I recently booked our first Virgin Atlantic Reward flights and I was keen to see how the experience compared with booking a British Airways reward flight. Fortunately, we have booked to go to Shanghai with our friends Michala and John but they only have AVIOS to redeem. I therefore booked flights with BA for them.
So, how easy is it to book reward flights with both BA and Virgin?
How easy is it to book reward flights?
If you use the BA app, it is relatively easy to find availability for an extended period. However if you use the website it is much more difficult to search availabilty over a longer period. The Virgin Atlantic site was much easier to use in this respect. A big matrix shows availability for the whole month so it was much easier to switch to dates with availability on the Virgin Atlantic site. Also, Virgin Atlantic allows you to search for reward flights without logging in. British Airways will not show you the AVIOS needed for a flight until you log on.
On the British Airways site you have to search individual dates but the app allows a similiar search facility to the Virgin Atlantic website. This post looks at the best way to redeem on British Airways and includes some tips for success.
I hate the fact that Virgin don’t have an household account. For those that don’t know what I mean, this is the facility to combine points from two frequent flyer accounts. For British Airways, my husband and I both have membership reward accounts and our household accounts combines all the points in one place. This means I can book two flights at the same time in one booking process.
Virgin does not allow members to combine their accounts which means that I have to open two browsers to book two Virgin flights. One browser was for my account and the other was for Jason’s account. I was terrified that I would book one reward flight and then try to book the other and find no availability for the second flight. This wouldn’t happen with British Airways as you can quickly see whether there is availability for two.
Virgin had much better availability than British Airways. In this post, I talk about tips for success when booking British Airways reward flights. One of these is to book as far in advance as possible to secure available seats and this proved to be no different when I booked these flights for our friends. There was scant availability with British Airways in Club Class.
Virgin Atlantic however, had availability on virtually every day in the month of September 2020 (Saturdays excepted) from London to Shanghai in Upper Class. I was impressed by how many seats seemed to be available with the latter and how easy they were to find. This has rarely been my experience with British Airways.
Virgin Atlantic charges 115,000 miles for Upper Class reward flights from London to Shanghai. As we do not have tier status with Virgin, the only way we could book Upper Class flights was to use enough rewards to pay for each flight. The Virgin companion ticket doesn’t allow you to book Upper Class tickets unless you have top tier status which I do not. This is one of the reasons I think it is a pretty poor perk of the card.
The British Airways Companion ticket, by contrast, allows you to redeem AVIOS for seats in any cabin as long as you have enough AVIOS. You will need 150,000 AVIOS for Club Class but with a companion ticket this reduces the cost to 75,000 each plus taxes.
So Virgin may be less points per individual but will be more points for two people in this scenario. Obviously if you do not have a BA companion ticket you will need 300,000 AVIOS to book the same flights for two people.
Taxes were the same for both airlines at £1127 in total.
The Virgin cash price for these tickets was £2004.66 each but the redemption price was just £563.66 for taxes and fees per person. This represents a saving of £1441 per person. As we needed 115,000 Flying Miles each, each mile generated 1.25p in value.
The British Airways cash price was £2054.66 compared to just £563.66 in taxes and fees for a reward flight. This saved £1491 per person. As Michala and John had a companion ticket, they only used 75,000 AVIOS each to purchase their flights. This equates to 1.98p value per AVIOS because of the AMEX companion voucher. If you are completely confused by this, read long haul v short haul which gives some pointers to get the most value from each mile.
British Airways has a much greater choice of destinations to visit with your reward flights. Virgin Atlantic sadly offers a very limited choice of destinations, and they are mainly in the USA and Caribbean. They also have a few destinations in South Africa, India, and China. The reason I have never redeemed before is however because the destinations have not appealed to me.
I would encourage those considering flights with Virgin Atlantic to accumulate points using the AMEX Gold card rather than the rubbish Virgin cards (read this article for further details on those cards which I use purely as backup). Once you select the destination you wish to book a reward flight to, you can check whether Virgin Atlantic fly there. If they do, you can transfer your points directly into the Virgin reward programme. If they don’t you can transfer them direct into the British Airways Executive Club.
This is my first experience of booking a Virgin Atlantic reward flight and I may simply have been lucky. However I found the experience much more straight forward than with BA. There was much more availability than with BA and the system is easier to use.
Unless you have tier status, you will need to use more miles for two people on Virgin Atlantic as you will not be able to book Virgin Atlantic Upper Class with a Virgin companion ticket. Obviously if you opt for economy seats you will use less Flying Miles than AVIOS but who wants to fly economy when you can fly Upper Class for less?
Have your say?
I know people who swear by the Virgin scheme so what do you think? Have your say in the comments below.