Virgin Atlantic Destroys What Little Value Flying Club Had

Yesterday Virgin Atlantic announced some major changes to their Flying Club frequent flyer program, and they’re bad news. I’m sorry for the delay in writing about these changes, as I was flying without wifi for most of the day yesterday.

virgin-flying-club

Simply put, these changes follow the general industry trend we’ve been seeing the past few years — high revenue flyers may do slightly better on the surface, while a vast majority of people will lose out as a result of these changes. Let’s dig a bit deeper into these changes:

When do Virgin Atlantic changes kick in?

Unfortunately Virgin Atlantic isn’t giving much advance notice of these changes:

  • Changes to earning miles and elite status kick in as of November 13, 2016
  • Changes to redeeming miles kick in as of January 15, 2017

Virgin-Atlantic-Clubhouse-London - 72
Virgin Atlantic 747 at Heathrow Airport

Virgin Atlantic’s award chart devaluation

Let’s start with Virgin Atlantic’s massive award chart devaluation, which is probably the biggest change for most of us. Virgin Atlantic is transfer partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood Preferred Guest, so there are lots of ways to earn Virgin Atlantic miles.

Virgin Atlantic is following British Airways’ lead and introducing seasonal award pricing — they’re introducing standard (off-peak) and peak award pricing.

As far as standard vs. peak award pricing goes:

  • Standard dates include: January 16, 2017 – March 30, 2017; April 19 – June 21, 2017; September 7 – December 12, 2017
  • Peak dates include: March 31 – April 18, 2017; June 22 – September 06, 2017; December 13 – January 3, 2018

Below is a chart with the changes in Virgin Atlantic award pricing, listing the current prices, as well as the new ones (as you can see, the amounts in red represent an increase in cost):

Roundtrip to/from London andEconomyPremium EconomyUpper Class
US - Northeast: Boston, Newark, New York JFK, Washington DCCurrent: 35,000 miles

New Standard: 20,000
New Peak: 40,000

Fuel Surcharges of $645.10 to $774.12
Current: 55,000 miles

New Standard: 35,000
New Peak: 55,000

Fuel Surcharges of $750.00 to $900.00
Current: 80,000 miles

New Standard: 95,000
New Peak: 115,000


Fuel Surcharges of $1120 to $1344
US - Midwest: Atlanta, Chicago, DetroitCurrent: 35,000 miles

New Standard: 25,000
New Peak: 45,000

Fuel Surcharges of $645.10 to $774.12
Current: 55,000 miles

New Standard: 45,000
New Peak: 65,000

Fuel Surcharges of $750.00 to $900.00
Current: 80,000 miles

New Standard: 95,000
New Peak: 115,000


Fuel Surcharges of $1120 to $1344
US - South: Miami and OrlandoCurrent: 42,500 miles

New Standard: 25,000
New Peak: 45,000

Fuel Surcharges of $645.10 to $774.12
Current: 70,000 miles

New Standard: 45,000
New Peak: 65,000

Fuel Surcharges of $750.00 to $900.00
Current: 100,000 miles

New Standard: 95,000
New Peak: 115,000

Fuel Surcharges of $1120 to $1344
US - West: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, SeattleCurrent: 42,500 miles

New Standard: 30,000
New Peak: 50,000

Fuel Surcharges of $603.00 to $723.60
Current: 70,000 miles

New Standard: 55,000
New Peak: 75,000

Fuel Surcharges of $707.90 to $849.80
Current: 100,000 miles

New Standard: 135,000
New Peak: 155,000


Fuel Surcharges of $1153.93 to $1384.68

The cost of most economy and premium economy awards is going down if traveling during the standard period, while it’s going up for Upper Class and during peak periods.

Obviously the sweet spot in redeeming on Virgin Atlantic is for Upper Class, and in many cases the cost of those awards are going up significantly:

  • New York to London roundtrip is going from 80,000 miles to 95,000-115,000 miles
  • Los Angeles to London roundtrip is going from 100,000 miles to 135,000-155,000 miles

Virgin-Atlantic-Upper-Class - 1
The cost of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class redemptions is going up a lot

Of course what’s not included in the above amounts is the $1,000+ in carrier imposed surcharges and fees that you’ll pay for a roundtrip business class ticket.

