27,500 Miles to Europe in Premium Economy This Summer and Other Gems on the Virgin Atlantic Chart

I love stretching my miles as much as I can to get me to more places rather than always splurging on luxurious first and business class seats (though treating myself is always fun). A good college friend of mine invited me to spend a few days with her in London this summer, and instead of resorting to my usual (United and AAdvantage miles), I wanted to explore other options.

I found I was asking myself this question – Why spend 30k miles for an economy one way to Europe this summer when you could spend fewer miles to fly in a seat that’s twice as nice?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the basics of earning Ultimate Rewards from all three families of Ultimate Rewards cards. The bottom line is that Ultimate Rewards are among the easiest currencies to earn because of the cards that offer huge sign up bonuses and huge category bonuses. I also love the flexibility of the points since you can transfer 1:1 to many hotel and airline programs on an as-needed basis.

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You can also get 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to your account.
  • The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as some pretty awesome category bonuses.)
  • The Ink Bold is a business charge card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as the same awesome category bonuses.)

To really maximize the value of all those easy Ultimate Rewards, you need to understand the Ultimate Rewards transfer partners. Today I want to highlight Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

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Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to Virgin Atlantic miles. Virgin Atlantic miles are hugely valuable for one way awards from the United States to the United Kingdom in economy and Premium Economy.

Awards start at:

  • 17,500 Virgin Atlantic miles + $131.50 in economy
  • 27,500 Virgin Atlantic miles + $231.50 in Premium Economy

Premium Economy is basically like flying domestic first class on an American airline. It’s not just a few extra inches of leg room like United Economy Plus; it’s a lot more. You get a wider seat, more leg room, a meal, and an amenity kit. Here’s a YouTube video showcasing Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy.

The high value uses of Virgin Atlantic miles are one ways to the United Kingdom in economy and Premium Economy. Best of all, these high value uses are wide open with award space for this summer. A few warnings:

  • Do not use Virgin Atlantic miles for the return trip from Europe to the United States. (Try United miles, another Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, instead.)
  • Do not use Virgin Atlantic miles for Upper Class, what Virgin Atlantic calls business class, redemptions.

Economy Between the United States and United Kingdom

You can check out the Virgin Atlantic award chart here.

Virgin Atlantic charges different miles prices in economy from its different American destinations to the United Kingdom:

  • Boston, New York, Newark, Washington DC, Chicago: 17,500 miles
  • Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco: 21,250 miles

The one way award from those cities to London also costs $131.50 out-of-pocket including taxes and a fuel surcharge. The miles price stays the same if your destination is somewhere else in the United Kingdom like Manchester or Edinburgh, but the out of pocket price goes up a bit.

Award space is plentiful on the routes from the eastern United States to the United Kingdom this summer.

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New York to London searches bring up results from JFK and Newark. There is tons of space on both routes in economy this summer.

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Space from the west coast is harder to come by, but it does exist for 21,250 miles + $131.50 one way.

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Choosing a United Kingdom destination other than London does not increase the miles price, but does increase the cash component modestly.

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Premium Economy Between the United States and United Kingdom

Virgin Atlantic charges different miles prices in Premium Economy from its different American destinations to the United Kingdom:

  • Boston, New York, Newark, Washington DC: 27,500 miles
  • Chicago: 30,000 miles
  • Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco: 35,000 miles

The one way award from those cities to London also costs $231.50 out-of-pocket including taxes and a fuel surcharge. Like stated above, the miles price stays the same if your destination is somewhere else in the United Kingdom like Manchester or Edinburgh, but the out of pocket price goes up a bit.

Award space is plentiful on the routes from the eastern United States to the United Kingdom this summer.

Some days from New York and Newark have award space on six flights!

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Chicago also has good space and for only 30k miles one way.

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Award space is worse from the west coast, but it does exist for 35,000 miles one way.

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Why These Are Good Deals

Most of us will get our Virgin Atlantic miles from transfers of Ultimate Rewards. Let’s compare whether transferring to Virgin Atlantic and booking Virgin Atlantic economy and Premium Economy is a better idea than transferring to United to book United economy.

United charges 30k miles + $2.50 one way from Chicago (or anywhere else in the United States) to London.

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 8.27.32 AM I’d rather pay 17,500 miles + $131.50 to fly Virgin Atlantic. Beyond the service probably being better, you save 12,500 miles for only $129 extra or about one cent per mile saved. I value Ultimate Rewards at about 2 cents each, so I am happy to pay 1 cent each to save them.

You can also fly Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy from Chicago to London for 30k miles + $231.50. That’s the same number of miles but $229 more than United economy. This is an individual decision, but would you pay $229 to upgrade United economy to Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy for eight hours? I definitely would.

Awards to Avoid with Virgin Atlantic Miles

As I said earlier, don’t book your return from the United Kingdom with Virgin Atlantic miles. You’ll pay fuel surcharges and the UK’s huge departure taxes. One way from London to New York in economy costs 184 Pounds out-of-pocket, which is about $300. The charges are even higher out of London in Premium Economy and Upper Class.

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I also think Upper Class is a bad deal with Virgin Atlantic miles. The miles price is cheap at 40k to 50k miles from the US to UK, but you have to pay $416.50 out of pocket.

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How to Get Back from the United Kingdom

I don’t recommend returning from the United Kingdom at all. It’s far cheaper to return from continental Europe where departure taxes are a lot lower. Pair London with Spain for instance, and you’ll save over $100 by flying home from Spain instead of London.

Wherever you return from, the best economy award space is with United miles for 30k miles one way. You can also check American Airlines and its partners for 30k mile one way returns.

Getting the Virgin Atlantic and United Miles

As I said earlier, most of us will actually end up getting Virgin Atlantic miles from 1:1 Ultimate Rewards transfers. Just a recap, some of the best ways to get Ultimate Rewards points are with the CSP and Ink Bold/Ink Plus cards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, and The Ink Plus and The Ink Bold each offer 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

I’m excited that I am planning my first trip to London this summer, and I am also equally excited to be flying Virgin Atlantic for the first time. For those who have been to London (which I am sure a lot of readers have been), please feel free to share some tips. Also, I’d love to hear about your Virgin Atlantic flying experiences as well!

angelinasignature

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Comments

  1. Arlinton Traveler says

    Another good use of miles is to pay for a premium economy ticket and then use Virgin Atlantic miles to upgrade. Upgrade inventory is not good of course during the summer, but quite available outside of the summer peak.

  2. Paul says

    Curious why no mention of Amex MR transfers? Especially good when Amex has transfer bonuses running (last one was 30%).

    Could it be you lost your Amex affiliate links perchance?

  3. says

    @Arlinton Traveler: Great idea. That might be helpful when Virgin Atlantic has a fare sale. Do you know if you have to pay additional taxes when using miles to upgrade on a paid ticket?

    @Paul: Amex currently has a 30% transfer bonus to Virgin America, not Virgin Atlantic. As far as affiliate links, AmEx has withdrawn from affiliate programs from what I understand. Thanks for your concern about my links.

  4. Arlington Traveler says

    @ Angelina, you will pay the applicable difference in taxes, BUT upgrades are very reasonable:

    http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/en/us/frequentflyer/spendmiles/upgrade_table.jsp

    As you can see it cost no more than 12,500 miles (only 10K from the Northeast) to upgrade from Premium Economy to Upper Class one way, even from the West Coast. If you consider the taxes are a given whether on a revenue or award ticket, and look at the difference in price, it’s a great value in terms of cents per mile that you receive, especially if there isn’t a big sale on business class going on.

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