virgin atlantic

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.

How I booked a £3000+ flight for £1427

Last week I started planning our annual summer pilgrimage to California. This year we have to factor in school holidays for the first time as my eldest son is now in nursery school. So I started to have a play around with some dates on Virgin Atlantic's website...and quickly realised, this wasn't going to be cheap.

We're a family of four now and because Luke is 3 he has to have his own seat, and while he doesn't pay the full adult fare, it's pretty close (about 75% of an adult fare). Playing around with the dates, the cheapest I could find for anywhere in the July/August timeframe was £3024.10

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Ouch. I don't care who you are, that's a lot of money. And that was with us going for over a month, on the cheapest possible dates, which meant pulling Luke out of school early. If we'd left a day earlier it would have been nearly £3700, that's how tight everything was looking.

So I activated "travel nerd mode" and started to poke around. Was LAX cheaper? Nope almost exactly the same, even with 2 flights a day. Even if Deanne and Jack went early and Luke and I came when he finished school, we were still only saving about £100. After a few hours of checking alternate cities, alternate dates, and other city combinations, I was beginning to think we might have to postpone our trip.

But not one to admit defeat, I started to explore alternatives.

Now I've never been a big believer in using miles for flights - they're usually much more effective for upgrades. But I figured this might be the rare case where I can use them to pay for a flight. After a few minutes, that idea was torpedoed too. There wasn't a mileage seat to San Francisco until October! LA was no better. Dammit.

The remaining ace I had up my sleeve was my companion ticket. For re-qualifying at Virgin Atlantic's Gold level status, you get a free companion ticket. It ain't as grand as it sounds, the restrictions on fare class and availability make it pretty hard to use. I figured at this point I should give the (usually excellent) Virgin Atlantic customer service card a call. I explained my predicament and I could immediately tell the lady on the other end was up for a challenge - we dove straight in...

As I thought, there was no availability for companion seats to SFO or LAX so that was a bust. But, she said, what about Las Vegas? The Bay Area is a piece of cake to get to from Vegas and it would be a fun place to decompress and get over jetlag for a few days. A quick look at the cash fare revealed the same depressing fare though, around three grand for the four of us.

But then we started look at companion tickets. Ah ha! Availability! I'd need to buy a slightly more expensive ticket (an M class ticket for those keeping score) but  that might  be ok if the taxes and fees on the companion ticket weren't too awful. Here's how it was shaping up:

- £1162 for my M Class fare - £213 in taxes and fees for the companion ticket (Deanne) - £150 for Jack's infant ticket - £863 for Luke's child ticket = £2388

Ok, progress! Over £600 off the total airfare cost. But, as my learned friend on the other end of the phone pointed out, I had a stash of miles in my account. Should she run the numbers on a miles seat for Luke instead of cash? Sure, why not! So now we get to:

- £1162 for my M Class fare - £213 in taxes and fees for the companion ticket (Deanne) - £213 in taxes and fees for Luke's miles seat - £150 for Jack's infant seat = £1738

Boom. Now we're down over £1300 off the cash price. Just as I was about to hand over my credit card details, the voice on the end of the phone (after we'd been talking for over an hour) said "Hmmm...hold on....let me try something....what if the two adults are on mileage seats? You have enough miles if you transfer them over from your wife's account." By God, she'd done it:

- £213 in taxes and fees for my mileage seat - £213 in taxes and fees for Deanne's mileage seat - £863 for Luke's child ticket - £138 for Jack's infant seat = £1427

£1427. Down from a cash price of £3024. A saving of £1597. Same flight, same airplane, same service. And the best part is I still have a companion ticket left to use later in the year. Now because I used miles, I won't earn miles for this flight, or tier points towards re-upping my Gold card. But given the savings and the circumstances, I think it was well worth it.

The lady at Virgin had to jump through all kinds of technical hoops to get the reservation system to allow this ticket to be issued because of the child/infant dependencies, the miles coming from multiple accounts, etc. It was quite an extraordinary display of dedication and exemplified why I continue to fly Virgin Atlantic.

A few things are worth pointing out:

- redeeming miles on popular routes during quiet times is hard enough, and during peak season it's nearly impossible. So... - look around for alternate cities, alternate routes (into your intended destination, out of an alternate city or vice versa), alternate dates. - redeeming miles when the fare is already pretty reasonable is stupid. Pay the cash, earn the miles and tier points. Don't piss your miles away unless there are substantial cash savings. - further to that, in many cases it's worth paying a little MORE for your economy ticket so you're in an upgradeable fare class (that ultra-cheap fare you found won't be upgradeable.) I'll write a post about how to do that soon. - it pays to call the reservation line sometimes as they can see mileage and companion/reward seat availability better than you can.

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.