Back in February, I wrote a piece entitled ‘Everything you need to know about Avios points’ where I broke down the entire Avios scheme and explored it from all angles. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t expect it to be nearly as popular as it has been yet it remains one of the most read pieces on Tricks of the Trade.
Since then I have received a steady stream of requests from readers to write a similar guide to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles, especially since the program underwent some major changes over the last 6 months. I have tried to make this piece as similar in style as possible to my piece about Avios to allow you to best compare the two programs side by side.
Flying Club (FC) miles are the currency for the Virgin Atlantic frequent flyer loyalty program; Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
Although essentially designed as a frequent flyer program to allow customers to earn rewards for flying with the airline, there are in fact numerous other ways to accrue FC miles without stepping foot on a plane. In terms of earning FC miles, this piece will focus on accumulating miles via non-flying means.
How to collect FC miles
To begin, here is a list of some of the methods you can use to collect FC miles:
- Converting Tesco Clubcard points
- Transferring American Express Membership Rewards points
- Transferring Heathrow Rewards points
- Converting Texaco Star Rewards Points
- Taking out one or both (*) of the MBNA Virgin Atlantic credit cards
- Booking a Virgin Trains journey
- The Shops Away shopping portal
- Shopping at Waitrose
- Staying at a hotel partner
- Booking a hotel via the likes of Kaligo/PointsHound/Rocketmiles
- Chic Outlet Shopping Villages
- Car rentals
- Making a Virgin Holidays booking
- Taking out a Virgin Money Stocks and Shares ISA
How to redeem these miles
For flights with Virgin Atlantic/Delta
Even by just using a few of the above methods it should be relatively straightforward to rack up a fairly decent pile of FC miles. The only question that remains is how to spend them. FC miles can be redeemed on Virgin Atlantic flights or for flights on various partner airlines. Let’s first take a look at using these miles for Virgin flights.
Virgin Atlantic releases reward seats (which are seats that can be booked with miles) 330 days in advance. Note: this is different from BA who release seats that can be booked with Avios 355 days in advance. Unlike BA, Virgin do not commit to releasing a certain quota of seats that are bookable with miles per flight. That said, I have generally found availability on Virgin to be pretty good, especially close to departure. Bear in mind that that is a very subjective view, based purely on the routes I have been interested in.
For flights with partner airlines
Virgin is not part of any of the major 3 airline alliances; Oneworld, SkyTeam or Star Alliance. They do, however, have a number of airline partners that you can redeem FC miles on. In no particular order:
- Singapore Airlines
- Air New Zealand
- Virgin Australia
- South African Airways
- All Nippon Airways
- Jet Airways
- Air China
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Scandinavian Airlines
Before you get too excited at being able to book flights on these airlines, I would just prepare yourself for the mother of all struggles. Flights on Virgin partner airlines are notoriously difficult to book.
Here a couple of useful ones to be aware of:
- These flights aren’t bookable online. You must call Virgin to book.
- These bookings aren’t the bread and butter for Virgin call centre agents. You may have to hang up and try again a number of times before you find one that knows the correct procedure for bookings these flights.
- You used to be only allowed to book return tickets – this seems to have improved and you can now book a one-way on most partner airlines.
- Redemptions in Business Class and First Class on Singapore Airlines’ A380, 777-300ER and A350-900 aircraft types are not available. So forget using your Virgin miles to fly Suites Class!
If you haven’t been put off by any of the above, I will say that there is some phenomenal value to be had if you can successfully book some of these partner flights. I explore some of the best options in another piece here.
For non-flying options
If you can’t come up with a way to use your FC miles for flights, you have a number of other ways to ‘cash them out’.
- Redeem them for an eVoucher to book hotel rooms via Kaligo. This seems to be a fairly new option. I will take a further look at this in due course.
- Redeem them towards a Virgin Wines voucher – 12,500 FC miles = £50 voucher (+delivery)
- Redeem them towards a Eurostar voucher – 12,500 FC miles = £50 voucher
- Convert them to hotel points – this can actually be quite a good use of miles. I look into this further below.
