[Update] My frustrating, awesome experience with Greg’s trick to book Air France with Virgin points

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Update: A day after publication, many readers reported being told by chat representatives that there is a known issue booking Air France / KLM and that it will be resolved on 7/9/24. Here’s hoping that Virgin doesn’t “fix” this by making it even harder to book these awards.

Last week, Greg wrote about an awesome trick for booking Air France flights via Virgin Atlantic (the short story: use Virgin Atlantic’s “Chat to us” feature. More detail in his post: Solved: Problem booking Air France/KLM with Virgin points). I’ve now used his trick twice — once before he published the post and once since. The good news is that it does indeed work! However, I ran into some trouble with the second booking. It was mostly just bad luck, but there were nonetheless a couple of useful takeaways if you’re looking to book Air France or KLM flights via Virgin Atlantic Flying Club — and given the wide open availability for 8 or more seats in business class, you might want to be looking at booking Air France or KLM via Virgin Atlantic.

The short story

I’ve now made two Air France bookings via the Virgin Atlantic chat feature:

  1. One booking was a simple intra-European nonstop that was a solid deal in business class for 9K points and about $20 per passenger (times four passengers). This was done before Greg’s post went live and the process was as smooth as butter.
  2. One booking was for eight (!!!) passengers on a transatlantic business class itinerary. Unfortunately, the chat agent made a mistake in the booking. That led to a bunch of headache. The good news is that everything got fixed in the end, but this post will include a couple of tips that will hopefully help you handle the same type of problem with less time and frustration.

Again, the key takeaway is that booking via chat works! I had recently begun assuming that much of the Air France / KLM space you see via Virgin Atlantic must be phantom given the breadth of space available at times, but it seems like what you see is indeed bookable.

An important side note: Air France business class award space is wide open next year via Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (and there’s some KLM space, too)

While the main point of this post is to share the problems I ran into and how to solve them, lest I be accused of burying the lede, I want to lead with the fact that there is a downright amazing amount of Air France and KLM business class award space available to Virgin Atlantic next spring and all the way to near the end of the schedule at the time of writing this post.

I booked 8 seats (yes, eight seats) on a transatlantic award from New York (JFK) to Paris (CDG) to Milan (MXP) for a date next year. Our transatlantic flight is on the A350 in Air France’s “new” business class seats. And that’s not even the most surprising part of the story.

The same flight that I booked would have cost 802,000 miles for 8 passengers through Air France / KLM Flying Blue.

I paid 388,000 Virgin points total for all 8 passengers (plus just under $300 per passenger in taxes & fees, which is a little bit higher than the taxes & fees via Air France).

I saw other options available through Virgin Atlantic with 8 seats available for booking where Air France wanted 1.3 million total miles (see the 4:30pm departure / 10:10am arrival example in both screen shots above) or even as many as 1.8 million miles for the same eight seats that could be booked via Virgin Atlantic for 388K. One could literally save from a million to a million and a half miles (on this eight-passenger booking) by booking through Virgin Atlantic. That’s wild. And that’s not even the most surprising part of the story.

What surprised me most is that even after I booked 8 seats on my flight via Virgin Atlantic, there were still at least nine more seats available for booking! That’s at least seventeen award seats in business class available for partner booking! On a single flight! Wow.

And it wasn’t just a one-off. Here’s a look at space for eight passengers in business class via Virgin Atlantic next March and April. The price shown is per passenger.

And it’s not like it’s a single departure that happens to have a ton of space. A random date from the calendar above shows six different transatlantic departures from JFK airport alone that each have at least eight seats available in business class.

That’s so much award space that I would hesitate to believe it existed if I hadn’t actually booked it myself.

Moral of the story: if you have Virgin points or can transfer flexible points to Virgin (they partner with virtually all major transferable currencies), you can easily score transatlantic business class for the whole family right now.

