Are Virgin’s Shiny New Air France/KLM Award Charts Even Real?

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Yesterday was the first day that Virgin Flying Club members could use their miles to book flights with new partners KLM and Air France. The award charts are a bit complicated, so we broke it down and shared the charts for flights with KLM here and the charts for flights with Air France here.

At first glance, the new award charts look extremely interesting, but after spending some time yesterday experimenting with the new redemption options, I’m genuinely confused about whether they are accurate or not…

What’s the problem?

It is completely understandable that on day one of something like this that there might be some glitches. Regardless of how much testing is done behind the scenes, contact with reality is likely to throw up some anomalies.

Unfortunately, the problem here seems to be much more fundamental than that: Either the award charts are largely wrong, or the system used to price awards is broken.  Simple redemptions involving only one flight (or one region) seem fine, but once you start including connections in Paris/Amsterdam, things get a bit weird.

The best way to explain what I mean is through an example: Cape Town (via Amsterdam) to Kuwait with KLM one way.

According to Virgin’s award chart for flights with KLM, Cape Town is in ‘Zone 5’ and Kuwait is in ‘Zone 3’. As you can see below, a one way Economy redemption on an off peak date should therefore cost 11,500 miles (+ taxes/surcharges).

That’s potentially a superb deal (and there are other similar ones), but in reality it is currently pricing up as requiring 27,000 miles instead:

It is easy to see how the system calculates the cost as being 27,000 miles – it is simply adding the amount of miles required for a flight from Cape Town to Amsterdam (15,000, Zone 5 to Zone 1), to the amount of miles required for a flight from Amsterdam to Kuwait (12,000, Zone 1 to Zone 3).  The terms are quite clear that should not be happening though,

If a journey requires a connecting flight or stopover to reach the destination, miles are charged according to origin and destination”.

In this example, the origin is Cape Town and the destination is Kuwait. There is obviously no way to fly the route with KLM except via Amsterdam, therefore a connecting flight is necessary. The miles required should therefore be whatever the award chart shows for a Zone 5 to Zone 3 flight – in this case 11,500 miles, not 27,000.

Initially, I assumed this might just be a website glitch, so I rang Virgin Flying Club and asked the agent to price out the above redemption. His system also calculated the cost at 27,000 miles. After I directed him to the relevant award chart, he agreed that it seemed the system is pricing these sort of connecting awards incorrectly and promised to have the issue investigated asap.

What is going on here?

Until I hear back from Virgin, I can’t say for certain, but it seems to me that either the award charts are wrong, or the way the system has been coded to price up redemptions that require a connection is wrong.

You might well question whether Virgin really intends to offer flights from Zone 5 to Zone 3 via Amsterdam for just 11,500 miles, when the two flights required for that itinerary cost 15,000 miles and 12,000 miles if you booked them individually. On the face of it that would seem overly generous, but there are plenty of similar examples in other airline’s award charts. Also, if that isn’t Virgin’s intention, why on earth has it produced a bunch of award charts that are all very obviously mostly wrong?

With the possible exception of a couple of 5th freedom flights, every single itinerary between two Zones (other than to/from Zone 1 itself) will require a connection in either Amsterdam or Paris. If Virgin wants to charge per segment, that’s fine – but the mile requirements listed on the award charts should reflect that.

If the price for a Zone 5 to Zone 3 redemption is meant to be the sum of a redemption between Zone 5 to Zone 1 and a redemption between Zone 1 to Zone 3, why not just list it on the chart as 27,000? There is literally no other way to fly those routes with KLM or Air France than via Zone 1, so what does the 11,500 miles refer to?

Bottom line

The current situation is extremely confusing. Hopefully Virgin will clarify how connections between Zones are actually meant to price soon.

Comments

    • Joe Deeney says

      Yeah, I’m just putting that down to random opening day glitch at the moment. Although, I was quoted the same cash figures by the call centre as well, and did notice some less dramatic examples of the cash component for Business Class being lower than for Economy, so there might be something worth looking into there.

      The award chart issue is absolutely fundamental though.

      • Chris says

        I don’t understand why Virgin offers a fixed redemption chart and apparently generous redemption levels for travel on KLM/Air France whereas KL/AF’s own Flying Blue program uses dynamic pricing. The award levels change radically. There isn’t much point saving up for an award that should cost you 29,000 miles if the level soars to 60,000 because of demand and fares on that flight that day. Moreover even the minimum Flying Blue mileage levels between say Africa and Europe are much higher when than the rates quoted for Virgin-issued awards on KL/AF. Does this mean that Virgin miles have a higher value? Or that this is a concessionary rate? And why should KLM/AF let Virgin customers use a fixed chart, whereas they impose dynamic pricing on they own customers? It’s also worth noting that KL/AF impose such high surcharges on award tickets that there’s rarely much point in using an award on a long-haul economy itinerary with competitive fares. They’re more useful for upgrades or business fares.

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