How to upgrade on Virgin Atlantic


After my last post ("How I booked a £3000+ flight for £1427") I got a lot of people asking me about upgrades and miles on Virgin Atlantic so I thought I'd post a little How To on using miles for upgrades on Virgin Atlantic.

The first thing to know is that only certain types of tickets can be upgraded. It's not as simple as Economy, Premium Economy and Upper. Each cabin has multiple fares and each of those fares have their own uses and restrictions. Currently on Virgin Atlantic there are 13 economy class fares. Yes, 13.

If you've already booked your flight....

If you've booked your flight already, we need to see if the ticket you have is upgradeable with miles. (If you haven't booked yet, skip to this part.) The general rule is if you got a super cheap fare, it ain't gonna be upgradeable.  But the first step is figuring out what fare class you're booked in. The easiest way is to look at the e-ticket that Virgin Atlantic emails you right after you book. In that email, you can find your fare class:

Virgin Atlantic Fare Class

Ok so how can you tell if your fare is upgradeable? The folks over at V-Flyer have a really handy page that details all the Virgin Atlantic fare codes but for the sake of ease, the following fare codes are upgradeable with miles: Y, B, R, L, & M. So that means the following fare codes are NOT upgradeable with miles: U, E, Q, V, X, N, O, & T.

So you've found your booking class and it's upgradeable. Sweet! Now what? Well now we have to check if there are mileage seats available for you to upgrade into. In other words, are there seats in Premium Economy or Upper Class that have been released or allocated for upgrades. Fortunately, you can check this pretty easily on Virgin Atlantic's website. Just search for a flight as you normally would BUT specify the class you want to upgrade TO, and make sure you select "Spend your miles" in the final section:

Check Virgin Upgrade Availability

When you click "find my flight" you'll be prompted to login to your Flying Club account so make sure you do that. On the next page one of three things will happen:

- you'll get a message saying there is no availability anywhere near your requested date. If you get this message, don't despair. Keep checking back right up until the day before you're due to leave as they often release seats closer to departure. - you'll get a calendar of alternative dates because the specific date you requested is not available for upgrades. Poke around and see what you can find. - you'll get all the info you need to book a flight with miles, which means there is availability to upgrade. Score! N.B. Don't continue the process from here! We're not booking a flight, just checking the availability.

So if you land on the magical third option you need to act fast. Call Virgin Atlantic's reservation number (UK 0844 209 7777  / US +1 800 862 8621) armed with your confirmation code. Tell the friendly reservation agent that you want to upgrade and that you've already checked for availability. They'll be able to take you through the process of upgrading. N.B. You will need to pay the difference in taxes between your original fare and your new plush and fancy fare. But don't worry, it's never a huge amount and absolutely worth it.

If you haven't booked your flight yet...

If you haven't yet booked your flight you're in a good position because you can search for upgradeable fares before you book. Virgin Atlantic quietly rolled out a feature on their site that allows you to search by specific fare bucket which is EXTREMELY useful. If you go to the Companion Flight page you'll see a booking widget towards the end of the page:

Virgin Atlantic Companion FlightsUsing this widget, you can search for specific fare classes and they've already done the heavy lifting by only including fares that are eligible for upgrade. So go ahead and search for the flights you want, starting with M class and working your way up until you find a seat. Remember, as you go up from M all the way to Y, it will get more and more expensive.

Once you find a flight you're happy with in fare class that's upgradeable, WAIT! Go back and check that there are seats for you to upgrade into using the method I describe earlier in the article. If there are seats available then get on the phone to Virgin quickly and seal that upgrade!

This is the process I've gone through to secure a ton of mileage upgrades. Got questions? Let me know either via twitter (@cubedweller) or in the comments below.

My year in cities 2013

As I stepped off my final flight of the year, I have no problem admitting I was a little emotional. Not because the year's travel was coming to an end but because I was reminded that just a few years ago I was so scared of flying that the very idea of getting on a plane was enough to make me feel nauseous. Overcoming my fear of flying remains one of my biggest personal achievements. I'm proud of myself, quite frankly.

