For the last twelve years my wife and I have hoarded our frequent flyer points by doing our best to only use airlines in the same ‘group’ as Virgin Atlantic.
In May of 2014 Virgin Atlantic stopped flying to / from Australia. Our aim was to have enough points to ‘buy’ a business class round trip ticket from Sydney to Hong Kong, but the points would be valid on their partner airlines, which included Virgin Australia.
Earlier this year we had notice from Virgin Atlantic that our points would be void at the end of July unless we generated some activity. Between my wife and I we had just over 142,000 points, too many to ignore.
After thinking about how to use the points we decided that we would like to visit Broome in North West Australia, a place my wife has had on her ‘bucket’ list for some time.
I checked Virgin Australia frequent flyer system to find out how many points it would cost us to fly business class to Perth. The required number of points one way was 36,500 – so we would need 146,000 points in total, which would require us to buy an additional 4000 points from Virgin Atlantic.
As a member of the Virgin Atlantic frequent Flying Club this would not be difficult. I made a note of the times and flights that we would like to use, because I knew that I would have to go through Virgin Atlantic in the UK to book tickets on any partner airline, which included Virgin Australia – not a problem I thought as Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia where in the same ‘camp’.
I rang Virgin Atlantic UK and spoke to a very helpful staff member, and told him that I would like to book two business class seats from Sydney to Perth. He asked me to hold while he checked the seven pages of regulations for Virgin Australia frequent flyer seats. Eventually he came back on line and told me that Virgin Australia didn’t allow frequent flyer business class tickets for short haul flights. Sydney to Perth is about five and a half hours, which is just short of flying from London to Kuwait (six hours), or New York to Panama City (five and a half hours), so I asked what was long haul for this airline, Sydney to Abu Dhabi (thirteen hours fifty five minutes) or Brisbane to Los Angeles (thirteen hours, ten minutes), was the reply.
I ended the call to London and my wife and I discussed flying economy – which we decided to do.
A day or so later I rang Virgin Atlantic again in the UK and was asked by the computer to hold, while I listened to their adverts. I hung up after six minutes – holding on during peak phone times is not fun. In fact I spent the next three hours trying to get past a computer telling me how important I was . . . on the eighth time of trying I spoke to a real person.
I explained my request for two economy tickets to Perth and gave the flight numbers and dates – he told me that the cost in points was 40,000 each and the only available flight from Sydney was the VA 551, which departed at 7.15 am, requiring a check in around 5.15 am, which for us meant leaving home at 4.15 am (we live 45 minutes from the airport), so setting our alarm for about 3.45 am.
The only available return flight for frequent flyer points purchases from Perth for Sydney was the 5.30 am, VA 552, which would require a check-in of around 3.30 am, because we would have bags to check-in, so was it worth paying for a hotel room if we flew from Broome the previous afternoon?
At our age – 72 & 73 – the thought of very early morning starts has lost its appeal. After saving for twelve years I now wonder if it was all worthwhile being a loyal frequent flyer supporter of the Virgin group of airline companies – I don’t think so.
Now for a much more positive comment – in the last three or four years my wife and I managed to collect 60,000 points with Qatar Airways and we wished to use them to fly from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur.
I rang Qatar Airways Privilege Club number in Doha (their head office) and spoke to a very helpful lady who booked our tickets over the phone for business class from Doha to Kuala Lumpur, and when I corrected her that we wanted to fly from Dubai via Doha to our destination, she apologised because they didn’t have any business class seats from Dubai to Doha, so she would book us First Class for the one hour flight to catch the Doha to Kuala Lumpur business class flight. Now that was customer service for two people who were using points and not cash – now which airline would you use again?
For the record our flight departs Dubai at 6.30 pm local time, a sixty minute flight, and our onward flight departs at 8.05 pm local time Doha – all very civilised – and the flight time is seven hours twenty five minutes (short haul?). What a pleasure to deal with a company that honours in the sprit as well as the word, of why people collect Qatar Airways frequent flyer points.
I post about our experiences to warn others that, in my opinion, collecting points for ‘free’ flights is not worth the effort with a virgin.