Virgin Atlantic Introduces Minimum Award Space Guarantee, Double Miles Awards For Gold Elites

Virgin Atlantic is launching two positive changes for its Flying Club frequent flyer program. They’re guaranteeing to release a minimum number of award seats when loading a flight into the schedule, and they’re allowing Gold elite members to book any seat they want that’s for sale as an award ticket by spending double miles.

Somewhat counterintuitively the introduction of double miles awards without capacity controls are actually the bigger deal here for the program, I think.

Guaranteed Award Space On Every Flight

Each airline approaches award space differently. Some load award seats at the same time they load their schedule (usually 331 – 355 days in advance of travel) while some are loathe to do that – the last thing they want is to make awards available a year in advance, when they might sell the seats. They’d rather play ‘wait and see’ before committing to make seats available on points.

Fifteen years ago when United devalued their miles they offered a make-good promising award seats on every flight, but the commitment was fairly non-specific about which seats, how many, or when the seats would be released.

British Airways, Virgin’s primary competitor, guarantees a minimum of four business class award seats on every long haul flight when loading the flight into their schedule, and guarantees premium economy and coach also as well as award space on their short haul flights.

Virgin Atlantic now promises to load award space for every flight (they only operate long haul) at the time they load their schedule. This makes sense, since it’s something BA has done for years – as part of a partial make-good on devaluation a decade ago and something BA doubled down on, increasing its space commitment last year.

Virgin’s minimum commitment for each flight when schedules load:

  • 2 business class awards
  • 2 premium economy awards
  • 8 coach awards

Credit: God Save the Points

This new commitment applies to flights starting today – they’re looking at how many awards have been redeemed on every flight where schedules have already loaded, and top off if necessary to reach these numbers. So for July 29th onward we may see a dump of award space into the system for Virgin flights, which can be booked using miles with their partners (like Delta) as well.

Double Points Redemptions For Gold Elites

Gold elites can now spend twice as many miles to redeem an award regardless of class of service. They have to be the one redeeming miles, and they have to be traveling, but they can redeem for companions this way as well. However bookings must be made at least 60 days in advance of travel. This keeps Virgin from selling the last seats on the aircraft for miles. And the benefit is capped at 8 segments per elite year

Members must have Gold elite status to make their bookings, but travel can extend past the period in which their status is valid for. And of course with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, award travel on Virgin counts towards status.

Virgin Atlantic hasn’t offered ‘extra mileage’ awards where members pay more miles to book a ticket when saver redemption space is unavailable. That’s something common in U.S. programs, but more limited with programs outside of the U.S.

And in the U.S. these extra mileage bookings have gotten more expensive for the best tickets. It used to be that you could book saver award space, or you could book any seat on the plane for twice as many miles. That was actually an amazing deal for long haul business class if you were grabbing the last seat available. (Sometimes it was less than double miles – until October 2016 United charged 90,000 miles for roundtrip business class to Australia at the saver level or just 150,000 miles roundtrip for ‘standard’.)

Nearly 10 years ago I wrote about the death of the double miles award. Only American Airlines made it possible to still spend just twice as many miles for last seat availability. Three or four times the miles was more common. I predicted that once US Airways took over things would change at American, too, and they did.

Now booking awards when there’s no saver inventory can be very expensive – 360,000 miles each way, even 500,000 miles depending on the airline and route.

Credit: God Save the Points

So it’s significant that Gold elites – not any member – can book awards when no saver inventory is open by spending twice (and exactly twice) the miles. This is also progress because it is a real, concrete benefit for Virgin Atlantic status holders. (Virgin status doesn’t actually provide very much, at least by North American standards).

Bookings need to be made by phone (or web chat). Double miles redemptions aren’t supported by the Virgin website.

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