How it was booked
I’ve had a bunch of Virgin Atlantic points for a long time since I signed up for their Bank of America credit cards back when I didn’t have much of a credit score. At the time, Bank of America was the only one who would give me a credit card because I had a checking account with them. Well those points combined with the ones we accumulated from my mom, dad, and sister signing up left me with a hefty sum of miles. While my initial intention was to book ANA First Class to Tokyo using those miles, I had to cancel those a tickets a couple of times because of the pandemic and taking care of my grandfather.
Well last October, I found some availability ahead of time for the Memorial Day weekend in 2023 for a trip to London using Virgin Atlantic points out of Austin. So I went ahead and booked that for 5 of us in premium economy and 2 in business class. The total cost at the time was: 137,500 points + $1600 for 5 of us in premium economy and 135,000 points +$1600 for 2 in business. Yes the taxes were hefty, but Virgin Atlantic only charges a $50 redeposit fee in case of cancellations and work can often get in the way of my travel plans. I value of my miles the most for the flexibility they provide me with my travel plans.
Anyway fast forward 6 months, and Virgin Atlantic cancelled the Saturday flight to Heathrow out of Austin. Noticing that they put me on a flight out on Sunday (a day later) I called up Virgin Atlantic. Go figure no one picked up after trying a couple of times. I then resorted to the chat on the website. I had to speak to no less than 20 agents before someone sympathized with my losing a day of vacation and potentially on the Airbnb I had booked. The problem with the entire ordeal was the agents kept looking for award space on the flights departing Friday or Saturday and found nothing from SFO to ORD to ATL. Most were unwilling to take control of the ticket due to the cancellation and request the space. Well this agent didn’t make any promises but she did manage to send a request to another team for space on the ATL-LHR flight on May 27. She mentioned I should hear back in about 48 hours whether the request was approved.
Well 48 hours flew by and I didn’t get any response. I tried chatting with Virgin again, but most agents kept saying I already had been rescheduled and that they could do no more. I kept trying for a different agent and finally one was ready to help. She immediately connected me to a supervisor who was able to approve my change request and refund me 20,000 miles each for the business class tickets because those cost 47,500 miles per passenger out of Atlanta instead of the 67,500 miles per passenger out of Austin.
I wrote out this rather verbose tale, not because I love to hear myself talk, but to tell everyone to be persistent when they need something changed. Also make sure to ‘garden’ your reservations after booking them. By that I mean keep track of them periodically for any schedule changes, seat changes, or aircraft changes.
Anyway this did end up costing me 12,000 Skymiles per person for a flight from Dallas Love Field to Atlanta, but the cost was minimal compared to what I would’ve had to pay to transit through JFK or fly out on the same day.
Delta Airlines Economy DAL-ATL
We flew to Atlanta on Delta from Dallas-Love Field. Southwest might have been a little cheaper but I was hoping that our bags would be checked all the way through to London despite the reservations being on separate tickets. In the past, I’ve had issues with American and United checking our bags all the way through so I was surprised to see the Delta agent complete the process in a manner of minutes. I was ready to show the agent a print out of this policy:
Delta Sky Club Terminal F @ ATL
Our flight from DAL to ATL was uneventful and we found ourselves having 2 hours before our flight to Heathrow. The gate area was a bit crowded already so we stepped inside the Delta Sky Club at Concourse F. I’ve reviewed this lounge before so there’s nothing new here except for the fact that it was way more crowded this time. The buffet was actually devoid of most options except for a few sandwiches and some meat.
The outdoor skydeck is without a doubt the highlight of this lounge. It was nice to sit and watch the line up of Delta planes taking off and landing.
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy ATL-LHR
Before we knew it was time to board our flight across the pond. For this flight I selected a window seat (15K) for myself. The others were in the row in front of me and behind me. Waiting at our seat were a pillow, blanket, menu, and an amenity kit. We were greeted by a very enthusiastic flight crew who brought us our welcome drinks which were orange juice or a mimosa. After a quick chat with them, I was happy to note that the Heathrow E-Gates were once again working after a major outage the previous day.
