One of the most frustrating situations is realizing that a loyalty program you previously overlooked actually offers significant value. For years, I didn’t consider Virgin Atlantic Flying Club since I knew it had ridiculous carrier-imposed surcharges on its own award tickets.
That changed in 2017 when American Express launched a transfer bonus to Flying Club that had a lot of us points and miles nerds taking a second look at the program. And, particularly as Flying Club’s partner-award charts have remained largely unchanged for years, it stands out as offering some incredible value.
Now is an especially good time to consider Flying Club. In addition to being a transfer partner of most transferable currencies, the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard just increased its sign-up bonus. You can earn up to 80,000 bonus miles within the first year — which is worth $1,200 at current TPG valuations.
Today, lets dive into the basics of the Flying Club program and point out the sweet spots that can make the program so valuable.
Earning Flying Club miles
Often when you find great award redemptions, earning enough miles to utilize the sweet spots can be a challenge. That’s not the case here. You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards (instant transfer), Chase Ultimate Rewards (instant transfer) and Citi ThankYou Rewards (instant transfer) points to Flying Club at a 1:1 ratio.
In addition, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to Flying Club at a 3:1 ratio — with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring at least 60,000 points. In TPG testing, these transfers take under 48 hours to complete.
Between these four programs, many TPG readers should easily compile a large balance of Flying Club miles — more than enough to book the sweet spots below.
You can also boost your account balance by signing up for the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard. For a limited time, you can earn up to 80,000 bonus miles within the first year. That bonus is broken out as 60,000 bonus miles for spending at least $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening, plus additional bonuses for adding authorized users (2,500 each up to 5,000 total) and hitting spending thresholds.
Most airline co-branded cards aren’t worth using as a general-spend card as they only earn 1x mile per dollar spent. However, the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard earns 1.5x miles for every dollar spent. At TPG valuations of 1.5 cents per mile — which is conservative when you consider some of the redemptions you can get — you’ll get a return of 2.25 cents per dollar spent.
Even better, you’ll earn 7,500 anniversary miles after you spend a minimum of $15,000 with your card within your anniversary year and an additional 7,500 anniversary miles after you spend a total of $25,000 within your cardholder year. That means you’ll earn at least 112,500 miles (60,000 sign-up + 37,500 from purchases + 15,000 spending thresholds) for spending $25,000 in the first year after signing up.
If you’ve flown a Virgin Atlantic-operated flight — whether you paid cash or miles for it — you can use Flying Club’s Miles Booster to score some extra miles for cheap. You usually have the option of paying £0.010 per mile or $0.016 per mile, but Flying Club also periodically runs promotions offering 30% bonus miles.
And then there’s the old fashioned way of earning miles: actually flying. You can credit paid flights on Virgin Atlantic and its partners to your Flying Club account. We recommend checking your operating carrier and fare class on WhereToCredit for the best option.
How to redeem Flying Club miles
You can easily search for award flights and redeem miles on Virgin Atlantic’s homepage. Just click Advanced Search and then select the Miles option:
Alternately, you can start on Virgin Atlantic’s main booking page, which lets you specify a five-week search window. I’ve found that this is especially helpful for finding award availability when your dates are flexible:
The calendar of results displayed can easily be limited to nonstop options (“direct only”) and you can toggle between economy, premium economy and “Upper Class” — which is Virgin Atlantic’s name for its business-class product.
This process may seem incredibly easy so far, that’s not always the case. When it comes to partner award searches with the engine, the Virgin Atlantic website can fall short. That’s because Virgin Atlantic only allows you to search award flights to/from airports that are loaded into its system.
For example, you can use the Virgin Atlantic engine to find and book Delta-operated flights. But, not all of Delta’s 300+ destinations can be searched on Virgin Atlantic’s website. Let’s take a look at two of Delta’s transpacific flights out of Atlanta. You’ll have no issue searching flights to Tokyo:
But you won’t be able to search awards online for Atlanta to Seoul, South Korea (ICN):
For certain destinations, you may need to click the pin icon in the origin or destination box to find a destination. But, South Korea isn’t a country destination option on the list:
Unfortunately, there’s not a workaround. If the city pair that you want to search isn’t available online, you’re going to have to call a Flying Club agent to find availability and book the award.