So those who typically redeem for economy awards may come out ahead, though I’m not even sure that’s necessarily true, since in the past Virgin Atlantic frequently ran promotions offering discounted economy and premium economy awards.

As of now, no changes have been announced to Virgin Atlantic partner redemptions, though that could still be coming.

Change in Virgin Atlantic mileage earning

Virgin Atlantic will also be changing the number of redeemable miles you earn for travel starting November 13, 2016. Unfortunately these changes follow the industry trend, and you’ll earn more miles for Upper Class, full fare premium economy, and full fare economy tickets, while you’ll earn fewer miles in all other fare classes.

Up until now Virgin Atlantic has continued to offer 100% miles on discounted economy tickets, though that’s finally changing.

Here’s a comparison of the new and old mileage earning chart:

Fare ClassPrior to November 12, 2016After November 13, 2016
Discount economy
(E, Q, V, N, O)
100% of flown miles50% of flown miles
Mid-tier economy
(L, U, M)
100% of flown miles100% of flown miles
Full fare economy
(Y, B, R)
100% of flown miles150% of flown miles
Discount premium economy
(H, K)
125% of flown miles100% of flown miles
Premium economy
(W, S)
125% of flown miles200% of flown miles
Discount business
(I,Z)
150% of flown miles200% of flown miles
Full fare business
(J, C, D)
300% of flown miles400% of flown miles

Changes in elite status

Here are the most important things changing about Virgin Atlantic elite status:

  • Gold members go from earning a 100% mileage bonus to earning a 60% mileage bonus, while Silver members go from earning a 50% mileage bonus to earning a 30% mileage bonus; however, elite bonuses now apply to the cabin bonus as well, and not just the base miles, so members who book premium tickets could end up earning significantly more miles
  • Silver and Gold status used to require 15 and 40 tier points, respectively; under the new system, members will need to earn 400 or 1,000 tier points to earn status, respectively
  • Existing tier points will be multiplied by 25 (so 15 tier points is the equivalent of 375 under the new system, and 40 tier points is the equivalent of 1,000 under the new system)

Unfortunately Virgin Atlantic has made this ridiculously complicated, as they’re changing the earnings rates, the value of the currency, and the qualification requirements all at once. But to put it as simply as possible, here’s a comparison of the old and new earnings rates (for the old rates I’m also multiplying by 25, since that’s the closest we’ll get to a fair comparison):

Fare ClassOld tier points earnedNew tier points earned
Discount economy
(V, E, Q, X, N, O)
2
( = 50 in new system)
25
Economy
(Y, B, R, L, U, M)
3
( = 75 in new system)
50
Discount premium economy
(H, K)
3
( = 75 in new system)
50
Premium economy
(W, S)
4
( = 100 in new system)
100
Discount business
(Z)
5
( = 125 in new system)
100
Discount business
(I)
5
( = 125 in new system)
200
Full fare business
(J, C, D)
6
( = 150 in new system)
200

As you can see, the rate at which you earn tier points increases for three of the four Upper Class fare classes, but otherwise these changes are neutral, or bad news.

Bottom line

These changes follow the industry trend, so unfortunately I’m not surprised. Those flying in premium cabins will largely earn more miles, while most passengers (not booking full fare or premium cabin tickets) will earn significantly fewer miles. Add in the massive award chart devaluation, and almost no one will come out ahead.

This change is especially annoying for two reasons:

  • It’s so damn confusing, as they’re changing almost every aspect of the program. I follow loyalty programs for a living, and it took me quite a while to make sense of all this. They’re changing so many things at once.
  • These new redemption rates are ridiculous, especially in conjunction with Virgin Atlantic’s offensive carrier imposed surcharges. 155,000 miles plus $1,200+ in fees for a roundtrip business class saver level award ticket between the US and Europe? Girl, gone. On top of that, unlike British Airways, Virgin Atlantic has limited partner redemption opportunities.

Perhaps the one bright spot is that the cost of some non-premium redemptions is going down. But that has never been an especially good use of Virgin Atlantic miles anyway.

Personally the only value I got out of Flying Club was transferring points from other currencies for the purposes of Upper Class redemptions. That could sometimes represent a good deal, especially in conjunction with a transfer bonus.

Unfortunately there’s not much value to be had there anymore…

What do you make of the big changes coming to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club?

