every £1 you spend Read our full review

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.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 30,000 points (TO 16TH JULY), FREE for a year & four airport ….. Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 40,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 40,000 Virgin Points.

The Platinum Card from American Express

40,000 bonus points AND (to 27th August) £400 to spend at Amex Travel Read our full review

Small business owners should consider the two American Express Business cards. Points convert at 1:1 into Virgin Points.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and FREE for a year Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn 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.)

Comments (37)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • BJ says:

    “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 was a massive improvement. It was especially impressive given how tight Virgin Atlantic reward availability had been running up to June 2022.”

    I get that you have an obvious preference for four seats (and 5 in days gone by when you treated nanny well) given you have two kids. However, if the rationale for guaranteed seats is catering for needs of families then would’t three be a more appropriate number? A quick google search suggested the average UK family size in 2022 was 2.36 persons.

    • Paul says:

      I agree, we are early 40’s, no children and have millions of points in VA and BA.
      None of my well travelled friends have children, and the ones that do, don’t always take them away on trips.

      • BJ says:

        I’m not really sure I have a strong opinion on the rationale one way or the other.Aldo Rob was citing preferences not rationale
        O guess whrn it comes down to it I think any airline guaranteeing any number of seats on every flight is already being generous as they don’t have to
        Two per business and premium economy already feels about right to me. For those that need/want more there’s always miles-rarning revenue fares ( although fiffering fare rules from reward flights could prove problematic) or any seat awards and vouchers.. combining different elements can still lead to a good deal overall for families or groups.

    • Ken says:

      You need to know which average to use.

      “Hey diddle diddle, the median’s the middle, add and divide for the mean. The mode is the one you see the most and the range is the difference between.”

      2 child families are the mode in the UK (although I assume that includes single parent with 2 kids).

  • letBAgonesbe says:

    I generally find VS redemptions poor value.
    Having said that I recently had to book an Aeromexico short haul flight with the points and the booking process was simple and hassle free and I was able to get 1.2p per point.

    • Paul says:

      The taxes makes Virgin so much worse value than BA.
      Over £1k in taxes is crazy.

      • Rob says:

        Er, no.

        BA and VS are the same except BA lets you spend more Avios to reduce taxes – and in a bad deal sort of way.

        Eg, NYC, both BA and VA charge 100k plus £1000 in Upper. BA leta you also use 180k plus £350.

        • Paul says:

          Not quite accurate there…

          LHR to JFK
          BA –
          160,000 plus £350 taxes
          Or
          100,000 plus £850 taxes

          Virgin
          95,000 plus £991 taxes

          Plus, factor in vouchers for non Virgin gold, for 2x pax
          BA –
          160,000 plus £700 taxes
          Virgin
          142,500 plus £2000 taxes

          • Rob says:

            You can’t factor in vouchers, that’s cheating. Virgin Silver can also use the 241, it’s not a Gold perk.

            Note that the £350 BA deal is rubbish compared to the £850 deal and you shouldn’t take it unless you have a 241.

          • Mark says:

            It’s not cheating if you only ever redeem with vouchers, as is the case for us. That said, we do use the Virgin vouchers as upgrade vouchers. It requires two for 2 people return but does change tha maths somewhat, in this case:

            70,000 plus £2000 taxes

            The thing that makes Virgin Club less useful to us is the limited route network, and we’re not fans of the old UC seats still on the majority of aircraft. That said, free seat selection in UC without status is a bonus and the Heathrow Clubhouse is great (if you can get past the 1970s vibe). So worth it to us to earn via the credit card / sign-up offers and do a trip every couple of years or so, but primarily focussing on Avios.

          • Paul says:

            We only ever use vouchers so not cheating, why cheating if it’s part of a huge amount of people redemption strategy?

            Even without vouchers, BA is still cheapest by £150 in taxes compared to Virgin 5000 points cheaper.

    • Boon says:

      Same here. AeroMexico domestic flights seem good value for redemption. Especially as taking local low cost airlines (Viva Aerobus, Volaris) doesn’t seem like reliable options.

  • Linda P says:

    As we had a number of Virgin miles accrued decided to give them a try after several years with BA. We were very disappointed from the off, check in at supposedly upper class desks was diabolical took nearly an hour, agents kept disappearing with no one to ask what was going on and several people in the queue were not happy like us at all.

    The lounge was extremely busy although we did have attentive staff, the food offering was very poor and the wait for a table was over an hour.

    The seat in upper was very uncomfortable and the Vera viewing screen was unmovable and not clear, the space in the seat was bad the only thing was the windows could be lightened or darkened. The food choices were unappetising and mostly unedible, glad we had not paid full price, we were so glad to get back with bA on our next flight.

