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How to upgrade to Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for less

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This article was last updated Jan 19, 2016, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is an experience like no other.

Is it the most refined experience in the air?

No.

Is it a quality offering served with a bit of flair?

Yes.

From the unmatched Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow to the the signature bar, there is nothing quite like a Virgin Atlantic flight in Upper Class.

Which is why so many people hope to claim to be friends of Richard Branson and score a seat.

Unfortunately, that won’t get you much further than the curtain dividing the classes, but there are ways to get into Upper Class without paying $5,000 roundtrip.

The most reliable options are these:

  • Upgrading with Virgin Flying Club miles
  • Booking an award with Flying Club miles
  • Booking an award with Delta SkyMiles

Virgin Flying Club miles aren’t the most valuable in the world, but they are quite easy to earn, especially if you live in the U.S, and award space in Upper Class is pretty generous if you’re flying from the East Coast.

Flying Club is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards® and Chase Ultimate Rewards® as well as Citi ThankYou® Rewards, so it’s really easy to earn Flying Club miles via credit card spend. And Virgin’s own MasterCard from Bank of America has a generous sign on bonus, and earns 1.5 miles for every dollar you spend.

Here’s a rundown of how much it will cost to get into Upper Class without paying the full fare.

Expensive: Upgrade your Virgin ticket….if someone else is paying

  • Cost: 70 – 80,000 miles round trip from Economy, plus $1,500+ airfare and $700 in taxes / fees ($2,200+ total)

Virgin Atlantic is happy to take your miles to upgrade a ticket to Upper Class, and you can do it for 35,000 – 40,000 miles each way.

They won’t let you do this on the very cheapest fares, but if you have an Economy Class ticket that’s an ‘X’ fare basis or higher you can use Flying Club miles to upgrade.

Those fares can run about $1,500 roundtrip.

Even worse, when you upgrade from Economy to Upper Class you’ll be responsible for an extra $700 in surcharges and taxes, so you’re looking at over $2,300 in cash out before you apply your miles to upgrade.

Upgrading makes sense if your alternative is paying $5,000 for a real Upper Class fare, or if someone else is paying for your Economy Class ticket. Otherwise, if this is all on your own spending, consider using a traditional all-miles (plus taxes and fees) award.

You can also upgrade from a Premium Economy fare to Upper Class for 15,000 – 17,500 miles one way, and those fares usually run from $1,500 – $2,000 roundtrip plus about $350 in extra fees to sit in Upper Class. The advantage to upgrading is you do earn miles on the cash ticket you purchase, and on a roundtrip Premium Economy fare you’ll earn over 10,000 miles, or half the cost of a roundtrip upgrade.

To find upgrade awards, simply log on to VirginAtlantic.com and choose ‘spend your miles.’ Flights that show Upper Class space available for booking with miles are available for upgrades, and you can call Virgin Atlantic on 1-800-862-8621 to book.

Less expensive: Book a straight up award, but use a one-way trick to save

Cost: 80 – 100,000 miles round trip, plus $700 – $1,200 in taxes / fees

If you’re just doing a straight Flying Club award, you’ll pay miles plus cash to cover taxes and fuel surcharges according to the price table below, though the total taxes and surcharges listed in the table aren’t always accurate or representative of what you can pay, as we’ll cover next.

Fuel surcharges are determined by where you begin the journey on your ticket, so if you book a New York – London roundtrip, you’ll be charged a different surcharge than if you book a London – New York roundtrip.

The reason being is the competitive dynamics are different for trips that begin in the U.S. versus those that begin in the UK, and trips that start in the UK are priced in Pounds rather than Dollars.

With Virgin Atlantic, trips that start in the UK enjoy much lower surcharges in Upper Class. So, for example there are actually three different prices you can pay for an Upper Class award between New York and London, depending on what information you feed the Virgin Atlantic site.

  • Roundtrip New York – London: 80,000 miles + $1,120
  • Two separate one-way tickets New York – London: 80,000 miles + $892
  • Roundtrip London – New York: 80,000 miles + $669

There’s no good reason you should book a traditional roundtrip award with Flying Club miles when starting in the U.S. Conversely, if you can, book a roundtrip when starting in the U.K. Either way you’ll pay a lot less than the $1,000+ most people are paying when upgrading a regular roundtrip from the U.S.

Least expensive: Use Delta SkyMiles® and eliminate surcharges

  • Cost: 125,000 miles round trip plus $300 in taxes

If you want to minimize your cash outlay, and you’re starting your trip in the United States, use Delta SkyMiles®.

At 62,5000 miles one way (125,000 roundtrip) plus about $300 in UK taxes, it’s the best way to go in Upper Class for the least cash.

deltaaward

Delta SkyMiles® is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards®, so points from any Membership Rewards card can be used to top off your SkyMiles® account and get you closer to an Upper Class award.

And if you’re lucky, Amex may target you for a bonus that offers 100,000 miles or more if you sign up for The Platinum Card® from American Express, which gets you almost there for a roundtrip Upper Class award with Delta SkyMiles®.

So while an Upper Class award isn’t available just for the asking, there are plenty of ways to book a seat without spending a lot of cash.


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