Probably the best value frequent flyer award has been roundtrip first class travel between the U.S. and Japan using Virgin Atlantic miles. For instance,
- First class from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Tokyo was 110,000 miles roundtrip.
- First class from Houston, Chicago, New York and Washington Dulles was 120,000 miles roundtrip
- And Virgin miles were super easy to get, since they’re a transfer partner of all the major currencies.
I’ve been writing about this award for a decade. As everyone else has devalued their miles, this one became an even better and better relative value.
And I’ve been warning that there was no way this award would last. Virgin Atlantic’s miles are, on the whole, otherwise not very valuable. Awards that are several standard deviations better than average never last. Virgin also has a history of making changes without notice whatsoever. They’ve wiped out great awards (like Air China premium awards London – Beijing) in the past.
I always assumed this would come with any renewal of an ANA partnership agreement, though it certainly didn’t have to wait for this. The more ANA redemptions, the higher Virgin’s costs, and once those popped onto the radar of a finance executive they could easily be shut down. And that’s what’s happened, though honestly even at a 42% increase they’re still a relative deal.
- West Coast – Japan roundtrip is 90,000 miles in business class, but now 145,000 miles in first class
- Midwest and East Coast – Japan roundtrip is now 95,000 miles in business class but now 170,000 miles in first
Houston and Chicago – Tokyo has increased 50,000 miles or 42% in first class without warning. Hopefully no one transferred for a bonus from a card program proactively to take advantage of one of the transfer bonuses running this month in anticipation of of redeeming one of these awards later. At a minimum the value of the transfer bonus has been wiped out.
You’re still going to get value, even with the fuel surcharges that are added, redeeming miles for ANA travel through Virgin – even though connections beyond Tokyo would require a separate award and connections to the U.S. gateway city aren’t included in the award, and even though you won’t get Virgin to place one of these awards on hold pending transfer any longer.
What’s most troubling, aside from the sadness of seeing the inevitable end of this sweet spot, is that the change was made without notice – as Virgin is wont to do. And that’s why Virgin Atlantic (remember: 49% owned by Delta) is not a trustworthy place to bank miles. You transfer to Virgin for a redemption that’s set up while you are on the phone. You don’t accrue miles for a future redemption with them. They’ve proven themselves untrustworthy, again and again.
(HT: Thrifty Traveler)
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