At the request of a reader as well as one of my friends asking for some help over a glass or two (!) of wine the other night, I will be covering how to book Virgin redemptions.
Even if you are a hard and fast BA Avios collector, Virgin are becoming more and more attractive as a loyalty scheme with the planned merger with Air France and KLM opening up some interesting earning and redemption opportunities. Virgin has some interesting ways to earn miles currently too with Virgin Money such as their savings account and Virgin credit card which allows you opportunities to upgrade as well as earn companion vouchers. So once you have earned all the miles how do you redeem them?
When to book and find availability
Virgin release award seats on Virgin Atlantic 330 days before departure so as always the advice is to try to redeem on the day they are released. Unlike BA they do not guarantee to release a certain amount. If you can’t find what you want initially that doesn’t mean they won’t release more as it gets closer to the time but as always there are no guarantees. The easiest way to get notified when there are seats available is by using a paid service such as Award Nexus or Expert Flyer.
awardnexus is a search engine for finding award flight availability. You can search across multiple airline sites, destinations, or periods of travel dates. You can also select specific airlines or routings. awardnexus has a slightly better range of airlines than ExpertFlyer, including Cathay Pacific. It covers all the oneworld and Star Alliance airlines as well as most of Skyteam too as well as Virgin Atlantic. It is better for searching a range of dates as it would show you all the oneworld flights and routing available, not just the BA ones for example.
If you are after a specific award flight which is not available, you can set up an alert if one becomes available. This will cost you $59 to use this function as a Premium Basic member versus Expert Flyer at $9.99 per month (although you can get a free 5 day trial of Expert Flyer).
Another option if you are struggling to find flights is to sign up with ExpertFlyer. With Expert Flyer Pro you can set up availability alerts. This means you can set an alert so that you’ll be informed when award availability opens up on a particular Virgin or partner flight for up to 30 flights at a time. It costs $9.99 per month but you can do a 5 day trial for free. Expert Flyer would be a better option to search multiple airlines rather than just Virgin Atlantic.
You will need to search for:
Virgin Upper Class – G
Virgin Premium Economy – P
Ways to find partner availability
In order to search for availability if you don’t want to use a paid service like awardnexus or Expertflyer, there are other ways for some airlines:
- Hawaiin – join their own frequent flyer scheme to search for availability
- ANA – United.com
- Air New Zealand – United.com
- Delta- Virgin Atlantic
There are a few basic tips for getting the seats you want:
- Be flexible on the actual destination – try searching nearby airports too such as Seattle for the US West Coast or New York instead of Boston. Many internal US flights are short and cheap.
- Keep an eye out for any aircraft or route changes such as new routes or increased frequency. It is likely when they are announced that extra seats will become available.
- Look at both legs separately. Consider different airlines or an open jaw (returning from a different airport) if only one way is available.
Unfortunately Virgin don’t have a household account like BA unless you are a Gold member. Then you can combine miles from other accounts when booking. Children under 12 can have their own accounts though now and collect miles but it is annoying not to be able to pool their miles with yours.
Which airlines you can redeem on
As well as Virgin there are some interesting partner airlines:
- Singapore Airlines
- Air New Zealand
- Virgin Australia
- South African Airways
- All Nippon Airways
- Jet Airways
- Air China
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Scandinavian Airlines
Unfortunately, you can’t book redemptions on Singapore Business Class and First Class on their A380, 777-300ER and A350 aircraft types. (so pretty much all the good ones)
How to book
If you just want to book a simple Virgin (and some UK-US Delta redemptions) you can do so online. You can select a 5-week week view to have the best chance of finding availability.
Anything involving a partner airline has to be done by phone. If you are having trouble finding Virgin availability online it may be quicker to just call up as I did when I had very flexible dates and destinations on the US West Coast but didn’t want to spend hours searching. I found the agents I have spoken to excellent – very friendly and knowledgeable. Unlike BA they don’t charge for phone bookings. The Flying Club is open 24 hours a day on 0344 412 2414.
What to book
As with all schemes, there are some sweet spots for redemptions that are worth considering although sadly the Air China deal that was one of the best redemptions has gone.
Virgin have peak and off-peak dates so have a look at the dates before deciding when you want to travel if you can pick the off-peak dates.
Standard season travel dates:
- 17 April – 21 June 2018
- 7 September – 12 December 2018
- 7 January 2019 – 3 April 2019
- 23 April 2019 – 21 June 2019
- 9 September 2019 – 12 December 2019
Peak season travel dates:
- 22 June – 6 September 2018
- 13 December – 6 January 2019
- 4 April 2019 – 22 April 2019
- 22 June 2019 – 8 September 2019
- 13 December 2019 – 31 December 2019
Virgin flights start from 75,000 for India flights in Upper Class return to 135,000 for the US West Coast Upper Class return at standard rates.
- ANA First to Tokyo for 120,000 miles
- ANA Business to Tokyo for 85,000 miles
ANA are an excellent airline and the redemption in First class is a bargain if you compare it to BA’s 204,000 Avios needed in First return. The product is superior with Krug champagne and caviar served as well as a suite-style seat.
- Delta to US – from 95,000 miles business class return
- Delta First to Hawaii from US – 75,000 miles business class return
Delta’s newest seats, the Delta One, are available from Amsterdam (100,000 mils return) which could be worth considering as a redemption starting point since they are not yet on the London route. The seats on Delta in business class vary so it is worth doing some research before deciding on using Delta on a particular route.
If you wanted to do a trip to Hawaii with Virgin you would have two options from the US mainland – either Delta or Hawaiian. Personally, I would use Hawaiian. They have started to introduce flat beds on their flights and I found their existing seats pretty good and the food and service were excellent. The flatbeds are available on their A330 planes in a 2-2-2 configuration. As is often said, you feel like your Hawaii trip starts when you get on board (well in First anyway!)
- US Mainland to Hawaii – 80,000 miles return First class
- Hawaii to South Pacific (eg Tahiti) 95,000 return First class
Air New Zealand
Air New Zealand flights are pretty pricey at 280,000 miles to New Zealand from the UK. Better value is the three hour trans Tasman flight:
- Australia-New Zealand flights – 30,000 miles return in business class
You can find all the charts for each partner airline redemptions via this Virgin Atlantic page.