27,500 Miles to Europe in Premium Economy This Summer and Other Gems on the Virgin Atlantic Chart

I love stretching my miles as much as I can to get me to more places rather than always splurging on luxurious first and business class seats (though treating myself is always fun). A good college friend of mine invited me to spend a few days with her in London this summer, and instead of resorting to my usual (United and AAdvantage miles), I wanted to explore other options.

I found I was asking myself this question – Why spend 30k miles for an economy one way to Europe this summer when you could spend fewer miles to fly in a seat that’s twice as nice?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the basics of earning Ultimate Rewards from all three families of Ultimate Rewards cards. The bottom line is that Ultimate Rewards are among the easiest currencies to earn because of the cards that offer huge sign up bonuses and huge category bonuses. I also love the flexibility of the points since you can transfer 1:1 to many hotel and airline programs on an as-needed basis.

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You can also get 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to your account.
  • The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as some pretty awesome category bonuses.)
  • The Ink Bold is a business charge card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as the same awesome category bonuses.)

To really maximize the value of all those easy Ultimate Rewards, you need to understand the Ultimate Rewards transfer partners. Today I want to highlight Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

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Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to Virgin Atlantic miles. Virgin Atlantic miles are hugely valuable for one way awards from the United States to the United Kingdom in economy and Premium Economy.

Awards start at:

  • 17,500 Virgin Atlantic miles + $131.50 in economy
  • 27,500 Virgin Atlantic miles + $231.50 in Premium Economy

Premium Economy is basically like flying domestic first class on an American airline. It’s not just a few extra inches of leg room like United Economy Plus; it’s a lot more. You get a wider seat, more leg room, a meal, and an amenity kit. Here’s a YouTube video showcasing Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy.

The high value uses of Virgin Atlantic miles are one ways to the United Kingdom in economy and Premium Economy. Best of all, these high value uses are wide open with award space for this summer. A few warnings:

  • Do not use Virgin Atlantic miles for the return trip from Europe to the United States. (Try United miles, another Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, instead.)
  • Do not use Virgin Atlantic miles for Upper Class, what Virgin Atlantic calls business class, redemptions.

Economy Between the United States and United Kingdom

You can check out the Virgin Atlantic award chart here.

Virgin Atlantic charges different miles prices in economy from its different American destinations to the United Kingdom:

  • Boston, New York, Newark, Washington DC, Chicago: 17,500 miles
  • Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco: 21,250 miles

The one way award from those cities to London also costs $131.50 out-of-pocket including taxes and a fuel surcharge. The miles price stays the same if your destination is somewhere else in the United Kingdom like Manchester or Edinburgh, but the out of pocket price goes up a bit.

Award space is plentiful on the routes from the eastern United States to the United Kingdom this summer.

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New York to London searches bring up results from JFK and Newark. There is tons of space on both routes in economy this summer.

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Space from the west coast is harder to come by, but it does exist for 21,250 miles + $131.50 one way.

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Choosing a United Kingdom destination other than London does not increase the miles price, but does increase the cash component modestly.

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Premium Economy Between the United States and United Kingdom

Virgin Atlantic charges different miles prices in Premium Economy from its different American destinations to the United Kingdom:

  • Boston, New York, Newark, Washington DC: 27,500 miles
  • Chicago: 30,000 miles
  • Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco: 35,000 miles

The one way award from those cities to London also costs $231.50 out-of-pocket including taxes and a fuel surcharge. Like stated above, the miles price stays the same if your destination is somewhere else in the United Kingdom like Manchester or Edinburgh, but the out of pocket price goes up a bit.

Award space is plentiful on the routes from the eastern United States to the United Kingdom this summer.

Some days from New York and Newark have award space on six flights!

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Chicago also has good space and for only 30k miles one way.

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Award space is worse from the west coast, but it does exist for 35,000 miles one way.

