As I’ve written before, next May we are planning to take a cruise to Alaska. The whole clan except my brother-in-law and his wife were on board. The reason? Well, they can’t afford it. He works in a low-paying government job and she is too sick to work, period. Also, we just came back from Europe trip and I honestly thought they would never want to vacation with us again. Wrong! He told his sister how much he would have liked to join us. So, she decided to pay for them to come and told me about the plan. My sister-in-law is an extremely generous person, almost to a fault.
She already found the flights at the price of $760 for both. The schedule was terrible, but at least, it would get them to Seattle. Of course, the cruise would be in an inside (cheapest) cabin. My brother-in-law has reluctantly agreed to accept the gift. When asked if he would mind bad flights schedule, he said he’ll take anything. That reminds me of a movie starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. When they spotted two women they wanted to ask on a date, Owen Wilson’s character says: “Do you want the blonde or brunette? Because I’ll take anything!”
I couldn’t help with the cruise cost, but I had the miles. As you’ve probably guessed, I offered to take care of the flights. But which miles to use? First, I checked AAdvantage. There were 2 saver economy seats available at the cost of 25K miles roundtrip per person. The flight times were terrible, but hey, my brother-in-law doesn’t have kids. They will survive. What I really like about AAdvantage is that you can put award tickets on hold for 5 days, even if you don’t have enough miles in your account. You just select “Hold” option, no credit card required.
Last time, it took only 2 days for my SPG transfer to go through, so this is an excellent option if you are short a few thousand miles. Just a reminder: Through August 7th, you can get a 20% bonus on SPG transfer to AAdvantage. So, if you transfer 20K SPG points, you will end up with 30K AA miles.
OK, the AA flights were put on hold. But I wanted to try something else. I had 53K Virgin Atlantic miles that were just sitting there and doing nothing. You hear all the time how this currency is worthless due to fuel surcharges. That isn’t the case, as there are some good uses, and Delta is one them. I just had to find saver (lowest level) awards because they would be the only kind bookable through Virgin Atlantic. Well, there were 2 economy seats in both directions, and the times were better than on AA flights. I got all giddy, but then I saw this:
That means it’s an Alaska codeshare flight, and Alaska is not a partner of Virgin Atlantic. This is something that is very confusing to normal folks. You have a web of various partnerships and alliances. Just because a saver (lowest level) award flight shows up in its own program, it may not be bookable through a partner. Let me put this in simple terms. We have three people: Don (represents Delta), Alan (represents Alaska) and Victor (Virgin Atlantic). Don is friends with both Alan and Victor, but Victor and Alan can’t stand each other. So if Victor is having a party, he will only invite Don, not Alan. But Alan and Don can hang out at Don’s house at another time, without Victor. Get it?
So, I had to keep looking. Fortunately, there were some Delta (its own metal) flights available from Orlando. It’s a bit further than Tampa from where we live, but not by much. The flight from Orlando had a connection in LAX, and the one on the way back was non-stop. There was actually a non-stop saver flight available, but it left at 7 AM compared to 10 AM for a connecting flight. I made the selection and got to the final screen where I printed the information. That makes it much easier for a rep in a partner program to find what you are trying to book.
So, armed with my membership number and flight info, I made the call to Virgin Atlantic US center. The wait wasn’t very long, and I explained everything to a very polite rep. The agent put me on hold, and after about 10 minutes, I was notified of my options. Apparently, I could only book non-stop flights, as they go by what Delta offers them. She mentioned that in her experience, only non-stop Delta flights ever come up. You can say that you have to stop in a connecting city, which may allow you to get the flights you need. I tried but it didn’t work. Anyone wants to HUCA? Relax, it means “hang up, call again.”
It’s funny, I have been totally Americanized, as I had a hard time with British accent and expressions. The lady told me she had “22 hundred flight.” And I wasn’t getting it and kept telling her I couldn’t find that flight number on Delta website. Then it finally dawned on me: 22 hundred=10PM The flight leaves at 10PM. Duh!
I wasn’t sure if my brother-in-law would be OK with this option, so I asked her to put the awards on hold. She said the hold was good for 24 hours. I was given a confirmation number, and after a phone call to my BIL, I went ahead and booked the flights. The taxes were $22 for both. Who says Virgin Atlantic miles are worthless? Sure, the flight times are not ideal, but they are non-stop.
Here is the price per person. Getting 1.7 CPM on VS mile is darn good!
When should you consider redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles on Delta flights?
Obviously, you may want to consider this option when you have Virgin Atlantic miles and not sure what to do with them (like me). Some like to transfer them to Hilton at the rate of 1:1.5, so if you have 50K mies, you can get 75,000 HHonors points. It could be worth it for category 1 or 2 hotels (cost 5,000 and 10,000 points respectively). Otherwise, you may want to hang on to them. The miles expire if there is 3 years of inactivity, so there is no rush. I think if you live near airport served by Virgin Atlantic and plan to fly to London, this is also a good option. Flights originating in US have mild fuel surcharges on economy awards. For example, Orlando-London flight will cost 21,500 miles one-way, plus $130 tax in coach. That ain’t bad.
The biggest issue is that awards have to be roundtrip on partners, including Delta.
Membership Rewards points transfer to Delta directly, so there is little incentive to jump through hoops for most domestic flights. Not to mention, on Delta you will have an option to redeem for a codeshare Alaska flight as well as connecting routes. Note, flights to Hawaii are 40K miles via Virgin Atlantic vs. 45K miles via Delta program itself. Air France program (also MR partner) charges 30K miles roundtrip for the same flights, so this could be a better option. For flights within Continental USA and Canada, stick with Delta.
Citi Thank You points (with premium cards like Citi Prestige) transfer to Air France which allows you to book one-way awards on Delta. That said, Air France will only let you do it 10 months in advance. If you need to book the seats 11 months ahead, can find non-stop roundtrip saver level flights, you might want to consider Virgin Atlantic instead (also Citi partner). It may take a few days for transfer to go through. See this post for more on quirks of Citi transfer to Air France Flying Blue program.
If you have Ultimate Rewards points (Chase program), you have a choice of Korean Sky Pass or Virgin Atlantic when it comes to Delta flights. Both require roundtrip booking, but I’ve read that Sky Pass is difficult to deal with. You have to fax forms and jump through multiple hoops. They also will only let you redeem miles for family members. There is one compelling reason to go with Korean Sky Pass: Delta flights to Hawaii. They cost 25,000 miles roundtrip via Sky Pass. If you can find saver level seats on Delta (it will price out at 45K mies roundtrip on their own website), I would at least consider it. I have to say, saver level availability on Delta has improved based on anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered so far.
When it comes to Continental USA award flights (includes Alaska) and Canada, you will be better off going with Virgin Atlantic where it costs 25,000 miles per person. The process isn’t very complicated, you just need to join Virgin program and call to book the awards. Once again, make sure it’s a non-stop flight that isn’t a codeshare, though you may have better luck with connecting routes than I did. See this page on Virgin Atlantic for award prices on Delta flights.
Most airline loyalty programs have their sweet spots, and Virgin Atlantic is no exception. While fuel surcharges can kill the deal when it comes to transatlantic flights, you can leverage them on certain domestic redemptions on Delta. In turn, you can preserve the more valuable currency, like AAdvantage miles, and maybe even help someone along the way. Miles and points hobby can be a complicated beast, but once you figure out the quirks, the payoff can be tremendous. Or as the Brits would say, lovely.
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