Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Program Review

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Program Review

Who Is Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Good For?

In recent years Virgin Atlantic’s frequent flyer program hasn’t garnered any Freddie awards the Oscars of the airline frequent flyer industry but the airline has been consistently raking in accolades from Travel Weekly Globes for favorite airline to Business Traveler magazine for best premium economy.

With the Virgin name, you’d think that Virgin Atlantic would be most closely related to its Virgin counterparts, Virgin America and Virgin Australia. But Delta purchased a near-controlling stake in the airline in 2013, and Delta and Virgin Atlantic now have a variety of reciprocal benefits.

PROGRAM

FLYING CLUBFLYING CLUB

ALLIANCE

NONE

CURRENCY

MILESMILES

POINTS TRANSFER PARTNERS

AIRLINE PARTNERS

  • AeromexicoAeromexico
  • IberiaIberia
  • Air ChinaAir China
  • Air New ZealandAir New Zealand
  • ANAANA
  • DeltaDelta
  • Hawaiian AirlinesHawaiian Airlines
  • Jet AirwaysJet Airways
  • Malaysia AirlinesMalaysia Airlines
  • Singapore AirlinesSingapore Airlines
  • Virgin AustraliaVirgin Australia
  • Virgin AmericaVirgin America
  • South African AirwaysSouth African Airways
  • Scandinavian AirlinesScandinavian Airlines

This has caused several changes to the Flying Club program, but not in the way you might expect. It’s actually become more generous!

Previously, you would earn significantly fewer miles if your cash ticket was in a low fare class, but Flying Club members now earn 100 percent miles on all tickets, and all awards have fuel surcharges several hundred dollars lower on economy class award tickets. You can also opt for a paid miles booster option to double or triple the points earned from a flight at a rate of 1.6 cents per mile.

A strong partnership with American Express Membership Rewards, which often offers transfer bonuses to Virgin, means that you can rack up enough miles for an award very quickly. You can also convert points from many hotel programs beyond Starwood Preferred Guest, including Hyatt, Hilton, IHG and Marriott.

Hubs:

  • Gatwick Airport
  • London Heathrow Airport
  • Manchester Airport

How Can You Use Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles?

One of the biggest bonuses of Flying Club is tied to one of its biggest minuses: Award flights require significantly fewer miles than competitors, but have high surcharges in compensation.

As an airline, Virgin Atlantic has recently refocused itself on its transatlantic business, and if you don’t mind paying a little more out of pocket for a higher-quality economy class experience, Virgin Atlantic is the best way to get across the pond. Depending on your travel dates and exact itinerary, you’ll need fewer miles than most airlines (35,000 for the round trip), though the fees range between $350 and $500. But when you account for the fact that most domestic carriers charge 60,000 miles and around $150 in taxes and fees for this route, at a 1-cent-per-mile valuation, you’re coming out about the same.

One of the nicest things about booking with Flying Club miles is that seats are either available or they aren’t. There are no higher redemption categories. You also have the option to book Miles Plus Money fares, beginning at 2,000 miles, and CombiFares, where you pay for one leg of a roundtrip with cash and the other with miles.

Program Perks:

  • Open jaws allowed
  • Mixed cabin awards allowed
  • Stopovers permitted
  • Miles do not expire for three years
  • 10 percent discount on Virgin holidays
  • 5 percent  airport parking discount
  • Discounted access to No. 1 Traveller airport lounges

Traveller Lounge
Traveller Lounge

Booking Quirks:

  • Fees and surcharges double those of most domestic carriers
  • $50 change and cancellation fee
  • Miles plus money fares require a Saturday night stay
  • No miles are earned on miles plus money fares

Best Value Awards:

Some of the best value in the Virgin Atlantic chart lies in its partnership with Virgin America, which also offers a great product even in economy.

To book Virgin America flights with Virgin Atlantic points, you need to call, and the agent  will need to call Virgin America to confirm availability for you, but the redemption rates are worth the trouble.

Though Virgin America ties their redemptions to the current ticket price, when you book through Virgin Atlantic, you can get regional flights (e.g., West Coast flights from Seattle to San Francisco or San Diego) for as low as 8,000 miles roundtrip.

 Worst Value Awards:

Because of  its high fuel surcharges, taxes and fees, the worst value awards on Virgin Atlantic are long-haul flights from the U.S. to Asia. If you book online, you actually need to book two separate awards, because the system will not allow you to use miles from the U.S. to Asia.

The London-Asia leg will run you around 42,500 miles (which sounds low, but we haven’t included the transatlantic leg) and $500 for economy, and 100,000 miles and $900 for upper class. Then you have to tack on 35,000 miles and $450 in economy and 80,000 miles and a whopping $1,150 for upper class for the U.S. to Europe leg.

The Good Stuff: Upgrades and Elite Status

Upgrades with miles are available for fares in Y, B, R, L, U and M economy fare classes to premium economy for an amount tied to the length of the flight, around 10,000 miles for U.S.-to-U.K. flights.

Premium economy classes W and S can upgrade to upper class for the same amount, and the applicable economy fares can be upgraded to upper class for twice the miles as a premium economy upgrade. Compared with the standard upgrade rate for domestic carriers, this is very generous, but upgrades are subject to additional taxes and fees.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Elite Levels and Perks

Unlike many airlines, Virgin Atlantic doesn’t distinguish its elite program from its frequent flyer program. Basic members in the program are red, the first of three levels, and there are only two additional levels of membership.

Flying Club Membership levels
Flying Club Membership levels

Each subsequent level includes the perks of the previous level, unless stated otherwise.

  • Silver: 50 percent bonus miles on flights, premium economy check-in, status renewal bonus, complimentary Regus Businessworld Gold membership
  • Gold: 100 percent bonus miles on flights, upper class check-in, access to Virgin Atlantic clubhouses for member and one guest, immigration fast-tracking at Gatwick and Heathrow, complimentary companion ticket upon renewal, priority baggage handling and boarding, ability to invite someone to join the Flying Club silver level, increased baggage allowance, birthday mileage bonus, access to Singapore Airlines lounges, reciprocal privileges with Delta

Associated Credit Cards

For Flying Club members based in the U.S., Virgin Atlantic offers two credit card options, the Virgin Atlantic Black Card and the Virgin Atlantic White Card.

Both are Mastercards issued by Bank of America, and the Black Card is the more rewarding of the two by far. Both cards come with chip technology for international use and three miles per dollar spent on Virgin Atlantic purchases, but that is where the similarity ends.

Virgin Atlantic credit cards
Virgin Atlantic credit cards

The Black Card comes with:

  • 1.5 miles per dollar on all other purchases
  • 20,000 bonus miles awarded after the first purchase
  • 15,000 bonus anniversary miles
  • 5,000 bonus miles for adding an additional user to the account
  • One tier point per $2,500 in purchases
  • Complimentary Regus Businessworld gold membership
  • Companion award ticket for half-price after $25,000 of spending in one year

The sign-on bonus on the Black card, also marketed as the Virgin Atlantic World Mastercard Elite, can go as high as 75,000 miles, with 50,000 miles awarded after a $12,000 minimum spend.

In comparison, the White Card comes with one mile per dollar, half the anniversary and additional cardholder bonuses and a 12,500-mile sign-up bonus.