However, as exciting as all of this is, the process of booking my eight seats took me 3 hours and made me aware of a key warning and a key solution to share. Most of the time, I think you’ll find the booking process to work more smoothly. But if it doesn’t, hopefully you’ll get your booking done more quickly than I did

I hate booking via chat or phone because someone else’s mistake can cost you hours of frustration

In many cases, the relative difficulty of booking a particular award influences the ease of finding availability. Popular awards that can be booked online easily can be really hard to find since you’re competing with everyone who searches a particular site and has miles in their account. By contrast, awards that can only be booked via phone or email can (at least in some cases) be easier to find and book since far fewer people will even know about them and fewer still will go to the effort to book them.

Although I can appreciate the increased availability on some hard-to-book awards, I highly prefer being able to book online over needing to book via phone, email or chat. When you can click a button to book online, you can know for sure that you’re clicking the right button. When you’re entering names and birthdays and things like that, you can know that everything is entered correctly (and if it isn’t, you at least know that you only have yourself to blame).

However, when you have to book via chat or phone, it introduces the risk of an agent error. While I’ve booked plenty of awards like this without issue, the odds dictate that you’ll encounter an issue now and then. In fact, during our Party of Five challenge, a Virgin Atlantic phone agent misspelled my middle name and then we got a bunch of data points from readers who encountered the same type of problem with phone bookings (See: PSA: Check your ANA First Class bookings via Virgin Atlantic for spelling errors).

Unfortunately, my most recent Air France booking via Virgin Atlantic chat proved once again the potential for problems when introducing the potential for human error over which you have no control.

An agent error leads to “payment declined” error frustration

I was looking to book a specific itinerary on a specific day. When I got on chat, I specified exactly what I wanted in terms of flight time / route. The agent confirmed that she saw 8 seats available in business class on the flights I wanted (she went so far as to list the departure times and flight numbers, so I knew we were talking about the same exact itinerary). In this regard, I have to say that I far prefer booking via chat over booking via phone since we can easily have everything in writing, which I assume must reduce instances of error.

However, I eventually hit an unlucky break here.

The agent had to split up my booking — she said that she couldn’t put 8 passengers in a single booking, so she had to split us up with 5 in one booking and 3 in another. That meant that when it came time to pay taxes & fees, the agent sent me two links to pay — one for about $1500 for the first PNR and another for about $900 for the second PNR (taxes & fees are about $300 per passenger, so a total of about $2400 for the 8 of us). That wasn’t a problem, it’s just worth knowing that I needed to make 2 separate payments.

I had some spend to complete on a card where I’m still working on a welcome bonus, so I had a specific card in mind to pay the taxes & fees since that $2400 would knock out a nice chunk of spend. The agent sent me two payment links and I used that card and successfully paid the taxes on both bookings.

The agent said I’d receive the ticket numbers via email shortly and asked if there was anything else they could do for me. At the same moment, I pulled up the Air France website just to quickly look over the booking. I don’t always do that. I don’t know why I did it here, but I’m glad I did. I pulled up the booking and immediately realized the agent had booked us on the wrong departure! That was problematic because the flight she booked would conflict with school / work and it was on a flight operated by a 777 instead of the A350 I wanted (with the new cabin).

I responded identifying the problem and the agent was very apologetic and said she would get it fixed (I copied and pasted the part of the conversation where she had confirmed the flight details, but I think she immediately recognized that it was indeed her error). After at least another 30 minutes, it had turned out that she couldn’t change the original booking but rather had to cancel that booking and re-book the right itinerary, meaning that I would need to pay the taxes & fees again. I saw that coming, but I was still annoyed by it. The card I had used (where I was happy to pick up $2400 in spend toward a welcome bonus) has a laughably low credit limit. I didn’t have enough room for another $2400 on that card, meaning that I’d need to put the spend on a suboptimal card. Doh!

The agent apologized and sent new payment links. Despite the fact that I didn’t have much available credit left on that card, I decided to give that original card a shot first. Some issuers allow spending well above one’s credit limit so long as one pays the over-the-limit amount off before the next statement. I figured that the worst case scenario is that the purchase would get declined and the system would prompt me to check my card details and try again. I was wrong. That wasn’t the worst case scenario. I hadn’t counted on the system saying that my payment was declined and not offering me a way to resolve that.

There was no button to “check card details and try again” or anything, just a message that the payment was declined.

