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I love transferable reward currencies. I love them above all other loyalty currencies out there because they’re so incredibly versatile and, with the right credit cards, relatively easy to earn.
Right now American Express is offering a 30% bonus when you transfer its currency (Membership Rewards) over to the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club through 1 July 2019 (no hurry!) and, if you know where to look, this can be a very good deal to jump on.
How & When Is This A Good Deal?
Let’s get one very important thing out of the way first: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles are not very versatile and awards booked with these miles often attract seriously high (and highly obnoxious) surcharges…..but this doesn’t mean that they should be overlooked.
There are three very specific ways I like to get good value out of Virgin Atlantic miles – two involve booking a partner airline and the other, rather amazingly, involves booking with Virgin Atlantic itself.
My Favorite Virgin Atlantic Partner
My favorite Virgin Atlantic partner is unquestionably Japan’s ANA and that’s because you can get some truly outsize value out of booking ANA awards with Virgin Atlantic miles.
Note: The mileage costs shown in the table above are for roundtrip travel as Virgin Atlantic doesn’t allow one-way bookings on ANA.
In practical terms this is what that award chart means:
- New York to Tokyo will cost 95,000 miles/120,000 miles (Business Class/First Class)
- Los Angeles to Tokyo will cost 90,000 miles/110,000 miles
- Europe to Tokyo will cost 95,000 miles/120,000 miles
Those are pretty good deals in their own right but when you factor in the Amex transfer bonus things look even better.
Here’s how many Membership Rewards Points are required for the three trips listed above (once you account for the 30% transfer bonus Amex is currently offering):
- New York to Tokyo: 74,000 MRP/93,000 MRP (Business Class/First Class)
- Los Angeles to Tokyo: 70,000 MRP/85,000 MRP
- Europe to Tokyo: 74,000 MRP/93,000 MRP
To put things in context, the best non-stop, roundtrip Business Class fare you’ll generally find for travel between New York and Tokyo run between $5,000 and $7,000 while that same trip can be booked for just 74,000 Membership Rewards Points.
That’s very good value even when you add in the surcharges that get tacked on to Virgin Atlantic award bookings (which often come to $300 – $400 per person).
Using Virgin Miles On Delta
Using Virgin Atlantic miles to fly Delta to/from the UK isn’t great value as the surcharges are prohibitive….but you can book Delta awards to anywhere else that Delta flys without incurring any surcharge at all.
Here’s what Virgin’s award chart looks like for bookings on Delta:
The mileage costs you can see above are for roundtrip travel so you just have to halve them to get the cost of a oneway award.
With the 30% transfer bonus that Amex is currently offering you can book a USA-Europe roundtrip Delta One fare for just 77,000 Membership Rewards points or fly roundtrip Delta First Class between anywhere in the continental US and Hawaii for just 58,000 Membership rewards points.
Considering how much Delta will charge for the same awards these are incredibly good deals.
The One Virgin Atlantic Redemption I Like
The ridiculous surcharges Virgin Atlantic adds to its award bookings make most of them a colossal waste of time for me but there is one very specific redemption that’s pretty good.
Virgin Atlantic’s current Premium Economy cabin is pretty good (I don’t have high hopes for the new A350 PE cabin) and you can get excellent value when you book one-way Premium Economy awards from the US to the UK.
The surcharges combined with the high departure taxes out of the UK make a roundtrip Premium Economy award uneconomical but you can book a one-way PE award out of LA for just 27,500 miles and $274.20….
….which, in Membership reward points terms, is equivalent to just 22,000 points + the taxes and fees.
It’s even cheaper (from a points perspective if you fly from the East Coast):
17,500 Flying Club miles can be had for just 14,000 Membership Rewards points while the 30% transfer bonus is in effect and 14,000 points + $274.20 isn’t a bad deal for a comfortable Premium Economy transatlantic flight.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles aren’t particularly versatile and you can get stung for surcharges when using them so it’s a terrible idea to transfer MR points to Virgin Atlantic speculatively.
The best way to get a lot of value out of Virgin Atlantic miles is to use them for premium cabin bookings on ANA or on Delta…and one-way Premium Economy awards departing the US for the UK can be a very good deal too.
The key here is to make sure the awards you want to book are available before you process a points transfer and that the math of transferring points and using them for flights stacks up when compared to the cash cost of a booking.
Follow that advice and you shouldn’t go too far wrong.