Update: Virgin Atlantic tells GSTP some changes on the website may have appeared in error. In short, changes for pricing across the Atlantic (as below) may not be as bad as they appear. The changes will however impact flights like US to Asia, and vice versa, on routes where Virgin Atlantic and Delta don’t have a joint venture partnership. Take the examples for US-Europe flights with a grain of salt, but expect the rates to stick for things like LA to Tokyo.
Virgin Atlantic is getting the buzz kills out of 2021 early, and fast. Onwards and upwards? The airline used the first day of the month to raise the number of Virgin Points you’ll need to book Delta flights, which had historically been the best ‘trick’ to book Delta flights for fewer points than Delta themselves required.
It was always matter of time before the partners closed the loophole, and now one of the better ways to fly Delta using points no longer exists.
Virgin Atlantic Raises Points Rates For Delta Flights
With the exception of flash deals, Delta typically charges astronomical rates to those using its own ‘SkyMiles’ points currency to book flights, particularly in business class. Think: around 150,000 miles one way to Europe during summer in business class, and on some dates, perhaps more!
Even with juicy Delta American Express credit card bonuses which can top off at 100,000 points, that’s a lot of flying or spending needed to earn the most desirable awards.
Yet, somehow, using Virgin Points, you could book the very same Delta flights, without Virgin’s typically high surcharges, for a fraction of the rates. US to Europe would only be 50,000 Virgin Points for Delta flights in business class, and Asia to USA was only a mere 60,000, a true bargain in the points world.
Yes, using Virgin Points to book Delta flights was often better than using Delta SkyMiles to book Delta flights.
Taking a Delta flight like New York to Paris, which typically would’ve cost 50,000 Virgin Points and $5.60 in taxes. The same flight now costs 80,000 Virgin Points. Or Atlanta to Tokyo on Delta, which just went from 60,000 Virgin Points one way, to 165,000 one way. Eek. The new chart is based on the distance, rather than region.
But as not only joint venture partners across the Atlantic, but companies with mutual ownership interests (Delta owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic), it was only a matter of time before one of the partners in the marriage would want to close the door on something which undermined the other.
Bluntly, Virgin offering better values using points for Delta flights, than Delta’s own points themselves didn’t make things look good for Delta’s loyalty program.
Delta’s greatest asset is the Skymiles loyalty program, with an American Express credit card deal worth billions annually to the airline. Cut out weaknesses in the program like encouraging Delta fans to earn Virgin Points instead of SkyMiles,
Needless to say, with a 49% ownership stake in Virgin Atlantic, Delta has the right to discuss key issues at hand, and closing the loophole which undermined Delta’s loyalty program would’ve presumably been a hot button issue as the two businesses move forward into a new year together.
As of January 1st, 2021, Delta got their way.
Virgin Atlantic removed the outsized values for flights on Delta from its Virgin Flying Club loyalty program, and Delta now arguably controls the best path between earning points and redeeming them for great Delta flights. It makes sense, but it doesn’t make devaluation any more fun.
Virgin’s points rates for economy flights with their partner Delta are either unchanged or improved, so it’s not entirely all bad news. With that said, most people engage with loyalty programs for aspirational travel opportunities, like business class. Here’s how the economy news breaks down…
- The lowest price for Main Cabin Economy will be 7,500 points one way vs. 12,500 points previously.
- Sectors of 501-1,000 miles (in actual distance) also see a large decrease in Main Cabin Economy points prices, from 13,000 points to 8,500 points one-way.
- All sector lengths in Main Cabin Economy see price point reductions apart from sectors of 2,001 – 3,000 miles which remains at the same pricing level as today
GSTP Take: Airlines Take Power Back
Airlines are looking to control their customer journeys better than anyone else. It’s not a complicated business concept to grasp. A given airline “should” always be the best loyalty option for people who like their airline.
Having loyalty program loopholes, where it’s easier or more beneficial to book flights on an airline via a random other airline is counter to the goals of most loyalty program execs.
That doesn’t mean airlines will close all the great opportunities and sweet spots with loyalty.
