My First and Last Virgin Atlantic Award

Ok that title is a bit dramatic, I have used Virgin Atlantic (VS) before for the domestic service which has provided very good value for awards. However those routes are currently being terminated, with a few months remaining to Aberdeen and Edinburgh. This is in addition to discontinuing several key long-haul routes (looking at you Tokyo) and a greater general focus on trans-Atlantic. So they’ve become quite the irrelevant airline to me before I even have flown them. A couple years when they still flew to Sydney (x-HK to London) I transferred 40k points from Amex during a decent 25% transfer bonus period. I also used to credit the occasional car rental which had some very favourable earning. So I had 50k points stashed with Virgin Atlantic for a rainy day, which is good for a one-way longhaul redemption in business class. In general the airline’s awards fall into the low points, high taxes category i.e. far from a ‘free’ flight’.

Background Research

A year ago I ended up booking a domestic flight from Manchester down to London for a friend and I. These domestics have very cheap redemption rates and a year or two ago they introduced a flat fee of 17 GBP for the award, which is more than nothing but still cheaper than a train ticket.

Back when they dropped Tokyo last last year I decided to chart their few remaining routes and the costs involved for a business award. Obviously they also fly to many North American destinations but little use to me and I don’t even want to think about any of their routes from the UK with their high taxes only made worse by Air Passenger Duty (APD). So you’re left with only a handful of possibility into London.

ex points taxes AUD
JNB 40k 4063 ZAR $431
LOS 40k 60800 NGN $410
DXB 40k 990 AED $328
DEL 40k 18392 INR $361
PVG 50k 1917 CNY $376
HKG 60k 736 HKD $115

For reference: Tokyo was also 50k

As you can see the taxes and fees remain quite high. The exception to this is Hong Kong. Now the added 10k of points may certainly compensate for this but still it’s significantly better value in my eyes.

Booking Today

So with all that mind I was desperately looking for availability from Asia (specifically Japan) to Europe (more Sweden & Germany but the UK also) for a short trip later this month. There was a lot of juggling between oneworld options… Finnair flight from Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo all being around a similar cost on AA, BA however the direct on Asia Miles is just under the tier threshold so ends up being definitely the most cost effective. Meanwhile on the Star Alliance side ANA was a possibility with its stopovers prior to the changes coming up and the usual suspects, Krisflyer for instance was awful.

Very limit availability and I’m slightly points poor right now. Suddenly I had those Virgin Atlantic points I had left there collecting dust. What better time to use them up. A quick check and the availability was a lot better for my schedule. But alas a few point short. 24 hours of waiting for points to transfer from Amex brought tragedy. The availability had gone. There was still a decent flight a few days later with 7 business award seats! I also noted how a few days out any empty flights had awards opened for them. I rang up to confirm the change fee, yes it’s a flat US$50 from HK and the agent agreed award seats would very likely reappear as the cabin was quite empty only 3 weeks out. So I decided to wait.

Another 24 hours pass and I check again, it only takes 10 seconds. And it’s back, a couple seats. Quickly grab it. So I’ve booked the flight and what’s better is the fees/taxes have reduced even further. It’s now only 365 HKD! Meanwhile economy awards still pay around double that… what!?

VS HKG-LHR award costs

So it may not be my last award with them, I’m probably going to try and fit in another domestic UK domestic flight with them before they cancel their last services and some of their partner redemptions have potential. However I’m unlikely to proactively transfer points to them again given their lack of destinations and value. This is the only good redemption within their international network.

A couple hours later I’m writing this post and notice the flight it unavailable again. Be careful it’s a lottery out there.

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