Virgin Atlantic May Have The Worst Miles, But There Are 8 Great Ways You Can Use Them

Best use of Virgin Atlantic miles:

Virgin Atlantic may have one of the worst frequent flyer programs in the world, at least compared to major world airlines as opposed to regional players (I mean, I’d take Virgin’s miles over Frontier’s for instance).

  • Their award chart is expensive (many flights take a whole lot of miles compared to what other airlines charge for the same itinerary).
  • They add fuel surcharges onto award tickets, so you play a lot of miles and cash
  • They have partner airline awards, but many of those are roundtrip one (no one ways) and you can’t mix and match partner airlines on a single itinerary.

Virgin Atlantic’s miles aren’t even the best for redeeming travel on… Virgin Atlantic. Delta will let you redeem for travel on Virgin, and if you begin your journey in the US rather then Europe you won’t pay fuel surcharges. What’s more, depending on your ultimate destination the award might even cost fewer miles as Virgin Atlantic’s award chart prices travel separately from the US to London and then from London to beyond destinations outside the UK.

That said, Virgin Atlantic miles are easy for folks in North America to get. They are an American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. You earn 1000 miles per Avis car rental, even cheap one day rentals. And their Bank of America co-brand credit card often has a good signup bonus (I’ve gotten it more than once).

Plus Virgin Atlantic miles expire after 3 years of inactivity, which is generous compared to the 18 month policies of United and American.

And, as it turns out, there are actually some things you can do to get good value of them.

I’m not saying I’d go out of my way to choose to accumulate Virgin Atlantic miles. But if you find yourself with a few hundred thousand of them like I have, you care about finding ways to use them – especially since their miles are no longer as attractive for just dumping into Hilton HHonors.

Virgin America Short-Haul is a Great Option

The award chart for travel on Virgin America is a good one, especially for coach short haul roundtrips and especially considering that US domestic flights do not have fuel surcharges.

LA – San Francisco is 10,000 miles roundtrip in coach; 20,000 miles roundtrip in first.

Several other routes are just 12,500 or 15,000 miles roundtrip in coach.

Combine these with a transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards and you can have some downright cheap travel.

Air China First Class, London – Beijing Roundtrip, is just 75,000 miles.

You can only fly London – Beijing roundtrip with Air China. That means you can’t get flights beyond Beijing, and you can’t fly other routes (like Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco – Beijing where award availability is excellent). And there are fuel surcharges on the award – assume about $400 in fuel surcharges, plus the UK air passenger duty (luxury tax) and taxes for about $700 all-in cash cost. But it’s still dirt cheap mileage for a first class roundtrip.

Hawaiian Airlines US Mainland – Hawaii Without Fuel Surcharges

Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t add fuel surcharges to the price of paid tickets, so there are no fuel surcharges on award tickets. Mainland – Hawaii is 40,000 miles roundtrip in coach and 80,000 miles roundtrip in first. This isn’t a major advantage compared to other frequent flyer programs, but it’s a spot where Virgin Atlantic is competitive with major programs.

Japanese Domestic Travel is Just 15,000 Miles Roundtrip

Premium cabin travel isn’t offered. And I’m not sure why there’s an award ‘chart’ since the price is the same regardless of distance. But you can fly roundtrip intra-Japan for 15,000 miles.

ANA International Premium Cabin Awards Are Competitive

Virgin Atlantic has a distance-based chart for flying on its partner All Nippon. Again, they add fuel surcharges. And you can’t mix and match partners — if you fly ANA you’re going to fly only ANA. Still, their mileage costs are substantially lower than what United will be charging effective February 1 for like itineraries.

120,000 miles will buy you business class New York JFK – Tokyo – Bangkok and return, or it will buy you Chicago – Tokyo roundtrip in first class.

South Africa Airways Roundtrips Within Africa And Many Other Destinations

Travel within South Africa and between South Africa and Beira, Blantyre, Bulawayo, Gaborone, Harare, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Lusaka, Maputo, Maseru, Matsapa, Ndola, Victoria Falls, Walvis Bay and Winhoek is just 30,000 miles roundtrip in business class. An open jaw is permitted at your destination (you have to return to your city of origin).

Business class roundtrip between South Africa and Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Entebbe, Kinshasa, Lagos, Luanda, Mauritius, Nairobi, Accra, Kinshasa, Pointe Nior, Cotonou, Brazzaville, Entebbe and Douala is 50,000 miles roundtrip. So is Dakar – New York roundtrip.

