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The newly announced partnership between Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic is now live! Two of the most easily accrued point currencies, Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue miles, just became even more valuable. Among other new partner benefits, you'll now have the ability to book partner awards on either airline using the other's currency.
Good News for Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue Loyalty Members
Delta Airlines has long had individual partnerships with both Air France/KLM and Virgin Atlantic, so this announcement has little effect for their loyalty members. On the other hand, Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic previously had no such partnership. Consequently, this partnership opens a whole world of opportunities for their loyalty members going forward. This most notably includes the ability to earn and redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for Air France/KLM flights, and vice versa.
We're not going to focus on the complicated earning scheme between partners in this article. If you're curious, you can find the earning charts for all partner travel booked with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles here, and all partner travel booked with Flying Blue miles here.
Here are a few key takeaways from the expanded partnership:
Cohesive Scheduling — All four airlines will coordinate with each other to provide “more convenient flight schedules” and to ensure “a smooth and consistent travel experience.” This includes the new ability to book flights on all operating carriers with each airline's respective website, mobile app, and travel agents.
Mileage Earning — Loyalty Program Members will now be able to earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles for travel on “any of the four airlines' worldwide operations.”
Partner Redemptions — Loyalty Program Members will now have the ability to redeem their miles on “any of the four airlines' worldwide operations.”
Reciprocal Elite Benefits — Travelers with eligible elite status on any of these partners will now have reciprocal benefits honored, including priority boarding and access to “over 100 airport lounges when traveling internationally“.
How to Get Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic Miles
Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic miles are two of the easiest point currencies to accumulate, thanks to all of their bank transfer partners. Both are 1:1 transfer partners with:
Additionally, Flying Blue is also a transfer partner of Capital One, allowing transfers at a ratio of 1,000 Capital One miles to 750 Flying Blue miles.
Existing Program Quirks
Before I get into the comparisons and opportunities presented by this new partnership, I think it's important to remind folks of some of the quirks of booking with these programs, regardless of whose metal you're trying to fly on:
Booking Air France / KLM Awards
- Flying Blue (unfortunately) utilizes dynamic award pricing for all award redemptions. This means that there is no reference award chart, and unknown variables can affect award pricing for any given day.
- When searching for award availability, you can examine a month at a time, making it much easier to find rare premium cabin availability.
- Awards are often cheaper if the itinerary is NOT originating or terminating at a Flying Blue Hub (CDG or AMS).
- Fuel Surcharges can be significant, compared to other types of points—especially for redemptions in premium cabins. (However, they are often far lower than Virgin Atlantic's fuel surcharges, but we'll get into that later.)
- Out-of-pocket costs are more expensive when departing Europe compared to leaving North America.
Booking Virgin Atlantic Awards
- Virgin Atlantic's online award search engine is quirky. There are a lot of unique issues to deal with to search availability, and it can be frustrating at times. However, Virgin's customer service reps are known to be some of the best in the business. If you get too frustrated with the website, you can call them at these numbers: 0344 412 2414 (U.K. office); 1 (800) 365-9500 (U.S. office)
- For most partner awards (including Delta), Virgin charges per-segment award prices. This means that for most partners, multiple segment itineraries will be more expensive than direct routes. (This is not the case for awards booked with Flying Club miles.)
- Virgin Atlantic's hub-airport, London Heathrow (LHR), is infamous for its airport taxes. Likewise, Virgin Atlantic is also notorious for terrible fuel surcharges, especially in their premium cabins. It's not uncommon to see Upper (business) Class fuel surcharges that exceed $600 per way.
Redeeming Virgin Atlantic Miles for travel on Air France / KLM
Virgin Atlantic has several newly-issued award charts for redemptions on their new Flying Blue partners, and goodness they are confusing. You can find the complete set of Virgin Atlantic award charts here, but for now, I'm going to focus on just a few of them.
Short, Intra-European Travel
Given the massive network Flying Blue currently operates in Europe, it's nice to see the possibility to fly short-haul for as little as 4,000 miles. Keep in mind, though, that there will be fuel surcharges/taxes tacked on to the mileage price. Given that airfare on ultra-low-cost airlines can be insanely cheap for intra-European travel, it's essential to make careful comparisons of the total costs.
