Save big on fees: Why Flying Blue is the new best way to book Virgin Atlantic award tickets
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I love flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class but hate paying those huge fuel surcharges on redemptions.
The joy of getting a great deal on an award ticket quickly fades when I’m stuck with a £900-plus bill for the privilege of booking the round-trip ticket with Virgin Points.
Until recently, Delta SkyMiles was the go-to way to book these awards. The program once offered excellent redemption value on Virgin Atlantic flights but majorly devalued them last year.
These days, you’ll pay as much as 195,000 SkyMiles for a one-way, Virgin Atlantic Upper-Class ticket from the U.K. to the United States when you book at the last minute.
That’s too many miles for my liking, especially when domestic award tickets in the U.S. start at just 4,500 SkyMiles one-way.
So when I needed to book a last-minute ticket from the U.S. to Manchester, England, earlier this month, I set out to find a better deal. Enter Air France-KLM Flying Blue.
Virgin Atlantic is a Flying Blue partner, so you can earn and redeem Flying Blue miles on its flights. Much to my surprise, it’s also the best way to book these award tickets when compared to your other options because of the huge saving on fuel surcharges.
Let’s take a look at this little-known sweet spot for European award travel.
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What is Flying Blue?
Let’s start with a little background on Flying Blue.
Flying Blue is owned by Air France-KLM Group and acts as the loyalty program for both airlines. A handful of other airlines also participate in the program, like Aircalin, Kenya Airways and Transavia, among others.
The majority of these carriers are in SkyTeam, so you can earn and redeem Flying Blue on all carriers in the alliance, plus some of Air France and KLM’s non-alliance partners. This includes Virgin Atlantic, which has a close relationship with its mainland-Europe partners in France and the Netherlands.
The program uses dynamic pricing on many flights, including all Air France and KLM-operated flights. However, it has kept mostly standard prices for many partners like Delta and Virgin Atlantic.
Depending on the flight, this can bring immense value to travellers when compared to booking with the airlines’ own programs. More on that shortly.
Flying Blue miles are easy to earn, too as they are a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards U.K.
Booking Virgin Atlantic award tickets with Flying Blue
As mentioned, Flying Blue keeps standard award pricing for most Virgin Atlantic awards.
For Virgin Atlantic flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to England’s Heathrow International Airport (LHR), you can expect to pay 22,000 miles and £52.60 ($62.60) in economy and 55,000 miles and 56,000 miles and £167.11 ($198.90) in Upper Class, which is Virgin Atlantic’s term for business class.
Prices vary by route, with the carrier’s flight from Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to Manchester Airport (MAN) clocking in at 66,500 Flying Blue miles and £166.19 ($197.80) in taxes and fees in Upper Class or 26,000 miles and £52.26 ($62.20) in taxes and fees in economy.
This is a pretty solid award pricing on its own, but it’s even more amazing when you compare it to the competition.
Let’s start with Virgin Atlantic’s own Flying Club loyalty program. The program employs peak and off-peak pricing, so you’ll pay as little as 10,000 miles for an economy ticket or 47,500 miles for a business-class ticket from the U.S. East Coast to London.
That said, the taxes and fuel surcharges are significantly higher. Think £126.28 ($150.30) in economy and £735.41 ($875.30) in business class for a oneway flight. A round-trip would be closer to £1,000 per person.
Economy can be a good deal, but the taxes and fees are over four times higher than what Flying Blue charges on a business-class ticket.
Meanwhile, Delta SkyMiles has the lowest taxes and fees of the bunch, with economy and business-class tickets clocking in at just £4.71 ($5.60) from JFK to LHR.
When you book more than 60 days out, you’ll pay 35,000 SkyMiles in economy and 120,000 in business class.
At the same time, booking within 30 days will set you back 55,000 SkyMiles in economy and 195,000 in Upper Class.
At our current Delta SkyMiles valuation of 0.8p per mile, you’re spending £1,560 worth of points for an Upper-Class award at the last minute. That’s not great value.
As you can see, Flying Blue offers the best points-to-cash ratio for redeeming most Virgin Atlantic award tickets, especially if you want to fly in Upper Class.
You’ll spend more miles than booking direct with Virgin Atlantic, but you will come out ahead by paying less than one-fourth of the taxes and fees on this award ticket.
It pays to compare your options when booking award tickets. Often, you can book the same flights for varying amounts of miles or taxes and fees across different loyalty programs.
In the case of Virgin Atlantic, using its newest partner, Flying Blue, to book award tickets can save you hundreds of dollars and thousands of points when compared to Flying Club or SkyMiles.
Featured photo by Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
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