/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Have you used your air miles yet?

Boarding pass

Are you accumulating air miles in hope that they’ll whisk you away somewhere exotic? Guest author Derek Mott wonders whether these schemes are actually worth your loyalty…

We’ve been trying to use our Virgin air miles for a flight upgrade. But what we’ve found is all throughout the Virgin website it boasts and brags about air miles and their use, yet when you actually try to use them it’s a ‘no’.

So I’m left wondering – what’s the point of these schemes?

Computer says no

When trying to book for a flight upgrade, what I found is that the website tells you that you can get a flight upgrade subject to availability. Now I’d understand that to mean that if seats are available then you could upgrade to one.

Subject to availability is all over the site – but tucked away in the small print, it says that air miles seats availability is at the sole discretion of Virgin.

I take this to mean that in other words you don’t get to upgrade unless they say so, and I suspect that will usually be for a flight that they can’t sell the seats for.

Frankly I think we’re all being misled to believe we can use these loyalty points easily.

Are air miles worth your loyalty?

I wonder what’s happening to all of these miles? Presumably they’re accounted for somewhere, waiting to be used.

But if we’re not able to use them, only accumulate them, then are airlines like Virgin just profiting from our loyalty? And if so, what’s in it for us?

So have you ever booked a flight using some or all of your air miles? Or, like me, have you not been able to make use of these schemes?

Are air miles schemes worth your loyalty?

No (64%, 467 Votes)

Don't know (27%, 194 Votes)

Yes (9%, 69 Votes)

Total Voters: 730

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This is a guest post by Derek Mott, a community member on Which? Conversation. All opinions are Derek’s own, not necessarily those of Which? We chose Derek’s idea from the ‘Your ideas’ section on the website, make sure you share your ideas too.

Carole says:
5 May 2016

I would suggest that like supermarket loyalty cards they are virtually useless.
Lets go back to the “gold old days” where the price you see is the price you pay!

Dreek Mott says:
5 May 2016

What I believe is happening is that Virgin create a liability in their accounts each year for the air miles issued and of course this reduces their corporation tax liability as it reduces the profit. So each year they can build up a bigger and bigger liability in the accounts for unused air miles. Now if these air miles never get used or cancelled they in effect create a tax avoidance scheme and perhaps thats why we cannot use them .
Maybe the taxation authorities should check this out. after all we all moan about Amazon and Starbucks for tax avoidance shemes but maybe Virgin are operating one thats a bit more subtle. One thing is for sure we the customers get NOWT! And Virgins site is in my opinion is completely misleading and should be investigated by Trading Standards. Maybe Mr Branson should explain his rubbish air miles scheme to us all!
I have been in touch with Virgin to use my air miles and to complain but the answers are of no help whatsoever!

A very interesting point which i had not considered at all before Mr. Mott’s Conversation. Nothing immediately comes up for the UK but this article and the replies are very interesting in highlighting the US position and seem to confirm businesses benefitting from the scheme.

As to Airmiles and the possibility of trading them I have no idea but certainly companies were formed in the US for this. What Virgin Airmiles allow I have no idea. The background to the concept is here:

Ah good ! even the picture above the Convo shows a passport so in a slight deviation but still on travel abroad is Which going to comment on the new US regulations for foreigners ,and yes , we are foreigners in US eyes . Namely from April 1st new (secretly ) introduced BIOMETRIC passports are needed if you want to enter the UNITED STATES courtesy of Homeland Security. Many UK citizens upset and angry it was not widely known , we are now all “terrorists ” until proven otherwise.

Biometric passports have been issued in the UK since 2006 under an agreement dating back to 1996 so I am not convinced it is a secret. If your passport is not biometric you need a Visa and the current waiting time in London for an interview to obtain a Visa is 16 days.

There is no secret whatsoever. All the details were published in the Media in 2006, and there have been repeated warnings from travel journalists since then. More problematic is the ESTA, for which everyone considering travelling to the US should apply some months in advance.

My 10 year passport that runs out in August 2016 is biometric so the majority of UK citizens will already have them.

