Changes are coming to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. I wrote about them when the news was announced a few weeks ago. Since many people like to spend their Flying Club miles on Upper Class rewards, the clock is ticking for making a reward booking before the prices increase on 16 January, 2017.
With that in mind, I thought I would share some of my research (painfully conducted on Flying Club’s much-maligned new website) and a little something I took advantage of when burning most of my remaining Flying Club miles on an upcoming trip to North America.
First, the normal advice of “book on a partner that doesn’t have surcharges” doesn’t really apply to Flying Club. There are partner airlines of course, such as Delta Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Air New Zealand and others, but booking rewards on a partner airline is notoriously difficult. Partner rewards cannot be booked online; you have to call Flying Club. The agent then seemingly needs to consult an abacus and track down Sir Richard to ask for his permission, before sending a carrier pigeon to the partner airline to check for reward availability; I exaggerate, but only slightly. A good number of Flying Club members cannot be bothered, and therefore book Virgin Atlantic rewards. Undoubtedly what Flying Club would prefer…
Flying on Virgin involves paying surcharges and UK departure taxes, however. The surcharges seem pegged at a level that is slightly cheaper than British Airways, at least in Economy. Nonetheless, it doesn’t feel like a reward when you try to book a reward departing the United States and see this:
That’s right. 100,000 miles and $1,200 / £950 for a return in Upper Class from Los Angeles to London! And since this reward must be too popular, you will require 155,000 miles after January (on a peak date).
The news is a little bit better for London departures, where an Upper Class return to Los Angeles will cost 100,000 miles and £562.
For what could basically be the exact same flights, an American would pay almost £400 more. Hopefully that will bring a wry smile to your face when you read some American blogger pitch the latest 100,000 bonus mile credit card that you aren’t eligible for!
A common mis-perception is that this difference is due to out-of-date exchange rates. Whilst it might explain some of the difference (there’s nothing stopping Virgin Atlantic from updating its surcharge levels at any time), in fact the American market simply has higher surcharges than the British market. It certainly isn’t UK taxes, since a one way from Los Angeles to London in Upper Class would cost you 50,000 miles and £380 ($475).
Now, here’s my little tip. If you’re tall like me, you can probably manage a daytime flight of 7-8 hours in Economy class. But for overnight flights, you really would prefer a Business Class lie-flat seat to get some sleep, especially if you have the miles to burn. Booking a pair of one-way flights might seem like the answer, but £380 feels like a lot of money to me when combined with a big chunk of miles.
So, book the outbound leg in Economy and the return in Upper Class. For basically the same amount of cash, and 21,000 miles, you’ve just added a one-way flight to Los Angeles.
Don’t fancy the long flight to Los Angeles in Economy? Me neither. So call Flying Club and book an open jaw reward – this used to be possible online but no longer – and fly to New York or Atlanta instead in Economy, returning from Los Angeles or wherever in Upper Class. You will end up with something looking like this:
Just less than £350 in taxes and surcharges, and the option to spend a day or two in the Big Apple en route to your final destination.
How to fly across the country if you are returning from the west coast? Now that you’re in the U.S. you won’t pay surcharges on Avios rewards. How about using some Avios on flights such as:
Or this <2,000 mile route to get you to Los Angeles…
Don’t forget that Flying Club will let you change the dates on your rewards for a small fee. So book an Upper Class reward pre-devaluation and change the dates later if necessary…