I was able to hit the “back” button and enter a different card number, so I did that. I entered a different card and hit “submit”, but it went straight to “payment declined” (and clicking the link anew also immediately went to a “Payment declined” screen). I tried paying the second booking with a different card from U.S. Bank (remember that I had two payments to make — one for $1400 and one for $900) and that also went to payment declined. I explained what happened to the agent and asked if they could send me a fresh payment link.

The agent sent new links. I tried a Chase card on one and a Barclays card on the other. Both went to declined. I called Chase and of course they saw no charge attempt at all on my card and there was no fraud block or anything. Of course the Virgin rep insisted that my bank was the problem and that I should call them. I argued that the bank told me that Virgin was the problem and that I should contact Virgin. I said that it must be their system declining my payments before trying to process them.

As you may expect, that discussion went nowhere. I decided to go for a hat trick and asked for one more round of payment links to try a Capital One card. No dice of course. At that point, we’d been working on this itinerary for more than two hours.

The agent told me they couldn’t make any more links and I’d have to call to pay. She told me that the booking was on hold, so I had nothing to worry about. Knowing how difficult it usually is to find 8 seats in business class on the same flight (never mind a flight that fits one’s needs!), I was still worried. I asked how long the hold would last and she told me there was no time limit. That worried me more because I knew it couldn’t be true that Air France would hold the seats indefinitely for Virgin Atlantic. The chat agent essentially hung up on me via chat after that, saying that if I had any other issues to start a new chat. I responded and it went to the new chat menu, so she literally did do the electronic equivalent of hanging up on me (though it didn’t appear that she could do much more to help, so it didn’t really matter).

Calling to pay the taxes & fees worked when the chat link didn’t

I had been annoyed that I was going to have to call both because of what I expected to be a long hold time and more importantly because I worried that either it wouldn’t work because of agent error (many readers have been unable to book Air France flights with phone agents) or because the Virgin Atlantic payment system had perhaps flagged me as a problem from the first decline and that I’d spend a bunch of time on hold only to be locked out of making a payment for X (unknown) amount of time.

However, I’m glad to report that wasn’t the case. I called and did indeed spend about half an hour on hold, but once an agent picked up I explained what I wanted to do and he took the booking reference numbers and took payment without a problem.

Interestingly, the chat payment page only takes Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and Diners Club, but not Amex. The phone rep was able to take an Amex card, so I used my Amex Platinum card figuring that I’d at least earn 5X (and I chose that out of an abundance of caution thinking that Virgin’s system could have potentially flagged the card numbers I’d already tried). The payment on my Amex Platinum card sailed through without issue. The agent asked if I wanted to use the same card for the second booking and I said yes and didn’t even have to provide the card number again — he was able to submit it and the booking emails came through shortly thereafter.

Soon after hanging up, I got the ticket numbers via email. I was able to bring up the booking on the Air France website and select seats (surprisingly, I was able to select bulkhead seats, which look really nice on the new A350!).

The moral of the story is that calling is indeed the way to go if you hit errors with a declined payment via chat. Had I ended the chat and called as soon as we hit the first declined payment or two, I’d have probably saved myself a nice chunk of time where I tried to convince the chat agent to escalate the situation with someone in their IT or fraud prevention team thinking that calling and dealing with another agent would be more difficult. I was wrong….a phone call was far easier.

Bottom line

All’s well that ends well, and in the end I was (amazingly) able to book eight seats in business class from New York to Paris to Milan. There is a ton of Air France availability via Virgin Atlantic next year, but it’s not necessarily simple to book since you can’t do it yourself via the website. The good news is that you can indeed book it via the “Chat to us” function that Greg identified the other day (See: Solved: Problem booking Air France/KLM with Virgin points), but do yourself a favor and make it a habit to double-check booking details after any chat, email, or phone booking to make sure that the agent got it right. And if you inevitably wind up in my shoes with the “Payment declined” error on chat payment, go ahead and call. Paying for the held booking over the phone is the way to go if the chat payment becomes problematic.

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Will

Just tried to book KLM flight through VA today (07/12). Availability showed up earlier this morning at around (11am EST) on VA but the flights have disappeared in VA search around (1pm). I checked multiple other days and it all returned erros.

