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How the Virgin Atlantic credit card let me down

So let me begin by saying I LOVE Virgin Atlantic. It’s a fantastic airline that has never let me down (well, until now. Read on …). For years we have been faithful followers of the brand.

When choosing a credit card, it made sense for us to go with a Virgin Atlantic American Express card. We could earn Flying Club points (we’ve become Silver members) and have continued to rack up enough miles to take the family to the London. Or so we thought.

It turns out there is a catch and it appears to be true for all British airlines – if you use points to purchase airfare, you still have to shell out for the huge fuel surcharge and taxes. What it means is that while our friends are flying United to Europe without paying a dime of their own, we’re asked to pay nearly $600 per person in surcharge and tax on our so-called free flight to England. Not quite the deal we had in mind when we signed up. Yes, we can use our miles to upgrade, but there’s still no avoiding the fees.

I’ve inquired about using my miles domestically to fly Virgin America instead. With this alternative, we would still pay fuel surcharge and tax, but it is relatively small by comparison (roughly $60 or so on a trip from LA to NY). But here, I would have to decide on a date and time to fly, call up the Flying Club hotline, make a reservation and then (get this…) wait up to 48 hours for them to get back to me on whether that flight is available and whether I can book this reservation. Yes, it could in theory mean that you’re going back and forth every 48 hours, proposing a possible flight departure and return and then being turned down. Even if you have a month that is open, they can’t come back to you with a flight that is available for you to book. It is a game of 20 Questions that could take weeks. It’s inconvenient and designed to discourage flyers from using their miles in this way. The same is true for flying any of their partner airlines (which really isn’t much of a deal since you have to pay the fuel surcharge regardless of location.)

There’s a lot of talk online about how to best use Virgin Atlantic miles, but at the end of the day, we got the credit card so we can fly cheaply to England. Paying $60 to fly to New York isn’t helping us toward that goal (although I hear it’s beautiful this time of year!). It’s a big catch-22 that is sadly souring my love affair with Virgin Atlantic.

Have you experienced something similar? Do you use an airline credit card or airline frequent flyer program to rack up free miles to England? What would you recommend?

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Posted on 1, October 2012, in Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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