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Is my Virgin Atlantic Flight upgradeable?

July 8, 2019 | Miles, Tips | No Comments

Virgin Atlantic 787 aircraft

The short answer: Yes, if it meets certain conditions.

Finding ways of upgrading is one of the hottest topics for both the amateur and professional frequent fliers. But all too often, you call the airline and ask about an upgrade only for them to say “You can’t upgrade this flight”. Frustrating, right. Well this post will give you all the information you need to have a better chance of upgrading your Virgin Atlantic flight. 

Virgin Atlantic 787 aircraft

How do you find out if your flight is upgradeable?

Whether the flight is upgradeable depends on a few key factors, and sometimes these vary across airlines too.

The key factors are as follows:

  • Fare code.
  • Was the flight booked direct vs through a travel agent.
  • Cash vs miles upgrades.
  • In advance vs at the airport.
  • Availability.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, however.

Virgin Atlantic fare codes

Cabin

Fare code

Upgradable?

Premium

K

No

H

Yes

S

Yes

W

Yes

Economy

O

No

N

No

V

No

X

No

Q

No

E

No

M

Yes

U

Yes

L

Yes

R

Yes

B

Yes

Y

Yes

 

Other fare codes to know about.

 

Fare code

Cabin

What it’s used for

T

The fare code used when you use your miles to pay for an economy cabin ticket.

Economy reward fare

P

The fare code used when you used your miles to pay, or upgrade to, a Premium cabin ticket.

Premium reward fare

G

The fare code used when you used your miles to pay, or upgrade to, an Upper Class ticket.

Upper class reward fare

 

What would I do?

Always book the cheapest available fare code that allows upgrades, so that you have the flexibility of upgrading at a later date if you wish to.

Booked direct vs travel agent

Booking the flight directly with Virgin Atlantic, means it can be altered by you at any time, either via their website or on the phone.

If you book via a travel agent – either on online travel agent such as Kayak, Expedia or in person at a physical store such as Flight Centre – you will not be able to make changes to the ticket* and the travel agent will need to do this for you and they may charge extra fees for doing so.

*Some things can still be done to the ticket without the travel agent, such as booking seats online through Virgin’s website. You can also still upgrade your ticket on the day of travel at the airport, for cash or miles – subject to availability and conditions.

Pro tip – You can always upgrade non-upgradable fare codes when Virgin are offering fixed price cash upgrades at the airport during check in. These upgrades only affect a single leg of the journey and are not always available.

Cash vs miles upgrades

Virgin Atlantic will always allow you to upgrade a cash fare, to a higher fare by paying the difference between the two. But as they sell more tickets for the flight, this cost goes up. Trying to move from an inflexible, non-refundable ticket to a flexible ticket or doing a date change is usually extremely expensive. So upgrading from say Premium to Upper in advance, with cash is usually broken down as follows:

  1. The difference in cash from your fare code to the next lowest available fare in Upper class.
  2. With miles, if you’ve booked directly with Virgin and you have an upgradable fare code, you can call the booking line at any time and they can upgrade the ticket to the higher cabin. You can do any of the following actions as long as the fare is upgradeable and a seat in the higher cabin is available:
    • Upgrade one single leg of the journey by paying the correct miles and difference in taxes between your booked cabin and the cabin you are upgrading to.
    • Upgrade both the outbound and inbound legs of the journey by paying the correct miles and difference in taxes between your booked cabin and the cabin you are upgrading to.
    • Call the booking line and ask them to hold the reward seats for up to 72 hours while you transfer miles from your credit card account.

In advance vs at the airport

Tickets can be upgraded in advance over the phone either with cash or miles.

Benefits of upgrading in advance:

  • Guarantee of securing the reward seat.
  • Access to the benefits of the higher cabin, further in advance.

Disadvantages of upgrading in advance:

  • You can sometimes obtain a better deal at the Airport when paying cash for upgrades.
  • Mileage seats are often unavailable in advance on popular routes.

Benefits of upgrading at the airport:

  • You can do cash or mileage upgrades at the airport, on the day of travel even if the ticket is booked via a travel agent.
  • If Virgin are offering fixed price upgrades on the day of travel, they are often cheaper than upgrading in Advance.

Disadvantages of upgrading at the airport:

  • There is no guarantee of mileage upgrades being available.
  • There is no guarantee of cash upgrades being available.
  • You won’t have access to any pre-flight benefits of the higher cabin, until you are actually at the airport.

What would I do?

If you can, always upgrade in advance to have the peace of mind that you have the upgrade guaranteed.

Availability

This is the biggest challenge people face and it generally takes the most legwork to work out. Everything else I have discussed in this article is easy to remember with experience, but availability is different on every flight and every route; therefore there is no fixed answer to this.

Reward seats (mileage seats) are notoriously difficult to find. There’s two key ways to find availability:

  • Use the Virgin website to search for “pay with miles” on your preferred route & date.
  • Ring the Virgin booking line and ask if there are any reward seats available in the cabin you wish to upgrade into on your specified flight.
  • Ask at the airport, prior to check in.
  • Ask at the Virgin Clubhouse prior to boarding.
  • Ask at the gate prior to boarding.

Conclusion

If you’ve booked very far in advance, it’s likely that you have a non-upgradable ticket, as the cheap, restricted fares are the ones that get sold first.

