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Get the Most Out of Your Virgin Atlantic Miles with Christmas in Japan

Dec. 4, 2011
Airline Credit Cards, Credit Cards
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The gist: Use your Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for great deals on tickets for All Nippon Airways.

Dream big this year. Why not have a white Christmas in Sapporo? Whether you’re traveling for family, business or fun, your Virgin Atlantic credit card can help you get to Japan for less. Why Virgin Atlantic? Because your Flying Club miles are worth the most when you book a flight through All Nippon Airways (ANA), one of Japan’s biggest airlines. ANA gives you even more bang for your buck (er, miles) than Virgin Atlantic, your card’s namesake!
We crunched the numbers and discovered that Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles are valued at 47.47 miles to the dollar on ANA , compared with just 40 miles to the dollar on most Virgin Atlantic flights.

Lower surcharges = higher point value

Wait…why would your miles be worth more on an affiliate airline? You have to look at the taxes and fees that get added to the base price of your ticket. Most of the time, your ticket price is about 80-90% airfare and 10-20% taxes and fees. Not so with Virgin Atlantic.

Here’s an example. Stephen, our in-house travel maven, crunched the numbers to find the best way to use your airline miles. He’s found round-trip tickets from New York City to London for $1,276.80, for both Virgin Atlantic and Continental. Continental charges $1,078 for fare and $198.80 for taxes and fees. Virgin Atlantic, on the other hand, charges only $696 for fare, but a whopping $580.80 for taxes and fees. The end price is the same, but the distribution is wildly skewed. And here’s the kicker: you can’t spend your award miles on taxes and fees. Like Continental, All Nippon Airways ticket prices are more heavily weighted toward airfare rather than taxes, so your miles help you pay a much larger percentage of your overall ticket cost.

All Nippon Airways’ travel destinations: Japan and beyond

ANA offers flights out of 6 major U.S. cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Honolulu. Many of their flights are routed through Japan, so it’s easy to book a nonstop flight to Tokyo, for example. From there, ANA offers service to major cities in many nearby Asian countries like China, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. All Nippon Airways also offers flights to England, France and Germany, but not directly from the United States. If you’re planning to travel outside of Asia, Virgin Atlantic gives you more options. They offer service from the U.S. to major cities in many more parts of the world.

When not to book on ANA: the exception to the rule

We took a closer look at round-trip flights from New York to Tokyo and made a surprising discovery. For mid-December, we actually found the cheapest flight through Virgin Atlantic: $1,483.90, or $1323 plus $160.90 in taxes and fees. For the same time frame, the cheapest flight we found for All Nippon Airways was $1636.10, or $1546.40 plus $89.70 in taxes and fees. Furthermore, Virgin Atlantic was still a better deal when you factored in the mile-per-dollar redemption rate.

To earn enough miles for the Virgin Atlantic flight, you’ll need to spend $35,279 on your card, excluding additional fees and taxes. With those, the total comes to $35,440.90. For the All Nippon Airways flight, you’ll need to spend $48,938.40 on your card to earn enough miles, minus taxes. With taxes, that total comes to $49,028.10.

How can you figure out on your own how much you’ll need to spend? Here’s our formula. We’ve assumed the Virgin Atlantic credit card, which earns 1.5 miles to the dollar.

(Cost of airfare) x (miles per dollar redemption value) x (2 miles earned / $3 spent) = card spending required

Card spending required + additional fees = total amount spent to get the flight

VA Flying Club miles are worth 47.47 miles to the dollar on ANA and 40 miles to the dollar elsewhere, as we mentioned earlier. Even though your miles are worth more on All Nippon Airways, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the best deal by sticking with them. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. We also discovered that Virgin Atlantic’s prices fluctuated a lot more, and were often at least several hundred dollars more than ANA tickets. We just wanted to let you know that it isn’t always a hard-and-fast rule.

›› MORE: Reviews of major rewards programs

Don’t have a Virgin Atlantic card?

The best airline miles credit cards are never one size fits all. You’ll want to pick a card based on the overall rewards rate, and which airline you use the most. Accordingly, the Virgin Atlantic card is only a good value if you use Virgin Atlantic or their affiliates, like ANA, on a regular basis. One thing we like about the Virgin card is its higher-than-average 1.5-mile-per-dollar base rewards rate. You’ll get 3% back for any Virgin Atlantic spending, plus a 20,000-mile signing bonus after your first purchase. The 1% foreign transaction fee is a helpful perk for international travelers, who usually pay up to 3%. Flying Club miles can also be redeemed 1:1 on VA partner airlines, whereas many other point programs depreciate in value. This is especially helpful if you can’t use them right away, or want to save up for your next big vacation.