Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program is one that I’ve found to be increasingly valuable lately.
The first thing to note is that Flying Club is transfer partners with all four major transferable points currencies — Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood Preferred Guest. Not only that, but we see transfer bonuses from Amex Membership Rewards to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club with some frequency. For example, until November 30 you could receive a 30% bonus when you converted Amex points into Flying Club miles.
What makes Flying Club miles useful is the number of niche redemptions available. For example, redeeming Flying Club miles for travel in ANA first or business class between the US and Japan is an exceptional value. A roundtrip first class ticket will cost you just 120,000 miles.
Redeeming Flying Club miles on Delta to Europe can also be a great value, as their redemption rates are often lower than what Delta would charge directly.
However, today I learned about a new redemption value that I wasn’t previously aware of. Specifically, I’m talking about redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles for travel on South African Airways.
Redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles on South African Airways
As noted by John at Frequent Miler, it’s possible to redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for travel on South African Airways. Here’s Virgin Atlantic’s award chart for travel on South African Airways:
Perhaps the most shockingly good value there is for travel between the US and Senegal. South African Airways’ flight between Washington and Johannesburg stops in Dakar in both directions, and a roundtrip ticket exclusively between Washington and Dakar will cost you just 50,000 miles in business class.
One-way awards are available for half the cost of a roundtrip, meaning you could fly one-way business class from Washington to Senegal for just 25,000 miles. That’s an incredible value, though I do think it’s worth pointing out that Senegal is closer to Washington than to Johannesburg, so this isn’t going to get you especially close to South Africa, etc.
If you look at the rest of the chart, a flight from Senegal to South Africa will cost 25,000 miles one-way in business class. However, you may notice the two asterisks next to that award, which comes with the following footnote:
24-hour connection required if booked in conjunction with another reward.
If I’m reading this correctly, that means you couldn’t book back-to-back awards from Washington to Senegal to Johannesburg on the same flight, for a total of 50,000 miles one-way, but rather you’d have to do some sort of a stopover (though I question their ability to regulate that).
If you want to outright redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for travel on South African Airways between the US and South Africa, that will cost you 75,000 miles one-way in business class. That isn’t an amazing deal, or anything, but do keep in mind that if you transfer points during a 30% transfer bonus, that would be like paying 58,000 Membership Rewards points for such an award, which is quite a good deal.
South African Airways’ Washington Dulles route is operate by an A330 featuring their new staggered business class product.
Meanwhile their New York route is operated by an A340, featuring their old business class product, which consists of fully flat beds in a 2-2-2 configuration.
There’s one slight complication at the moment to searching award availability between Washington and Senegal. This past week a new airport opened in Dakar. The code of the old airport is DKR, while the code of the new airport is DSS. The catch is that most award search engines don’t yet recognize DSS, while they show the DKR flight as being canceled.
So if you want to see what kind of availability you can expect between Washington and Dakar, just look up availability between Washington and Johannesburg on united.com, or your preferred Star Alliance award search tool. If there’s space the entire way through, there should also be space on the first segment. Then if you want to actually book, you’ll have to call Virgin Atlantic.
It goes without saying that being able to redeem just 25,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for a one-way business class from the US to Africa is a heck of a deal. However, in practice it’s going to be of very limited use, unless you’re specifically looking to travel between Washington and West Africa.
However, even redeeming 75,000 Flying Club miles one-way for business class between the US and South Africa could be a good deal, especially when you consider that Flying Club is transfer partners with all major transferable points currencies, and we frequently see transfer bonuses.
The restriction regarding booking back-to-back awards is interesting, or else you could redeem 25,000 miles for business class from Washington to Dakar, and then another 25,000 miles for business class from Dakar to Johannesburg. However, technically you do need to wait 24 hours between connections, though I question their ability to regulate that in practice.
I’m sort of tempted to book a roundtrip from Washington to Dakar to review SAA’s new business class. Has anyone visited Dakar? Is it safe/interesting enough?