Key lessons:

  • If you plan on upgrading, take this into account when you book.
  • Find out your fare code either by asking your travel agent or looking in your booking confirmation.
  • As soon as there is an upgrade available, if it is reasonably priced, take it – it may be gone a few minutes later!
  • Upgrading with miles is almost always better value than cash upgrades and has the benefit of still earning the miles & tier points for the underlying fare although you often have to chase the miles & points because sometimes they do not credit automatically.

Back to the blog, for more articles.

Maintaining a mileage balance

July 1, 2019 | Miles | No Comments

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London Heathrow

What do I mean by maintaining a mileage balance… well, put simply, it’s just keeping a small stash of miles that you can use for spending at short notice. My miles balance mainly supports on the day airport upgrades. This partly goes against the earn & burn rule but can be useful if you are a very regular flier.

Earn miles without flying

The first thing you can do is earn as many miles as you can, which get automatically credited to your frequent flier account, without actually flying. Credit card spend, Train tickets, online shopping and a multitude of other activity can essentially earn ‘passive’ miles that help contribute to maintaining a balance of miles to spend when it suits you.

Make sure you log your miles

You might think this sounds silly… but I know so many people who do not check when their miles credit after transactions such as taking a flight. If you don’t check these miles have credited, you’re missing out on potential value and further depleting your stash if you are spending them as well.

Claim lost miles 

Remember that most Airlines let you claim miles retroactively, so if you forgot to claim miles for a recent flight, it might not be too late! This may have happened because you forgot to put your frequent flier number on your booking, or the airlines system didn’t automatically credit. Either way, no matter who is to blame, make sure you claim what you are entitled to.

Track net mileage loss

What is net mileage loss?

Well, let’s use the following example:

You fly from London Heathrow to New York JFK and earn 11,062 miles for the roundtrip when all the different tier & cabin bonuses are calculated. Let’s say you upgrade from Premium to Business on one of the legs, so you spend 23,700 miles.

Your net mileage loss takes into account what you earned on the trip and is calculated as 11,062 – 23,700. So, a total loss of 12,638 miles.

Buy miles or boosters

To help in maintaining a mileage balance, you buy purchase miles from the airline, usually capped at a fixed amount per year or, a more popular option is to buy a miles booster. A miles booster allows you to purchase a fixed amount of miles (usually the base flown miles, or double the base flown miles) for a fairly attractive fee.

Using our previous example, if we purchased a booster for double the base flown miles, we would earn an additional 13,828 miles, thus entirely eliminating the loss and actually putting the trip into a slight positive mileage gain even including the upgrade.

When airlines run a miles booster bonus promotion, where you get an additional bonus on the miles booster, these tools become even more attractive.

TIP: You can often retroactively buy miles boosters for flights you’ve already taken for a fixed amount of time after the flight.

Back to the blog, for more articles.

British Airways reward flights can be booked from midnight (1am BST) , 355 days before departure.

It’s an unwritten rule, that BA release at least 2 Business Class seats on every flight. Because of this predictability, it’s often hard to catch those two seats as there’s almost always someone else waiting to get them as well. After this time, further seats can open up in other cabins. The best time to check is 00:30 GMT.

This image shows the British Airways First Class cabin.
British Airways First Class.

Reward seats can be booked anytime up to the day of departure and until check in closes. If you are still looking for reward seats on the day of travel, remember to ask at check in and again at the lounge.

If you are trying to find availability for a popular route such as Australia or Mauritius, you should call a at midnight UK time (1am during British Summer Time).  You will need to call a non-UK BA office as the UK one will be closed. You should call on the day that the outbound opens and book a one-way ticket. Then at 355 days before the inbound, do the same again. Obviously if you book the outbound, then there is no guarantee you will get the inbound. However, Avios flights can be cancelled up to 24 hours prior to departure, for a £35 fee.

Tips:

  • If you need more than one seat, but the amount you need are not available, book as many as you can and keep watching for more. Waiting for them all to appear is extremely risky because there’s no guarantee of more appearing and someone else could take the existing seats at any time.
  • If you need multiple seats in a cabin, and there’s none or limited numbers available, book the next cabin down because you can always upgrade again later by simply paying the difference in miles & taxes.
  • Remember that you can still book reward seats on the day of travel, at the airport, subject to availability.
  • You can hold reward seats for up to 72 hours by either calling BA or through the website. This is useful if you want to transfer points from a credit card, or buy miles for the transaction. There’s usually a small charge associated with this.
  • Be flexible!
  • Be persistent!

Back to the blog, for more articles.

Unlike British Airways, Virgin Atlantic do not have a set pattern of releasing reward seats. The seats can appear at any time from when the flight goes online at 330 days before the day of travel, and the day of travel itself.

It’s widely rumoured that Virgin do not add the reward seats automatically, but rather via a manual back office process. That means there also is no set times in the day where the seats can appear

If you’re looking for Virgin Atlantic reward seats, you should check the website on a regular basis and book the seats as soon as you see them.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

Tips:

  • If you need more than one seat, but the amount you need are not available, book as many as you can and keep watching for more. Waiting for them all to appear is extremely risky because there’s no guarantee of more appearing and someone else could take the existing seats at anytime.
  • If you need multiple seats in a cabin, and there’s none or limited numbers available, book the next cabin down because you can always upgrade again later by simply paying the difference in miles & taxes.
  • Remember that you can still book reward seats on the day of travel, at the airport, subject to availability.
  • You can hold reward seats for up to 72 hours by calling Virgin. This is useful if you want to transfer points from a credit card, or buy miles for the transaction.
  • Be flexible!
  • Be persistent!

Back to the blog, for more articles.