The last several weeks have had pretty great SkyMiles saver award availability from JFK and BOS to London on Virgin Atlantic, both in Business (Upper Class) and Economy. The trend seems to be continuing into August, though you’ll have to ignore the error prone award availability calendar. Most often, the calendar shows saver or low availability on dates with no actual saver seats, however it appears to be the opposite this time around. The calendar is displaying multiple days with only peak availability, though when actually searching on those days, you are likely to find saver seats… most often on Virgin Atlantic with very few on actual Delta metal.

Delta Award CalendarDelta Virgin Atlantic Award Availability

Not a bad way at all to get to Europe in the prime August travel period, though of course you’ll be stuck with the UK air passenger duty fee and UK passenger service charges if booking a r/t – around $330 regardless of whether you select Virgin or Delta. Of course, flying back to the US from another European airport will save you the majority of these fees ($5.60 for the outbound only).

Delta Virgin Atlantic FeesDelta FeesDelta One Way

RelatedTrip Report – Virgin Atlantic Upper Class w/ DL SkyMiles Newark (EWR) – London Heathrow (LHR)

Interested in using your miles for a flight but can’t find availability? Consider using Juicy Miles for award booking assistance!

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Here it is, my first in-flight amenity kit dating back 11 years ago. The crazy thing is that this kit was provided in economy class!  My college friends and I purchased Virgin Atlantic tickets to Europe in 2003 when they (along with BA and American) were running a buy-one-get-one free promotion during the international travel slump in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

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Inside the drawstring bag from Virgin Atlantic was a smaller pouch, a notepad and pen, tissues, socks, eye mask, headphones, ear plugs, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Quite a bit more impressive than the kit provided on my recent Virgin Atlantic flight in Upper Class (thanks to points now)…

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.07.44 PMVirgin Atlantic Upper Class Flight24 Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Flight23

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Need help planning an award trip with your points or miles? Consider Juicy Miles assistance for the best possible award pricing and routes!

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Virgin Atlantic recently spent $168 million on a “transformative” redesign of their meal trays. Virgin Atlantic’s management team hired design firm MAP to recreate the economy meal service experience to “make eating on an airplane a little bit more like eating in a restaurant with multiple courses served in different waves.”

The designers did a complete overhaul, changing the trays themselves, silverware, coffee pots, and more. Thanks to changes in the design of the trays, Virgin Atlantic says they will see a 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and related fuel costs which will save the airline millions over the next few years. Wired has the new tray details:

The changes sound simple but add up to each of Virgin’s planes being about 53 pounds lighter than before. The multiple course idea means that the trays can be smaller, small enough to fit four on a single shelf in the industry standard carts versus the three that currently fit. That means each cart can hold 33 percent more food, and fewer carts mean less weight. The trays also come with a spongy plastic coating on top that does away with the need for messy (and bulky) paper liners. The non-slip surface also means that the food doesn’t slide around during takeoff, creating a mess for flight attendants to clean up.

Speaking of flight attendants, the upgrade is also designed to make their jobs easier. For instance, the new trays include a lip so that they can hook together. This means that when the flight attendant pulls one meal out, the next meals slide forward as well, so they can just grab them for the next passenger instead of having to reach into the back of the cart.

Flight attendants will also enjoy a similarly convenient adjustment to the design of the coffee pots. The old pots lacked clear labeling—unless you consider Sharpie scribbles to be clear labeling—and the handles hurt flight attendants wrists over time. So MAP came up with a simple, sleek new design, including a wheel on the top where flight attendants can mark what’s inside. A new ergonomic handle should do away with the wrist injuries.

Virgin Atlantic New Meal Tray Virgin Atlantic Updated Silverware Virgin Atlantic New Coffee Pot Virgin Atlantic New Coffee Pot2

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This week Virgin Atlantic kicked off a test in which check-in and gate agents are using Google Glass and the Sony Smartwatch 2 to streamline the check-in process for passengers. The test is taking place at LHR Terminal 3 and being used to greet each Upper Class passenger by name, provide real time flight status, and facilitate any translation when required. Virgin says if the test goes well they’ll expand capabilities to include automated acknowledgement of your dietary habits, seating preference, and other passenger preferences.