An ode to London City Airport

At this point, the pilot gets the plane in the "dirtiest" configuration possible, i.e. the airplane is fully configured for landing at the slowest possible speed; flaps fully extended, speed brakes deployed, gear down. By now, the plane is on dat glideslope and dropping agressively. The speed brakes disrupt the lift over the wing creating turbulent air and the aircraft begins to shake, as though it's really struggling to stay in the air.

Wooden mockup of a single deck 747


This mockup was made to show the difference between a single-deck and double-deck version of the new Boeing plane that eventually became the 747. It's purpose was to convince former PanAm chairman Juan Trippe that he didn't need a double-deck airplane and that a new category of single-deck plane, which came to be known as the "jumbo jet", would scratch his "ocean liner style" itch.

To give an idea of what the single deck cabin and the double deck cabin would look like, two lumber and plywood mock-ups were built (see picture above for the single deck mock-up). PanAm chairman & his team flew down west to evaluate the options. “Would PanAm agree for the single deck?” It was a tense moment for Joe. After reviewing the mock-ups Trippe told Joe, “You made the right decision”.

United Airlines' Men-Only Flights

  In the 1950s United Airlines had "men-only" flights between New York and Chicago. Manly cities, you see. The flights had everything the 1950s man could want; steak dinners, closing stock market numbers as you board, a pipe and slippers, and a card table in the dedicated in-flight lounge.

I remember seeing this ad in the wonderful San Francisco Airport museum and wondering how long the service lasted and what prompted its demise. God help an airline if they tried to implement something like this today.

Transatlantic flights are going to get a lot bumpier

For someone who crosses the Atlantic several times a year, I thought this was interesting. As they noted in the article, the winds across the Atlantic are already stronger and now areas of turbulence will be stronger and more widespread. Indeed on several eastbound transatlantic flights I've taken recently, the NYC-LON flight time was less than westbound transcontinental US flights (e.g. NYC - SFO). In other words, because of stronger winds, I could go from NYC to London faster than I could go from NYC to San Francisco.

Modelling suggested the average strength of transatlantic turbulence could increase by between 10% and 40%, and the amount of airspace likely to contain significant turbulence by between 40% and 170%, where the most likely outcome is around 100%. In other words, a doubling of the amount of airspace affected.

"The probability of moderate or greater turbulence increases by 10.8%," said Dr Williams.

"'Moderate or greater turbulence' has a specific definition in aviation. It is turbulence that is strong enough to bounce the aircraft around with an acceleration of five metres per second squared, which is half of a g-force. For that, the seatbelt sign would certainly be on; it would be difficult to walk; drinks would get knocked over; you'd feel strain against your seatbelt."

Besides passenger comfort, there's also a business consideration here:

"It's certainly plausible that if flights get diverted more to fly around turbulence rather than through it then the amount of fuel that needs to be burnt will increase," he told BBC News.

"Fuel costs money, which airlines have to pay, and ultimately it could of course be passengers buying their tickets who see the prices go up."

Pilots never knowingly fly into or stay in areas of sustained moderate (or greater) turbulence, not because it's dangerous but because it's not fun for the passengers or the cabin crew. So if they have to go further and further north or south to avoid it, then they burn more fuel. And those increased costs will inevitably get passed onto the flying public.

via BBC News - Transatlantic flights 'to get more turbulent'.

Virgin Atlantic launching a UK domestic airline

Virgin Atlantic to launch regional carrier | ATWOnline Virgin Atlantic are launching a new UK domestic carrier at the end of this month. They announced the service last year but have finally released details about the new subsidiary. It will carry the Virgin Atlantic titles and livery but will be referred to as Little Red. Of course the airline nerds are up in arms about this but a) it's sub brand that will get little usage and b) what the hell do they know? They could have called it Uncle Richard's Fantabulous Flying Machines for all I care.