Business class roundtrip between South Africa and Europe, India, Sao Paolo, or Perth is 110,000 miles roundtrip.

Air New Zealand – Trans-tasman, LA-London, Asia and Pacific Islands

Business class between Australia and New Zealand and between New Zealand and the Pacific Islands is just 30,000 miles roundtrip in business class. Los Angeles – London is 75,000 miles roundtrip in business class, but this is a very tough get. New Zealand – Asia flights, especially Shanghai, can be much easier and are non-crazy at 80,000 roundtrip in business considering that’s 12 hours of flying each way.

The price for Australia or New Zealand to the US is quite reasonable at 125,000 miles roundtrip in business class (plus fuel surcharges), but I haven’t circled that one because you won’t find availability.

Australia Domestic Flights on Virgin Australia

Virgin Atlantic partners with Virgin Australia. Their awards for flights between the US and Australia are quite pricey, 188,000 miles roundtrip plus fuel surcharges. Availability is good, but when Delta charges fewer miles (160,000) and without surcharges you know your awards are costly.

What’s can be a good value is redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles without meaningful fuel surcharges for Australian domestic routes. Fuel surcharges for a Sydney – Melbourne are ~ US$6. What’s more, Virgin Atlantic allows one-way redemptions on Virgin Australia so you can piece together all of your flying while Down Under this way. For instance:

  • Sydney – Canberra is 8000 miles one-way in coach
  • Sydney – Adelaide is 15,000 miles one-way in coach
  • Sydney or Melbourne to Perth, Cairns, or Darwin is 20,000 miles one-way in coach.


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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 planning a family trip to visit family/friends in ICN…

    I thought about using Virgin Atlantic miles for Virgin America redemption. e.g to go from IAD to LAX (tax surcharge from $5 upwards)

    Then redeem Virgin America miles for partner airline redemption e.g. from LAX to ICN (only about $45 tax surcharge)

    What do you think? I do have some SPG points, AA miles and a few DL miles as well

  2. Plenty of tales over at VS forum on FT saying that booking partner awards is a nightmare and in many cases not possible at all.

  3. Nice summary. I have to say that I feel Virgin Atlantic miles are often dissed unfairly. I may value VS conservatively at 1.5 c/mi, compared with UA (2 c/mi pre, 1.8 c/mi post devaluation), AA (1.8 c/mi), BA (1.7 c/avios) and Delta (1.5 c/mi), but note that that is only 20% below the best value alternatives (after United devaluation).

    The result of these factors has been surprising to me: Virgin Atlantic miles are my second most redeemed type, behind avios (for short- to medium-hall AA flights, plus a 2-for-1 First Class companion ticket redemption), but ahead of AA, HA and UA, which I tend to save for non-UK long-haul business class redemptions.

    Experience has taught me that they are valuable part of my miles portfolio, and it turns out that they’re actually my second most redeemed behind avios (for short- to medium-hall AA flights, plus a 2-for-1 First Class companion ticket redemption), but ahead of AA and UA, which I tend to save for non-UK long-haul business class redemptions. You state most of those reasons above, but to summarise:

    As you said, Virgin Atlantic miles are easy to come by. Not only is their credit card churnable, but the regular Amex MR transfer bonuses (typically +20%-+35%) make up for the slightly weaker value. Also, their “Shops Away” shopping portal is not run by Cartera, and thus often features very different deals, some of which are lucrative.

    For Virgin Atlantic redemptions, sure, there’s the fuel surcharges, but when you go for aspirational awards in Upper Class, you still get excellent value (typically 3-5 c/mile for me). The product itself is very nice. I especially like the LHR lounge and shortcut for Upper Class passengers. I tend to consider Upper Class tickets to be the equivalent of upgrading from economy, given the fees and surcharges, but that’s okay. I’d also say that the economy redemptions, now that they’ve reduced fuel surcharges, are often competitive. I recently compared pre-devaluation United and 25%-off-deal VS redemptions for two LHR-LAX-LHR tickets, and I’d have been getting way less value from my United miles than Virgin (~1.3 compared with 1.8). Not great, but definitely worth the miles.

    The Virgin America economy redemptions typically come in at around 2 c/mile, which again is reasonable for that class, and they’re often competitive even with avios->AA redemptions on the routes they actually fly, for a much nicer product. Other partners do similarly well.

    All in all, I’m very happy with their program.

    -Karl

  4. Can you book one way short hall flights for half of the miles of the round trip or is it roundtrip only?

  5. Since Virgin America uses a fare-pegged redemption for their own miles, how does their award availability translate to the fixed partner chart that Virgin Atlantic offers on them?