The seat is seat is 18.5 inches wide, has a generous 38 inches of seat pitch, a wireless charging pad in the middle, and a 13.3 inch IFE screen with bluetooth audio. The power outlet was located at the back of the seats in front of us.
I ended up having to take my seat quickly because the person seated next to me arrived within a manner of minutes after me. As far as seating goes these were by far the most comfortable premium economy seats I’ve tried (compared to LH, AF, BA, and UA) and were very comparable to domestic first class on US carriers, if not a tad better. The best part about the seat of course was looking out on to the wing of the brand new A330neo with the shiny Rolls Royce engine. I would come to love this view more than I expected actually 🙂
There was an issue with the baggage system at ATL so we were informed that some of the bags would be arriving a few hours late on Delta plane. Luckily I noticed that all my bags were onboard according the Virgin Atlantic app. I didn’t have an issue with the delay because we weren’t connecting onward from Heathrow and it would mean a higher chance of us checking into our hotel early. I took this opportunity to read the menu:
Service on this flight was extremely friendly, but very slow. Though drinks were given out about 45 minutes after departure, dinner took another hour or more. I started off with a Coke Zero, which came with some allergen free BBQ crackers. My sister really appreciated Virgin Atlantic’s allergen free menu (they practically don’t serve anything with nuts on the menu).
Oddly I got an Asian Vegetarian Meal on this flight without having ordered it. I was actually looking forward trying the risotto on the menu, but before I could say anything the tray was already sitting on my table. The salt and pepper airplane shakers were really cool. I even debated taking them home, but unfortunately there was no easy way to seal them off.
The meal featured a garbanzo beans salad with zucchini, squash, and onions. The main meal was rice along with some lentils, okra, and a smoked bell pepper. As far as airline meals go, this was among the best Asian Vegetarian Meals. It was light, flavorful, and tasty. For dessert there was a “Coconut Burfi” (a type of brownie made from coconut and sugar) which was average at best.
Virgin’s IFE featured a decent amount of entertainment options on our flight. The screen quality was great and I appreciated that I could use my own wireless headset. I watched “A Man Called Otto” which was a very touching and heartfelt story. Tom Hanks can pretty much do any role 🙂
All said and done, the service took an astonishing 3 hours to complete on this flight, which left a mere 5 hours to sleep. of which 1 would be dedicated to waking everyone up to serve breakfast. Despite being a bit sleepy, I looked out the window. I nearly fell out of my seat when I saw what was on display. The Milky Way was clear as crystal, stretching across the night sky alongside the airplane’s wing.
Of course capturing this image was very difficult given the lighting inside the cabin and the glare on my window. I had to wait a good 30 minutes before lady seated across from me turned off her IFE. And then I took my blanket and my pillow to help cover up the window while holding the camera still for 1 second. For more specifics check out my previous post here.
Anyway after spending a good 90 minutes trying to perfect the milky way shot, I finally decided to take a nap about 3 hours from landing. I may have gotten 90 minutes before the FA came by to offer me my AVML again (a good 45 minutes before everyone else’s meal). I declined the meal, but to my dismay the lights were turned up in a matter of 30 minutes. At this point we were over the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland so I decided to look out the window.
Traffic was heavy into Heathrow this particular morning so we had to circle around for a bit. Of course this provided some more amazing views.
Those views included a very hazy Central London off in the distance:
There were so many planes in the air in the area that I caught a shot of a couple of them off in the distance as we turned back west and so forth.
Before we knew it, we landed in Heathrow and were on our way to border control. This ended up being an absolute breeze and we were through in a manner of minutes.
I would not hesistate to fly Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy again over the Atlantic. It might actually be my new favorite way across in economy given the prices they charge. 27,500 miles + ~$250 seems reasonable in today’s world given how flexible the reservations are and just how easy Virgin points are to come by. American Express Membership Rewards program even has a 30% bonus right now to Flying Club so that price goes down even further. The seat was comfortable, food was decent, Wi-fi was fairly fast, and there were numerous ways to charge your devices. In fact I’m not sure business is really worth the upgrade on the shorter routes out of Boston or New York.