From the minute Upper Class passengers step out of their chauffeured limousine at Heathrow’s T3 and are greeted by name, Virgin Atlantic staff wearing the technology will start the check-in process. At the same time, staff will be able to update passengers on their latest flight information, weather and local events at their destination and translate any foreign language information. In future, the technology could also tell Virgin Atlantic staff their passengers’ dietary and refreshment preferences – anything that provides a better and more personalised service. During the six week pilot scheme, the benefits to consumers and the business will be evaluated ahead of a potential wider roll-out in the future.

Full press release here.

Google Glass Check-In

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Geez, it’s just been one complication after another in the saga for one French passenger trying to get home to France from the US. It all started when (British Airways – “You’re Too Fat to Fly”) British Airways informed a French family that their son was too fat to fly home from Chicago (ORD) to France via London (LHR). The entire family, including the 500 pound son then decided to head to New York City from Chicago via Amtrak, arriving at Penn Station last week (Update – BA “You’re Too Fat to Fly” – Swiss & Air France Offer Rides). The plan was then to depart today aboard the Queen Mary 2, sailing from New York to Southampton on a one week voyage across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, Cunard Cruise Line, owners of Queen Mary 2, informed the family late last week that they were denying boarding due to the fact that they could not guarantee safe transport across the Atlantic given the medical requirements of the passenger.

Well, this morning, the AFP reported that the passenger and his family have made it to London thanks to Virgin Atlantic’s complimentary offer to return the passenger back to Europe…in economy.

Arriving at Heathrow, Chenais described the flight as “terrible, terrible, terrible”. “The flight was really hard,” he told AFP in French as he sat on a mobility scooter at the airport, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a large US flag. “I didn’t stop crying for the whole flight.” But he praised Virgin for flying him out from New York’s JFK airport and paying for the economy-class flight. “That was very kind of them,” he said. The family were met at Heathrow by French consular staff who are trying to arrange the final leg to France by Eurostar or Air France. Chenais, who requires regular oxygen and round-the-clock care, expressed his anger at British Airways and the Queen Mary for refusing to take him home. “We were all set to take the boat, then they turned us back without even seeing me, without even trying,” he said.

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(AFP Photo/Andrew Cowie)

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Delta and Virgin Atlantic announced this morning an updated joint venture schedule as well as news that Delta would be relocating Delta’s “important business market” flights to Virgin’s Terminal 3 at Heathrow from Sky Team’s Terminal 4 as of April 2nd. This means access to the Virgin Clubhouse for all Delta BusinessElite passengers. Here’s the full PR release:

Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. today outlined details of a new joint venture flight schedule beginning summer 2014, aligning their services and offering more flight choices for travelers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The two airlines are putting the customer at the forefront of their partnership with the new schedule that starts March 30, 2014, combining their slots at London Heathrow to offer maximum customer convenience, particularly for business travelers.

Beginning, April 2, 2014, Delta will move its arrival and departure terminal for several important business markets to join Virgin Atlantic in Heathrow Terminal 3. This includes its London to New York-JFK, London to Boston, and new London to Seattle services and means the two airlines will co-locate on all its New York and Boston flights to London Heathrow. The move will allow for convenient connections and a seamless customer experience for customers flying with Virgin and Delta, including access to Virgin Atlantic’s award winning Clubhouse for all business class passengers. “We are working on a series of improvements to enhance the travel experience for our customers,” said Craig Kreeger, Virgin Atlantic’s CEO. “We already co-locate together at New York’s JFK airport and moving some of Delta’s key business flights to join Virgin Atlantic at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 will enhance convenience, and reduce connection times. This demonstrates how our new partnership is going to be making a real difference for customers.” Delta, in cooperation with Virgin Atlantic, will also operate a second daily service between London Heathrow and Detroit Metropolitan Airport effective June 1, 2014. The service will be particularly appealing to corporate customers needing an early morning arrival into London while offering more schedule choice for customers between London and the U.S. Midwest. This additional flight will complement Delta’s previously announced new West Coast route between Seattle and London Heathrow, which will launch on March 29, 2014. Virgin Atlantic is also making significant schedule changes. It is moving its VS1 Heathrow to Newark service from a late afternoon departure to a morning departure. This flight will be particularly attractive to business travelers: it will allow ‘same-day meetings’ to be held in the New Jersey area, while an earlier departure on the return flight means passengers can be in central London for the start of the working day. This service is part of nine daily flights between London Heathrow and the New York area by the joint venture partners. The new schedule will include departures every 30 minutes during the early evening peak and then hourly until 10.30 p.m. from New York-JFK to London Heathrow and a spread of seven daily flights from London Heathrow to New York-JFK, including two late afternoon and early evening departures.  It also includes two conveniently timed departures to and from Newark. Virgin Atlantic has also retimed its Heathrow to Boston service to depart two hours later in the afternoon. This offers more flexibility for the two airlines’ customers with Delta’s Heathrow to Boston service departing in the morning. Virgin Atlantic’s evening departure from Boston will also move two hours later, giving greater schedule choice to travelers. “A key reason for our joint venture was to offer customers more choice and convenient schedules, especially for our business travelers,” said Ed Bastian, Delta’s president. “With our Seattle service, Delta will add its sixth nonstop destination between London and the United States. Combined the Delta-Virgin partnership now offers our customers 33 daily nonstop flights across the Atlantic.”

