Making Sense of the Virgin Airline Frequent Flyer Programs

Reader UAPhil asks,

is it worth considering Virgin Group miles instead of Delta miles? if so, what is the best approach?

Meanwhile just hours earlier, reader Ghina asked,

I am new to the frequent flyer game, and I have one item of confusion that I can’t get past for some reason, some sort of block. It has to do with all the Virgin Airlines. Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Virgin America…

Do they each share one frequent flyer program? Do they each have their own? Are they comparable? Do they all have credit cards that help bolster your account?

Each Virgin airline has their own program (although they cooperate, you can use miles from one to travel on the others). Really, they just share (license) the Virgin name. They aren’t owned by the same company — as you’d expect because nations usually have limits on foreign ownership.

Air New Zealand and Emirates have ownership in Virgin Australia. Delta owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic. And Virgin America just went public.

As for which program to focus on, I’d say that none are among the best frequent flyer programs. However,

  • You aren’t supposed to be able to join Virgin Australia‘s program unless you live in the Asia Pacific region. It’s good for short haul redemptions especially. They do add fuel surcharges onto awards where those are a part of paid tickets. You can transfer Starwood points to Virgin Australia.

  • Virgin America has miles that are ‘deflated’ in that the number of miles for a trip is about half what other progams require, but they’re twice as hard to earn. They have a credit card and you can transfer in American Express points. Their program is ‘revenue-based’ (earn based on the cost of your ticket, redeem for Virgin America travel based on the price of the travel you want) but they have a traditional award chart for travel on their partners.

  • Virgin Atlantic has the least good program of the 3. They have a credit card with big bonuses. And you can transfer points in from Chase and American Express. I have tons of these points and almost never have an opportunity to use them. They require roundtrip travel when redeeming on their partners, and their agents always seem to have challenges making partner bookings (you cannot do it online). Fuel surcharges on Virgin Atlantic’s flights are high, and you can book itineraries originating in the US on Virgin Atlantic without fuel surcharges, but for more miles, when spending Delta SkyMiles.

I wouldn’t choose Virgin Atlantic miles over Delta miles, unless you want to fly predominantly to London and are willing to pay more cash to redeem fewer miles. The other case I’d want Virgin Atlantic miles over Delta miles is if you are based in London and you fly predominantly to the US. You can then take advantage of Virgin Atlantic’s cheaper award chart, and Delta adds fuel surcharges to awards on Europe-originating itineraries anyway.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Emirates don’t own any of Virgin Australia. They’re owned by Etihad, AirNZ, Singapore Airlines and the Virgin Group.

  2. The ownership of Virgin Australia (listed on the Australian Stock Exchange) is:

    Air New Zealand (26%)
    Singapore Airlines (23%)
    Etihad Airways (21%)
    Virgin Group (10%)
    Publicly held (20%)

    Another quirk is Virgin Samoa, 49% owned by Virgin Australia and uses Virgin Australia’s program.

    When you say “I wouldn’t choose [program] over Delta miles…” that speaks volumes about [program[!

  3. No fuel surcharge if you use Virgin Australia miles on Delta. Very good for short haul Delta flights. A flight under 650 miles only needs 6900 miles

  4. Virgin Atlantic only requires 17500 miles and $134 surcharges for an economy ticket from eastern US to London. All 3 US airlines require 30K miles plus $5.60. I would rather pay $128.40 to save 12500 miles. Wouldn’t anyone?

    Redeeming biz class on VA makes less sense though. You need 40K miles but the surcharges are over $400.

  5. I’ve found Virgin Atlantic miles to be the best of the three and not a bad program overall. As others have said, flight US to london are a really good value. Also, I’ve been able to book one way awards with Virgin Atlantic miles on Virgin Australia.

  6. An added benefit of Virgin Australia miles is that you can transfer them to Singapore KrisFlyer miles and vice versa, albeit at a not terribly great rate.

  7. Virgin Atlantic points for redemption on Virgin America have been great for me. I’ve even, on occasion, been able to get an agent to book me outside of their internal chart. For instance I flew SAN -> SFO -> EWR for 12,500 miles one way. That was supposed to ticket as 6,000 miles to SFO and 12,500 miles from SFO -> EWR. It also allowed for a one way ticket.

    Some sweet spots include LAX -> CUN for 20,000 RT.

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