Managed properly, this could be a shot in the arm for an airline that has struggled recently. It's being squeezed from all angles from Middle Eastern Carriers, budget carriers, and stronger alliances. Indeed this airline was borne out of remedy slots granted to Virgin Atlantic after BA gobbled up BMI, something which Uncle Richard should have done when he had the opportunity, in my opinion.

The new carrier, which will use four Airbus A320s leased from Aer Lingus, will offer 26 daily flights between London Heathrow and Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Virgin Atlantic is taking over the routes as remedy slots that British Airways was forced to cede to maintain competition on UK domestic sectors after its parent company International Airlines Group took over bmi.

Virgin Atlantic to launch regional carrier | ATWOnline.

US Airways and American Airlines Merge to form the world's worst airline.

So American Airlines and US airways have finally tied the knot. This has been coming for a number of months now and is a sad final chapter in the otherwise illustrious history of American Airlines. They've suffered from at least a decade of atrocious management and union bullying that has turned them from one of the global elite airlines into frankly a bit of a joke. Recent high-profile horror stories of flights delayed by days (not hours), seats detaching in mid flight, and disastrous union negotiations have made a bad situation for American even worse. Even a mediocre rebranding effort couldn't take the focus away from a Legacy airline that was drowning in its own mediocrity. But what about plucky US Airways? Remember, US Airways is in fact America West, the latter acquiring the former several years ago. US airways (and former America West) CEO Doug Parker seems to have a knack for pushing these massive merger deals through on a seemingly regular basis. I can't understate how extraordinary it is that America West gobbled up US Airways and now American Airlines, one of the most storied brands in travel history. I never been a fan of US Airways but they've managed to make this recent merger work and I think the spirit of America West still trickles into the product from time to time.

What remains to be seen is if Parker has the wherewithal to steer American Airlines out of its current dilemma or whether he just took a massive gulp from a very poisoned chalice – only time will tell.

Consumer won't see any change for very long time. These types of acquisitions have to go through all types of regulatory redtape before they can even begin to consider how to integrate products, frequent flyer programs, fleets, etc. But I can tell you know that I would rather slam my fingers and adore over and over again that be the project manager on that little endeavor.


American Airlines' parent company filed for bankruptcy protection more than a year ago.

With a history stretching back 80 years, five years' ago, American had grown to be the world's biggest airline.

It was a pioneer of the loyalty programme for frequent fliers and also brought in the system of sliding prices according to demand.

But deep losses pushed the company into bankruptcy, with the company blaming labour costs and the unions blaming poor management.

US Airways, by contrast, has been profitable in recent years.

The two companies have been in discussions since last August when they signed an agreement to exchange confidential information.

The carrier will be run under the American Airlines brand, but the chief executive is expected to be the current US Airways boss, Doug Parker.

Not including affiliates, it will have around 900 aircraft and run more than 3,000 flights, employing 100,000 people.

via BBC News - American Airlines and US Airways poised 'to merge'.

Google is building an $82 Million dollar private hangar at San Jose Airport

The Google boys love their planes so I guess this makes sense. They currently have a hangar at Moffett Field and there was talk of redeveloping the old "Hangar One" but this probably means those plans have died on the vine.

According to a San Jose Mercury News story, Google's top three executives have at least eight jets, including a twin-aisle Boeing 767 passenger jet that is commonly used by airlines for transcontinental flights.

