In the spirit of Travel is Free and my earlier compilation of an award chart for Virgin America, I decided it would be fun to document my findings for Virgin Atlantic (VS) to see if there was any good value to be had.
(For whatever reason, I spend a lot of time combining the Virgin award charts. I think I might be the equivalent of a travel-hacking hipster, playing with programs and credit cards because they’re explicitly not in vogue).
The Credit Card
No blog post would be complete without a credit card pitch, but given that we don’t do credit card affiliate links,
some math an explanation will have to suffice.
The current public sign-up bonus is a tiered bonus, as follows:
- 20,000 points after first purchase
- 50,000 points for spending $12,000 in 6 months
- Another 7,500 points for spending $15,000 in the first year
- Another 7,500 points for spending $25,000 in the first year
- 5,000 points for adding an authorized user
Here’s a direct application link (seriously, I just copy-pasted from the email they sent me advertising it).
Let’s say you go for the $15,000 tier (probably the sweet spot, given you’re already going to spend $12,000). You’d wind up with 105,000 points (bonuses plus 1.5 points per dollar spent) for $300 in opportunity cost over putting that spending on a 2% cash back card.
The reason I bother mentioning it is that it offers a pretty good return on everyday spending, and since premium cabin redemptions on partners are consistently less than twice the miles price of economy across all partners, it can put them well within reach of most people.
Virgin Atlantic Awards and Terms
Just don’t do them. The fees are absurd. That said, if you do a one-way award ex-Hong Kong the fuel surcharges should be capped. (Note: I’m being dramatic; see the comments for a bit of discussion).
Here’s a link to their chart.
That said, their mileage terms are useful to read, since they make it **really, really** hard to get a complete picture of what’s going on otherwise. Specifically, they mention the following:
- Date changes are allowed for a 30 GBP fee, which is actually quite nice. Bookings are cancellable for a full refund up to 24 hours of departure for the same cancellation fee.
- Open jaws are allowed on VS metal, which is basically a given since they allow one-way awards anyway.
One interesting bit about partner redemptions is that it may take VS up to 48 hours to book the award with the partner, which means precious availability might be taken out from under your feet in the mean time. Because of this, you can’t make a booking within 72 hours of departure.
Unfortunately, one-ways are not allowed in general. Or rather, they are, but you still have to pay the round-trip price.
4.6.2 Partner Rewards flights, except for Virgin Australia, are only valid for round trip travel between the destinations specified by the Reward provider using the routes stipulated by the relevant Reward provider. Members can redeem one-way Reward flights with partner airlines, however the full redemption levels as listed on our website will apply, unless specified on the Participating Company page.
The two exceptions are ANA and Jet Airways, for reasons that will become clear below.
Update: Looks like all the Virgin group partners (VS, VA, VX) allow one ways. Thanks to Raj for the info in the comments!
Unfortunately, no partner is excepted from the “stipulated routes” provision, which basically means that in order to travel between two regions/cities via the airline’s home country, you need to book two separate awards (except in the very rare case when the connecting route is stipulated).
A Big Caveat
No joke, they took down a bunch of the partner charts between yesterday and today. Even archive.org comes up blank. So I’m doing this all from memory plus a very old post from Million Mile Secrets (some of the charts on there are out-of-date, and some of the listed airlines are no longer partners). So bookmark this for posterity, folks 😉
They only offer awards between Beijing and London, so this probably isn’t useful for most people. Here’s the “chart”:
- 56,000/63,000/75,000 for Economy/Business/First, plus taxes, which are going to be pesky because flying out of London is expensive.
Air New Zealand
This is a fun one. First, here’s the chart, which is up-to-date, as far as I remember from what I saw yesterday:
The first (and important) note is that Air New Zealand’s chart is one of the few that includes routes where the airline’s home country is not an endpoint, so for those who live on the west coast of the U.S., you can get to the South Pacific for a mere 60,000/80,000, and if you live in Europe, you can fly the long way from London via LA for 110,000/170,000.