Another problem has become less common, but we want to cover it in case you run into this issue: the option to select “pay with miles” can be grayed out and can’t be selected:
There’s no foolproof process to ensure you’ll always be able to select “pay with miles.” Instead, you can complete an award search on a Virgin Atlantic route like New York to London where you can always select “pay with miles,” then click the “refine search” option in the upper-right portion of the screen and input the route you actually want to fly.
Even after completing the initial award search with “pay with miles” selected, sometimes when you input the routing you want, the engine will revert back to “pay with card.” You just have to keep refining searches or starting over until the website allows you to select “pay with miles.” It can be frustrating, but worth the effort.
Rules and fees
Here are a few general notes for award flights booked with Flying Club miles, including partner-operated flights:
- Change your travel date, routing and class of service prior to travel for $50 (plus mileage difference) for flights originating in the U.S.
- Cancel your ticket and receive all your miles back for a cancellation fee of $50 for flights originating in the U.S. if you cancel at least 24 hours prior to departure. Once you’re within 24 hours, miles become non-refundable
- Hold award seats for up to 72 hours — even if you have no miles in your account. This is true even with partner awards, as I confirmed in May with an ANA award.
- Open-jaw itineraries are allowed. The mileage cost will be half the cost of a round-trip for each of the legs booked.
Redeeming for Virgin Atlantic-operated flights
As you can see from the above search examples, when you find flights operated by Virgin Atlantic (IATA code VS), the fuel surcharges are outrageous. A round-trip between New York City and London can cost between $300 and $500 in taxes and fees for an economy flight or more than $1,500 for an Upper Class flight.
You can easily find economy revenue flights to Europe for less than the taxes and fees Virgin Atlantic puts on award tickets. This is one reason I long ignored the program, and it’s why I generally don’t recommend flying Virgin Atlantic with the airline’s own miles.
One possible exception is premium economy award tickets from the Northeast to London/Manchester. During off-peak times (Sept. 9 to Dec. 12, 2019; Jan. 6 to April 2; April 22 to June 19 and Sept. 7 to Dec. 11, 2020), you can fly premium economy from Boston, Newark, New York Kennedy and Washington Dulles to the UK for just 17,500 miles each way.
That’s an excellent mileage rate for a well-reviewed premium economy flight allowing you to be comfortable on your hop across the pond.
But still, taxes and fees can be high. In award searches, I’m finding $249 one-way from NYC to London and £347 ($426) one-way for the reverse. When booking those two legs separately, that adds up to $675 total in taxes and fees. However, it costs $778 to book a round-trip award. Either way, that’s a lot of out-of-pocket cost.
Round-trip premium economy fares on Virgin Atlantic start at $1,283 — equating to a mediocre 1.7 cents per mile if you book the two one-ways separately. The redemption rate gets even better if you’re looking for a one-way. Flights from NYC to London cost start at $1,879 one-way in premium economy, yielding a 9.3 cents-per-mile redemption value.
And there’s no shortage of award availability:
Virgin Atlantic isn’t a member of any airline alliance. SkyTeam members Delta (49%) and Air France-KLM (31%) own much of the UK-based airline, but most of Flying Club’s partner airlines aren’t part of the SkyTeam alliance. There are currently eight different airlines you can book award flights on using Flying Club miles:
In addition, you can earn Flying Club miles — but not redeem them — on Air France, KLM and SAS.
Each partner has a different award chart — some are distance-based and others are zone-based. Check each partner airline’s page for full details and terms and conditions. Besides Delta (and even for some Delta routes), you must call Flying Club at 1-800-365-9500 to find partner availability and book tickets.
Half of Virgin Atlantic’s redemption partners are either have limited options to/from the U.S., mediocre redemption rates or both.
Flying Club’s partnership with Air China allows just one redemption option: from London to Beijing. This used to be a sweet spot in the Flying Club award chart at just 75,000 miles round-trip in first class, but this sweet spot has since been gutted. A first-class award now costs 200,000 miles round-trip.
You can use Flying Club miles to fly Hawaiian Airlines between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii. Business-class awards cost 40,000 miles each way between Hawaii and the West Coast or 65,000 miles each way between Hawaii and the East Coast.
