Save Big On Award Taxes and Fees With Virgin Atlantic – Delta Partnership

Jun 29, 2013

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Earlier this week, Delta and Virgin Atlantic announced details of their new partnership including the ability to book partner awards on each airline using the other’s miles.

Starting today, you can book Virgin flights using Delta miles and vice versa.
Starting today, you can book Virgin flights using Delta miles and vice versa.

Starting today you will be able to use Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for Delta flights and SkyMiles for Virgin Atlantic flights – and you can search for Virgin Atlantic awards, though it looks like you’ll have to wait until Wednesday, July 3, to book Delta awards through Virgin Atlantic’s web site, you can actually call into Virgin Atlantic at 1-800-365-9500.

Delta has not yet added Virgin Atlantic to their other-airline partner page, but the redemption rates on Virgin Atlantic appear to be the same as their current Delta/SkyTeam award chart- so 60,000 miles for roundtrip US to Europe flights and 100,000 in Upper Class.

By contrast, Virgin’s mileage thresholds seem to be lower in some cases – however, they depend on whether you are booking flights on Delta or Virgin, and whether you are originating from Europe or the US.

Redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles on Delta.
Redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles on Delta.

To suss out the best deals from this new partnership, I priced out a variety of sample awards on both airlines using both kinds of miles to see which ones save you the most in terms of miles and money. Fees and taxes will vary widely as well, so there are quite a few numbers to take into account.

Just based on some preliminary research, though, it looks like the best deals will be to use Delta miles to fly either Delta or Virgin Atlantic flights since, although mileage requirements are higher in some cases (the difference is actually smaller in premium classes) the taxes and surcharges that Delta charges on both its own and Virgin flights are much lower.

Economy Awards

Just to do a quick comparison, I tried booking award flights on for Delta flights from New York to London and found the following in October: 60,000 miles + $185 in taxes and fees for economy.

Delta 60k 185

And sure enough, this morning while searching, I came up with lots of award availability on Virgin Atlantic flights in economy from JFK to London Heathrow for the same amount of 60,000 miles and $185 in taxes and fees.

Screen shot 2013-06-29 at 4.55.37 PM

Compare that to using Virgin Flying Club miles to fly Virgin from New York (Newark EWR) to London in October as well, which would require 35,000 miles +$375 for economy.

New York- London Economy Award on Virgin Atlantic for 35,000 miles and   $374.80 in taxes and fees.
New York – London Economy Award on Virgin Atlantic for 35,000 miles and $374.80 in taxes and fees.

And according to the Virgin phone rep I got, flying on Delta from the US to the UK in economy will cost you 60,000 miles and $176.60 if you use your Virgin Flying Club miles – pretty much at parity with using Delta miles.

Which option you choose will depend on how many miles you have and what you’re willing to pay in fees and surcharges. Let’s say you had Amex Membership Rewards points, though, and were trying to decide whether to transfer to Delta or Virgin for a redemption on Virgin. By choosing Virgin, you’d be saving 25,000 miles at the cost of about $190 – or valuing your points at about 0.76 cents each. That’s a trade off I’d take.

Business/Upper Class

Flying in Business or Upper Class, the differences become a bit more stark.

Using Delta miles to fly Delta BusinessElite from New York to London, you’d be spending 100,000 miles + $288.

Delta 100k 288

There was no online availability that I could find on for Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, however, by calling into Delta’s SkyMiles desk, an agent looked from August through November for me and found no Upper Class award availability loaded in, though plenty of economy availability, so it looks like we’ll have to keep checking back on it over the next few days to price it out, though I would suspect that taxes/fees will be similar to what Delta charges on its own tickets.

Now looking at Virgin’s site, Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic would be 80,000 miles + $1,116 – pretty steep!

New York- London Upper Class Award on Virgin Atlantic for 80,000 miles and   $1,116.20 in taxes and fees.
New York- London Upper Class Award on Virgin Atlantic for 80,000 miles and $1,116.20 in taxes and fees.

Calling into Virgin just to check on Delta prices, the agent told me that an equivalent itinerary on Delta from JFK to London from October 21-30 would cost 100,000 miles and $280 – the same Delta charges on its own tickets – so you’ll be spending 20,000 more miles, but saving $830.

 Flights Originating in Europe

One of the big downsides of Delta SkyMiles is that the program will charge you a foreign origination fee if you book an itinerary that starts outside the US, which can frustratingly drive up the price of your award ticket. Unfortunately, it looks like that won’t budge thanks to this partnership at all. For example, I looked up roundtrip economy flights on both Delta and Virgin Atlantic using and no matter whether you fly Delta or Virgin Atlantic, the ticket is still priced at 60,000 miles and a whopping $548 in taxes and fees.

So whether you use your Delta miles to fly Virgin…

Screen shot 2013-06-29 at 5.42.41 PM

Or a similar itinerary on Delta…

Screen shot 2013-06-29 at 5.49.58 PMYou’re still paying nearly $600 in fees for foreign origination.

Unfortunately, thanks to the British departure tax, your options using Virgin Atlantic miles aren’t much better.

To fly economy on either Delta from London Heathrow to the US, you’re looking at paying $505.40 in taxes and fees, while that goes down to $375 (better but not great) when you use Virgin miles.

According to the Virgin phone rep I talked with and who priced out various itineraries for me, to purchase Upper Class award tickets from London Heathrow to JFK, you’ll need to use 80,000 miles and about $800 in taxes and fees for Virgin flights, and 90,000 miles plus about $600 in taxes and fees to fly Delta. So you save $200 flying Delta but use an extra 10,000 miles – the equivalent to paying about 2 cents per mile.

Although some of this mileage and pricing is a bit confusing for the moment, and the partnership has not come fully online in terms of booking awards, I’m looking forward to sussing out the new possibilities of using both Virgin Atlantic and Delta miles for flights on one or the other, and to being able to save big on award taxes and fees by using one set of miles over the other depending on my itinerary.

It seems like the best deal is using Delta miles to book Virgin Atlantic Upper Class tickets with significantly discounted taxes and fees, or using Virgin miles to book Delta tickets with lower taxes and fees than Virgin tickets would cost you – which could make sense if there are Amex-Virgin transfer bonuses and no Delta ones come up.

Overall, this partnership is good news because Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so there are now more options to book Delta flights without having SkyMiles (though partners like Virgin Atlantic only get access to low-level awards, meaning availability can be slim on certain routes).

American Express runs Virgin Atlantic transfer bonuses from time to time, like the recent 35% bonus, so in lieu of any Delta transfer bonuses, this might make sense for booking Delta flights.

On the flip side, if you are booking flights originating outside the US, it still looks like you’ll end up paying large foreign origination or European airport/departure taxes no matter which miles you use.

Do you have plans to take advantage of this new partnership? If so, what are they?

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