Called a rep (1-800-862-8621) who tried to push it through manually to KLM which has been working for people before as it’s a known issue. He told me KLM has pulled all avail within the past few hours while they’re working on a fix. Chatted with a rep around 2pm and they said ‘Due to a system issue, customers are currently unable to book Air France/KLM seats with their Virgin Points. […] We expect bookings to be available again at the start of August.’ So not July 9th like previously stated!

Rob

Correct. The inventory was there this morning and was pulled for all KLM/AF flights this afternoon. I have been trying for days to get my booking to go through and no luck and it also looks they pulled the Chat feature as well. When I spoke with someone at VA they told by the end of the month the issue should be resolved and that VA sets the amount of points needed to book. I’ll keep checking everyday and hope for the best, because I transferred my points over to take advantage of the excellent points redemption.

Christi

DP for today (7/3). Have gone through 2 chats so far and currently on “hold” on the the 3rd. Both have said that it is a known issue with both KLM and AirFrance and there is nothing they can do. Wouldn’t even try to find the flights to help me book. Said you’ll just have to wait until 7/9 when the problem should be fixed.

Jim

Struck out this morning with 2 chats. First agent searched for flights but “couldnt confirm availability with AF”. Second agent asked straight up if it was AF/Klm I was trying to book and said they are aware of a major technical error and have been advised they can no longer book these. There must have been a work around agents were using and they closed that now. Anyone have success today please let us know.

Dan

Nick, thanks for the detailed post. Is there any way to determine if these are phantom awards? Or, can I assume that if I can see available seats on Virgin’s website for an AF operated flight that those are bookable with Virgin points? It’s just a matter of getting a chat agent that knows how to book the award.

Mr. Seg

With all those fees, i don’t find it so exciting

Bob

Someone headed back to Como?

Jimmy Gottfredson

Three times yesterday I tried to use the chat feature and the system didn’t permit me to do so. Last night I called and after a 30 minute hold time I successfully booked my award redemption. Such a pain to book these via a verbal conversation over the phone.

Jimmy Gottfredson

Nick, I followed your instructions to the letter. Recieved message “Chat not available, try us back later”.

Ben

Anyone seeing anything like this from west coast or Midwest? Looked around a little haven’t seen any

Jimmy Gottfredson

Booked LAX-CDG-DUB in business for next March.

Ben

For 77.5k? Or better price?

Jimmy Gottfredson

77.5k

Mary

Just a word of warning for anyone who is not 100% sure they will use the award they’re booking with Virgin. Cancelling a VS award is not expensive (generally a $50 per ticket penalty), but as of recently, it is a HUGE pain.

First, you can only cancel through an online form, which isn’t that easy to find. You have to fill out one of these forms for each ticket, and it requires a large amount of detail (not just booking number, but also ticket number, originating city, flight number, etc etc).

Then you will wait at least a week to get an email telling you the refund has been issued, and to allow up to 2 weeks for it to be credited.

In my case, on two different tickets, I got a refund of my taxes and fees, less $50, within a couple of days after that. But our Virgin Points (their name for miles) still have not been returned to either account, after 2.5 weeks.

So the only thing you can do if they screw up the refund is resubmit the form, and wait again! It is a nightmare.

Mary

Interesting. If I follow the phone prompts, it tells me to use the online form and hangs up on me. What are you selecting in the phone tree that is getting you to an actual human who can cancel your booking?

Mary

Thanks, Nick. That is how it always worked in the past. I guess I’ll just ignore the phone prompts and go straight to the main reservations option, and see what happens. I know it will be a 30+ minute wait, but hopefully I can get this straightened out!

Mary

Just to follow up: I called and ignored two rounds of “we’re too busy to talk with you rn, why not call us later” recordings, kept pushing buttons that made it seem like I wanted to spend money (e.g., change existing booking, upgrade, upgrade to Upper Class) and voila, someone answered almost immediately. Points were returned on both tickets within 5 minutes. So as usual, Virgin’s IT is a total fail, but they have good people on the phones, if you can get to them.

Michael

Is there a reason you didn’t transfer credit from another card when you came up short? In my experience that only takes a couple of minutes by phone.