via San Jose airport lobbies for $82-million hangar for Google jets -

Like a Virgin

Monday was my last official day at Shaklee. It was also one of the hardest days of my entire life. During my almost two years at Shaklee I worked with some of the best, brighest and friendliest people that I have ever met. I had a chance to work with some of the best of the best in the industry and beyond. I was mentored by people that were the best in their field, and I worked for a CEO who I daresay could be called a visionary.logo_shakleenet_white.gif On Monday I start the next chapter in my career as Head of Interactive Marketing at Virgin America. VA is the new domestic airline based at SFO. It's totally separate from all of the other Virgin companies, including Virgin Atlantic. I will be in charge of everything to do with the web, including the website itself, email, online marketing etc. It's going to be a unique challenge, as it's a startup - they don't yet have their DoT approval - but it's also the chance to work at one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Of course it's also the opportunity to return to the airline industry, my true passion. logo_v_america.jpg So the last few weeks have been very emotional, with a great deal of internal debate on my part. In fact, my recent solo trip to Tahoe was purely to get away from any outside influences and just spend some time going over the pros and cons, and come to a final conclusion. At the end of my time in Tahoe, I had reached a conclusion. I just couldn't turn down the Virgin America opportunity. I handed in my two weeks the next day.
The next two weeks was a maelstrom of blood, sweat and tears. Convention week was upon us, the busiest week of the Shaklee year, so everybody was distracted. My plan was to slip out quietly during the chaos of convention, but that was not to be. Word spread quickly and I had many people asking me "Is it true?" and trying to talk me out of it. All through convention I had people pulling me aside saying "what's it going to take to keep you here?" - which was a hard question to answer because I wasn't leaving Shaklee because I was unhappy. I love Shaklee but this was just an offer I couldn't refuse, it was a simple as that. If it had been any other company in any other industry, I would have turned down the offer there and then. But this was different. On the penultimate day of convention, the wonderful Noelle, without whom my life at Shaklee would have been very difficult, organized a farewell party at a bar down the street. I was expecting a handful of people to show, but I was overwhelmed when I saw just how many people turned up! It was a truly amazing night (about which I remember very little.)
It was a great, great evening and I think it's safe to say that everyone had a great time. If the state of everyone the next morning is an indicator, it was a solid night all round. It was obviously a night of mixed emotions as well. I really got to know some people who I had never really spent much time with during my time at Shaklee. It's sad that it took an event like this to discover how great a person they were. But, that leads nicely to my next point. How did I rationalize my departure from Shaklee? I have never been so emotionally invested in a company in my entire life. There was something about Shaklee that just clicked with me. The mission, the heritage, the family connection. I mean, how many companies take over an entire Major League ballpark for the night to celebrate their 50th anniversary - or have Earth, Wind and Fire play a private gig at their convention. It could have been any one of those, or a combination thereof. But what it really boiled down to was the people - and my decision to leave Shaklee was based on my ability to distill the Shaklee People and the rest of Shaklee. After much thought, I was able to come to the conclusion that my friends at Shaklee would always be my friends, regardless of where they worked. On top of that, it was the need to take the plunge into something different. It's very easy to stay in one's comfort zone and I could have happily accepted the counteroffers and resumed my life at Shaklee, with the friends I loved and the work I knew. However this time, I needed to take a risk. I wanted the excitment and anticipation of a startup. I've worked at well established corporations my entire career - incredibly Shaklee, at 50 years old, is the YOUNGEST company I've worked for. At Virgin America, I'm getting in on the ground floor. But ultimately, it was this quote that helped me make my decision: "Because we do not know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you cannot conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless." At the end of the day, it was time to seize the day.

Home Again

england.jpgBack in the U.S. I really should have updated my blog while I was over in England but I was on vacation and really didn't want to. As ever, it was a hectic trip. All our trips to England seem to be non-stop but this time it was "good busy." I saw some family members I hadn't seen in years, ate some food I really missed, and was reminded how anti-american the british media is (I'll do a separate post on that later.) But the trip was one of the best I've had for many reasons. My parents recently moved back to England after a 31 year absence. It was strange to see them in their "natural environment." They seem to have settled back into UK life remarkably well considering how long they've been living the expat life. There was the occasional hiccup, like my mother's battle with the vacuum cleaner, but other than that it seems to be going well. It was nice to be able to stay with them and base ourselves from their house in Slinfold. Mike and Mindy's reception in Sunderland was fantastic. "Northerners" are famously warm and generous people and Mike's family are the epitomy of that notion. I was able to meet people who I had heard so much about yet never met. There were several occassions when I was introduced to someone and they would say "Ahhhhhhhhhhh I remember you when you were about 6!" or "Ahh yes, Alex, Mike's partner in crime!" It was a fun few days up in Sunderland, I left with very fond memories. As always, it was wonderful to go back to Burnt House and see my grandmother. It's always been a second home to me and it never changes, no matter how long I'm away for. My grandmother, as ever, was in wonderful spirits. We ate like Kings while we were there...except for Deanne who could only eat things that were either liquid or very flat. (See her entry for details.) I think the most surreal aspect of the trip was seeing my (ex-girl)friend Sarah. Deanne and I had lunch with her and her boyfriend. I hadn't seen her in four years and even though we have been in touch via email, it was still strange seeing her. We had a small family reunion at a Wood Fair (yeah I know, don't ask.) 11 members of my family were there, which is the most I've seen together in a very long time. All we were missing were my Aunt, two cousins and of course my brother and we would have had the whole family there. With all three of my grandmother's children now living in the same country, a first, it seems likely that a full on family reunion might be in the works. I also was able to see my Grandfather and Uncle from Somerset. We met them at the VERY grand Royal Air Force Club in London. It was great to see them, and even better to hear that my uncle might be paying us a visit in California in the future. I'm leaving out a bunch of details about our trip because they need their own posts but suffice to say the trip was a much needed respite from daily life. I took a ton of photos which are all up on the site. Stay tuned for more updates....