It’s quite the contrary – they’ll try to preserve as many baiting “sweet spots” as possible, but make it so you need to earn their points directly with them to participate. Delta had already started doing this with SkyMiles flash deals, which offered huge discounts on the number of points needed, but only if you had Delta SkyMiles.
Emirates, KLM and Air France were early adopters of this logic, as was Singapore Air.
This now creates an even longer list of airline points sweet spots, where a partner had a better option to book than the airline itself, and that window was closed, either in part, or entirely. For now, the superb Virgin Atlantic values for flights with partner ANA remain in tact, and upgrades from Premium Economy to Upper Class are once again a great value, with restrictions recently dropped.
But when it comes to booking Delta flights for fewer miles by using Virgin Points, that is now a thing of the past. This may be God Save The Points, but GSTP has always advocated to burn points as fast as they’re earned.
This wasn’t a loophole. It was the published price for awards, around for a sustained period of time, and well known inside the program and amongst members. Virgin Atlantic devalued the program, without any advance notice to members, during a global pandemic when then need their members more than ever before. That’s shameful.
I say loophole, because to the broader travel community rather than points and miles focused, the existence of a better way to book something straight forward via a partner instead, is a workaround/loophole/hack. Most people don’t think to use their Virgin Miles for Delta flights, or to earn Virgin Points to book Delta flights, is my point. No argument about no notice moves.
Using foreign programs if you’re in the U.S. is a niche strategy only for the well-informed is true. Delta SkyMiles members are more in the U.S., Virgin Atlantic used to have a largely-U.K. presence until they went seeking U.S. credit card lucre via transferrable points partnerships.
However look at it then from a purely U.K. standpoint. The program has a partnership with Delta. It offered great value. That value wasn’t a loophole, it was the value proposition of the program. Then overnight it’s been obliterated. Sad!
Haha, out of undying admiration for you, and your unparalleled roll in the making of GSTP, I’ve amended the title.
Yikes, here’s to hoping that the ANA sweet spot isn’t closed before I can book r/t first class to Tokyo
I’ve begged every friends/friends/brothers/uncles/cousin who works at Virgin I know to give some heads up if that axe ever swings.
Delta never met a devaluation they didn’t like. It’s not exactly subtle that Delta is behind this. While I think that doing this during the pandemic is tasteless and unworthy even for Delta, I really would have thought that they would at least have provided a couple of weeks notice.
People – quit acting like this is a tragedy. IMHO, there is no reason any airline has a partnership where flights on their planes can be obtained cheaper using miles from a partner airline than using their own program. To make this even more reasonable Delta has a large interest in VA so I don’t know why this wasn’t modified a long time ago.
Gary – it isn’t “shameful” that programs make changes. They can do so and should always look out for their self interest as well as those of their partners. Sorry mileage addicts lost a back door way to get DL tickets cheaper but it will continue to happen. To think otherwise is just crazy. You can either accept change and move forward to stay stuck in the past bemoaning the “good old days” but that won’t change anything.
Accept change (the good and the bad) and move along.
I had a First Class ticket for my son on ANA using Virgin. When the pandemic hit we went to cancel the ticket and it took 6 months for VA to put the miles back in my account. They literally scare the Be-Jesus out of me and I can’t wait to burn them. Probably on an Air France business ticket.
Gary is using words like ‘shame’ and ‘lucre’ much more often these days.
I cancelled my B of A Virgin card today. The annual fee billed on the same day as the decal announcement. The CSR knew all about it.
Shame or Instant Karma?
Sam, I respect you for voting with your feet. Brands take risks with any devaluation, whether or not its fully in their control and you provided Virgin loyalty with a data point that said actions have consequences, rather than just banging drums like many people do. Respect.
I find it amazingly bad timing that virgin would do this during a global pandemic. Surely if they had any sense they would actually reduce the amount of Miles to entice people to fly again using their own miles. Then you wonder why these airlines go bust or have problems. A quarter of it is brought on by bad management and poor decisions like this. 3/4 of it is the global and pandemic of course.
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