Virgin Atlantic Guts ANA Awards Up To 42% Without Notice

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)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m guessing the huge number of redemptions for the recent release of lots of SFO/HNL-TYO awards in F is what caused this. They probably saw a huge spike in costs. I once accidentally saw the reimbursement to NH on these and it’s well north of $1k per segment.

  2. Glad I got to do the F Suites from JFK before the devalue and the fuel surcharge increases.

  3. Wow! Saw this coming! Last year, I booked my first-class ANA trip from ORD-to-HND for later this month via Virgin. Glad I did! Going to enjoy it more now!

  4. Oh Well. I banked 120,000 VA points for this only by a couple CC sign up bonuses by our BofAm
    But long term planning has come up empty since VA is 30 days late.
    I’m toying with using VA miles for something else and transfer bank points for ANA award Some time later.

  5. Once they drop the silly mask requirement I will fly to Japan. Sucks to see the sweet spot gutted.

  6. Virgin Atlantic is the worst program i have ever been in and the biggest program mistake of my lifetime

  7. Definitely the glut of recent F awards on SFO to TYO and HNL to TYO mentioned above, as well as from the additional frequency on JFK to TYO. When those first got released, there were many days with 5 F seats up for grabs. There’s many stories of people stuck on the phone for hours to get to a VS agent to book an award ticket, they probably got slammed with an avalanche of redemption costs and ANA was also probably pissed that so many of their F seats got sold for the equivalent of ultra deep discount fares

  8. @Bill n DC Virgin voyages bookings 7/8 nights in the Med or Caribbean. 100K points for a 4K cruise. If you can find a good week that works for you it’s a very good value. ~4 cents a point.

    Otherwise the Unicorn of a Delta business class reward is still a good value with VA miles.

  9. I keep a high mark of ~ 300k in VS points usually. This is done with a 30% transfer, and I’ve been doing it for years – always found redemptions that have been/are worth while. The 30% bonus really takes the devaluation risk to a point I’m comfortable with.

  10. @dwondermeant – Once you realize that Virgin is just like all the other EMEA programs in that it’s just a way to get a discount on flights, not a way to free/almost free travel there is some value there. They do open a lot of availability and they have cheaper point redemptions than BA on it’s own metal. Like BA they partner with every CC and are a niche use of CC points for specific rewards. Living in ATL, I find them useful for booking Delta award flights at 1/3 the CC point cost.

  11. F, I transferred 180k Chase UR in 2019 to book two J seats. Due to covid closures, canceled and rebooked three times total. Couldn’t find availability for upcoming fall.

    It hurts because these points could have cashed out to $2700 in 2020 via CSR. They’d be worth at least $3k by now if used for bank bonuses or I Bonds.

  12. @ Gary — I am mosty glad to see this. Now, maybe these will actually be bookable using Virgin miles. Whenever I’ve jumped on these (never actually flew one due to COVID cancellations), I’ve avoided using Virgin because of the unbearble phone holds. Instead, I would just jump onto AC/AV/UA websites and grab the seats there, albeit at a much higher price. That said, we do have a one-way booked with VS miles for this summer SFO-HND in F. I booked with AC miles, waited 18 hours, cancelled, and then re-booked via Virgin Atlantic.

  13. @Gene Unlikely due to VS still getting the award seats later than the other airlines. I don’t think you can look at this positively.

  14. Still a very good deal at the increased rates the only negative is the high fuel surcharges.

  15. Thanks, eds183. Not big cruisers but makes me think!

    And bigger fish to fry at this time. Got 3 RTW trips ticket with TP in 1st on JAL – 70,000 AS miles, AA – 220,000 AA miles to SYD, & QF – 162,000 QF miles.

  16. @rjb I booked and flew them multiple times with VS points. I even got to take their new F suite out of JFK for two people just this past October.

  17. This is like the last scene of a Scobby Doo episode, except it’s Delta underneath the mask.

  18. “And I’ve been warning that there was no way this award would last.”

    Well that’s a prophecy that had to come true isn’t it? Don’t pat yourself too much for this prediction. Nothing lasts in this game!
    But this one lasted a lot longer than you thought.
    Your blogs would read much better without the gratuitous boasting.

  19. @Fathiss – my point was the end was inevitable, not that I made a good prediction, it lasted a lot longer than I expected

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