Victoria Pearson says:
6 May 2016

Thanks for raising this subject Derek, I was starting to wonder the same about Virgin airmiles!
My husband has travelled a lot for business in the past few years, building up considerable numbers of air miles with both BA and with Virgin. He also has one of those American Express cards that gives you a free BA companion flight if you spend a certain amount of money each year.
We’ve used the BA miles and the vouchers to go to a number of North American/Caribbean/Chinese destinations in the past 15 years. It is not always easy to find the right combinations of flight dates and class (there is no point using the voucher for economy or premium economy flights), but with persistence it is possible.
On the other hand I have found it completely impossible to ever find flights to spend our Virgin airmiles on – partly because there are fewer destinations available and partly because most seats only seem to become available in the few weeks before you want to go.
What really annoys me is that their ‘see where you can go’ online system always shows that there are upper and premium economy seats available, but the moment you try to book them they disappear off the system.
We have more that 500K airmiles languishing unspent at the moment – five Upper class flights to Shanghai in theory, plus a companion voucher for being members of the scheme for several years, and we just can’t get the flights lined up to spend them.
It is so frustrating!

I last used airmiles over 20 years ago. Got a couple of free flights to Amsterdam out of them, one trip paid for flights for 6 people. The deal my credit card was offering then changed so I move to a new card and started collecting points for something completely different and lost any interest in air miles.

R Clark says:
6 May 2016

I recently used my Miles & More points to purchase a return Luxembourg – London. The airport taxes were 50% more than the advertised cheap return. Obviously, something is wrong!

A long while ago I used to accumulate Aadvantage miles from business trips to the USA. I never bothered to spend any of them on myself, but I did use up some to give some colleagues free flights for a visit to Euro Disney.

We are non flyers, are sea miles available?

Bob says:
6 May 2016

We were advised by a rep to exchange the air miles into vouchers that could be used to pay off some the cost of our holiday, going to give it a try and see.

We have successfully used Virgin and United to upgrade long-haul flights in the past but have not flown for a couple of years. You do have to flexible with your travel dates though.

It really annoys me that if you don’t use them regularly, you lose them. An upgrade costs more than an economy seat so you have earned those air miles. So why do the airlines take them away from you? I find that very unfair.

Susan says:
7 May 2016

We lived in the USA for several years and were advised by a friend to join United’s MileagePlus scheme. I doubt if United can claim to be the world’s best airline but they have a huge network. After some transatlantic commuting we retired 12 years ago with over 1 million miles and have since had trips to South America, New Zealand, Hawaii (3 times) and Florida (several times). We still go to the USA 2 or 3 times a year and save the miles for when the fares are high. MileagePlus gives access to all Star Alliance airlines, where our preference tends to be for Lufthansa. You can see availability month by month on the MileagePlus site. The other major USA airlines have similar schemes and we have just used some miles on Delta.

Admittedly the scheme is not quite so good now, especially for collecting miles on a cheap ticket, but we still collect miles on some hotel bookings and car rentals as well as flights. You only pay the tax for an award flight and there’s only a small fee for changing the booking.

We have looked at using the miles we have accumulated on BA but the cost of a air miles flight to Florida is almost as much as a paid ticket and there’s never been good availability.

2dallies says:
24 May 2016

I’ve saved for three years for an upgrade with Virgin. They have just (unannounced), doubled the amount of points needed to upgrade – so I have to save for another three years before I can upgrade.
I use utilities, tesco club card points and virgin online shops to accumulate points, plus ONLY flying Virgin for the loyalty points!
What an absolute waste of time and money. It’s a rip-off, as I’ve seen premium economy flights cheaper than I can get my reward economy seats using my points and paying all the taxes!!?? How does that work????

2dallies- You are now experiencing the commercial ploy of changing the rules when they think they lose profit , in mid-stream of the offer . As can be seen in other Convo,s they are not alone ,they do it because they can get away with it because ,in reality , all they get is a slap in the wrist ,and as you say , its “unannounced ” . I take it you have read the –say it fast– T+C and does the small print allow for “changing circumstances ” or the dreaded “offer ” which in legal terms means zero liability or some other “legalese ” ? I can understand why you are so angry , I like you put faith in a company you think is massive, has high morals etc but are let down like a brick but the bottom line is profit and either a Board Meeting took place (secretly ) or the shareholders complained or another ploy -blame it on the governments “new ” regulations never fails.

dieseltaylor says:
11 June 2016

This is a very valid conversation and I hope Which? are going to be taking it forward. Comment from Virgin would be a nice idea. Or even a ” No comment” so we can see how responsive they feel.

The aspect of accounting to reduce tax by holding vast potential liabilities of Airmiles is worth investigating. Could Which? ask the Inland Revenue . We used to have two HMRC bigwigs as Trustees, and Mike Clasper was HMRC chairman so it should be make it easier for Which? to do this than anyone else.

Perhaps Which? are already on the case but it would be helpful to tell us what is going on.