The Second Worst Miles Just Became Even Worse

I tend to think that Spirit Airlines has the worse miles.

  • Spirit’s miles expire after 90 days of inactivity unless you have their co-branded credit card and charge to it every month (although presumably charging somewhat less frequently can meet the 90 day requirement).
  • Some airlines have close-in redemption fees. Spirit’s fees start within 180 days of travel.
  • They do not have redemption partners. The reward for traveling on Spirit is… more travel on Spirit.

Although – at least – you can redeem miles for magazines.

I think of Virgin Atlantic as having the second-worst miles.

We can debate this, of course. Icelandair miles, post-elimination of their Alaska Airlines partnership, are pretty useless (but not completely useless). And there are few programs I dislike dealing with more than Aeromexico’s.

But among mainstream programs that US frequent flyers often have mileage balances with, and transfer miles to, Virgin Atlantic is pretty bad.

They add fuel surcharges to award tickets, and now that Delta is 49% owner of the airline and you can use Delta miles for Virgin Atlantic redemptions in many cases Delta miles are better for Virgin Atlantic travel departing the US than Virgin’s own miles are. (Virgin did reduce fuel surcharges on economy awards.)

You cannot mix and match partners on a single award. In general partner awards cannot even be claimed for one-way travel.

Here are the 8 Best Uses of Virgin Atlantic miles, so that we can at least get something out of them! I have a pretty good six figure balance in my Virgin Atlantic account.. largely because there never seems a good time to use them.

So what have they gone and done?

Head for Points reports that they’ve changed their cancel and redeposit policy without notice and without informing members.

Cancellations within 7 days of travel forfeit all miles, and they even charge you a fee to get your taxes and fees back. You lose your miles and you pay them.

This isn’t entirely surprising to me, Delta won’t let you cancel or change within 3 days of travel (although exceptions can be made). Still, 7 days is pretty draconian. Emergencies happen, and as Head for Points notes it means that you can’t cancel an economy award you’ve booked if business opens up close to departure.

Frequent flyer programs were originally meant as a thank you, a way to reward loyalty, and so award tickets extended every courtesy. They didn’t just mirror the travel policies of paid tickets, they exceeded them in generosity because they were meant to treat customers well in response to the loyalty that the customers showed through the earning of the points. Save up points over time, and there would be great treatment on the other side. A paid ticket is transactional, pay cash and get travel right away. Miles involve time and trust.

Virgin Atlantic, it seems, doesn’t see it that way.

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, 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. Can you redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for all domestic Virgin Australia flights? They list some city pairs on their website but the one I want (SYD-AYQ) isn’t listed

  2. Spirit isn’t great but the miles are easy to get. The fees seem to eat up the award value. If you join their survey site you can keep your miles alive that way but you’ll need the credit card anyway foe the better award chart. Virgin is of little value to me as I’m based in Kansas City but spirit has some decent flights from here.

  3. Spirit’s miles are more frustrating to me since every year I end up with a balances that invariably expires before I need it again. I only fly Spirit in the summer since I prefer Spirit’s direct flight to ACY instead of paying five times as much to route through Chicago on United. People always say I am crazy to fly Spirit but I dont see how flying to Chicago on United then taking a regional jet from there to ACY is worse then an hour flight on Spirit in one of their big seats up front.

  4. ” they were meant to treat customers well in response to the loyalty that the customers showed through the earning of the points ”

    Methinks you may want to have your cake and eat it too? 😉

    The model you cite was based upon buy the ticket, take the ride (HT: Hunter S. Thompson). Loyalty came from the exchange of cold hard cash and time spent butt-in-seat.

    Today’s model is (see elsewhere in this very blog, posted on this very day): sign up for every damned piece of plastic you can, get the miles/points FAST, and then go to the Maldives next month.

    The loyalty shown today isn’t to XYZ Air, it’s to the co-branded credit card issuer whose little piece of plastic rewards them, not for loyalty but for having decent credit.

    It seems to me that you are being disingenuous to lament the “good old days” where ” Miles involve time and trust” — those days and that model are LONG gone. And you of all people know it…

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