It also includes two fifth-freedom routes: LAX-LHR and HKG-LHR, which is super unusual (but awesome!).
As will be a theme for most of the good partner charts, Business Class awards on Air New Zealand offer great value, even more so if you believe my one friend who will go on record saying that Air New Zealand’s Business Class is the best in the world. Award availability on the AKL-LAX and LAX-LHR legs has been pretty reliable lately, with two seats open many days, so this is a good one to keep in mind. That said, you’ll almost certainly be stuck with some hefty fuel surcharges, so it’s better to look at the award tickets as a discount for paying some portion with miles rather than a free flight.
Update: I gave Virgin Atlantic a call to try to price these flights, and they seem to have trouble seeing NZ award availability. I’m not sure if they have a separate agreement with NZ outside of normal saver seats (that show up on both United.com and Expert Flyer) or if their IT is just that broken. Please let us know if you have success. If I get through to them, I’ll ask for taxes and fees to confirm what I wrote above.
All Nippon Airways
Here are the highlights:
- All domestic itineraries (of up to 4,000 miles) are 15,000 points.
- One-ways are permitted for half the price of a round-trip, because the chart is distance-based. I confirmed this over Twitter:
Here are the prices (thanks to MMS for the chart):
ANA has had pretty good availability to the U.S. in premium cabins, and there’s some huge value to be had, since VS charges fewer than 50% more miles for Business Class over Economy and fewer than 100% more miles for First Class. Talk about price compression!
Looking at the NRT-SFO route, which ends up pricing at 60,000/90,000/110,000, that would be $800 (relative to using a 2% card on the $40,000 in spending for the 60,000 points) for Economy, $1,200 for Business Class, and a mere $1,467 for First Class. That’s ROUND TRIP, ANA First Class!
The sign-up bonus alone nets you 105,000 points. So basically it would cost you $400 plus taxes for that award. Not bad, if you ask me.
Even better, ANA is getting rid of fuel surcharges on their own metal, so you don’t have to worry about them on these awards.
A couple of notes. First, they specifically call out a set of destinations:
Destinations include: Japan, USA, Hawaii, Germany, France, China, India and Guam
I find it strange that they explicitly limit them, but they didn’t ask for my opinion.
This also dovetails into a comment that a rep made to me, which was that they only have an agreement for NRT-SFO and not HND-SFO. This seems pretty obvious at first, since ANA doesn’t have a direct flight between HND and SFO, but the important takeaway is that you can’t combine flights across partners, with the exception of Virgin Australia connections to Australia (which is explicitly noted in the terms).
Lastly, and despite the chart being distance-based, you need to book two separate awards if you want to connect through Japan rather than have Japan as your destination. Part of the fun of distance-based charts are the large distance bands at the top of the chart (since usually you can pack in multiple flights in a region and still fall within the same band), but unfortunately, those bands are inaccessible.
I’ll just repeat the caveat that I’m not sure how much of that chart is still correct, since even when I checked yesterday, the international portion of the chart wasn’t posted (and now they have nothing). That said, the rep I spoked to confirmed the prices for SFO-NRT and JFK-NRT, which conform to the tiers shown above.
Delta Air Lines
Here’s the Delta chart, which they still actually publish:
This is not only better than Delta’s own chart (although it’s subject to lowest-level saver availability, and good luck with that), but also VS miles are cheaper to earn than DL miles through normal spend (1.5x vs 1x).
Sweet spots here include domestic round trips on the premium routes (DeltaOne) for a mere 45,000 points round trip, as well as a blanket 80,000/120,000 round trip price to all parts of Africa, the Middle East & Asia. South America would be a good redemption except Delta doesn’t offer many destinations on its own metal.
This one’s pretty simple:
- Intra-Hawaii: 15,000/30,000
- Hawaii-Continental US: 40,000/80,000
You can do at least as well as these prices with most other airline programs, especially if you’re flying from the west coast, where you can do a 12,500 British Airways award on Alaska Airlines.