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Why These Are Good Deals

Most of us will get our Virgin Atlantic miles from transfers of Ultimate Rewards. Let’s compare whether transferring to Virgin Atlantic and booking Virgin Atlantic economy and Premium Economy is a better idea than transferring to United to book United economy.

United charges 30k miles + $2.50 one way from Chicago (or anywhere else in the United States) to London.

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 8.27.32 AM I’d rather pay 17,500 miles + $131.50 to fly Virgin Atlantic. Beyond the service probably being better, you save 12,500 miles for only $129 extra or about one cent per mile saved. I value Ultimate Rewards at about 2 cents each, so I am happy to pay 1 cent each to save them.

You can also fly Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy from Chicago to London for 30k miles + $231.50. That’s the same number of miles but $229 more than United economy. This is an individual decision, but would you pay $229 to upgrade United economy to Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy for eight hours? I definitely would.

Awards to Avoid with Virgin Atlantic Miles

As I said earlier, don’t book your return from the United Kingdom with Virgin Atlantic miles. You’ll pay fuel surcharges and the UK’s huge departure taxes. One way from London to New York in economy costs 184 Pounds out-of-pocket, which is about $300. The charges are even higher out of London in Premium Economy and Upper Class.

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I also think Upper Class is a bad deal with Virgin Atlantic miles. The miles price is cheap at 40k to 50k miles from the US to UK, but you have to pay $416.50 out of pocket.

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How to Get Back from the United Kingdom

I don’t recommend returning from the United Kingdom at all. It’s far cheaper to return from continental Europe where departure taxes are a lot lower. Pair London with Spain for instance, and you’ll save over $100 by flying home from Spain instead of London.

Wherever you return from, the best economy award space is with United miles for 30k miles one way. You can also check American Airlines and its partners for 30k mile one way returns.

Getting the Virgin Atlantic and United Miles

As I said earlier, most of us will actually end up getting Virgin Atlantic miles from 1:1 Ultimate Rewards transfers. Just a recap, some of the best ways to get Ultimate Rewards points are with the CSP and Ink Bold/Ink Plus cards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, and The Ink Plus and The Ink Bold each offer 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

I’m excited that I am planning my first trip to London this summer, and I am also equally excited to be flying Virgin Atlantic for the first time. For those who have been to London (which I am sure a lot of readers have been), please feel free to share some tips. Also, I’d love to hear about your Virgin Atlantic flying experiences as well!


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Creating “Mega Trips” with United Miles and Avios

Do you ever get the urge to take a mega-trip? Not a quick weekend to Nice like I just booked, but a few weeks to several cities. I’m planning to book a multi-city hop to Asia this fall, so I’m exploring all of my redemption options now.

It can be hard to visit several cities on one award trip, but by using your United miles and British Airways Avios, you can easily construct incredible trips where you can see three cities for barely more than the price of a roundtrip award to one city.

Here’s how it works:

United awards allow a stopover and an open jaw. That means you can include three foreign cities on a United award, but there will be an unfilled hole between two of them.

For instance, imagine you flew from your home airport of Newark to Rome. You stop over in Rome for a few days before continuing to Vienna. A week later, after an open jaw between Vienna and Munich, you return from Munich to Newark.

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This is a valid United award and it includes Rome, Vienna, and Munich. Unfortunately there’s no flight between Vienna and Munich, and no way to add one because the United award already uses its stopover and open jaw.

That’s where British Airways Avios come in. Avios are ideal for short, non-stop flights like Vienna to Munich because the price of an Avios award depends on the distance of the flight. Vienna and Munich are so close that the Avios award costs only 4,500 miles.


United awards can have a stopover and an open jaw. That gives you a chance to fly into city A, continue to city B, and return home from city C. But it leaves a hole between city B and city C that Avios are ideally suited to fill.

Try to make sure that one of the cities involved with the open jaw is a oneworld hub, so that there will be a direct flight.

You can fly the outbound and return of the United awards in different cabins. If you do that, you just pay the one way price for each cabin.


