What Do the Major Changes to the Virgin Atlantic Award Program Mean for You?
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers. Virgin Atlantic is changing the way members earn and redeem miles, starting November 13, 2016.
Earning miles and tier points for status is getting harder if you usually fly in coach on deeply discounted fares. And getting an Upper Class (First Class) award flight is becoming more expensive, too.
However, some award flight prices for coach and Premium Economy are being significantly reduced, which is good news!
I’ll show you how the changes affect your future Virgin Atlantic award flights, so you can decide whether you want to stick with the program or move on.
Virgin Atlantic Is Moving Toward a Revenue-Based Program
1. Many Members Will Lose on Earnings
Folks who like to book discounted airfares will be disappointed.
Starting November 13, 2016, you’ll earn fewer miles and tier points on cheap coach flights. So earning elite status will become harder, too.
For example, if you are a Red (non-elite) member, you’ll only earn 50% miles for deeply discounted coach tickets instead of 100%.
And they’ve changed the way they calculate tier points, which qualify folks for elite status. Under the old system, discount coach tickets would earn 2 tier points, worth 50 points under the new system (multiplied by 25).
Now, you’ll earn 25 tier points (new system) on discount coach tickets, or half what you’d previously have earned.
Tier points are status points. You need them in order to move to the next elite level. You used to need 15 old tier points (or 375 new points) to earn Silver, and now it’s 400 points — a slight increase.
To reach Gold, you needed 40 points, and now it’s 1,000 points, so no changes there.
2. But Some Folks Will Win Big
If you fly Upper Class (Virgin Atlantic First Class) or buy full fare Premium Economy tickets, you’ll earn more miles and tier points.
With the old scheme, you would earn 200% of flown miles on full fare Upper Class tickets.
But under the new rules, you will earn 400% of flown miles on a flexible Upper Class ticket. So, folks who buy flexible or even discounted (but not deeply discounted) Premium Economy or Upper Class tickets will be better off after the changes.
Example: Atlanta to London
According to the Great Circle Mapper, the flying distance between Atlanta and London is 4,210 miles.
This is what you will earn starting November 13, 2016.
And this is what you earn now:
- Coach (all classes): 100%
- Premium Economy (K,H): 125%
- Premium Economy (W,S): 150%
- Upper Class (I,Z): 150%
- Upper Class (J,D,C): 200%
So, the miles you’ll earn for deep discount coach tickets will be half (50% vs. 100%). And deep discount coach is how most folks travel.
Your earning rate for tier points will change in a similar way. Right now, if you buy a flexible or even discounted (but not deeply discounted) ticket in Upper Class, you earn 5 to 6 tier points, worth 125 to 150 points in the new system.
But under the new scheme you will get 200 points, a 33% to 60% increase. The folks on Flyertalk created a handy graphic explaining the changes.
Also, when in doubt use the Virgin Atlantic Earning Calculator.
New Redemption Rules Are a Mixed Bag, Too
On January 15, 2017, Virgin Atlantic is changing the way you redeem miles, and, thankfully, it’s not all bad.
Virgin Atlantic is introducing “Rewarding Seasons.” This peak and off-peak award pricing is similar to Korean Air and ANA.
You’ll pay fewer miles in the off-peak season, which includes January, February, mid-April to mid-May, September, and October, but if you travel during peak times, like summer, you will pay more.
Here is the old Upper Class award chart.
And here is the new one.
So, Upper Class awards are mostly going up, even off-peak:
- 80,000 miles to 95,000 miles for the Northeast and Midwest
- 100,000 miles to 135,000 miles for the West
The only cities where prices are slightly going down during off-peak are Miami and Orlando, from 100,000 miles to 95,000 miles.
That’s too bad, because Emily and I thoroughly enjoyed the Upper Class cabin on our trip from Italy.
But redemption levels for coach and Premium Economy are often cheaper, especially for folks in the Northeast who can fly off-peak.
For example, you’ll be able to fly to the UK for 20,000 miles in coach (down 15,000 miles), 35,000 miles in Premium Economy (down 20,000 miles), and 95,000 miles in Business Class (up 15,000 miles).
However, even 95,000 miles for a round-trip flight to Europe in Business Class is competitive compared to other airlines. Here is the old Virgin Atlantic award chart.
