a bed in a plane

Is there a word travelers love more than upgrade? Don’t think so.

Upgrade means all smiles, more comfort and perhaps something cool to toast the moment. When it comes to securing these coveted travel trophies, I tend to do better than most, and I’d say that’s hardly an accident. I have a strategy, I deploy it and I find a way. If it works for me, it should work for you, so here’s the low down…

a row of seats in an airplanePremium Economy to Upper Class

International upgrades from the UK, from economy to premium economy rarely make sense using miles because of UK government imposed surcharges on flights to or from the UK. Basically, you’d pay a lot of miles and a lot of money to upgrade. It may, in fact just be cheaper to book premium with cash in the first place.

When Virgin or has a great sale, it totally does!

That’s because upgrades from premium economy to Upper Class make the greatest difference in amenity and also bring the best value, if you know how to use your miles (now known Virgin Points) strategically to land them.

With premium economy fares lower than ever, sometimes seen in the high 400’s, like during Virgin Atlantic sales, it’s incredible value to pay for premium and fly in business class, just from cashing in some miles.

My strategy is relatively simple.

Find flights with availability using miles in Upper Class, and then book those flights in premium economy, and call to instantly upgrade to Upper Class. Yep, if there is a seat available with miles in Upper, it’s available for an upgrade from Premium to Upper.

In case you ever need to help specify to an agent, it’s called “G Class” availability. Virgin just made it so much easier to find Upper Class seats, with the launch of their best in class reward seat checker tool.

I’ve used this strategy recently to upgrade flights to Los Angeles, New York and more, and with just a day or two of date flexibility, I’ve generally been able to get it done at the time of booking. Not everyone has flex, and fortunately sometimes you don’t even need it.

Side note: miles boost is a great way to earn lots of extra miles, as are Virgin Points sales. There’s a 70% bonus right now.

a bar with stools in a room

How Many Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles You Need To Upgrade

The amount of Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles you’ll need to upgrade will depend on two things: first, the season and then, the route. Each region of the world requires a different number of points, and each city will have peak and off peak dates. Obviously, peak will be more expensive in miles than off-peak, but they’re not crazy different.

Virgin Atlantic Peak Dates Are:

  • 24 March – 17 April 2023
  • 18 June – 4 September 2023
  • 20 – 31 October 2023
  • 9 – 31 December 2023
  • 1 – 3 January 2024
  • 22 March 2024 – 15 April 2024
  • 16 June 2024 – 2 September 2024

Hopefully you’re clever enough to figure out that if your dates don’t fall in this range, they’re “off peak”.

Now that that’s out of the way, that leaves you with how many miles you’ll need for a given upgrade. There’s a chart for that, which shows the round trip upgrade prices required for each city, but I tend to focus on one way upgrades from London, since most flights tend to be longer in that direction.

Here are a few one way Virgin Atlantic Premium to Upper Class upgrade prices for both off peak and peak, like…

  • Tel Aviv, Israel: 14,000 miles off peak, 16,500 miles peak.
  • India:  18,700 miles off peak, 33,700 miles peak.
  • East Coast USA: 23,700 miles off peak, 28,700 miles peak.
  • West Coast USA: 33,700 miles off peak, 38,700 miles peak.
  • South Africa: 28,700 miles off peak 33,700 miles peak.

With The Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles In Place

Congrats, it’s the final countdown. You’ve got your miles in place and it’s time to put all the magic together for an upgrade. If you don’t have all the Virgin Points in place, you can instantly transfer a variety points, like those from credit cards over to Virgin Flying Club, almost instantly.

But let’s get back to the magic moment, when points are in the account and ready to upgrade.

The best place to start is on VirginAtlantic.com, where you can search for a flight in Upper Class using miles, by selecting “advanced search” and pressing “price in Miles” and selecting Upper Class as the chosen cabin.a screenshot of a flight ticket

You’ll then be provided with a calendar of dates where there’s availability to use miles in Upper Class. Ignore the rates shown in both miles and money, because you’re just using this search to show you when you can upgrade at the rates discussed above. Jot down the flight numbers of which flight on your dates have availability, and then…

a screenshot of a calendar
Any date in green would be available for an upgrade from Premium to Upper Class.

The choice is yours at this point: call to book over the phone and process it all in one go, or book online and then call. There’s a key benefit to calling, which is that it can all happen in one transaction, quickly.

Just a couple years ago made sweeping changes to its loyalty program, and even lower Premium Economy fares like “K” class fares are eligible for upgrade again. Read up on the latest changes, which even allow you to use a voucher earned from a Virgin credit card to upgrade or bring a companion.

PS: Virgin offers status credit when you use points for a reward flight too!