Long Haul, Business Class Travel
Considering that the Eastern U.S. falls into Zone 6 and that the Central/Western U.S. falls in Zone 7, you're looking at between 48,500 and 87,500 Virgin Atlantic miles (plus taxes) to fly to Western Europe in business class. That's not too bad, especially given Virgin's limited peak-pricing dates:
Redeeming Flying Club Miles for travel on Virgin Atlantic
As I previously mentioned, Flying Blue does not publish an award chart. They utilize dynamic award pricing, and that makes it much more difficult to discern what their partner award pricing will be. I did some preliminary dummy searches on known Air France routes and found this:
As far as I could tell through my initial searches, this is about as low as award prices get for travel between these two regions. An itinerary coming back the opposite direction looks relatively similar:
As for you folks on the East Coast:
And traveling the opposite way:
It appears that “saver-level” pricing for direct Virgin Atlantic routes are around:
- East Coast to Western Europe — 24,000 miles in Economy, ~60,000 miles in Business Class
- West Coast to Western Europe — 29,000 miles in Economy, 72,000 miles in Business Class
For the sake of clarity, I didn't include connecting itineraries, as they always involved mixing airlines. However, it doesn't appear that connecting itineraries between the same regions cost any more than direct routings.
These prices are relatively standard compared to other trans-Atlantic options, but if you're like me, a couple of things immediately stand out:
- Why is the Europe-bound itinerary from the East Coast precisely 1,000 points more than the return itinerary?!
- Itineraries departing Europe (London in this example) incur significantly higher taxes and fuel surcharges than routes leaving the US. This is especially true for business class.
- Where is the Premium Economy availability?
Comparing Award Pricing
To get a clear picture of how these programs compare, I did a lot of dummy searches. It’s clear that each program offers awards on more of their own flights than partner flights. However, when both programs offer redemptions on the same flights, there are some big opportunities to save cash or miles.
Book AF/KLM Intra-Europe Flights with Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic's intra-Europe, short-haul award chart for travel on Air France/KLM is cheaper than booking directly with Flying Blue. This is especially true for European business-class (economy seats with the middle seat blocked off), where Virgin Atlantic can be less than one-third of Air France's price!
Book Long Haul Economy Flights with Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic strikes again with economy long-haul, trans-Atlantic redemptions. If you're willing to spend a little more on the taxes and fuel surcharges, it's possible to book the same flights (operated by either airline) with Virgin Atlantic miles for half of the “saver-level” price with Flying Blue miles.
Book Long Haul Virgin Atlantic Business Class Flights with Flying Blue Miles*
The fuel surcharges that Virgin Atlantic charges for their own Flying Club redemptions in “Upper Class” are so ridiculous that I've never considered booking with them before. The new partnership with Flying Blue has just changed the game. It's now possible to book Virgin Atlantic business class through Flying Blue and only pay one-third of the fuel surcharges Virgin Atlantic would charge themself. Unfortunately, there's an ‘*' in this title for a reason: This only applies to trans-Atlantic itineraries departing from the U.S., not the reverse.
Virgin Atlantic Has “Special” Access to Certain Flights
Historically, Virgin Atlantic has offered far better pricing for some Delta flights than Delta offers to their own SkyMiles members. For example, a business-class flight from Atlanta to Sao Paulo might cost 160,000 SkyMiles, but the exact same flight could be booked through Virgin Atlantic for only 45,000 miles. The same phenomenon seems to apply to certain Air France/KLM-operated flights.
For example, this itinerary (operated exclusively by Air France) from Porto, Portugal to San Francisco is only available through Virgin Atlantic. You can’t book the exact same flights with Flying Blue miles—even at a higher price.
The only option with Flying Blue miles for the same date is operated by Skyteam partner Air Europa via Madrid.
Missing Premium Economy
While researching this new partnership, my biggest disappointment was the complete lack of premium economy award availability; I never found a single bookable seat. Perhaps there was a glitch in the rollout of the partnership, and the inventory will show up later. In the meantime, if anyone has been able to find premium economy award availability with either a Flying Blue carrier or Virgin Atlantic using the other's online award search engine, please let us know in the comments.
This seems like a great partnership that's going to benefit a lot of people. I'm sure those who are loyal to either of these programs will be excited about the additional redemption options, as well as the notion of having their elite status benefits reciprocated.
Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue are two of the easiest point currencies to earn. The new ability to use miles from both programs to book flights operated by Air France, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic is a huge win—without any obvious downside. I'm just curious to see what the future holds for premium economy awards.
Have you found any exciting opportunities with this new partnership? Please let us know in the comments.
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