Virgin Atlantic Guts Earning of Miles and Status for Flying, Reduces Cost of Many Coach Awards

Virgin Atlantic’s frequent flyer program matters because it’s easy to earn their points as a US member, and not just for travel to London and beyond.

Although their miles have limited uses and are among the least valuable.

Virgin Atlantic announced changes to earning of miles and elite status points effective November 13, and redemption changes effective January 15, 2017.

Copyright: boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo

Most customers will earn fewer miles by flying. Their elite status is among the least rewarding, now it will take more and more expensive flying to get there. None of this is surprising considering that they are 49% owned by Delta and their major competitor is British Airways.

But many customers who would earn points via credit card won’t much mind this at all.

Key changes:

  • Fewer miles on cheaper fares, more miles for business class and full fare premium economy
  • Lower elite bonuses — Golds dropping from 100% to 60% and Silvers from $50% to 30%
  • More difficult to earn elite tier points via flying, which is strange considering the limited benefits of Virgin Atlantic status
  • Fewer miles required for some awards

Smaller changes:

  • Kids under 12 can join.
  • Gold members get family pooling.
  • No more idiotic changing of account numbers when your status changes
  • Ability to buy down paid fare with miles (cash and points, starting at 3000 miles)

Earning Elite Status

Virgin’s elite status levels are relatively weak.

Silver status gets you:

  • Premium Economy checkin, priority standby
  • Access to No.1 Traveller Lounges
  • Free economy seat assignments 14 days prior to departure

Gold status gets you:

  • Lounge access (with 1 guest traveling with you) when flying Virgin Atlantic and one free spa treatment in the Heathrow lounge and a 10% discount on paid treatments as well as London arrivals lounge access (no guests).
  • Extra baggage allowance plus premium checkin, boarding, and security (at London Heathrow and Gatwick) and similar when flying Delta.
  • 2,000 miles on your birthday, gifting silver to a household member, one companion ticket, no date change fees on awards, and free seat assignments.

You used to need 15 tier points for Silver and 40 for Gold. They now have a much higher scale: 400 points for Silver and 1000 for Gold, and they’re multiplying existing tier points in accounts by 25.

And here’s how tier points will be earned going forward:

Earning Miles By Flying

Earning from flights will be based on distance and fare class.

  • The lowest economy fares (E, Q, V, N, O) earn 50% of flown miles.
  • Mid-tier economy (L, U, M) and discount premium economy (H, K) earn 100% of flown miles
  • Full fare economy (Y, B, R) earns 150% of flown miles
  • Full fare premium economy (W, S) and discount business (I, Z) earn 200% of flown miles
  • Full fare business (J, C, D) earn 400% of flown miles

Redemptions on Virgin Atlantic

Effective January 16, Virgin Atlantic is introducing low and high season for redemptions. Currently roundtrip economy betwene the East Coast and London costs 35,000 miles. Low season will drop to just 20,000 miles and high season will increase to 40,000 miles.

  • Off-peak: January 16, 2017 – March 30, 2017; April 19 – June 21, 2017; September 7 – December 12, 2017
  • Peak: March 31 – April 18, 2017; June 22 – September 06, 2017; December 13 – January 3, 2018.

Business class awards are going up, for instance New York – London will be 95,000 miles roundtrip off-peak and 115,000 miles peak (plus fuel surcharges and UK departure tax of course).

A sweet spot is off-peak premium economy at 35,000 miles roundtrip East Coast – London (the old year-round economy price).

Mileage upgrades are changing, too — you pay half the cost of an award ticket to upgrade one class of service and you pay 75% of an award to upgrade from economy to business (bypassing premium economy). N, O and V economy fares and K premium economy fares are ineligible.

(HT: Head for Points)

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. @Gary, any word on how this affects partner airlines? How will this affect redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles for flights on other airlines/redeeming points from other airlines for flights on Virgin Atlantic?

  2. Upper class JFK to LHR from 80K to 115K is a lot! Your tone seems very clam but my heart is bleeding

  3. “Kids under 12 can join.”

    Should NOT be allowed. Everyone should be 18 years or older. Since when should a 1 year old enter into a frequent flier mile contract, and cry as loud as possible over the Atlantic for the entire trip?

  4. @Jason Brandt Lewis at this point they haven’t announced changes to partner award charts as far as I have seen. Doesn’t mean they won’t.

  5. @Shannon Yes it is huge! Just hard for me to get excited about gutting of Virgin Atlantic since it’s already pretty bad. Although some prefer to book through Virgin Atlantic and pay fuel surcharges than pay more miles for the same flights through Delta without those fees if you’re originating a roundtrip in the US

  6. @Gary, there is no doubt that — for flights to Europe from the US — Virgin Atlantic is/has been until now (?) my preferred carrier-of-choice, it’s also a carrier with very limited award availability to begin with. (For my money — uh, points — there’s no contest between VS and BA.) Indeed, I’ve flown VS “across the pond” 8 times, and always on points, so this will put a damper on that!

    Further, as of right now (under the “current” program”) flying Upper Class to London on VS — using Virgin Atlantic points — from the West Coast (e.g.: SFO-LHR-SFO) is 100,000 miles, plus fuel surcharges. Under the new program, to will be 135,000 (off-peak) or 150,000 (peak), plus the inescapable fuel surcharges. But, as of right now, if I use Virgin America (VX) points, I only need 50,000 points for a round-trip from SFO to Heathrow. I’m presuming that must change with the new program, but in the meantime . . .

  7. If they’re offering 90K miles on the credit card that’s four off-peak r/t from New York to London, or between London and India in economy. Not the sexiest thing in the world but could be compelling to a family of four.

  8. You might want to check the fees they charge before judging the sexiness of those economy awards. Case in point right now an economy ticket round-trip IAD>LHR on VS is $725 for next summer (July) and the fees on said award is $463. So basically you be using 40k points (peak) to save $262 that doesn’t seem a terribly sexy deal to me (.007 cents a point of value). Now offpeak would be more interesting since (assuming the same cash fare) you would be getting .013 cents a point which is better but hardly sexy in my book. That 90k offer also required $15k in spend and keeping the card for a year and possibly paying a second annual fee (I did the offer twice) depending on when your annual bonus points posted.

  9. Don’t forget you can also earn miles with Virgin Trains throughout the UK. Every little helps… especially if the award cost is going up as it is.

  10. @Gary — in light of today’s news, please ignore my comment of yesterday . . .

  11. Then again, sticking with Virgin ATLANTIC for a moment, my problem is that I have 27,407 points with VS; an Upper Class flight, NOW, from the West Coast to London is presently 100,000 points r/t (plus fuel surcharges). Under the new program, it’s going up to 135,000 (off-peak) and 150,000 (peak). And so what to do with my points?

  12. If you purchase an upgradable economy fare & upgrade with miles

    1). Do you avoid fuel surcharges?

    2). Is there increased availability from the West Coast (especially LAX) to LHR ?

    We ended up with over 400,000 miles that we have head a heck of a time redeeming. In the old days (2004-2012) we easily were able to find plenty of UC seats on that route. But now they are few and far between

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