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VA BP

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Now that the Delta and Virgin Atlantic joint venture has received DOT approval, I thought it would be interesting to compare the day one announced changes to those promised in the joint DOT application. I’ve also included some of the more unique tidbits found while perusing the full 101 page PDF application.

The airlines announced that beginning March 30th, they will operate nine daily flights between New York and London, seven from JFK, and two from Newark. During the “evening rush-hour” flights will depart every 30 minutes. In total, the joint operation will include 31 daily flights between the U.S. and the U.K., while AA/BA will have 58  US/UK flights.

“The first thing that we’ve done in terms of changing our schedule is take flights that were on top of each other and create a better schedule for customers in the New York market,” Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Officer told the AP. “It’s the logical place to start — it’s where we have the biggest amount of service and it’s where we think our competition can be a huge value.”

JFK 7:40am LHR 7:40pm
JFK 6:30pm LHR 6:50am+
JFK 7:00pm LHR 7:20am+
JFK 7:30pm LHR 8:00am+
JFK 8:30pm LHR 8:45am+
JFK 9:30pm LHR 9:25am+
JFK 10:30pm LHR 10:40am+

No word yet on who will operate each of the flights, though you can make some educated guesses based on the current flight times.

As promised in the DOT application, Virgin announced on Monday that they have already begun working with the Heathrow Airport authority to move Delta from their current home at the SkyTeam dominated Terminal 4 to over to Virgin’s Terminal 3 facilities. Virgin also has future plans to shift their UK feeder flights to Terminal 3 as well.

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Also as mentioned in the application, Delta confirmed plans to launch a new daily nonstop between Seattle and London Heathrow under the joint venture beginning March 29th, while they “continue to evaluate a second DTW-LHR flight”. SkyTeam Alliance partners Air France, KLM, and Alitalia issued a joint release expressing their enthusiasm for the venture and the new flight, as well as their plans to coordinate on flights onward from Heathrow.

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…and some of the more interesting New York-London tidbits, everybody knows AA/BA owns this route (especially with regards to premium traffic), but it’s crazy to see just how dominant they are:

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Not surprisingly, no one is connecting in Rome to reach London…

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Posted by Adam | 2 Comments

This is part one of a thirteen part trip report from my travels to the UK, Malta, and Mallorca. This trip reports includes my visit to the Newark Clubhouse, which also happened to be my first visit to any Clubhouse.

When I saw the chance to book a Virgin Upper Class ticket with SkyMiles, I jumped on it, even if it meant having to leave very early morning from Newark. One benefit of a 745am flight from EWR, total travel time from the east side of Manhattan was only 21 minutes!

Now, the Newark Clubhouse is not the JFK Clubhouse and I was fully aware of that prior to arriving for my flight. The JFK CH is quite a bit larger and recently reopened in March 2012 after a major renovation. It was also the first outside of London to include a Clubhouse Spa and billiards table.  I had heard a lot about the new JFK Clubhouse, but was completely in the dark about the Newark one, simply assuming it was older and smaller. Well, it might be smaller, but the Newark Clubhouse is actually newer. It opened eight months after the JFK Clubhouse in November 2012. I found it every bit as swanky and comfortable as I had pictured…

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With only the one daytime flight, the lounge was extremely quiet and not all that busy. I decided to set-up at one of the comfy red sofas. The vibe was actually a lot less formal than other lounges, most people actually taking advantage of the large seating areas to spread out and enjoy themselves.

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There are ample seating areas and as you can see, most were unoccupied.

IMG_4913 IMG_4910 IMG_4909 IMG_4918 IMG_4912 IMG_4914 IMG_4923 IMG_4922 (that’s the Today Show crew with Natalie Morales, heading to London to cover the Royal Birth)

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There was excellent wifi and standard outlets at all seats. There were also recharge stations positioned throughout the club.