Another distance-based chart, like ANA’s:
MILEAGE PER SECTOR
14,001 or more miles
Again, Jet Airways is the only non-Virgin group partner that offers one-way awards other than ANA, but frankly, they offer pretty crappy value (and require multiple awards if you’re headed anywhere other than India, which counteracts the value of a distance-based chart).
Curiously, they’re also the only partner for which Business and First Class awards are full multiples of the Economy award prices. So that defeats one of the best uses for VS miles.
Since Malaysia typically falls within the very generous definition of (Southeast) Asia on most region-based award charts, the long-hauls don’t offer that much value (and you’ll probably prefer another airline anyway), but you might expect that Malaysia-Oceania awards or Malaysia-Southeast Asia awards would be competitive.
Unfortunately, they too are about the same as awards on other region-based charts, and you’re likely to get better value by paying cash or redeeming for a distance-based award with British Airways, Cathay Pacific, or ANA.
SAS is the only partner airline for which VS offers mileage earning but not redemption. Not the biggest loss, since they rarely have award availability anyway.
South African Airways
I’m going to summarize the chart because the way they present it is stupid.
- Within and around (< 1000 miles) South Africa: 20,000/30,000
- South Africa to select cities in Africa: 40,000/50,000
- Dakar (Senegal) to New York: 40,000/50,000
- South Africa to Europe, India, South America (Sao Paolo): 70,000/110,000
- South Africa to Australia (Perth): 85,000/110,000
- South Africa to Hong Kong: 90,000/130,000
- South Africa to New York/Washington, D.C.: 100,000/150,000
Highlights here are definitely the Business Class awards, which are marked up less than 50% over the Economy prices.
Oh right, and did I mention the Senegal-New York route? For a mere 40,000 points round trip in Economy and 50,000 points in Business you can go to Africa from the U.S. Even throwing in your own connections, you’ll be hard pressed to beat that long-haul price.
I’m going to start with the bad news:
Redemptions in Business Class and First Class on their A380, 777-300ER and A340-500 aircraft types are not available.
Uh….Okay. That eliminates most of the more popular routes and the nicer products. For example, the SFO-HKG route (listed in the chart) flies on a 777-300ER.
Given that the best part about Virgin Atlantic awards is the price compression for premium cabins and that Singapore is really stingy about releasing space for partners, the chart isn’t worth much of your time, but here it is for reference (oh right, and it only applies to very specific routes :/ ):
While the Economy prices aren’t horrible, they’re not good either, and Singapore imposes fuel surcharges on awards, so they’ll get expensive in a hurry.
There was no good news, by the way.
The Virgin America chart is another one of the annoying ones that lists out a bunch of specific routes, which seem like they correspond to the full list of routes they offered….as of nine years ago. That said, the short haul awards (intra-west coast) can yield pretty good value, and transcon flights are the typical 25,000 miles round-trip (which, because VS miles can be earned more easily than other miles, is actually a bit cheaper than normal).
Here’s the chart:
Unfortunately, for those of you looking for awards on any of the newer routes (Dallas, Hawaii, etc), they’re not coming any time soon:
@DanielTahara We've not been advised of any upcoming changes, Daniel, but we'll be sure to share this if this were to happen ^B
— Virgin Atlantic (@VirginAtlantic) March 23, 2016
Update: Apparently the new routes can be booked; all you have to do is ask. Thanks to AJ for the data point in the comments!
This one’s pretty bad, folks:
Basically, because they don’t offer a true First Class product, they try to get away with sticking Premium Economy in as a separate, fully marked up award tier, which in turn makes Business Class that much more expensive. That said, even the Economy prices are pretty crappy, especially now that American Airlines flies direct to Sydney from the west coast of the U.S.
- Business class awards are cheap, if there’s availability.
- <3 Air New Zealand! 🙁 Fuel Surcharges
- ANA for premium cabins
- VX for short-hauls and economy round-trips
- Senegal to New York!