Virgin Atlantic rang in the new year in the worst possible way by gutting one of the best sweet spots to book Delta flights to Europe, Asia, and beyond. With no warning, award rates to book a one-way ticket in Delta One business class jumped as much as 175%.
As the fallout mounted, Virgin Atlantic said the new rates for Delta flights to Europe – which had increased from 50,000 Virgin Atlantic points in Delta One to 80,000 points to as much as 130,000 points – were a mistake. The airline promised an update was coming, and frequent flyers crossed their fingers for a return to normal.
Luckily, that's what's happening. As of Monday, Jan. 11, all Delta redemptions between the U.S. and Europe have returned to their pre-devaluation levels. That means it's back to 30,000 miles for a one way in economy and 50,000 miles for a one-way flight in Delta One business class.
Officials from Virgin Atlantic stressed to Thrifty Traveler that the airline wasn't responding to blowback by reversing some of the award rate increases. They insisted pricing from U.S. to Europe was never supposed to change.
“Unfortunately, due to a human error, we incorrectly changed our U.S.-Europe pricing,” said Anthony Woodman, Virgin's vice president of customer journey and reward. “As soon as this was identified we took steps to rectify the mistake and make things clear again for our customers.”
But that's where the good news ends. Other popular Delta redemptions using Virgin Atlantic points remain at sky-high rates, thanks to the airline's new distance-based award chart. A one-way flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) was bookable for just 60,000 miles each way – and so was Atlanta (ATL) to Tokyo. Now, those awards will now cost 130,000 miles and 165,000 miles, respectively. Flights to South America, Australia, and elsewhere have also gone up in price.
Here's a final look at some of these changes in the most popular Delta One flights using Virgin Atlantic points.
|Route||Old Rate (One-Way)||New Rate (One-Way)|
|New York (JFK) to Amsterdam (AMS)||50,000 miles||50,000 miles|
|Detroit (DTW) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG)||50,000 miles||50,000 miles|
|Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Amsterdam (AMS)||50,000 miles||50,000 miles|
|Seattle (SEA) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG)||50,000 miles||50,000 miles|
|Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)||60,000 miles||130,000 miles|
|Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)||60,000 miles||130,000 miles|
|Detroit (DTW) to Seoul-Incheon (ICN)||60,000 miles||165,000 miles|
|Atlanta (ATL) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)||60,000 miles||165,000 miles|
|New York City (JFK) to Sao Paulo (GRU)||45,000 miles||105,000 miles|
|Atlanta (ATL) to Buenos Aires (EZE)||45,000 miles||105,000 miles|
|Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD)||75,000 miles||165,000 miles|
Breaking Down Virgin Atlantic's Changes
The London-based airline has defended the changes, arguing that the increase in some popular redemptions is coupled with a decrease on some other flights. A handful of short domestic flights have decreased in price, as have select flights between the U.S. and the U.K.
The elephant in the room here is Delta, which owns a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic. With that financial muscle, Delta could have pushed Virgin to close a lucrative loophole after years of flyers taking advantage of the workaround to book Delta One flights for a fraction of the SkyMiles.
Read our review of Delta One from Tokyo-Haneda (HND) to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)!
Woodman from Virgin Atlantic didn't directly address that question, but provided some insight into why Virgin Atlantic decided to increase many Delta award rates (emphasis ours.)
“We review redemption pricing on an ongoing basis like any loyalty program … We updated our Delta redemption pricing for these sectors given the costs of providing these rewards to customers,” he said. “Whilst some fares have increased, a significant number have decreased and we believe our redemption pricing remains competitive.”
Airlines reimburse each other for these partner carrier redemptions. Behind the scenes, they come to agreements on what the award rates for these redemptions should be – and how much Virgin should have to pay Delta when a Flying Club member books a Delta seat, too.
Booking a Delta One Suite for 50,000 or 60,000 points when Delta would charge 200,000 SkyMiles or more for the same flight was too good to last forever. But the timing still stinks.
Not only did Virgin Atlantic start a new year by raising popular award redemptions by as much as 175%, but they did so at a time when most travel is still on hold. Many travelers who were saving up miles for one of these trips – or even canceled a Delta One booking in 2020 – will suddenly be forced to pay much, much more. Worst of all, they did so with no warning or notice.
And Virgin isn't alone in making these changes. In late 2020, Delta raised award rates for partner airlines like Air France, KLM, Korean Air, and even Virgin Atlantic by as much as 40%.
It turns out Virgin Atlantic's massive devaluation for Delta flights isn't quite as bad as it seemed. You can still book Delta flights to Europe for 50,000 points in Delta One business class.
But flights to Asia, Australia, South America, and elsewhere remain at their new (and often exorbitant) rates.