Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Awards Become More Restrictive

Via Head for Points, Virgin Atlantic has quietly updated their change and cancellation policy. Going forward, if you’ve redeemed Flying Club miles for an award, you won’t receive a refund of your miles if you cancel within 7 days of the flight.

The Virgin Atlantic website now reflects the following terms [emphasis mine]:

Once tickets for a Reward Booking are issued, no name changes are allowed. If for any reason a flight Reward is cancelled by the Member outside 7 days of departure, 100% of the Miles will be re-credited to the Member’s account. A cancellation fee of £30 for changes to flights originating in the UK, US$50 for changes to flights originating in the US or local currency equivalent of US$50 for changes to flights originating in any other region will apply

If for any reason a flight Reward is cancelled by a member within 7 days prior to departure, no Miles will be refunded and a £30 administration fee will be charged to process the refund of any taxes, charges/surcharges. If you change the original travel date (within 7 days of departure) and later decide to cancel your flights, you will forfeit the mileage used for the Reward. Once travel has commenced Miles cannot be refunded.

To start, this is an absolutely ridiculous policy.

One of the major benefits of award tickets as opposed to revenue tickets is that you traditionally have greater flexibility if you need to make changes.

Most airlines have very reasonable change fees and policies for award tickets, which makes sense. Award inventory is typically distressed inventory, particularly within a week of departure.

It’s a win for everyone if seats that would otherwise go unsold can be exchanged for miles — that builds passenger loyalty, and reduces the liability of the frequent flyer program.

Virgin-Atlantic-Upper-Class
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class A330

So preventing passengers from modifying award tickets within a week of travel (or even 72 hours, like Delta requires), isn’t something that makes much sense to me in general. Particularly given that Virgin Atlantic requires you to cancel your award and rebook if you’re looking at moving from Premium Economy to Upper Class, and it’s unclear if the system will consider upgrading award tickets to be cancellations.

The previous policy allowed Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members to cancel outside of 24 hours and still receive a full mileage refund, which seems much more reasonable.

On top of that, this change was made with no notice (or announcement) whatsoever.

I certainly respect the right of loyalty programs to modify their terms as they see fit, but to do so without communicating with their customers is ludicrously unnecessary.

Generally speaking I consider Flying Club miles to be among the least valuable mileage currencies out there, given their somewhat restrictive award rules, high fuel surcharges on a majority of their partners, and not-so-great award rates. So in most cases I’d recommend booking through Delta SkyMiles, as availability is generally similar.

However, if you already have Virgin Atlantic miles, this new restriction is something to keep in mind.

Comments

  1. I take it this applies to VS redemptions made on VX as well? How do they address VX tickets booked WITHIN the 7 days?

  2. While Delta’s 72-hour rule is frustrating, I do have some sympathy with their argument that it discourages people (especially elite members who pay no award cancellation or change fees) from hoarding award seats “just in case” and leaving less award space for others (not to mention leaving the airline with last-minute empty seats). But 7 days does seem excessive.

    But, arguably, airlines are already too generous with award change and cancel policies. Why should award tickets be so much more flexible than paid tickets? The fact that award tickets are “distressed” inventory doesn’t really hold up — I have successfully redeemed miles at the lowest level for tickets that definitely displaced a paying passenger for the airline, and if an airline is making award seats available at the last minute that’s great, but it also means you should have near-absolute certainty that you will in fact make the flight time you are booking.

  3. Does anyone know if you can use Virgin Atlantic miles for all Virgin Australia domestic routes? They list some on the Virgin Atlantic website but not SYD-AYQ, the one I’m interested in. I can’t seem to find this out

  4. If the award seat being cancelled is not distressed inventory, that means the airline can sell that seat at a very high last minute purchase price. So one would be doing them a favor by cancelling.

    Furthermore, if you know you won’t get your miles back, why let them know you won’t be flying? I would never go out of my way to cancel an award booking where I got nothing back for doing so, just to make it easier for the airline to turn around and sell my seat..

    If I was writing legislation on this, I would require an airline to refund miles and fees if they resell the seat.

  5. @ Robert Hanson — Agree in general, though keep in mind Virgin Atlantic also has high fuel surcharges, so getting those refunded is the incentive for cancelling.

  6. I don’t understand. If you cancel more than 7 days before departure, then do you get your miles redeposited and the fees refunded?

  7. @ Brandon — Yes, you just have to pay the fee, and then the miles and taxes/fuel surcharges will be refunded.

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