For comparison, American Airlines and United Airlines charge 115,000 miles, and Delta charges 125,000 miles for the same flight (and will be charging 140,000 miles for flights after January 1, 2017).
Unfortunately, Virgin Atlantic adds BIG fuel surcharges, and departure taxes from the UK are substantial. So even though you may save miles, you’ll still pay higher taxes and fees.
Here is the real cost of a Virgin Atlantic award ticket between Chicago and London.
- Coach: 25,000 miles and ~$645 to ~$774 in taxes and fees
- Premium Economy: 45,000 miles and ~$700 to ~$900 in taxes and fees
- Business Class: 95,000 miles and ~$1,120 to ~$1,344 in taxes and fees
These changes suggest Virgin Atlantic is trying to encourage folks to fly off-peak on Premium Economy, and discourage using miles for Business Class.
Other New Features
1. Miles Plus Money
The most important of these small changes is Miles Plus Money. You’ll be able to book Miles Plus Money flights starting at 3,000 miles, and it will be a flexible discount for all cabins. You will still earn miles and tier points with Miles Plus Money.
2. One Number
In the past, Virgin Atlantic would issue you a different membership number when you reached the next elite status tier.
Now you will have the same number forever, which is much more convenient!
3. Family Pooling
Family pooling is a great way to get enough miles for booking Virgin Atlantic award flights. There are several airline programs that let members pool their miles, like Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, and British Airways – the main Virgin Atlantic competitor.
Unfortunately, Virgin Atlantic family pooling is only allowed for the top-tier Gold members.
4. Young Kids Are In
Virgin Atlantic will also let kids under 12 join the program. Previously, only Gold Elite members were allowed to set up accounts for children under 12.
What About Upgrades?
Virgin Atlantic has streamlined using miles for an upgrade. Now it’s going to cost 50% miles for a one-cabin upgrade and 75% for a two-cabin upgrade for a one-way flight.Example: A Premium Economy award ticket between New York and London costs 17,500 miles one-way, and a Business Class award ticket is 47,500 miles one-way.
So, you can upgrade your coach ticket to Premium Economy for 8,750 miles (50% of a one-way flight) and to Business Class for 35,625 miles per one-way trip (75% of a one-way flight).
If You Are Unhappy With the Virgin Atlantic Devaluation, There Are Partners
The rules for partners haven’t changed yet, so you can still use Virgin Atlantic miles to book a flight on a partner airline. Sadly, Virgin Atlantic’s partnership with Virgin America is coming to an end on November 13, 2016, but there are more partners like Delta, ANA, and others.
For example, to fly Delta to Europe in Business Class, booking with Virgin Atlantic miles is usually cheaper than using Delta miles. A round-trip flight would cost you 100,000 Virgin Atlantic miles rather than 125,000 Delta miles (and that’s 140,000 Delta miles after January 1, 2017).
The best part is, Virgin Atlantic doesn’t add fuel surcharges on Delta (unless your flight originates in Europe).
Or if you’d prefer to use Virgin Atlantic miles for hotel stays, you can transfer Virgin Atlantic miles to Hilton at a 2:3 ratio.
How to Earn Virgin Atlantic Miles
There are plenty of ways to earn Virgin Atlantic miles other than flying. For example, you can earn Virgin Atlantic miles directly with the Bank of America Virgin Atlantic card.
Or, you can move points from all 4 transferable points programs to Virgin Atlantic at a 1:1 ratio:
Remember when you transfer 20,000 Starwood points to any eligible airline, you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus!
Virgin Atlantic is making big changes to their award program starting November 13, 2016. Including how you earn and redeem miles!
- If you usually buy deeply discounted tickets in coach, you will earn fewer Virgin Atlantic miles and tier points
- If you fly to Europe in the summer, you will pay more for Virgin Atlantic award flights
- If you fly Upper Class, you will usually pay more regardless of where you live
- But if you fly coach or Premium Economy during off-peak months, you are likely to benefit from the new changes
If these changes don’t work for you, you can always redeem Virgin Atlantic miles on partner airlines, like Delta, with no fuel surcharges. And if that doesn’t appeal to you either, you can transfer Virgin Atlantic miles to Hilton at a 2:3 ratio.
What do you think about the changes?
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