Although Flying Club is a partner of Singapore Airlines, you can only redeem for economy awards on flights to/from the U.S.. The best deals are on Singapore’s fifth-freedom routes: New York City to Frankfurt for 25,000 miles each way, San Francisco to Hong Kong for 30,000 miles each way and Los Angeles to Tokyo for 30,000 miles each way. However, Singapore limits award availability to partner airlines, so it can be really hard to find bookable options.
Flying Club’s award chart for Virgin Australia flights is mostly distance based — meaning that it could be a good value for short and expensive intra-Australia flights. The only long-haul flights that touch the U.S. are between Los Angeles (LAX) and Australia for a pricey 47,000 miles each way in economy; 70,500 in premium economy or 94,000 in business class.
Now, let’s look at the partners that offer incredible value:
Air New Zealand
While Air New Zealand award availability is typically really hard to find, it’s worth considering using Flying Club miles in the rare cases when availability opens up. Flying Club’s award rate for business-class awards from the U.S. mainland to New Zealand on Air New Zealand is 62,500 miles each way. That’s a deal compared to AA’s 80,000-mile rate, United’s 80,000-mile rate and whatever Delta feels like charging on any given day.
It gets even better for flights for flights from Hawaii to New Zealand with business class costing just 45,000 miles each way. And flights between Los Angeles and South Pacific also cost just 45,000 miles each way in business class.
ANA (All Nippon Airways)
Virgin Atlantic’s incredible redemption rates for ANA-operated flights have been well documented here on TPG, especially relating to the Amex transfer bonus. Even without that transfer bonus, ANA awards booked through Virgin Atlantic should always be a consideration if you’re looking to get between the U.S. and Japan.
The following prices are for round-trip travel. Unfortunately, one-way awards price at the same price, so you’re going to want to book a round-trip. Open-jaw bookings are allowed so you can check award availability on other routes if your preferred route isn’t available. Also, note that domestic connections in either the U.S. or Japan cost extra.
For everything you need to know about this sweet spot, check out this guide to maximizing Flying Club on ANA flights.
Award flights are especially cheap for infants under two years old, with economy rates costing just 2,000 miles round-trip. Flying with an infant in business or first isn’t going to break the mileage bank either:
The incredible value that you can get from Flying Club miles on Delta awards has justified its own post on the topic and numerous deal alerts and guides, such as:
But here’s a quick rundown:
- You can book Delta-operated flights using Virgin Atlantic miles with no fuel surcharges, including transatlantic and transpacific routes with the exception of flights to or from the U.K.. As covered above, Virgin Atlantic imposes stiff surcharges on these routes starting at $500 round-trip, and this can’t be avoided by flying Delta.
- Virgin Atlantic has access to additional Delta award space other partners cannot see. Traditionally, you have to find a Delta flight with the lowest level of availability in order to use a partner program to book the flight. That’s not always the case when using Virgin Atlantic miles to book Delta flights.
- You can book domestic Delta economy segments for 12,500 miles or domestic first-class segments for 22,500 miles. You can book these flights right on Virgin Atlantic’s website, and all have just $5.60 in taxes and fees. You’re charged per segment, so this is typically only a good deal on nonstop domestic flights.
Here are a few examples of the savings on both mileage required (compared to booking Delta using SkyMiles) and fuel surcharges (compared to flying Virgin Atlantic transatlantic) if you book Delta using Virgin Atlantic miles.
Lie-flat domestic options
TPG has an entire guide to where to find Delta’s best business-class seats on domestic routes. Since Delta ditched its award chart years ago, it can charge whatever it wants to for awards on these flights. However, Virgin Atlantic will charge just 22,500 Flying Club miles. Let’s show one example:
Delta Flight 283 from Atlanta to Los Angeles in Delta One on July 1:
22,500 Virgin Atlantic Miles or 40,000 SkyMiles
While flying cross-country in economy isn’t much fun, you might as well pay as few miles as possible if you have to do it. Delta is currently charging a reliable 18,000 miles one-way for its awards on the nonstop from San Francisco to Atlanta, but you can pay just 12,500 Flying Club miles instead:
Delta San Francisco to Atlanta in economy:
12,500 Virgin Atlantic Miles or 18,000 SkyMiles
How about spending New Year’s Eve in Tokyo? I rung in 2018 in Tokyo and highly recommend the unique experience. If you want to do so, make sure to check Flying Club availability first.
