Planning an upcoming trip, I recently had the chance to book Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class with a transfer of points from Chase Ultimate Rewards. In this post I’m going to walk through how I settled on this flight plan, along with the step-by-step of the transfer and how I saved $500 with a simple extra step in my booking.
I’m planning a short trip this summer to London to see a pop concert. Since I’m going solo, I wasn’t really set on any particular schedule or cabin. I’ve been interested in low-cost Norse Atlantic for a while, and there are a host of options from JFK.
Preferably, I’d avoid a trip entirely on flights Emily has already reviewed. Here’s what she’s already covered:
- British Airways Business Class on 777 from New York to London
- Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Review — A350 from JFK to LHR
- Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Review — A330-300 from LHR to JFK
Some Options I Considered
The going rate for business class roundtrip was around $3,200, so whatever combination of airlines / cabins / points / cash I wound up with, I didn’t want to spend much more than that.
As far as First Class goes, I was pretty disappointed by what I’d read about British Airways First on these routes, and I’d prefer to try American Airlines Flagship Business before jumping into its Flagship First product.
My best options for products that were new to us were American Airlines Flagship Business and JetBlue Mint. JetBlue also flies its Mint suites between California and New York, and I have work in California a few times a year, so I didn’t need to jump on that. American Airlines Flagship Business just didn’t appeal to me.
The final option, which of course was always sort of the first option, was to try and get on Virgin Atlantic’s new A330neo Upper Class.
Getting Over The Biggest Hurdle
Of course, Virgin Atlantic’s new A330neo Upper Class is in higher demand and lower supply than the A350, 787, and A330 products, and it’s priced accordingly. You’ll regularly see it cost thousands more to get on this product than the others. Enter point.me.
Billed as “A better way to book with points”, point.me is a service that can search award availability across multiple programs, recommend transfer partners, and (for a higher price), book award flights for you.
As part of my broad research into this trip, I ran a point.me search and came up with the following result for a one way trip:
It turns out Chase had an ongoing 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic points have actually been a hot item recently, with multiple transfer bonuses and a discount on the purchase of the points offered in the last few months.
Math, Twists, and Turns
Now, a quick look at some awards math, with some twists and turns along the way. For starters, one of the best things about booking with points is that it can often make booking one-way trips more economical.
If you mostly book domestic flights, you’ve probably noticed that a typical domestic roundtrip flight costs the same as two one way trips. But international flights tend to be more complex, with one-way flights often costing more than 2/3 the cost of the roundtrip:
So, booking with points meant I’d have a wider range of options for my trip. And things got interesting when I started looking at the pricing on Virgin Atlantic. Here’s what my searches on this route turned up (the cash amounts being taxes/fees):
- Roundtrip JFK – LHR: 115,000 points + $2,271 USD
- One Way JFK – LHR: 57,500 points + $976.70 USD
- One Way LHR – JFK: 57,500 points + £631.61 GBP (~$775 USD)
Immediately we see something interesting. It’s over $500 cheaper to book both one way trips than the roundtrip. Now, let’s account for the 30% bonus that was offered on Chase transfers (i.e., the below numbers are in Ultimate Rewards points required):
- Roundtrip JFK – LHR: 89,000 points + $2,271 USD
- One Way JFK – LHR: 45,000 points + $976.70 USD
- One Way LHR – JFK: 45,000 points + £631.61 GBP (~$775 USD)
(Note that if I book both one way trips, I still only need to transfer 89,000 points. The weird math is because points can only be transferred in 1,000 increments.)
Comparing Points vs. Cash Bookings
Now, there’s no perfect way to value points. As a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder, I can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a rate of 1.5 cents for travel. This sets a reasonable floor for value, but it’s also the benchmark I use. We simply don’t have the flexibility to seek out the best value anymore.
So, at 1.5 cents per point, these costs come out to:
- Roundtrip JFK – LHR: $3,606
- One Way JFK – LHR: $1,651
- One Way LHR – JFK: $1,450
And the two one way flights combined come out to $3101 of value.
This $3101 is right around what the roundtrip cash rate for this trip started at, which might make you think I’m not getting good value. I’m certainly not getting great value, but there are some important final points that pushed me to this option.
Booking With Points Gave Me More Freedom
First, I get a better departure time. The best cash rate required me to depart around 7PM. This is fine, but if I can leave later, I get to hang out with Zoe in the evening before I go. I don’t care much about an extra few hours in London in the morning. (I do love London, to be clear.)
Second, I get on the A330neo. The best cash rate didn’t include the A330neo. There was no way I was going to fly Virgin Atlantic on this trip without the A330neo.
Finally, you can recalculate the value I got. The trip I wound up booking actually would have cost $6,440. I booked with 89,000 points and $1,751 cash. By this measure, I got over 5 cents per point of value on this booking.
I think this last point is an interesting one, because that’s of course how most people would just calculate the value to begin with. But it’s important to remember that there were plenty of good options at around $3200. It’s not inaccurate to measure my valuation based on the unique flight combination I settled on, but the context is important.
To wrap up a loose end, I wound up with both flights on Virgin Atlantic because there wasn’t another good combination that included the A330neo. To keep Norse Atlantic, for example, I would have had to go overnight without Lie Flat. Or, for just 45,000 points more, I could be in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class overnight. It was an easy choice.
Transferring My Points
I’d never booked via Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program before, but I did have an account already set up. Here’s a gallery of the step-by-step for transferring the points:
You can see at the end that Chase says the transfer may take up to 7 days. Within under a minute, I received an email from Chase saying the transfer was complete. This didn’t immediately populate in all the “points” fields on the website, but the transfers were documented in the “Activity” section of my profile:
One the points were transfered, I was able to easily complete the booking!