The same person should be able to pull the miles from your account and get you upgraded into the happiness of Upper Class right away. Expect to pay a premium of about £125/$150 in addition to the miles for trips originating the UK. Trips originating in the USA may be a bit higher, but may still be worth it.

And don’t forget, Virgin Atlantic also recently changed its elite status earning structure, known as ‘Tier Points’, and you still earn points to work towards perks on flights when you cash in miles. Since these were cash bookings to start, you’ll also earn Virgin Points back. Sometimes, nearly as many as you paid for an upgrade!

Not a bad strategy, eh?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. O/W London to East coast USA is 50k points for biz class on virgin right? Why pay PE fare and 38k (peak) points for the upgrade and the additional fees. Seems better value if upper is available to just find the 50k fares and but that direct.

    1. Well, you’ll pay over $650 in fees one way, which might be more than a premium economy round trip, for which you’d also earn miles back.

      It’d be 100k miles and circa $1000 all in your way, or circa 20-70k miles and $700 all in my way, depending on which dates, etc.

  2. Hey Gilbert, great hack! However wrong link on the article that goes to the “Premium to Upper Class upgrade prices” , it instead goes to an article on Mexico!

    Have been looking at this a while to go to San Fran and return via LAX.

    Can you upgrade a premium econ indirect that involves a stop over with Delta (for example) into Upper Class on the Virgin leg. is that still same amount of points 33,700?

    I want to fly in the A350 ideally but flights in December 2020 seem to be best going indirect to LAX on the 350 and then changing to a Delta flight onwards to San Fran.

    1. What used to be the best way to get from West Coast to Europe w/ Virgin points–flying Delta metal–is no more, since Delta has virtually stopped making award seats available to Virgin for West Coast-based flights.

  3. How long before Virgin (and BA) devalue their points and air miles? Given the crunch in their finances, due to the outbreak. My money is on a sudden and severe devaluation, to save money during this odd time.

    1. I would say the opposite. Need to give people reason to engage in times like these. I’d expect mileage reductions for a limited time on select routes.

  4. I just tried to upgrade to upper class from premium using miles for Lhr – lax and the agent said it would be a premium of $700 for taxes and fees in addition to the miles. Is that right?

      1. Is that £120 the total cost one can expect to pay for the upgrade or is that excluding fuel surcharge? I called again and this time I was quoted $450 in addition to miles for one way lhr – lax to upgrade from k to upper class. That’s less then the $700 I was first quoted but still a lot more then £120

        1. it should be all in. Simplest way is to look on ITA matrix and see the difference in YQ and any other fees for the route from PE to J. Search a PE ticket fees, then search J ticket fees. I’ve upgraded so many lately, and all been around £120 all in per person, plus miles. Not all agents are particularly adept at calculating correctly, but it’s possible there’s higher fees on West Coast.

          1. Thanks for the information. It seems that because I booked my PE with the outbound from LAX the YQ difference between the two cabins is $900. If the outbound was from LHR then the YQ difference between the two is £190. Lesson learnt!

  5. Thanks Gilbert – really useful information. Do upgrade certificates from the Virgin card work the same way?

    1. Indeed! It’s why we grabbed the card this year. We use it for the companion ticket. As gold, can use it for Upper companion just paying taxes, which nets out really well.

      1. Ah so i buy myself a PE ticket, upgrade it with points, and then add a companion via a voucher (currently virgin gold via status match)?

  6. Now we just have to hope they answer the phone. My recent experiences indicate some reluctance so to do.

  7. Are the 33,700 miles needed for the west coast one way or round-trip? I am sitting on about 175,000 miles and want to know how to get the most out of these. They are still with Chase and Citi so I have yet to transfer them.

  8. Your strategy worked like magic – taking my parents to US this spring. LHR-JFK & BOS-LHR. Found upgrade availability on the flight and called virgin immediately to book premium then upgrading using points. This saved 3 of us £5000!

    Thank you sir!

  9. Hi just wondering does it matter how you purchased the pe ticket originally
    Meaning if i book with a partner Awards ticket will it still be doable?

  10. Can you use Your Virgin companion voucher when You upgrade from Premium to Upper class using points on the cash Booking ?

  11. Forgive me for being slow to understand, but are you saying that the passenger books a regular paid ticket in premium economy and then uses points to upgrade? Or do they use points to purchase a premium economy ticket and then upgrade using more points?

  12. @Gilbert Ott: somewhat related but not totally but thought you might know…I flew VS on Friday, LHR-AUS. VS marketed and operated, crediting to Delta. I was booked in economy delight and did a paid (cash) upgrade to PE. Should I have earned on Delta based on a PE ticket or economy delight (original booking)?

    1. Since the upgrade was with cash and would change the class of service (I know UC tickets upgrade to “z” fares) then it should be the higher class of service. Should credit as PE.

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