Virgin Money recently launched some new airline credit cards which offer cardholders a Virgin Atlantic companion ticket. Considering how poor the old companion voucher was, I was keen to understand how this reward compares to other UK options.
If you are considering these cards, I would also encourage you to read my full review of the Virgin Airline Credit cards. Don’t be deceived into thinking you need to be a frequent business traveller either to earn airmiles. If you aren’t, and still want to travel like an high flying executive, then you need an airline credit card. This post shows you how to earn airmiles with credit cards and earn a companion ticket without ever leaving the ground.
Companion ticket benefits
As you may know, I am a big fan of companion tickets, as these allow me to fly business class for less than economy. As a result, I have saved thousands on business class flights to South Korea, Vancouver, Monaco and Quebec.
Is the Virgin Atlantic companion ticket the best?
So back to the focus of today’s post, is the Virgin Atlantic companion ticket the best? Well, there are only two UK companion tickets that you can earn. The Virgin Atlantic companion ticket and the British Airways companion ticket. You may also hear the latter called the AMEX companion ticket. Let’s take a look at some of the headlines.
Both the Virgin Atlantic companion ticket and the British Airways companion ticket require the same level of spending on credit cards to qualify for the companion ticket. You will need to spend £20,000 on either the Virgin Atlantic Rewards Card or the British Airways Standard Card, or £10,000 on the Virgin Atlantic Rewards + Card or British Airways Premium Plus card. The spending amount is lower for the two latter cards because they both carry an annual fee.
★★★★★ No winner
Which British Airways credit card you opt for determines the validity of your companion ticket. The companion ticket you earn on the British Airways Standard Card, is valid for 12 months only, whilst the companion ticket from the British Airways Premium Plus card has a 2 year validity.
In this respect Virgin wins as the companion ticket is valid for 24 months on both cards.
★★★★★ Virgin wins!
Amends and cancellations
If you wish to change or cancel your Virgin Reward flight, you will receive a full refund of your Flying Miles. You also receive a refund of taxes and fees less a £30 administration fee. With British Airways, any changes or cancellations of reward flights using your companion ticket result in a £35 fee. It is not much of a difference but Virgin wins!
★★★★★ Virgin wins again!
Companion ticket redemptions
Here’s where things get interesting. With a BA companion voucher, you can book reward flights in any cabin irrespective of your Executive Club status. This makes it worthwhile for even non frequent fliers to grab a credit card and start building up AVIOS.
When you use AVIOS to book a flight, you use your companion ticket to book another passenger onto the same flight but pay only the AVIOS for one person. You must pay taxes and fees for both people, which is the same with the new Virgin Atlantic companion ticket.
However, the Virgin Atlantic companion ticket really only rewards frequent fliers, as your status in the Flying Miles club determines what cabin class you can book.
Red tier members can only use companion tickets for economy. Silver can redeem for economy or premium economy and Gold members can redeem for any class. This alone makes this companion ticket incredibly unattractive, as it punishes non frequent fliers. As someone who is not a frequent flyer, I earn most of my airmiles from credit cards. I have no tier status and thus would only be able to book economy class flights.
I have repeatedly found, that other than flying short haul, it does not pay to use miles for economy class reward flights in the UK. Taxes and fees account for most of the fare, and you still have to pay those, so you get little value for your miles.
★★★★★ British Airways epic win!
Cost of redemptions
Of course, if the cost of reward flights is much higher with one airline, you may not need the companion ticket. It may be better value to pay for two flights with airmiles. So, here is a quick comparison of some of the reward flights on some major routes.
|Miles plus taxes and fees cost||Cabin||Virgin Atlantic||British Airways||Best value|
|London to New York||Economy||10,000 plus £797.22||13,000 plus £501.68||Virgin|
|Premium Economy||17500 plus £657.62||26,000 plus £595.78||Virgin|
|Business||47,500 plus £743.62||50,000 plus £744.10||Virgin|
|London to Hong Kong||Economy||12,500 plus £375.82||19,500 plus £434.82||Virgin|
|Premium Economy||22,500 plus £627.82||39,000 plus £627.82||Virgin|
|Business||57,500 plus £730.82||75,000 plus £730.82||Virgin|
|London to Delhi||Economy||10,000 plus £345.82||16,250 plus £408.82||Virgin|
|Business||37,500 plus £690.82||62,500 plus £690.82||Virgin|
|London to Johannesburg||Economy||12,500 plus £375.82||20,250 plus £450.30||Virgin|
|Premium Economy||22,500 plus £627.82||32,500 plus £627.82||Virgin|
|Business||57,500 plus £730.82||62,500 plus £730.82||Virgin|
Fares shown are for off-peak flights but dates differ for off-peak for each airline. The price is the total fare for two adults flying one way using a companion ticket departing London in November 2018.
This is a very subjective point as it all depends on the dates you want to fly and the location. However, one thing that stood out for me was that Virgin seemed to have much better availability than British Airways for November dates.
★★★★★ Virgin wins again!
You consistently need less airmiles with Virgin than British Airways for a reward flight. Not only that but their taxes are sometimes less than those applied by British Airways. If you have tier status with Virgin therefore, then undoubtedly that companion ticket is the best.
★★★★★ Virgin wins again!
However, if you are a non frequent flyer, and earn most of your airmiles from credit cards, the British Airways companion ticket is better. That ticket allows you to fly business class for less than economy irrespective of your tier status. That said, in some scenarios Virgin charge so much less for a reward flight that it might simply be better paying for two flights with your miles rather than using a companion ticket. You could then select your preferred class.
★★★★★ British Airways win!
So there is no definite winner, as it all depends on your tier status!