Virgin Atlantic has long been my favourite airline. I think the service, in any cabin, is second to none, and I find their planes to be more comfortable and spacious than other long haul providers I’ve travelled with, and their prices are always competitive, if not the best option. I fly with them whenever I am travelling to a destination where they fly to and it’s not just because of the reasons I’ve already outlined, it’s because I’m a Virgin Atlantic Flying Club member and that alone is worth it.
I actually find that quite often, combining reward seat tickets, plus cruise only fares, can be a really cost effective way of doing cruises. Obviously if I am flying transatlantic, I would always fly out at least one day early, so you need to factor in the additional costs, such as a hotel stay and transfers, but it really is something to consider and comparing against a cruise and fly package. I did this back in 2015 when I was cruising out of New York, but wanted the flexibility of how many days I wanted to stay on after, and to build my own itinerary (I didn’t need a hotel every night as I was doing an overnight tour to Niagara). I’m also doing it again this year for a budget birthday trip as I found a great cruise only deal, and by using my flying club miles it was half the price of paying the cruise and fly price.
What is the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club?
The Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is basically a frequent flyers type programme, where you earn miles for flights taken and you can use these miles towards other flights – either to pay the fare in full (excluding the fees and taxes) or as part payment, or for upgrades.
Thanks to the flying club, I have flown in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class – something there is no way I will ever be able to do if I was paying for the fare in full, and I don’t even travel that much. The thing with flying club is that there are loads of other ways to earn miles, without actually flying.
Virgin Atlantic Credit Cards
My favourite ways of earning miles is with the Tesco Clubcard Credit Card. I use the card as I would a debit card, and pay it off in full every month. Every pound I spend on it, you earn points, and I have my clubcard account to automatically tick over to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles so I never receive the vouchers for the odd £1 off your shopping that you get with your statement. I never miss those vouchers so in my mind it is free miles. Virgin Atlantic now have their own credit card, however when this was launched my credit rating was pretty poor and so I wasn’t eligible to apply. The principle is the same though, earning miles on every pound you spend. I’m not sure of the current rates for either, so if you are applying for a credit card for this purpose, check the earning miles per pound rate, but when I did compare them a while ago, the Virgin Atlantic Credit Card gave you a slightly better rate.
If you are applying for a credit card, whether for air miles or not, make sure that you are able to pay it off in full every month so as not to accrue fees and late payments. There’s no point earning flying club miles if you are losing money on fees and getting yourself in debt.
Other Reward Schemes
As well as Tesco, other reward schemes where you can convert your rewards to Flying Club miles include the Hilton honours programme, World of Hyatt, Intercontinental Hotels Group and e-Rewards Opinion panel.
Shopping Partners & Shops Away
Using Virgin’s Shopping Partners and Shops Away, is a way of earning extra miles by clicking through to a retailer via the Flying Club website. This works in the same way as cashback sites, meaning your purchase is tracked. They promise over 1,000 retailers are involved, from Apple to Marks & Spencer, so if you are looking to pick up some extra miles, check if your preferred retailer is available.
Miles Booster is a great scheme where you can purchase extra multiples of the miles you have earnt on flights. An example of this is if you would have earnt 6,916 miles for flying London to New York, you can buy an extra 6,916 for only £69.16 or double that (13,832 for £138.32). This works out as cheaper than buying miles as standard, but obviously you need to have flown or be flying with them in order to do this.
You can buy miles (up to 100,000 in any calendar month) and this is really an option designed for getting enough miles for a particular reward if you are close but not quite close enough, and not something to be relied on on a regular basis. It’s £15 per 1,000 miles, plus a one-off £15 transaction fee, so do the sums and work out if it’s worth buying them if you are almost there!
You can also earn miles by joining their golf league, or by booking a Virgin Holiday. Some of the other Virgin brands such as Virgin money and Virgin Red will also earn you miles.
Spending Your Miles
The only reason I do all this is to make my next holiday or vacation that bit more affordable. You can check to see how many miles you have, and how many you need for that next flight by visiting the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club website.
I tend to only use them for flights, and not by doing “Miles plus Money” which gives you a discount on the far by part paying for the fare with miles. I don’t find that discount is worth it, so I tend to save my miles until I can afford the full fare in miles.
You still have to pay the taxes and fees on reward flights, and they do go up from cabin to cabin, so that is worth bearing in mind when working out your budget. The best way to check what it will cost you is to put into the Virgin Atlantic website where you want to travel and when, and it will tell you what it will cost in miles and taxes (and show availability). Here’s an example:
In order to accurately compare the savings, I picked a different flight on that same day, where the Upper Class £671.16 might sound like a lot of money, but I switched the flight back to the payment by money view, and this is how much it would cost if I was paying cash:
As you can see, it is a fraction of the cost!!! I could never justify (or afford) spending the full price on flights, bearing in mind the flights are just the transportation means to a holiday or cruise, but I could justify spending that for a once in a life time opportunity to do Upper Class. That’s what I did in 2016 when I flew to New York the day after my birthday. I only had the miles to do one way Upper Class, and I chose to do it on the traditionally longer outwards flight, partly to get my money’s worth, but partly because I wanted to suss out the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class wing at Heathrow. It was AWESOME! Flying home in Economy was not quite so awesome in comparison, but it was still a great trip. The staff don’t treat you any different because you are there with miles rather than cash, and it really was a phenomenal experience.
I genuinely thought that was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but it’s definitely inspired me to find any and all ways to earn miles, and if I’m clever with my miles, maybe it won’t be a once in a life time chance after all!
Here’s a couple of things it’s worth bearing in mind:
- Reward seat flights are limited on flights, so even if there are seats in your chosen cabin, there may not be reward seats available. Flights typically become available 11 months prior to the flight date, so it’s worth checking it out as soon as you have travel plans, or 11 months before if you have already booked part of your trip.
- If you use your miles for a flight, you cannot upgrade to the next cabin unless there are reward seats available in that cabin as you cannot mix payment methods.
- The only exception to this is if you bid for an upgrade, as this system is separate to the main booking system.
- Remember to budget for taxes and fees.
- If putting together a trip which includes a cruise, fly out at least the day before, just in case you and/or your bags are delayed. Booking separately doesn’t get you the same guarantees that you would get with a packaged trip.