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Alaska and Virgin America have already come a very long way in their merger process as I outlined here a couple weeks ago. They share a frequent flyer program, are one airline in the eyes of the FAA, and will basically be one airline in the eyes of customers when they move to a single reservation system with only Alaska Airlines named flights beginning in late April 2018.
For a while, there will still be Virgin America painted planes with the cool eight first class seats complete with footrests as shown below, but beginning on April 25, 2018, all of the flights will be called Alaska flights. You’ve actually been able to book these (formerly) Virgin operated flights for departures beginning April 25, 2018, using British Airways Avios by calling British Airways. However, now you can even book them online using American Airlines miles since Alaska is an American Airlines partner!
Let’s look at those two options a bit deeper to see if one of both of them may be a new way for your family to travel more for less.
Book Virgin American flights online with American Airlines miles
First, let’s talk about booking Virgin America flights using American Airlines miles since that is a process that is easy to take care of online. It also sets the stage for easier British Airways Avios bookings if you know what to look for on the American site. Flights that are currently Virgin America flights will become Alaska Airlines flights beginning on April 25, 2018, so that is when they become available for booking using American Airlines miles. You can book those flights now, just remember you won’t find any current Virgin flights available for travel using American miles before that date.
You can look at the current Virgin America route map to get a feel for what flights are likely to be operated by Virgin America planes on April 25, 2018. You can also pull up the route you are interested in on the Virgin America or Alaska website for travel before April 25th and check out the flight number. I don’t know if this will be true in all cases forever and ever, but in many cases, the flight number remains the same pre and post April 25th.
For example, this Virgin America flight 1057 from Los Angeles to Honolulu on April 24th becomes Alaska Airlines flight 1057 on April 25th.
In this particular case, you could book that flight online when it is available at the saver level in economy for 17,500 Alaska miles, 22,500 American miles, or just 12,500 British Airways Avios, if you are willing to pick up the phone. We’ll get to that third option in a minute.
Sticking with American Airlines for a moment, you will quickly find that availability on the Virgin America routes is extremely variable depending on the route and season. Hawaii flights are tough, especially in first, but as pointed out via View From the Wing, the Los Angeles – JFK Virgin America route has great availability, even in first class, for travel beginning in June 2018. You can book this flight for just 25,000 American or Alaska miles each way.
You can also find confirmed first class availability on this route using Alaska Airlines elite Gold Guest upgrade certificates on paid economy tickets.
Even if you ultimately plan to book your Virgin America flights using the British Airways distance-based award chart, it is handy to first check the American Airlines website as you can quickly spot if there is saver availability for that flight. If a Virgin America/Alaska flight displays as available using miles on the American site, it should be available for booking over the phone with British Airways using Avios.
Book Virgin America flights using British Airways Avios
As you likely know, you can book British Airways partners such as Alaska and Virgin America (once they switch to Alaska flight numbers on 4/25/18) using as few as 7,500 Avios per flight based on the distance flown. To give you some examples of how these routes will price, in economy it will cost:
- 7,500 Avios for a Virgin America flight of up to 1,150 flown miles, such as between Denver and San Francisco
- 10,000 Avios for a Virgin America flight of 1,151-2,000 flown miles, such as between Dallas and San Francisco or San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta
- 12,500 Avios for a Virgin America flight of 2,000-3,000 flown miles, such as between San Francisco and Kona, San Francisco and Cancun, or Los Angeles and JFK
In most of those cases, the British Airways award chart will be better than the American Airlines award chart for booking these flights in the economy cabin. British Airways will usually be worse if you are eyeing the first class cabin at 30,000 – 50,000 Avios each way in the examples above. An easy way to check the distance of your nonstop flight is to head to Great Circle Mapper and then see where that mileage falls on the distance bands listed above.
When you call British Airways to book over the phone, the phone booking fee should be waived since you cannot book these awards online. Remember you can transfer points from your Chase Ultimate Rewards cards or Amex Membership Rewards Cards such as The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card or The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card to British Airways so that you can lock in these flights for less.
Are you planning to use some American Airlines miles or British Airways Avios to book Virgin America flights as they become Alaska flights as of April 25, 2018?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.