  6. when was the last time you saw ANZ open biz class award space between NZ and OZ? or from LAX to LHR???
    i haven’t seen that in many years…

  7. Has anyone looked into redeeming VS miles for SA IAD-DKR? I believe that SA has shifted their DKR flight to IAD and now runs JFK-JNB nonstop.

  8. How do you wind up with “a few hundred thousand” Virgin Atlantic miles by accident? I’d like to be accident prone in that way!

  9. i saw that… but it seems to imply that there is some… which i find hard to believe… because it’s not true.

  10. I booked one way from Orlando – London for 12500+$97 for my wife and I. It was on sale at the time, but they have these economy sales quite often.

    Plus with the BOA card you get 1.5 miles per dollar so if you are man spending you are racking up miles quicker than most cards.

    Can’t you redeem on delta too?

  11. I think this backs up what you have said before-that one needs to look beyond traditional US based award plans and find value awards in non US based plans.

    BTW, I have found, in planning a trip to Australia/New Zealand that one can fly Adelaide-Auckland with a stopover in Sydney (23 hrs) for 9K American miles ow in coach. This is a 10K cost with 10% refunded back to my account due to my having an AA credit card. Even though its coach, it is on Qantas which I think has the best customer service anywhere–like no charge checked bag, meal served inflight.

  12. I have tried using Virgin Atlantic miles on Virgin America several times. Never happens. Virgin Atlantic miles are worthless.

  13. I booked one-way Canberra to Melbourne with Virgin AMERICA miles for only 3500 miles. would have been 6000 round-trip. Try Virgin America, if possible. Or, just fly with virgin atlantic but credit maybe to Delta?

  14. 20k in miles for F class from SFO-LAX but 25k to go SFO-SAN on Virgin America. That’s a little petty.

  15. There are many reasons why I consider you to be the number one bloggers in the industry for my travel lifestyle.
    The timeliness of this post was god given for me to reflect how to proceed in my own case.
    Thank You!
    Virgin AT has shattered any reasonable chance I will leave One World by running as you state one of the worst and most expensive loyalty schemes for its members 🙁

    Richard Branson is one of my personal heroes in this industry yet despite being one of the most visionary men on this planet he and his team are failures in running a first class cutting edge versatile and guest friendly loyalty program.
    This saddens me as I so badly want to not fly premium cabins with BA/Cathay and others and give Virgin more of my business.

    Believe me when I say the fees are not the issue with me!
    Not that anyone enjoys paying them 🙂

    I had been fretting for weeks about what to do with my 700k in VA miles
    Perhaps I may siphon some into Hilton before the sky falls and use the rest for Virgin American and Virgin Australia flights. I’m ready to unload and move on
    I wasted lot of years in hopes this program would grow into a mature and brilliant FF program. I wrongly put my trust in Mr. Branson and his team to deliver and compete.

  16. @Greg MMB-HND-ISG is 1833 miles one way,so about 340 miles short of 4000 for a roundtrip. Before devaluation UA was 12k for a R/T in Japan and Avios are 9k/15k depending on distance.

  17. I am trying to use miles to fly upper class or premium economy LAX to LHR this summer but these has been no availability since Janaury. Any ideas as to when award seats become available or how I find out?

  18. Can you redeem multiple segments on an ANA award and in essence do an explorer type award but with fuel charges?

  19. What about redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles on Delta flights?

    No fuel surcharges, Hawaii for 40,000 economy, US 48 Canada and Alaska for 25,000 economy, 45,000 Business/first. Seems like a decent value, particularly to get to Alaska from the east coast.

  20. Would you mind attaching the URL for the partner award charts you’ve found? I’ve had trouble locating them on my own.

  21. Seems like these miles are perfect for down under one ways on Virgin Australia? Difficulty of redeeming?

  22. Meant to reference your domestic Australia info which is an absolute wonderful snag……..It does bear repeating……….

    What’s can be a good value is redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles without meaningful fuel surcharges for Australian domestic routes. Fuel surcharges for a Sydney – Melbourne are ~ US$6. What’s more, Virgin Atlantic allows one-way redemptions on Virgin Australia so you can piece together all of your flying while Down Under this way. For instance:

    Sydney – Canberra is 8000 miles one-way in coach
    Sydney – Adelaide is 15,000 miles one-way in coach
    Sydney or Melbourne to Perth, Cairns, or Darwin is 20,000 miles one-way in coach.