Rome, Vienna, and Munich

Start on the multi-city search page of united.com. Enter the dates and cities you desire. Remember that there will be an open jaw. In my case, the open jaw is between Vienna and Munich.

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Give the number of passengers, then skip down to the bottom and select Award Travel.

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Search results are displayed without the miles price or the taxes on multi-city searches. Don’t worry. Those reappear at the end.

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It was fairly easy for me to piece together a United award for October that features time in Rome, Vienna, and Munich for only 60k miles and $153.

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But you’ll notice the award has no way to get from Vienna to Munich. This is where Avios come in.

British Airways has a partner named Niki, based in Vienna with excellent award space throughout Europe.

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Since the flight is so short, it costs only 4,500 + $45.

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If you book both the United award and British Airways award, you’d get a two-week trip to Rome, Vienna, and Munich with all flights included for 60,000 United miles, 4,500 Avios, and $198 in taxes. That’s an unbeatable way to jet around Europe!

Tokyo, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur (with a First Class return)

Nothing limits the techniques in this post to European trips or economy awards. Here’s an award that hits Tokyo, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. The outbound is in economy, but the return from Kuala Lumpur to San Francisco features 11 hours in United Global First Class.

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The total cost of the United award is 120k miles and $79. The 120k miles is 40k miles for the outbound in economy and 80k for the return in First Class.

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But if you noticed, the United award has no flight between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Luckily British Airways’ oneworld partner Malaysia Airlines flies around the world from Kuala Lumpur with excellent award space.

From Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines usually offers award space on several daily flights. The cost is only 7,500 Avios and $21.

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So the total cost to see three vibrant Asian capitals would be 120k United miles, 7,500 Avios, and $101. And that price includes a return in First Class, so you can hit the ground running back at home.

In Summary…

United miles and Avios pair really well together. United is perfect for the longhaul segments that form the backbone of the trip, and Avios are perfect to fill in small gaps that the United award can’t reach because of its stopover limit.

United miles and Avios are both 1:1 transfer partners of Ultimate Rewards. You can stock up on those with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, The Ink Plus, and The Ink Bold.

You can also earn 50,000 bonus Avios after spending only $2,000 in the first three months with the British Airways Visa Signature Card.

Have you constructed an award redemption like this before? If so, where did you go?


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I Can’t Buy American Airlines Gift Cards with my AmEx #NJProblems

I’m sure by now, many of you already know that one of the benefits of the American Express Platinum cards is the $200 yearly airline fee credit (if not, see this post), and one way to satisfy that credit is to purchase airline gift cards.

Earlier in the year, American Express noted that their US Airways Club/American Airlines Admirals Club lounge access would no longer be a card-member benefit after March 31, and as a courtesy, they were offering card members an additional incidentals credit to compensate for the loss of the lounge privileges.

Again, many card members had the same gift card idea.

However, when I went to purchase an American Airlines e-gift card using my AmEx Platinum, I received this error message:

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Even though, I was not having a physical gift card shipped to a NJ address, I was prevented from purchasing a gift card, period, just because my card had a NJ billing address. It was quite frustrating, and I know many of my fellow NJ readers also faced the same dilemma. This FlyerTalk post further explains the limitations NJ residents face when purchasing gift cards.

Luckily, I have another out-of-state residence, so with a quick call to AmEx, I explained my situation and was able to temporarily change my billing address so that my purchases would go through. I highly recommend anyone else in my shoes do the same.