    W

    • Mikeact says:

      +1…have to agree mainly on our last recent flight.

    • Mark says:

      We had a bad experience on our very first flight in UC as a result of ticketing have go awry due to their error in rebooking following COVID cancellations.

      One tip – if you can’t check in online, don’t get dropped at the Upper Class wing as if there is a problem, and it is busy, you get stuck for ages whilst the check-in staff struggle to get hold of anyone by phone. At least downstairs they can grab someone on the ticketing desk in person.

      The Clubhouse has an issue when particularly busy as the open plan nature means noise tends to echo and, quite aside from struggling to find a seat, makes it a rather less pleasant experience. Fortunately, that’s not the case most of the time (but travelling on the first Saturday after the US reopened post-Covid it certainly was!).

  • A2B says:

    Morning,
    So glad that Virgin haven’t googled average UK family size. , because it could be awkward sharing out the 0.36 of a seat.
    Even though I am not a rocket scientist, glad to say that I have worked it out. ( well my wife has, I asked her and not Google ). If Virgin were to release 4 seats, I am pleased to say that families with both 1 or 2 children would be able to book an overall 3 or 4 seats.
    Happy Days!!!!!
    Also a group of adult friends or family would be able to fly together.
    Happy Days !!

  • A2B says:

    How do you make a redemption with Aeromexico.? Did you have to call the Virgin call centre? The fact that Virgin has joined the SkyTeam alliance , probably leaves some great value redemption opportunities out there !!!
    Does anyone know what their Business seats are like ?

    • Boon says:

      All online. Just did it like a month ago. Good availability for domestic flights. May be spotty for international (did not check deeply).

  • NigelthePensioner says:

    I suppose like Rob’s wife (!) I too fall into the category of mature adult with family. However my family is grown up now and married and they do their own thing, so 2 seats in UC is fine thank you.
    When I came to use some points to book BGI in UC for next November (and onwards to Canouan, as if that matters), the availability was fine and I had a choice of dates to book, without
    a 5AM scramble!
    This has given me a superb “raw value” for my points comparing to buying 2 UC tickets. No vouchers used, just points, with plenty more to burn!

  • khatl says:

    The taxes make Virgin terrible value xUS. Also, Virgin availability does change close into the flight dates. For example, just two weeks back, I was looking for flights to the US from the UK the day after Christmas, and there were reward seats available in all 3 classes. Had the same happen in early September for a flight I wanted to take just 2 days later.

    • mradey says:

      Yup, availability jumped from 0 UC to 9+ (LHR/JFK) on the 6th December and has remained at that level since.

  • Nick says:

    The issue with children is only relevant with those young enough that they need to sit with parents. Once old enough to sit alone, children can fly in economy whilst the parents fly upper class. It is not necessary to sit together. This also helps overcome the children becoming too used to flying business class and becoming the spoilt brats that boast about it to friends and at school. Also whilst at university and in early stages of adult life, they are likely to have to fly economy, so better for them to get used to it whilst in teenage years.

    • Rob says:

      My kids have never sat in Economy long haul and I doubt they will be starting now! Many of their friends at school have private jets (one parent put theirs up for the Christmas PTA raffle a couple of years ago, win it for the weekend) so they still feel hard done by, I promise you. Nothing my daughter likes more than getting her SnapMap up and asking why her friends are all in the Maldives, St Barths etc when she’s in Scarborough with granny. Anyway, my son with be 6’3′ by the time he’s 14 so I don’t see Economy getting any more appealing to him!

      • Alex says:

        I’d say you’re in the minority there tbf..

      • The other Kevin says:

        Maybe granny wouldn’t mind travelling in Economy then! 😉

      • paul says:

        Nothing like a firm clip round the ear to bring some reality into their lives 🤣

      • mvcvz says:

        Having visited the den of tedium known as the Maldives, I would take Scarborough any day of the week. Especially in winter when almost no tourists are there.

    • JDB says:

      It’s not a matter of necessity having one’s older/adult children in the premium cabins but we would rather all travel together and we are pleased for them to be comfortable and to be able to sleep. We have also never subscribed to the school of thought that adults eat decent food and children eat rubbish / lesser food.

      The cost of premium travel is also quite small beer compared to their private educations.

    • ADS says:

      I agree with Nick!

      And if you really want to indulge your teenage children – the two Premium Economy reward seats sound perfect!

      I don’t agree with Kirstie Allsopp on much – but wasting Business Class seats on children is one thing I’m with her on.

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