Virgin Companion Fares. Part 2. Delight? Or disaster?

Following on from the previous post which I hope convinced you that your best option when booking reward travel in Virgin in economy will usually be to buy one cash ticket in Economy Classic and add a companion reward, the fact that these rewards must book into the Economy Classic flavour of Economy means that we ought to also compare being in Economy Classic to the other offerings to check that our good deal actually remains so. I will retain the assumption that the intention is to fly two people to Barbados round trip for a holiday – and for now that you aren’t going to look for an upgrade into premium, that will be looked at in a third post.

Firstly, let’s summarise the differences between the style of Economy.

Light – no checked bag, no seat selection, no refunds or changes, 25% miles earning

Classic – usually £80 more – free bag, free standard selection, limited flexibility, 50% miles

Delight – usually another £100 – 3” more pitch, free selection, free bag, 150% miles, priority boarding

The prices are not quite what they seem though as we need to consider the different mileage earnings. The flown distance on this route is 8400 miles – so if we value the miles at 1p, moving down from Classic to Light you lose around £20 of miles, so it only really saves you £60, and the buy up to Delight only really costs £16 because you get an extra 8400 miles back. Which means if you are just paying cash, then it is a simple question of do you pay £15 for 16hrs worth of extra legroom? This is not a hard question to answer!

But there is a catch here – it’s not really a £15 buy up from Classic to Delight. As we know from the previous post – the best deal when booking Classic is almost certainly to use miles, likely a companion award, sometimes two standard awards. It isn’t to buy two cash tickets. So to properly compare this, we need to work out the price premium for being in Delight compared to cheapest way of being in Classic at that cash price. Retaining the assumption of 1ppm, at off peak times, the following graph occurs:

Off peak ED premium

Now all of a sudden it is a much worse deal! Given the “normal” pricing on this route will be over £550 for Classic, the upgrade that only costs £15 is now at least £75, and often more. And at that price point – I would choose to keep the cash in my pocket and just cope with the 31” in standard seats.
For completeness, here is the graphs for when one leg is peak, and then when both are peak.

ED premium 2 and 3

At each level of cash pricing, the extra miles required because of the peak requirement means that the implied upgrade cost are lower – so at low cash prices it remains a reasonable cost to upgrade. But cash prices below £550 for Economy Classic are pretty rare to Barbados – so it remains the case the cost of moving to Delight will usually be £75 and up which is not a good deal at all.

Five important caveats –
• This all assumes that reward availability is present – which may not be the case. If you can’t use the reward seat to lower your cost of being in Classic then the analysis all falls apart and the upgrade cost returns to being £15 and a good idea.
• If you’re not comfortable valuing the miles at 1p then the graphs would be different although the direction of the lines would stay the same (technically a better way of describing it is that you are indifferent between money and miles at 1ppm but that’s by the by).
• Things will be slightly different if you aren’t travelling as a pair or other even number. The primary reason for the increased price of the upgrade is because using a companion fare to lower the price of Classic. If you are travelling with an odd number of people then at least 1 ticket cannot be part of a companion fare trick, which means that their upgrade cost will be lower, which would lower the average cost per person to move into Delight. This probably won’t matter, as lowering the upgrade cost from £100 each to £70 doesn’t change it being bad deal – but in edge cases it may lower the cost enough to make the upgrade worth doing.
• The price difference between Classic and Delight was assumed to be £100. Because you have to pay cash to be in Delight, if that gap was lowered to £80/60 that would also change the price of the upgrade, by the exact same amount that the price gap was changed.
• This analysis was done for Barbados, a medium length route for Virgin. If you are flying on a longer route, LAX, HKG for example, the extra miles are a non trivial amount that would increase the point at for which the upgrade stops being reasonably priced. Similarly, if you are only going to Boston/JFK the reduction in miles would decrease that point.

So in summary – the price reduction usually available by using a companion reward vastly increases the apparent price of the upgrade to Economy Delight to the point that rather than being the no brainer it initially appears – often you are paying far to much for the privilege. In the third and final post of the series on Virgin Companion rewards I shall look at what happens when you consider booking to the Premium cabin for the overnight flight back home.

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