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Virgin Atlantic has introduced some changes for Flying Club, its frequent flyer program. And if you’re a loyal Virgin Atlantic customer, you’ll likely find them to be useful, particularly a new way you can earn status. The airline also added a perk for all customers who need to fly during the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s unload the new rules one by one.
Earning tier points on award flights
Starting Sept. 1, 2020, Flying Club members will be able to earn tier points (the points for achieving and maintaining elite status) on award redemption flights. This is unheard of to allow flyers to progress to or maintain elite status with award flights. It will be interesting to see if other airlines follow suit.
Getting tier points is straightforward. You earn 25 tier points for booking an Economy seat, 50 tier points for Premium (premium economy) and 100 tier points for Upper Class (business). These numbers are for one-way travel, so multiply by two for a round trip. This makes it possible to achieve Silver and even Gold status on award flights alone (you need to earn 400 tier points for Silver status and 1,000 tier points for Gold).
To achieve Silver status (from non-elite Red status) strictly using award flights, you could book any one of these:
Eight award round trips in economy.
Four award round trips in Premium.
Two award round trips in Upper Class.
To progress from Red to Gold status strictly on award flights:
20 round trips in economy.
10 round trips in Premium.
Five round trips in Upper Class.
Clearly, very few frequent flyers can travel exclusively on miles, but there are several avenues toward earning Virgin Atlantic miles: including the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard® and points transfers from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou.
In any case, for most people, a combination of paid and award flights will help them achieve elite status.
Is Virgin Atlantic elite status worth the effort?
The short answer is yes, if you fly the airline regularly. Various perks at the Silver and Gold levels are designed to make your flying experience both more rewarding and more enjoyable.
Here are major Silver benefits:
30% more miles earned on every Virgin Atlantic flight.
Premium check-in and priority boarding.
Seat assignments in any cabin, including Economy Light.
Additional key Gold benefits:
60% more miles earned on every Virgin Atlantic flight.
Complimentary exit row seat in Economy Classic.
Free seat selection for you and your companions in any cabin, including Economy Light.
Upper Class check-in.
One extra carry-on piece and an extra checked bag.
Clubhouse access when you fly with Virgin Atlantic or Delta for you and one guest.
Virgin Atlantic’s new voucher rules
Simplification and new features
The rules for companion, upgrade and clubhouse vouchers are now more rewarding and less mysterious, with the following improvements, beginning Sept. 1:
Red members (non-elites) will now be able to book their companion into Upper Class with a companion voucher earned from a credit card. There is no extra cost for Economy and Premium companion seats, and a 50% mile discount for Upper Class (taxes and fees apply).
Silver and Gold members can redeem their companion vouchers when earned from a credit card for no extra miles to book into any class of service.
Fare code restrictions for upgrade vouchers have mostly been removed as you can use upgrade vouchers for a one-cabin upgrade when your original round-trip booking (including award booking) is in any booking class except Economy Light.
You can now enjoy your Clubhouse vouchers anywhere in the world even if you fly on Virgin Atlantic partners Delta, Air France or KLM.
Expiration Date Extensions
Elite tiers extensions: If you’re a Gold or Silver member, you’ll have 24 months from March 2020 to re-qualify and maintain your status.
Voucher extensions: Virgin Atlantic is extending companion, upgrade and clubhouse vouchers by 12 months.
Access to Plaza Premium Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 2
Upper Class ticket holders and Gold members, as well as eligible customers of Delta, Air France and KLM, can now use the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London. They will also receive an "exclusive premium drinks package, which includes champagne.” This is a nice benefit at one of the better airport lounges, but those with a Priority Pass membership already have access to this lounge regardless of the airline or class of service.
While these latest improvements are great for loyal Flying Club members, Virgin Atlantic imposes draconian surcharges on their long-haul award flights.
For example, Virgin Atlantic adds the following taxes and fees to its transcontinental flights (Standard season, round trip to/from the U.K. and the U.S. Northeast):
Upper Class: $1,425.
The lion’s share of these fees (especially for Premium and Upper Class bookings) are so-called carrier-imposed surcharges. For comparison, we found flights in November 2020 where the taxes and fees for direct round trip American Airlines award flights between New York and London were $181 for economy and $313 for business/premium class.
On the other hand, a Virgin Atlantic round-trip flight from the Northeastern U.S. hubs to London would cost you only 20,000 or 40,000 miles depending on the season (in economy) versus 45,000 or 60,000 on American with a MileSAAver award.
So be sure to look at the whole picture if the new Virgin Atlantic improvements are making you consider switching your loyalties. Plus, award pricing increases as you move west across the U.S.
Are there other good uses of Virgin Atlantic miles?
There are a few, especially in premium classes.
Despite being a non-alliance airline, Virgin Atlantic has 10 airline partners, and you can redeem Virgin Atlantic miles on nine of them. Here are a few examples of putting your miles to good use (per round trip).
U.S. to Europe (except U.K.) on Delta: 100,000 miles in business class.
U.S. to South America on Delta: 45,000 miles in economy, 90,000 miles in business class.
U.S. to Japan on ANA: 110,000 to 120,000 miles in first class.
Bonus: Coronavirus insurance
For travel between Aug. 24, 2020, and March 31, 2021, Virgin Atlantic is offering coverage of emergency medical expenses due to coronavirus for you and your travel companions, regardless of your status with the airline. The insurance also covers repatriation and expenses due to denied boarding or quarantine. Various terms and coverage limits apply.
If you’re thinking about traveling during that time period, this could be a peace-of-mind benefit that tips the scales toward Virgin Atlantic over other airlines. If you chose another airline, consider travel insurance, specifically with medical coverage and possibly a cancel for any reason add-on.
The bottom line
The new Virgin Atlantic improvements of its Flying Club benefits are great news for the airline’s loyal customers, especially the ability to earn elite tier points on award flights. However, U.S.-based travelers should keep in mind huge surcharges that Virgin Atlantic adds on its long-haul travel, particularly transatlantic flights.
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