Comments

  1. Ridiculous. $1,200 is about £1,000. You can regularly get ex-EU (i.e. DUB) J return tickets to East-Coast US for ~£1,200 with no availability issues, no dropping 150k + miles, and the ability to earn miles.

    Honestly, with premium fares as cheap as they are now, and programs devaluing left, right and centre, FF miles are worth less and less everyday. Its really not making sense to hoard miles for years in the hope of one day being able to use them.

  2. VS miles have always been fairly useless with limited flights from the airline itself and terrible partner awards. So that’s the final nail in the coffin on flying club.

  3. Unless I missed it, there’s one bright spot you didn’t cover. The upgrade redemption rates have changed, some up, some down. If you buy an off-peak ticket and upgrade from one class to the next, the redemption costs have dropped quite a bit. For example, upgrading from Premium Economy to Upper Class (off peak) went from 20,000 to 13,750. That’s a nice one for me, as I paid for a PE seat on an upcoming trip.

  4. With the exception of US West to London, the increase in Upper Class award prices strike me as pretty reasonable. And if you compare US West to UA partner awards, even that seems to be not that bad.

  5. I see this change completely positive, giving customers more opportunities to redeem pesos. Coming soon, pesos can be used on premium alcoholic drinks at Clubhouse, and even * upgrading * from Economy to PE, and even on * world class * Economy Comfort+ offered by the dominating Skyteam member Delta Air Lines. #KeepClimbing

  6. I doubt anybody redeems economy awards on Virgin Atlantic anyway. Fuel surcharges are $600+. I can get roundtrip Y ticket for less than that.

  7. You need to use virgin atlantic miles on partners where you will not have to deal with fuel surcharges such as delta.

    I think VA and other carriers have created an interesting dynamic where they keep the economy prices low, which is great for people who earn miles via credit cards. The “inflation” affects the premium cabin space, but people who book those awards usually are flying for business, and therefore are now earning more miles than before. If the award costs 20% more miles, but your earn them 50-100% more per flight then why is that a bad thing?

    Yes its much harder for the average joe to save up for a premium award seat, but there are a lot of people who would rather fly 2x in economy vs 1x in first.

  8. Kind of odd that a small airline that flies hardly anywhere has no interest in attracting customers with a frequent flier program that is superior to those of much larger competitors that have 20 times more destinations.

    It’s even odder that it seemed to work fine for them even before the era of low fuel prices.

  9. Delta Air Lines must be happy with these changes at the company they more or less control.

    It’s sort of unfortunate that the U.K. didn’t have a US-style rule capping the percentage of an airline beneficially owned by a foreign party.

  10. I wanted to take advantage of the Upper Class availability on the LHR-SEA route. Since fuel surcharges and APD are the same, am I better off spending 50K VS miles (transferred from Citi TY or Chase UR) or using 70K Delta SkyPesos? (I have 120K of those in my account).

    Advantage of booking with Delta is I should be able to add my flight home to SFO. Don’t think I can do that booking with VS?

  11. Are roundtrips required now??

    My best use of their miles has been one-way to LHR from DC, 17K miles, often on sale for 12K, plus $75 fees. Seems this new chart would be 10K miles plus $75 off-peak. Granted you have to find another way back to avoid the YQ, but that’s not hard if you like to visit a couple places anyway.

    Delta, Virgin America and Hawaiian redemptions are decent.

  12. Absolutely gutted. Been saving vs miles to try out upper class due to great reviews of the LHR clubhouse and I’m now 7500 miles further away from it.

    Now thinking I might use them for relatively cheap one way economy redemptions from the US to europe and use cheap avios redemptions (iberia or air Berlin) or one way Norwegian fares to the us

  13. Virgin is a vastly superior product to any US airline and their LHR Club House is outstanding.

    So why do they have huge surcharges and have increases the miles needed for flights? Because they can.

    Same reason BA sells out of 8-across business class tickets. Demand, demand, demand.

  14. For those of us who have the credit card that gives you tier points, do we know what the new rewarded tier points per spend will be?

  15. Haven’t visited Britain due to Heathrow’s greedy tax. Haven’t flown BA or VA due to their greedy surcharge either (until they come down the industry norm).