What is your opinion on the gift card laws that are coming into effect? Do you think it’s unfair that it prevents even e-gift card purchases? Would love to hear your thoughts…


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Let’s Meet: FTU Seattle and Chicago Seminars

Hands down, one of the best things about this hobby are the people in it. There’s nothing more enjoyable than talking miles and points face-to-face  in a social setting with people who “get” this quirky hobby. There are two fun-filled events coming up that are open to the public for fellow points and miles enthusiasts to gather together, learn new tricks, and share travel tips. Here’s where we can meet:

  • Friday, April 25 to Sunday, April 27 in Seattle: Whether you’re a new or old player in the points and miles game, there’s always room to learn more and meet some pretty amazing people in the process at Frequent Traveler University. Though this event is technically already sold out, there’s still a chance to score a ticket from someone who can no longer make it. I love going to weekend of points and miles seminars because you can’t beat being in an environment with some of the most influential people in the industry. I’ll personally be in Seattle from Thursday night (for the Freddie awards) until Friday evening for the cocktail hour/kick-off of FTU. You can learn more/discuss FTU here. Looking forward to chatting with all!
  • Friday, October 17 to Sunday, October 19 in Elks Grove, IL:  Tickets are already on sale for this year’s Chicago Seminars that is taking place in Elks Grove, IL during the weekend of October 17-19. The event is capped at 500 people, and has historically sold out in the past. I’ve attended for the past 3 years have always had a blast. I’m sure I’ve said this a thousand times, but this event was the true seed of inspiration for starting this blog, and I highly recommend you attend if you want to be with a group of like-minded individuals who enjoy traveling with points and miles as much as you do. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at the Chicago Seminars – my session about Best Rate Guarantees is on Saturday afternoon. As a natural deal-queen, I’m excited to share some great BRG strategies.  This event is surely not to be missed!

Looking forward to meeting new faces and seeing familiar ones!


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Will Traveling Through EWR Soon Seem Nightmarish For Some?

There are three things happening, or will be happening in the very near future [simultaneously, even] that might make my home airport, EWR, nightmarish to travel to and from due to 3 distinct “hiccups”. Those who I can imagine who will be suffering the most are those traveling to NYC, using Amtrak as a codeshare, or those who simply rely on public transportation (the AirTrain) to get to/from EWR.

Earlier this week Scott at Hack My Trip blogged about hiccup #1 – EWR shutting down it’s airport monorail. In short, starting May 1, EWR’s AirTrain will remain closed for 75 days for construction. This halt will be replaced with shuttle buses from Newark Penn Station and I believe connections will be anything but seamless. This directly impacts customers who book their flights out of “ZFV”, an Amtrak codeshare rail connection from Philadelphia.

Another bump (hiccup #2) that EWR travelers might face is the closure of the Pulaski Skyway. The Pulaski Skyway is a major highway that connects NJ to Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel.

On April 12, 2014, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, (NJDOT), will begin construction to replace the deck on the Pulaski Skyway that will close the northbound lanes toward Jersey City and New York for approximately two years (!!). Many travelers who rely on cabs or car service to get from EWR to NYC might most definitely will experience increased fares and severe traffic.

Lastly, EWR hiccup #3 affects all travelers, even my fellow in-state New Jerseyans. Starting April 2014 and lasting all the way until December 2014 (wishfully thinking), the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey recently announced the closure of Runway 4L/22R due to rehabilitation construction.

PANYNJ states:

Runway 4L-22R will be closed for 60 consecutive days beginning April 1, 2014 and ending June 1, 2014 and will operate at reduced capacity from June 1 to June 15. The runway will be closed an additional 10 days beginning September 20 and ending September 30. With the exception of the closures, the airport’s three runways will be fully utilized during construction.

Things might be slightly better for those whose start and end points of travel remain in New Jersey, but with a runway closing, the hiccups of travel delays and the possibility of tighter/missed connections will be inevitable.

I can imagine that travelers who are aware of these three disruptions will consider traveling out of JFK and LGA as an alternative. Here I am optimistically hoping that airlines will offer irresistible fare deals out of EWR in order to remain competitive as a NYC airport.

Luckily, I flew from EWR – Aruba and back on April 3 and 6th, respectively and didn’t experience any delays on either end.

Just curious – do these/have these/will these 3 EWR hiccups impact your 2014 travel plans? Please feel free to share your thoughts!

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