Why I Redeemed All of my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles…

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I really hated to do it, but recently I gave up on Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and converted my miles to…  Hilton points. One Virgin mile can be exchanged for 1.5 Hilton points and I converted all 120,000 of my Virgin miles by calling Flying Club. Normally I would never consider such a value-destroying conversion, but these are strange times.  Here’s why…

First of All, Flying Club ISN’T Virgin Atlantic

Although the transaction was mentioned on a few blogs, including InsideFlyer UK, I had forgotten all about it. But back in 2018, Flying Club changed ownership. Instead of being owned 100% by Virgin Atlantic the airline, Flying Club changed hands and is now owned 51% by the Virgin Group (i.e. Sir Richard Branson) and 49% by Delta Airlines.

If Virgin Atlantic collapses at the end of May, as threatened by Sir Richard Branson in the Sunday Telegraph, your miles should still be relatively safe within the company that is now called “Virgin Red”. You would no longer be able to spend your miles on Virgin Atlantic flights of course. But there is a chance that some or all of Flying Club’s airline, hotel and credit card partnerships would survive, supplemented by some kind of redemption option within the wider Virgin group.

That’s the optimistic view… and if you’re looking for an example, JetPrivilege is still alive – renamed as InterMiles – despite the demise of Jet Airways in April 2019.

But of course there’s no guarantee that Flying Club would survive much longer than Virgin Atlantic, especially if it is funded with airline IOUs and if airline and credit card partners started tearing up partnership agreements…

How Painful was the Conversion?

Until the coronavirus changed everything, I valued a Virgin mile at roughly 1p. A few years ago, I took a very close look at the value of a Virgin mile and decided that many mileage collectors’ standard 1p rule-of-thumb is as good a guess as any…

A Hilton point can be bought for 0.4p. Details of the most recent promotion can be found by clicking here. I’m no longer sure whether it makes sense to buy Hilton points at that price, but I could probably manage to find a few examples of getting at least 0.4p of value from a handful of Hilton hotels I might like to visit.

It’s worth mentioning that I’m one of the stronger skeptics of “points value”. I really don’t care too much about the retail price of a 95,000 point per night hotel room at a Waldorf Astoria or Conrad hotel.  Since I would never pay cash, I would never say that a £950 room rate means that I received 1p per point in “value”. I would, however, wonder how much actual money it might cost me to buy enough hotel points to redeem for a free night. 0.4p times 95,000 points –> £380. Depending on the occasion, that might seem a fair price to me. And if I do better than 0.4p then great!

In other words, when I convert Virgin miles to Hilton points, I’m not exchanging miles for hotel nights “worth” whatever the retail rate might be. I’m exchanging miles for the cash saving of not buying Hilton points.

With that in mind, my 120,000 Virgin miles – once worth £1,200 – became 180,000 Hilton points worth £720 at most. (180k times 0.4p)  A 40% haircut…

An Entirely Different Perspective

As painful as it felt to convert my miles, the crucial element was understanding that a Virgin mile is simply no longer worth 1p. And here’s how I got there…

Those 120,000 miles of mine were earmarked for a First Class return trip from Germany to Tokyo. Click here for details of this incredible sweetspot. In my opinion, ANA reward flights are BY FAR the best value redemption option for Virgin miles.

Departing from Germany allows me to avoid UK APD, as well as generally being easier to find award space. Taxes and surcharges for a First Class reward between Germany and Tokyo come to approximately £220. And instead of a notional 1p per mile, let’s take their value as Hilton points as a cash-equivalent – after all, sooner or later I will stay in a hotel again and use points instead of paying cash – adding £720.

As a result of my slightly dodgy maths, a First Class return trip to Tokyo would have an “opportunity cost” of £940, plus the costs of positioning to/from Germany.

In normal times this would be a screaming bargain!!  But these aren’t normal times…

Back to Flying Club…

What would happen to partner award tickets if Flying Club ceases to exist? I’m not sure that anybody really knows.  On the one hand, you’d have a perfectly valid e-ticket and would be departing from the EU – potentially adding EC261 protection to the mix.  On the other hand, ANA would have not yet been paid by Flying Club and could easily decide to cancel all award tickets issued by their now-defunct partner.

So… I had 120,000 miles in my Flying Club account and could have easily made travel plans to visit Japan in the autumn – Kyoto’s autumn leaves spectacle is on my bucket list.  But I would have been “spending” £940 on:

  1. Flights I might not be able to take if coronavirus-related travel restrictions linger on until 2021 or beyond
  2. Flights I might not be able to take if Flying Club collapses

Given the current situation, this feels like betting on roulette – Red gets me a fantastic First Class trip to Japan, Black gets me absolutely nothing. Hanging on to my miles wouldn’t really have been less of a gamble. Rather than bet £940 on Red, I took the safer option of Hilton points…

I’m a Gambler, but Only When I Have an Edge…

Even though I rushed to convert my Virgin miles without really thinking it through, I’m happy that I did. Whether one values 120,000 Virgin miles at £720 or at £1,200+, both figures are large enough for me to care about.

I didn’t want to gamble on:

  1. The capability and desire of Sir Richard Branson and Delta Airlines to keep Flying Club going, and more importantly, to continue offering attractive redemption options. (I definitely don’t need vouchers for Virgin wine!)
  2. ANA honouring any booked award tickets
  3. Virgin Atlantic, Flying Club and/or my bank returning my £220 in cash should any award flights be cancelled in the future
  4. Flying Club restricting conversions to Hilton and other external redemptions that cost them money

At least… since Flying Club is now separate from Virgin Atlantic… I don’t have to feel guilty about contributing to the airline’s demise (by forcing them to buy Hilton points on my behalf).