The fine art of focussing

jal.jpgA couple of weeks ago during a spell of nice weather here in the Bay Area I wanted to head out to San Francisco airport to take some photos. Well one thing lead to another and I ended up not having time. So when I had to take Deanne to work yesterday I decided that since it was such a nice day, I would carry on over the San Mateo bridge and head out to SFO. I took about 70 shots out there, only a handful of which are any good. I really need to take some digital photography lessons! There were a bunch of folks out there taking shots with amazing digital SLR cameras. There were all saying it's almost impossible to take bad photos with them. I'm happy with my camera, I think it's mainly "operator error" that causes most of my lousy photos. The one thing that really spoiled a bunch of photos was the heat coming off the engines and off the tarmac. Not sure how one avoids that. Anyway, take a look in the gallery and let me know what you think.

My new favorite view

Whilst Deanne was in Georgia during a recent business trip, one the events she attended took place in an aviation museum. One of the permanent displays was a gallery of aviation art by Keith Ferris, a renowned aviation artist whose work includes a 25 foot high, by 75 foot wide B-17 mural in the National Air and Space Museum.His primary focus is military aircraft but his subjects occassionally include commercial aircraft. When Deanne saw the picture above entitled "21st Century Transports" she knew it is a piece I would have absolutely adored. Unlike most aviation enthusiasts, I enjoy commercial aviation more than military aviation. When she returned from her trip she told me about the painting and how much she thought I would like it. Then about a week later a package arrived in the mail. In it was a limited edition print of the very painting she had talked so much about. It was stunning. I absolutely love it and I had it immediately framed and put up in pride of place in our living room. The picture above doesn't do it justice, you really need to see it in person.

Engine Fire! Abort, Retry or Fail?

Tell me this isn't a bad idea. If you look in the left hand side of the pic below you can see a 7" monitor that has been jerry (or jury, they're both correct) rigged into the flight deck of this pristine 777-300ER. The ER is the latest and greatest 777, having only completed testing in February. Now why in the hell would you uncermoniously strap two monitors into the flight deck, running Windows 2000, no less! I love how the cables are taped and zip tied into place.Now this is a Boeing prototype, not an aircraft owned by an airline so there must have been a good reason for it...but what? Monitoring aspects of the aircrafts performance can all be done much faster and more efficiently by the 777's EFIS computers. I was curious as hell so I did some rooting around and found this excerpt from a Boeing press release "(test pilots) Santoni and Cashman tested some of the airplane's systems and structures, as on-board equipment recorded and transmitted data to a flight-test team at Boeing Field. That data, and the crew's comments, will be analyzed in the near future." So maybe they were using the windows boxes to send data back to the ground. But Windows? The last picture shows the back of the 777 loaded with test equipment....look at it all! I really don't think they need a couple of Windows boxes to "get the job done." I'm still looking into it. Your thoughts? Click on pics to get larger version