Virgin America is often brushed aside by frequent fliers. People generally acknowledge that their flying experience is better than most domestic carriers, but the Elevate frequent flier program, while having improved over the past few years, is still not completely up to par. While I can’t disagree with that sentiment overall, there are some pockets of value in there. I’ll have an upcoming post about maximizing the value of that program, but I thought I’d post about my first experience booking a NON Virgin America metal award ticket with them.
I recently finished booking a series of award tickets for my wife and I this July. We’re going to Singapore and Bali. I originally planned on flying with cheap Asian carriers in between Singapore and Bali, but one thing lead to another, and I started looking at how I could book Singapore Airlines Business Class (2-cabin flights) between the two destinations. My first thought was to look at the Singapore Airlines award program, as they’re transfer partners with both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.
17,500 miles is what Singapore Airlines wants to charge. Of course, this is the year 2015, and people prefer to book online. Singapore Airlines rewards this behavior, and they give you a 10% discount on miles for doing so.
The total comes out to 14,875 miles and SGD 101.60, which at the time of this writing, is about $75 USD. I wasn’t too fond of that option, considering that for the dates I was looking, some of the discount carriers were showing all-in prices of $60.
The next stop was United Airlines.
United doesn’t show Singapore Airlines inventory on their website, and they don’t have access to most Singapore Airlines premium cabin space anyways. I was curious to see the price, though. 25,000 miles and $25 in fees. Not ideal for a 2.5 hour flight. That $60 discount carrier was looking better and better.
As a hail mary, I decided to check the partners for Virgin America. I knew that Singapore Airlines was a partner, but I figured that if United made booking a Singapore Airlines premium cabin flight pretty impossible, Virgin America must do the same. The first thing I did was check their award “chart.” Virgin America doesn’t really show a global chart for their partners, but if you use their tool, they actually do a good job laying out how many points a ticket costs for each route. It turns out that redeeming Elevate points for travel on carriers other than Virgin America can be a sweet deal…
Woah… That’s a lot different. 7,800 miles and $14. It’s twice that for Singapore Airlines and three times that for United. Now… How do you book? You have to call Virgin America. The agent was extremely friendly, and she was able to look up Singapore Airlines premium cabin inventory and confirm that a seat was available. She told me that the total fees would be $22.50, which is different than the $14 listed. I wasn’t about to argue over $8, though. I just wanted to get the darn thing ticketed. She told me that I would get a confirmation and then it might take up to 3 days to ticket. 3 days?! Haha okay…. Within 45 minutes, though, I did get something resembling a booking confirmation. I think this is officially the most pathetic booking confirmation I’ve ever received from an airline, though!
Well, that certainly is an interesting way to mix up fonts :-). I think this just shows that this is a pretty manual process. The agent was literally writing me a personal e-mail to let me know it was in teh queue to be ticketed, and she must have just had a “font malfunction.” I booked this late at night, Pacific Time. When I woke up the next day, the miles still had not been pulled out of my account, and my credit card had not been charged. I went to work, and then around mid day, my card was charged. I logged in. The miles had been pulled out. Done! I got an e-mail from Virgin America, and that included a summary of everything, including my Singapore Airlines confirmation number.
Perfect! I went to the Singapore Airlines website, and I was even able to “book the cook” for my breakfast time business class flight to Bali. What did I select for breakfast, you ask?
Oh yeah. That’s right. I’m going to be on vacation so GIVE ME THE DAMN ANGUS BEEF BURGER FOR BREAKFAST, PLEASE!