Delta Flight 295 from Atlanta to Tokyo in Delta One on December 28:
60,000 Virgin Atlantic Miles or 240,000 SkyMiles
Last but not least, let’s take a look at transatlantic flights.
Delta Flight 42 from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Paris in Delta One on January 21:
50,000 Virgin Atlantic Miles or 80,000 SkyMiles
There are plenty of examples across the board that show you should always first look at booking Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles before turning to SkyMiles. Availability is not always great for certain international routes, but if you’re flexible you can find fantastic deals. Don’t forget that booking Delta One transatlantic using Flying Club miles also allows you to skip the $1,000 in fuel surcharges for business class that Virgin Atlantic charges for its own flights.
South African Airways
For years, a South African Airways fifth-freedom route was arguably the best mileage redemption price around. For 25,000 Flying Club miles, you could fly from Washington Dulles to Dakar, Senegal in business class. Sadly, South African cut that route at the beginning of September — although this route still shows on Flying Club’s award chart:
While that killed off an incredible award, there are still some good redemption options. You can fly between Washington Dulles (IAD) and Accra, Ghana for 55,000 miles each way, and you can fly around 15 hours from New York JFK to Johannesburg (JNB) for 75,000 miles each way in South African Airways business class.
You also might be able to get good use out of Flying Club miles intra-South Africa (10,000 miles each way in economy) and intra-Africa — where business-class awards range from 15,000 to 25,000 miles each way.
If you find yourself with hundreds of thousands (or millions) of Virgin Atlantic miles, you can trade them in for an extraordinary level of luxury — or altitude:
- Virgin Balloon Flights: 30,000 miles will get you a three- to four-hour ballooning experience.
- Mount Rochelle: Stay at Sir Richard Branson’s Cape Town winery for three nights for 155,000 miles.
- Kasbah Tamadot: Spend three nights in Branson’s Atlas Mountain retreat in Morocco for 255,000 miles.
- The Lodge: Stay three nights in Branson’s nine-bedroom Swiss Alpine resort during the summer for 380,000 miles.
- Mahali Mzuri: Spend three nights in a “luxury tent” at a Kenyan safari camp for 600,000 miles or five nights for 800,000 miles.
- Ulusaba Private Game Reserve: 550,000 miles for a three-night stay for two people in a Safari Lodge room or 800,000 miles for a five-night stay for two people in a Safari Lodge room
Or enter for a raffle to fly in space on Virgin Galactic (once commercial flights begin operating) for a cool 2,000,000 miles — all of which must have been earned from flying Virgin Atlantic.
Other options include spending 40,000 miles to attend an all-day Flying Without Fear program — which includes a flight with a Virgin Atlantic captain who provides “full narration of every movement, squeak, wobble explained from start to finish.”
Awful redemption options
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club has a number of other redemption options that provide poor value:
- Eurostar: Flying Club members have the option of redeeming 12,500 miles for a £50 Eurostar e-vouchers. At current exchange rates, that’s just $61 — or less than 0.5 cents per mile.
- Hilton Honors points: You can transfer Flying Club miles to Hilton Honors points at a ratio of 2 miles to 3 points. That might sound good, but TPG values Hilton points at just 0.6 cents per point. That means you’re getting just 0.9 cents of value per Flying Club mile.
- IHG Rewards points: It gets worse when you consider transferring Flying Club miles to IHG Rewards points — which transfer at just a 1:1 ratio. TPG values IHG points at just 0.5 cents per point.
- Kaligo: You can redeem 20,000 miles for one night at “standard” hotels, 30,000 miles per night at “premium” hotels and 40,000 miles for a night at “luxury” hotels. There might be some value to be found in here in some rare cases, but that’s a steep mileage price to pay.
- Virgin Group gift card: You can burn 12,500 miles for a £50 ($61) Virgin gift card, but that’s an awful redemption rate of under 0.5 cents per mile.
- Virgin Wines: Similarly, you can redeem 12,500 miles for a £50 ($61) Virgin Wine gift card, but also at an awful redemption rate of under 0.5 cents per mile.
Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy