If you’ve used SkyMiles to book a Delta flight, you’ve no doubt balked at the number of miles the airline wants. With prices that soar seemingly at random, it can feel like a ripoff at times. Delta’s lack of an award chart means the airline can charge whatever it wants for a given flight. And when Delta decides it wants a lot, you’re out of luck. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here’s your new mantra: Anytime Delta wants a boatload of SkyMiles, see if you can snag the flight for cheaper through Virgin Atlantic. And even when Delta’s prices seem reasonable, check Virgin Atlantic anyways.
Delta and Virgin: A Perfect Partnership
Virgin Atlantic is the chic airline that flies across the Atlantic Ocean and the brainchild of Richard Branson. Strangely, its frequent flyer program, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, isn’t great for booking actual Virgin Atlantic flights. The rates aren’t great, and the surcharges and fees that get tacked on add up fast.
Virgin isn’t part of a major airline alliance, but a handful of partnerships with airlines open up a ton of great redemption opportunities. Among them, Virgin is a close partner with Delta Airlines, which owns a large stake in Virgin. And when it comes to pricing awards, the two airlines couldn’t be more different. Delta award prices are all over the map, fluctuating wildly based on day of the week, cash price, demand and more.
However, Virgin award rates are far more stable. And that’s true for the Delta award flights you can buy with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles too. A domestic flight on a Delta plane is almost always 25,000 Virgin Atlantic miles round trip. A trip to the Caribbean is 35,000 miles. First class to Asia should be 60,000 miles every time.
And maybe it’s just their close partnership, but Virgin Atlantic seems to have better access to saver-level Delta award flights than even SkyTeam partners like Air France/KLM or Korean Air. In general, we find the best availability for Delta flights when booking through Virgin Atlantic is for 1-3 months before departure.
We could go on and on about all the different ways you could save some serious miles by booking Delta flights through Virgin Atlantic. From economy flights to business class, it can be astounding.
Delta is infamous for charging an arm and a leg for award flights on the great new Delta One suites. Seeing 300,000 SkyMiles or more for a one-way flight to Asia is not out of the norm. For reference, most airlines charge 80,000 miles one-way for business class flights.
However, Delta wants at least 100,000 SkyMiles for a business class suite on the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) flight this spring.
That’s actually quite decent for Delta, but you can do much better by booking through Virgin Atlantic if you’re flexible. We found some great availability to fly Delta One suites to Asia this summer.
There can be serious savings on standard domestic flights, too. And given Delta’s habit of charging more for flights between its hubs, it seems to be a sweet spot for Virgin Atlantic. Check out the savings on flights from Atlanta (ATL) to Salt Lake City (SLC).
The list goes on and on – we could do this for hours. Richard Kerr at The Points Guy and Award Travel 101 is a real evangelist when it comes to using Flying Club to book Delta miles, so be sure to read his stuff.
On the flipside, there are times when you’ll find much better award pricing directly through Delta. Delta’s seemingly non-stop flash sales are always worth checking out. And on some short domestic flights (think distances under 1,000 miles), Delta often has some low pricing that Virgin cannot beat.
How to Book through Virgin Atlantic
The hangup on booking flights through VirginAtlantic.com is that its website is wonky. For first-timers, it’s difficult to pull up the routes you want. The search engine frequently won’t recognize airports that aren’t in Virgin’s route network. And searching for award flights can be a chore, as the website frequently won’t even allow you to do so.
However, there’s a near-foolproof workaround to get the right results every time. Start by typing in a route that Virgin Atlantic flies, such as Los Angeles (LAX) to London-Heathrow (LHR). Select the “Pay with Miles” options, and start searching. Once the meaningless results have popped up, hit “Refine Search” and get to work.
Type in your departing airport, then move to your destination. Sometimes it will work, but other times you’ll have to click the map icon and manually select your destination.
It may take a few tries but keep at it and eventually, you’ll get the search function to work. And given the savings here, it’s worth the extra effort.
How to Get Virgin Atlantic Miles
Despite all their shortcomings, Delta SkyMiles are valuable in part because they’re so easy to earn. With three co-branded credit cards and the ability to transfer American Express Membership rewards to your SkyMiles account, there are plenty of options.
However, Virgin Atlantic Miles are even easier to pile up. That’s because it’s transfer partners with all three of the major bank’s points currencies. Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points.
So you could boost your Flying Club balance by opening the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a 60,000-point welcome bonus, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a 50,000-point welcome bonus.
The American Express Platinum Card is a strong option for frequent flyers. The $550 annual fee may seem steep, but that comes with at least a 60,000-point welcome bonus and an unbeatable set of travel perks. Check to see if you qualify for a 100,000-point bonus.
We love Delta SkyMiles and we’re not shy about it. However, there are many cases where their SkyMiles award pricing doesn’t make sense. In these examples, use Virgin Atlantic miles as your bridge to greatly reduce the cost of your Delta award travel.
Lead photo credit: Chris Lundberg via Flickr
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.