Neil

Nick, I tried just now for JFK-CDG and VA only shows KLM 1 stop through AMS for at least the last 10 days of May. No AF non stops pull up. Are you saying I should chat with VA and see if they find AF availability on flight that don’t show up on website? (As an aside I booked 2 seats last night for 28 May on AF and when I went to reserve seats it showed all 54 biz seats available to reserve, but I’m looking for a better deal)

Neil

I hear ya, but searched 6x from earlier and all I get is the KLM flight thru AMS for 48.5 miles on May 27, 28 – using my sign on, points reservation and from/to is all I’m inputting and it pulls the same flight thru AMS. I can’t see any website options that allow me to change. Bewildered on why it wouldn’t show me other flights. Tried with Safari and Chrome.

Neil

Yes, I’m rethinking my outbound and just stop in AMS for a day or two and then Eurostar to Paris, or take the 2 hr layover in AMS enroute to CDG. Neither are a bad option, with a price I can live with. I’ll cancel my 180K FB miles today, of which I’ll use 100K returning from Oslo to JFK on back end of trip. Thanks for the post – it was very timely and saves me about 50K miles over original plans

Neil

I thought MR transferred instantly – lesson learned on Virgin Atlantic. Takes Amex up to 72 hrs

Neil

Amex website says up to 48 hrs. I’m going to hold my breath since it show availability on many surrounding days rather and hope for the best.

Neil

Nick, here’s a DP – all the availability on the Virgin website for end of May – JFK to CDG/AMS, (anywhere?) is phantom. Fortunately, I my call was immediately answered and the agent was very helpful – she said it’s “false space” and knew immediately why I was calling. She confirmed this is an issue between AF, KLM and DL and she suggested I check after Friday when it will “supposedly” be fixed. Unfortunately, waiting for my MR pts to post to Virgin I was hitting my 24 hr. point on AF and had to cancel. So I have 180K FB pts stranded, and 97K in Virgin, with no flights. This day really backfired.

Neil

I did but couldn’t find any chat link anywhere under help or contact. I’ll try again tomorrow. Thanks.

Neil

Thanks.I missed that red chat box in the corner when I used the link. I spent 40 min chatting late last night and same result-flights aren’t available, known issue and hope to resolve with system update on July 9. And so it goes.

BenA

So you can find and see the availability on the VA site but not able to book online? Do you try to book online and chat or call if unsuccessful?

Htown Harry

Good info, with plenty of details. As always.

But you did not mention the screaming value available to those of us who don’t necessarily have an acquired taste – or the points balances – for booking business class seats.

A transatlantic economy flight for 12,000 points +$170 for may be the cheapest I have ever heard of.

Over time, I have confirmed that all the seats on the plane will arrive at the destination at the same time. And at the destination I can certainly buy a very memorable cook-to-order meal and a glass of champagne using the $127 savings on taxes and fees. 🙂

Htown Harry

Fair, and I appreciate the detailed response with more math.

And a quick Google flights search from my home airport (IAH) to Milan shows $500 one-way is the typical lowest one-way cash price from now though the spring, with only a handful of dates below $400. However, I have a pile of JetBlue points that I can use to position to JFK or BOS.

More work to do to find my optimum strategy…but now made much easier by Frequent Miler.

LarryInNYC

To make the math here explicit, redeeming 12,000 points and $170 for a $220 fare means you’re getting .41 cents (less than half a cent) value from your points, you won’t earn any points on the flight, and your limited to days with that award available.

Using points at 1.5 cents each to offset the purchase of the $220 fare means you’re getting almost four times as much value per point, you’ll earn points on the flight, and you can choose any day with the cash fare available.

steph

What tool (s) did you use to find these? Just the Virgin Atlantic website?

Lantean

OK, so you found it on Virgin website but why couldn’t you book it there? This part I don’t understand.
Thank you.

Lantean

Aha, I see. Thank you. Virgin is really terrible with online booking… can’t book ANA online either.

steph

Either those are gone or I’m not searching right. I only see 97k and $644 using same parameters as you did above Nick. (JFK-MXP Mar 2025)

Peggy Bowers

Is there any charge to select seats once booked? Thanks!

Peggy

Thanks!

SamBam

Great job Greg and Nick finding this.