  16. @Martin: I do not concur that Virgin Atlantic’s product is “vastly superior” to “any U.S. airline.” Yes, the soft product and marketing of business-class (what Virgin Atlantic calls upper-class) is exceptional, but the seats themselves and the width of the seats isn’t that great. Delta’s business-class on a hard product basis is way better. What irks me most about Virgin Atlantic is that many of the exceptional soft product offerings — the fancy lounges, chauffeur, etc. — aren’t available if you fly into Detroit, Chicago and other U.S. airports. The same is true if you fly into Manchester or Edinburgh.

  17. You seem to have missed the point that the Upper class fair for Lon-DBX has gone down. P

    Sad news but still think its a better product that the BA biz class.

  18. Well, this absolutely destroys most people’s chances of using miles to go from the west cost to London upper class. Better get my tix for next year before January, eh?

  19. As I was reading their website about the changes, I couldn’t find a single item that seemed like an improvement to me. Additionaly, the are sticking it us on their rate of currency exchange. I was on the phone with one of their reps asking about their miles booster. The current rate exchangerate is $1.22 and they’re charging a $1.60 for a pound sterling.

  20. Dear Lucky, I really respect u and your knowledge, I have 30,000 flying club miles and don’t plan on flying them anytime soon. Reading the above makes me wonder are they now worthless or of lower value. I can transfer them to SPG … what do you suggest. Please do let me know

  21. 1 way flights from Hong Kong to London only come with about £31/ $40 worth of surcharges and with the changes actually cost less miles than they do currently, so that’s by far the best use of virgin miles going forward.

  22. Dear Lucky, I really respect u and your knowledge, I have 30,000 flying club miles and don’t plan on flying them anytime soon. Reading the above makes me wonder are they now worthless or of lower value. I can transfer them to SPG … what do you suggest. Please do let me know

  23. Hi Lucky,

    Thanks for this very helpful analysis. Do you by any chance know what will happen to their Gold for life program. Before now you can get the gold status for life if you have had gold membership for 10 years or you earn a million miles.

    I doubt I’ll be able to keep my gold card any longer because of these changes but it will be nice to know as I only have 3 more years to go.

    Thanks.

  24. I had just got to the point where I had saved enough points for my daughter and I for an economy return flight from London to NY. I knew there were taxes to pay and I had budgeted for that but now I see there are also the surcharges increase and also I haven’t seen any special discounts (they used to do them regularly) meaning my marginal points are now no longer quite enough and I feel cheated. I will be ditching my Amex Card (where I was topping up and keeping my points ‘alive) in favour of my Nationwide account which gives me rewards against my premium current account. I’ll just buy a discount flight from another provider which looks far better value than Virgin which is sad as I like flying Virgin and I thought I was participating in a worthwhile programme. Anyone want 51,000 points? How do I sell them????

  25. Have any other flying club members lost much of their history? I’ve been Gold for six consecutive years, but it now says I’ve been gold for 1 consecutive year!!! Not much matter really, as i’ll probably be going with BA from now on anyway…but a lot of my miles have gone missing too – bizarrely, my inbound (UK) miles are there, but my outbound are not…? I’ve tried contacting them via email but no response. I’ll call when i get back this week.

    Finally, I can’t find anything out there – but does anyone know of any partner schemes that will let you trade – if gold with virgin, giving that up and gaining the equivalent of immediate gold status with that scheme?

    Thanks!

  26. Thank you for writing about this. You are right about the upper class being the real draw and that is changing a lot. VA was the best until the Delta merger.

  27. My wife and I are retired and have accumulated and bought miles over the years.

    We have tried to re-register under the new system and neither of us has been able to logon using our new membership numbers, furthermore, we have been told that we now need a separate email address for each of us, but we have only one computer and have always shared our email address. Virgin Atlantic expects us to set up one email address just for them? Dream on! The points are not worth the hassle.

  28. Can we use Virgin Atlantic air miles to rent a car from Avis or any other rental company at London Heathrow airport?
    This is a last resort as all phone calls to ‘Virgin Atlantic’ have not been responded to!!

  29. Just looked into booking using miles for an upperclass one way, lax-lhr, not one flight had mileage seats looking all the way through January 2018! VA Flying Club is OVER! I have 230k useless miles. Makes me so mad!

  30. Agree to Jonathan; it has become extremely difficult to book mileage seats with VS. Someone should look into this – ontop of all these massive devaluations to Flying Club.

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