  23. Redeeming on Delta to South Africa is a good option for 120,000 in J but it’s not easy to get this one Delta flight to JNB..

  24. If you want to get 2 seats in upper class, Virgin and BA are the only real options from LAX-LHR. United/AA have next to no availability, and delta is rough too.

    Really an easy flight to book 11 months out during summer, and will give you at least a 2 cent value per mile in coach, and 5 cent in upper class (since flights run $1500 round trip in coach LAX-LHR).

  25. Re. partner airlines. Could I use my V Miles on South African between JNB and Munich?

  26. I’m quite interested in ANA business award from east coast to southeast Asia. Do you know if Virgin Atlantic allow stopover (in Tokyo)? I can’t find any where on the website about stopover.

  27. help ! I have 450k virgin miles and would like to travel from LHR to Either Sydney or Brisbane in Nov this year – what is the best use of my points & can I get down there ?

  28. My husband and I have a total of 238,000+ Virgin miles. Can we combine them and give these to someone? I don’t fly Virgin anymore as other airlines in Business class are much better now.

  29. Well Maria and Nathan, unless you were aiming to gift the points to someone else in particular I’d be thrilled to accept your points (all or some) and make good use of them. I believe there’s a $25 tranfer fee if I read the ‘use points’ fine print info right, since I’ve been checking how many points needed for a r/t flight from NYC area to Manchester over the last year & a half. I’m slowly collecting points by buying when theres a sale, doing surveys for points and have scraped 25,000 together. (!) Inching closer but not there yet, and it’s frustrating to read how these are the worst airline points to have.

    I have been eager to visit the UK for a decade+ to discover family roots (northern UK in mid 1600s, most in the family struck off, weaving to and through the US over time eventually settling in the South and my closest family in rural Texas. I work with animals, have little savings but am driven to visit to see the stunning Yorkshire area farmland and meet the warm people. The sinking £ feels like a sign it’s the right time to go this summer before its expensive again and if fall/winter, too cold!

  30. Ok Paula….I will consider it! First…you work with animals. What do you do specifically? And if we do go forward with this, how do I contact you directly without posting our email addresses? Maria

  31. Maria, Thank You for replying so fast and the generous offer! My heart lept when I read that, I never ask for such things but thought I’d put it out there in case they went to waste, and suppose it didn’t hurt to ask. I do in home pet sitting for a dozen or so close clients when they need to travel for business (or occassional vacations), love the variety and personal aspect over dog daycare managing or former vet tech asst work, and my skills after 20 yrs now have expanded far beyond pet care. Love to travel but unfortunately rarely get to aside from brief breaks to see family or countryside jaunts in a rental to see farms,etc. Forgot to mention I had heard in a news story last year many charities can use those points for flights needed for various reasons, and Virgin Atlantic has partnered with Free The Children. Other airlines have different partners, so points for those needn’t be wasted either. Also, can’t you use those points in the gift shop area for Virgin related or partner items, spa treatment, hotel booking et c?

    Now to share the (sad?) news regarding using the points in addition to my own for any summer or early fall booking- loads of info here:

    Virgin won’t accept them and says ‘no seats are available’ each hypothetical trip I start to book, ranging from 2-4 weeks out, weekday or weekends, whether entirely points covered or half covered with points, remainder cash paid. However, when I reset the booking with going cash only route (not using any points) there are seats shown for various prices as early as 2 weeks out so it’s obvious with summer being the strongest tourist season they reserve seats for full cash buyers and points users are left out! Not surprised but frustrating thinking this entire time my cobbled together points pile couldn’t even be used for travel even if I could get time off in Aug from work.

    Note when I ran the same hypothetical trip through a third time using points and cash I was able to book a normal r/t trip but it had to be quite far off time wise (Jan) and somewhat steep tax and fuel charges still applied. Looking out to May that dropped a bit so looking a good 6 months off they’re usable and worth something!

    Next up was noticed the fine print mention there’s a fee for transfering points of aprox $13 for every 1,000 plus a flat fee of $25 or so. So I’d need to put up aprox $100 for the 7-8,000 points yet needed to round off my needed total of 35k.

    Maybe donating to charity is best after all.. but get in touch if you think otherwise, I’m game for a points tranfer purchase! Reach me at: (no spaces) Holland t u n n e l [at] hot mail [dot com] … spammers be damned. I’ll cover the transfer fees and apply them to what I have saved for a ’17 Spring or Summer travel and will be ready for this long overdue trip.

    Again, thanks many times over for considering it!

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