Virgin Atlantic dumps Delta sweet spots (Update: US-Europe sweet spot is back!)

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UPDATE 1/11/21: Virgin Atlantic has restored its old award pricing for nonstop Delta flights between the US and Europe! You can now once again book lie-flat Delta One business class from the US to Europe for only 50,000 points one-way! Unfortunately, the devaluation continues for Delta flights to everywhere else (Asia, Africa, etc.). Hat Tip: God Save the Points.

As was widely reported yesterday after Thrifty Traveler broke the news, Virgin Atlantic slaughtered its sweet spots for booking Delta Airlines flights, which is particularly painful for those who had dreams of flying Delta One long-haul international as some of the most popular routes increased by 60-100% or more overnight. As if a massive devaluation isn’t disappointing enough, the fact that Virgin Atlantic decided to do it with no notice on a holiday is particularly egregious when it comes to customer service. I’ve been known to sing Virgin Atlantic’s praises in the past, but this move really sours me on the program moving forward.

Richard Branson chokes Frequent Miler
This is basically the message that Virgin Atlantic sent.

New distance-based chart for Delta redemptions

Virgin Atlantic previously had this zone-based award chart for Delta flights to regions other than the UK. Note that the pricing is round trip, so a one-way was half the cost you see here as recently as a few days ago:

Two of the most notable sweet spots there have long been the US to Europe at 50K miles each way in Delta One business class and the US to Africa, Middle East, & Asia at 60K miles each way in Delta One business class.

However, Virgin replaced that chart yesterday with this distance-based chart:

A flight between Tokyo and Minneapolis, which I flew in 2019 for 60K miles per passenger, would now just barely fit into the distance band costing 130K miles. That’s more than double what that award cost a few days ago.

I very much enjoyed Delta One suites from Tokyo to Minneapolis, but at these new prices I guess I won’t be enjoying that again.

The flight between Atlanta and Tokyo is far enough to now cost 165,000 miles one way. That’s almost triple the previous price. Youch.

From a great transfer partner to a has-been

As noted at the top, I’m as disappointed as anyone about the devaluation itself here – the numbers above are disheartening changes to say the least – but it’s hard for me to even focus on that disappointment without first lambasting Virgin Atlantic for how they did this.

Making a no-notice change is always poor form in my opinion. Doing so on a holiday when they may have expected customers not to notice and then doing nothing to communicate that change even after they’ve implemented it just isn’t the kind of move I expect from a company that wants to keep customer loyalty.

As if the no-notice holiday thing isn’t bad enough, the timing in the larger context is also horrendous. With so much 2020 travel canceled and so much 2021 travel still up in the air (see what I did there?), it has been hard to recommend transferring points from a flexible currency to airline miles. That becomes infinitely more difficult when you can’t have faith in Virgin not to pull shenanigans like this. More importantly to me, this move pulled out from under our feet the best back-up plan for your Virgin Atlantic miles.

What I mean to say there is that despite the pandemic and travel uncertainty, I’d have potentially considered a transfer to Virgin Atlantic to book a trip with the knowledge that even if my trip were canceled this time I would probably find a good opportunity to fly Delta One to Europe or Asia eventually. Award availability in Delta One ebbs and flows some, but we have often seen opportunities to book even as many as 6 or 8 passengers in Delta One business class on international flights via Virgin Atlantic. With many programs, it can be difficult to find business class availability for a family, but Delta One via Virgin Atlantic has been a backup plan I had figured I could count on for getting my whole family on a flight in business class at some point.

Thus far, Virgin Atlantic’s other hugely notable sweet spot, first class awards on ANA, remains unchanged. I’ve never booked Virgin’s incredible ANA first class sweet spot from the US to Tokyo (120K miles round trip from the east coast of the US or 110K from the west). Of course I feel temptation to find an opportunity to book it while I still can, but the realist in me knows that even if I find availability I can’t say with any certainty whether I’ll be able to go to Japan this year. In a more normal world, if I found availability that fit my schedule and needs, I might be willing to take a gamble and book the trip on ANA figuring that even if I ultimately canceled the ANA trip I could still get good value out of my Virgin miles for travel on Delta to Europe or Asia on another trip next year. Now that the Delta backup plan is gone, I would feel even more hesitant to transfer miles to Virgin Atlantic to book any kind of 2021 trip for fear of being stuck with miles that just won’t get me very far after this massive devaluation.

Overall, this is very disappointing news. As great as these sweet spots were for flying Delta One, the sweet spot on ANA for first class is by far Virgin’s most incredible value (and one of the few great values left in the program). People have been saying for years that the ANA first class redemption was living on borrowed time, but I’d have at least hoped for a heads up before they kill it off. This move shows that was wishful thinking; I now fully expect that the ANA sweet spot will slip away quietly in the night when nobody expects it — and that realization certainly compounds my disappointment with this Delta devaluation from Virgin Atlantic.