What do you think? Have you done anything with your Virgin Atlantic miles? Let us know in the comments section.


  1. Andrew Bowness says

    I feel rather lucky that I got to go on my ANA First redemption in the last week of February, I’d hate to be anxious about whether my dream flight was going to be snatched away from me!

  2. cinereus says

    Do you really think a seat that has been ticketed will be cancelled if VS goes bust? I can’t see ANA doing that.

    • Joe Deeney says

      The issue is that ANA won’t actually have been paid for the seat, so definitely possible. I would hope it works out, but be prepared for it not.

      • Craig Sowerby says

        Yeah. My original thinking was that a valid e-ticket –> nothing to worry about. But most recent precedent I can find suggests that award tickets will most likely be cancelled unless the operating airline owes money to the bankrupt airline under netting off arrangements. I imagine most of the award ticketing traffic is Flying Club members booking ANA so that wouldn’t apply…

        • Joe Deeney says

          Yep, I think it would basically come down to ANA ‘being nice’ and I wouldn’t want to bet much on airlines feeling they have much room for kindness in the foreseeable.

        • Katharine Bero says

          Hi, I also converted my 365,000 miles to IHG points as I plan to travel to Boston next year and Boston is very expensive. I just didn’t want to lose them for nothing!

          • Joe Deeney says

            Yes, Boston hotel cash prices can be silly amounts, making points a very good option. I stayed at the IC and the Kimpton Nine Zero last year – both very pleasant places to stay in different ways and Boston is great.

  3. Andrew M says

    I had been agonizing for weeks about what to do with my Virgin points. I had a sizable amount so it would have been painful to loose them. I decided a few days ago to hedge my bets and transfer the majority of the points to Hilton but still retaining enough for roughly four ANA First redemptions. That’s still a lot of points to loose but I’m not convinced VS will go under. I’ve reduced my exposure to Virgin and gained Hilton points that are easier to use and with no costs attached to redemptions. I might still get an ANA First redemption in the bag for next year as It might provide some S75 protection for the points but I appreciate there’s no guarantees

    • Joe Deeney says

      Yes, given the amounts you’re talking about I think that sounds sensible. Based on Treasury ‘whispers’ and the apparent lack of serious private interest, I’m personally quite bearish on Virgin’s prospects (as currently constructed), but Flying Club is obviously more complicated. If I had to guess, I think that one way or another this ends with a substantially slimmed down airline that may or may not still be called Virgin. I would be amazed if a version of Flying Club wasn’t retained as part of that airline though.

      The big question then becomes, whether ANA and other partnership agreements (and more pertinently current award chart pricing) will still be in force. I’m not convinced on that – but change also means potential new opportunities for savvy points/miles users.

      TL;DR There will probably still be something to spend your remaining virgin miles on at the end of all this, and I’m confident you’ll personally get good value compared to 99%+ of other members, but it might require a bit of hunting 🙂

      • Andrew M says

        As far as finding value in any potential reorganized scheme is concerned, it depends whether it includes flight options. If it’s a choice between a few crates of wine or nothing, it would be close call for me, with “nothing” as a serious contender. If there are flight options, I’m sure Craig and yourself will find some gems for us 🙂

        It would be a real shame we lost some or all of the airline partners from Flying Club. I have no interest in paying the huge surcharges that are required on Virgin metal. As usual, it’s the partners where the value is ANA, Delta (to some extent), Air New Zealand can be great redemptions. I even had my eye on some obscure Hawaiian routes.

        There’s an argument that a frequent flyer program needs a few sweet spots to aim for keep its best customers loyal. How else can you explain some of the rates the Alaska charge for CX redemptions and Etihad’s Prague to Seoul on CSA sweet spot?

        • Joe Deeney says

          It’s an interesting point about how the more obscure partnerships (and award prices) get arranged. I think the ‘sweetspot’ argument is generally too cunning (although could believe it re Alaska as a deliberate differentiation as a smaller player in the US).

          Things like Etihad/CSA though must surely be the result of either massively incompetent employees who basically just make the numbers up, or someone pretty smart who sets it up nice and quiet because they personally want cheap flights to Seoul. 🙂

          • Andrew M says

            I can just about buy the argument that no one at Etihad has noticed the CSA award chart. Maybe they don’t read too many English language points and miles blogs in Abu Dhabi. I can’t believe however that Virgin isn’t well aware of how good their ANA redemptions are.

      • Craig Sowerby says

        I do wonder whether the story running in the Sunday Tory-graph was a way to make sure that a half dozen key Tories get the message that Virgin is trying their best to find outside money. When that fails in a month or so, the Treasury will potentially cave in…

        • Andrew M says

          Lets hope Virgin do get the funding Letting a popular British airline fail after offering Hungarian owned Wizzair a £300 million loan would not look good, especially since they don’t even need the money.

  4. Vin Gupta says

    Hi Craig, I think you’ve done the sensible thing. You’re guaranteed to get value from your miles as Hilton won’t go bust. I’ve got 150k Virgin miles between myself and my wife, but I’m holding on to them… The US airlines all went bankrupt, and their miles retained their value. But if I’m wrong, I’ll be crying!

    I really like your blog, and I’ve been following for a couple of years now. Your blog and others have inspired me to travel more and travel better. I want to thank you for that! You’ve also inspired me to set up my own blog at https://soulfultravelguy.com/article/. I would really appreciate it if you could take a look and let me know what you think. Whether or not you take a look at my blog, keep up the good work!

  5. David W says

    Hi Craig, I need to transfer Virgin Miles to Hilton and IHG as soon as possible as the outcome might not be good for Virgin.
    Have been trying to call Flying Club in UK but impossible to get through to anyone. As you have recently transferred miles
    which number did you call to get through. Would be grateful for help as I have a lot to move.

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