How many FC miles are needed for flights
In November 2016, Virgin announced changes to the way the Flying Club scheme would work. As of January this year, they have now adopted a peak/off-peak chart for pricing mileage awards, much like BA.
Although there were a number of routes that went up in price, there were also a number of destinations that became cheaper and offered better value following these changes. I have taken a look at a number of these, with a view to when you should be using Virgin miles rather than Avios, in a further piece here.
You can check how many miles are needed for a particular route on this page on the Virgin website
This is fine for a solo traveller but no use for a family of four, or is it?
Wrong. It simply isn’t true that traveling as a family rules out booking with miles even in Upper Class (Virgin’s name for business class).
As I always advise, the easiest way of securing mileage seats in any number is advanced planning. Having an idea of where you want to go and being able to snap up seats as and when they appear 330 days out is definitely the simplest way of securing that reward booking.
That said, there may be a myriad of reasons why you couldn’t book 11 months out. If that is the case the next best tip is flexibility. If your desired destination is New York, consider booking yourselves to Boston and then hopping over to New York from there.
Your chances will also improve if you can be a little flexible with dates. While this may not be possible for everybody, being prepared to travel a day or two either side of your original dates will boost your chances considerably.
Can my points expire?
Yes. After 3 years of inactivity on your Flying Club account, your miles will expire. However, given the huge range of collecting opportunities highlighted above, no TOTT readers will be allowing any FC miles to expire, I hope!
Can you pool your points with family members?
Sort of. Unlike BA, only top-tier Virgin Gold members can pool their miles in a household account.
However, as part of the November changes, under-12’s can now have their own Flying Club account to earn miles. Seeing as most customers will be unable to pool their miles, this surely often results in numerous small balances spread across the family accounts with no decent way to redeem them. Seems like a slightly bizarre halfway house from Virgin on this one.
Interesting perks and benefits
- No phone booking fees – Virgin do not charge you an additional booking fee when you call to book. BA, for example, will charge you £15 per person if your request was something that you could have booked yourself via the website.
- Use miles for an airport chauffeur – If you buy a cash ticket in Upper Class you are usually eligible for a complimentary chauffeur transfer at both ends of your journey. This isn’t included when you book a reward ticket, however, Virgin will allow you to book one for 17,500 FC miles one-way.
- Upgrade with miles at the airport – I have always found it strange that BA won’t allow you to upgrade with miles at the airport should space become available and you have to call the call center to do so. Virgin on the other hand, were happy to let me upgrade at the check-in counter using miles, when I did this on a trip to Hong Kong a couple of years back.
- Half-term are not (yet) considered peak dates – BA are quite lethal when it comes to their seasonal pricing charts and anyone with kids of school age looking to get away over half-term are going to have to cough up for peak prices. Virgin however seem to focus on Easter/Summer/Christmas for their peak seasons but the rest are left as off-peak dates.
- Convert miles to Hilton or IHG hotel points – Normally I don’t recommend converting airline miles to hotel points as the ‘exchange rate’ is usually atrocious. In this case though, Virgin allows you to convert your miles to either Hilton and IHG at the following decent rates:– 2 Virgin miles = 3 Hilton points
– 1 Virgin mile = 1 IHG points
Full details are available on the Virgin website here
Virgin have slashed their route network over the years and where they were once an excellent option to the likes of Sydney, Cape Town and Tokyo, they no longer fly to those destinations. They also have no European network and so cheap short-haul redemptions a.k.a BA’s Reward Flight Saver are not an option.
That said, I have enjoyed their Upper Class seat on a number of occasions and found it a good alternative to British Airways Club World with of course the added bonus of direct aisle access from each seat.
There is also the added benefit of the fantastic Clubhouse lounge at Heathrow – which is arguably the best airport lounge in the UK (with the exception perhaps of the Concorde Room)! Personal anecdotal evidence suggests that finding multiple reward seats may be slightly easier on Virgin especially in Upper Class but again that is purely my experience.
Overall, while Avios is my main mileage earning scheme, I do keep a decent stash of Virgin miles at the ready to take advantage of some of the sweet spots in the program.
Get in touch to let me know of any quirks or features of the Virgin Flying Club scheme I haven’t mentioned here that you think deserve a mention.