VirginAtlantic ClubHouse Newark

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Now, you can order drinks and food at the bar, but there’s no need. The entire Clubhouse has waiter service, no matter where you choose to sit. There’s also a separate dining area if you like to eat in a more traditional setting.

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There were some pretty nice breakfast options on the menu, though I was definitely jealous of the dinner options – salmon slider, tilapia filet, Clubhouse burger to name a few. For breakfast, I decided to go with the shakshuka skillet egg and Greek yoghurt with seasonal fruits.

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The food was good, a very nice breakfast indeed!

Showers are available and can be reserved upon entering the lounge. I actually didn’t see even one person sign up during my time there, who takes a shower before a long flight…though I guess given the recommended check-in time for the flight, you might be coming straight from a night out….

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Overall, I really enjoyed the Newark Clubhouse. It’s quite small, but it was cozy and comfortable. There weren’t many people (although Upper Class was mostly full) and the waiter service and food were both excellent. Several passengers seemed to take advantage of the laid back environment,  putting their feet up while busying themselves with their laptops / iPads and waiting for food and drinks to be served. Good times.

Up next, Virgin Atlantic Upper Class EWR – LHR…

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I’m writing this post live from the Virgin Atlantic Newark Clubhouse as I’m about to board flight VS 18 (DL 4381) to London Heathrow. I was able to book my business class low level award thanks to the new Delta – Virgin-Atlantic partnership. I’ll have a full trip report for both the Newark Clubhouse and the A340 Upper Class flight later in the week. In the meantime, see this previous post for details on finding and booking the award.

One benefit of a 745am flight from Newark…total travel time from Manhattan – 21 minutes!

PS – a big chunk of Upper Class is taken up by press headed to London to cover the Royal birth…

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Posted by Adam | 3 Comments

I’m already seeing the benefits of the Delta / Virgin-Atlantic tie-up, I was able to book a roundtrip Business award for 100,000 SkyMiles flying Virgin Atlantic in Upper Class to London and Delta Business Class back home.  A few caveats, finding a Virgin-Atlantic Upper Class flight from JFK was a fruitless endeavor. Economy class was readily available but there was nothing at all in Upper Class. The only way I could find a seat was changing my search to Newark…and taking a 7:45am flight on a Sunday! Also, the Newark Clubhouse doesn’t look quite as nice as the JFK Clubhouse, but I’m just excited that I got such tremendous value out of my SkyMiles. Total taxes on the itinerary were $289.17. You can view the seatmap but you’ll have to head over to Virgin to actually select your seats. The cool thing is clicking the embedded link on Delta.com directly brings up your itinerary on Virgin’s site without any confirmation number entry required.

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SkyPesos have been really useful for me this year…with a lot of effort and flexibility . Flights booked to Madrid with two seats in BusinessElite during the prime summer season, two seats booked on partner Virgin Australia in Business to Sydney and Melbourne during Australia’s high-season (post coming soon), and utilizing the China Southern partnership to leverage A380 flights from LAX-CAN and onto select points in Southeast Asia. Of course, as the Virgin Australia and China Southern flights are partner flights they booked at LOW level award prices.

Have you had any luck booking Virgin-Atlantic Upper Class using your SkyMiles?

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On Friday, Angelina at Just Another Points Traveler posted about a great deal that was passed on by MileCollector:

13,000 Virgin Atlantic miles (which can be transferred 1:1 from your Chase Ultimate Rewards Account) + $98 in taxes for New York to London via Virgin Atlantic. The fare is valid from both Newark and New York-JFK, however, there seems to be more award space available out of JFK.

Well, I can now say from personal experience that the flights truly do price this way. I was actually able to complete bookings for three tickets, all at the prices stated above. Where have the fuel surcharges gone? Head for Points, reports that “…Virgin has cut the fuel surcharges on its Economy redemptions. This is NOT temporary, looking at the announcement, and will remain in place after the reward seat sale has finished.”

Yes, it’s economy, but this is a spectacular deal for Europe in the summer with very decent availability across the board. Also, remember that this is a relatively short flight. From London, you can find reasonable low cost fares to destinations across Europe or consider using Avios for some short-hop redemptions.

Check out Angelina’s post for full details on how to search for the awards and tips for getting home on the cheap.

Posted by Adam | 5 Comments

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