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Joel Alencar

It’s a company and they can choose to do business how they please. It happens in everyday life and the airline industry has been Notorious for doing things like these for years. Airlines have been devaluing their reward programs also for some time now, as more and more buyers abuse the programs so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Virgin took a different route. Solutions are simple! Don’t like the changes then find another airline that has better, or just buy a business/first class ticket like everyone else who wants to fly in comfort. But nowadays people will find just about anything to complain about when changes aren’t in their favor.

Sco

Isn’t the new ability to use a small number of miles for short Delta flights a silver lining that is worth mentioning?

I’m not saying it outweighs what they’ve taken away by any stretch, but I’ve gotten a ton of use out of BA miles over the years booking short AA hops that were otherwise expensive, and it’s nice to now have that option for short Delta flights as well.

Somar

The so called “sweet spot” that you described as being “Delta: US to Africa, Middle East and Asia”, and at least for the Middle East version, isn’t really as sweet as you might think it is. Example, a trip from the US to Tell Aviv will have you in a Delta One cabin from the U.S. into Paris. But (example) from Paris to Tel Aviv, you would be seated in Air France’s “Business section” in an A320 where business class seats and economy seats are identical. All are in a 3+3 configuration, all with the known 18″ seat pitch (yes, even in business class, it is 18″). The only difference is that they leave the middle seat empty for business class seats whereas they seated 3 + 3 passengers in an economy row.

So to say “Two of the most notable sweet spots there have been…. and the US to Africa, Middle East, & Asia at 60K miles each way in Delta One business class.” Is not accurate. It may be “Delta One Business Class” into Paris… But for the 2nd leg of that one way flight, you are seated in Air France’s [fake] A320 business class…

David

This is the worst. Had booked our dream trip to Japan for May 2020 but cancelled due to COVID. HNL-HND round trip in Delta One for 10 family members. 70K each. Now sitting on 700k VA miles…

Tyler

This stinks, though I feel worst for those who had Delta One trips canceled on them this year, and are now stuck with VA miles worth half or less toward rebooking the same trip.

wadacash

Disappointed, but can’t say this is a total surprise. Delta recently mortgaged its frequent flier program. Virgin’s great prices to fly Delta likely undermined Delta’s ability to sell the value of their own program. I’d rather have Delta lower the price of awards than have Virgin raise theirs, but such is the problem with having currencies with (somewhat) captive audiences.

bluecat

Nick, Have you been able to verify that the ANA option still exists? VA website has been spotty these last few days and it looks iffy, at best, that ANA has released any seats to them.

C C

In my past experience ANA awards required calling VA to book. The award space wasn’t visible on VA site. Search saver space on Star Alliance sites, like United, then call VA. No idea if/when these prices may go away.
Hopefully ANA sweet spots are underutilized and therefore lower priority for them to target. Since Delta could be booked online I’m sure these were much more common redemptions. Extra hassle and steps are helpful to those of us willing to put in the work in my opinion…

anonymous

“no-notice change”
Isn’t this always the case?

Nick @ PFD

New sweet spot: direct flights in coach from ATL to Caribbean / Mexico / Central America?

Kent

They did file for bankruptcy protections back in August. That alone screams devaluation risk in my mind.

Kent

Devaluations happen with profitable companies all the time, too.

Right, so if an airline is unprofitable (most airlines right now) is a devaluation more, less, or equally likely?

Edit: This would be a good question for your next FM on the air podcast. Whether we’ll see a wave of devaluations in 2021.

Last edited 2 years ago by Kent
Somar

I think a point can be made that airlines ar strapped for cash right now. So yes, they will increase the cost (mIles/points but not liquid cash) of mileage awards tickets in an effort to push people back into buying (and paying cash) for products 1 through 5.

Bob

But the important question is…. Did anyone have this on their list of predictions for 2021?

bluecat

Nerd Alert! –> It actually happened on the last day of 2020.

Joey

Virgin did send out an email to flying club members last September stating Virgin miles will become Virgin points and how they’ll never expire. It implied no changes would be made in earning/spending them but obviously they made changes. The new owners is Virgin Red Limited so I guess the onus is on them for doing this or perhaps this is just the way they do business. <<sigh>>

Andre

Nick —
No one should be surprised. A lot of travelers are sitting on a lot of miles. So when the world opens up, that’s a lot of cash the airlines won’t initially get. So they’re going to make it tougher to get a good deal on miles. Supply and demand. Why do you think all the airlines had so many mileage sales last year ? To bait and switch us. Expect more airlines to do devalue their programs (well, maybe not Air Canada) in the coming weeks/months.