Want to fly Virgin Australia business class for less than $400 from Sydney or Brisbane to Melbourne, or less than $1,000 from Sydney to Perth? Well, you can, thanks to a year-round ‘buying miles’ offer through the Etihad Guest frequent flyer program.
It works like this: instead of earning frequent flyer points in the usual ways, you purchase these points outright from Virgin Australia partner Etihad Airways: and then use those points to book flights with Virgin Australia.
Here’s how it’s done, and what you need to know.
Buying Etihad Guest miles: the basics
Members of the Etihad Guest frequent flyer program can buy up to 100,000 Etihad Guest miles per year via Points.com, purchasing up to 60,000 miles per transaction.
(To buy the full 100,000 miles, you’d simply buy 60,000 and then return to buy a further 40,000.)
Each mile sells for 2 US cents, or around 2.66 Aussie cents, with points sold in increments of 1,000 – so US$20 buys you 1,000 miles, US$40 returns 2,000 miles and so on. Currently, there’s no discount for buying points in bulk, so you’d only buy the points you need.
Once your transaction is complete, the miles you’ve purchased will appear in your Etihad Guest account within 24 hours, and can then be used to book flights with Virgin Australia – or indeed with Etihad Airways or any of its other airline partners.
Buying Etihad Guest miles for Virgin Australia flights
Have your sights set on Virgin Australia business class?
Through the Etihad Guest program you can book a one-way Sydney-Melbourne business class flight for 13,800 Etihad Guest miles, or could also fly in business class from Melbourne to Brisbane for the same 13,800 Etihad Guest miles.
As miles are sold in increments of 1,000, that would see you buying an even 14,000 Etihad Guest miles for US$280 (A$373) to book your one-way flight, and with taxes and charges of around $20 payable when you secure your seat, the total cost comes to less than A$400!
That’s on-par with the price of many flexible economy fares, yet you’ll be flying in business class with lounge access included both before and after your Virgin Australia flight if you’re not already a Velocity Gold or Platinum frequent flyer.
At the longer end of the spectrum, you can also book Virgin Australia business class from Sydney to Perth for 33,800 Etihad miles, including on flights with The Business, simply by buying 34,000 Etihad miles for US$680 (A$906) and paying around $20 in taxes and fees when you use those miles book your ticket.
With one-way fares often hitting the $2,000-mark, this trick gets you flying in exactly the same seat on the same flight, but for less than half the price!
This doesn't apply to Virgin Australia's flights to Los Angeles – which require substantially more Etihad Guest miles to book, at which point it's usually less-expensive to book a paid ticket – but does also work on shorter international flights such as to New Zealand and Fiji.
The number of Etihad Guest miles required to book varies from route to route, with a full list of Virgin Australia routes (and mileage costs) available for download from the Etihad website [PDF, 38kb].
How to book Virgin Australia business class using Etihad Guest miles
Unlike when using Velocity points to book Virgin Australia flights online, you can’t do the same with Etihad Guest miles.
Instead, these bookings need to be made over the phone by calling Etihad Airways on 1300 532 215: but the line is open 24/7, so you can dial-in whenever it suits you best.
(Remember, you’re spending miles through Etihad’s own frequent flyer program rather than Velocity points, so Etihad is your point of contact when it comes to bookings.)
We’ve done this on several occasions and have never been kept on hold for more than a few minutes – and if you’re near a computer when you call to book, the staff can even email you a draft of your booking before finalising it, allowing you to double-check the spelling of your name, travel dates and flight details.
Any applicable taxes and fees (generally around $20 per domestic flight) are collected over the phone when you book your ticket and are charged in Australian dollars, so have your credit card handy too.
Booking Virgin Australia flights via Etihad Guest: the fine print
Because you’re using frequent flyer points to secure your seat rather than purchasing a paid business class fare, know that you won’t earn frequent flyer points – or indeed, status credits – when taking these flights.
However, if you happen to book a Virgin Australia economy flight using Etihad miles and you’re a Gold frequent flyer (or above) with either airline, you’ll still receive the usual lounge access, priority check-in and priority boarding perks, despite not earning any points.
Most critically, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to use any purchased Etihad Guest miles to book a specific flight on a specific date, so it helps to be flexible in your plans as availability can be limited and can sometimes differ from what Virgin Australia offers to its own Velocity members.
If your plans are concrete, the best approach is to call Etihad to confirm your reward options before you buy Etihad Guest miles, as mileage purchases are non-refundable, or to simply buy a ticket this time around and save the ‘buying points’ trick for where your plans aren’t set in stone.
Finally, Etihad Guest members can’t book Virgin Australia flights that are due to depart within the next 24 hours – and given that any purchased miles can take up to 24 hours to arrive in your account, this isn’t an approach we’d recommend for short-notice trips anyway.
But still, if you can plan ahead (even by just a week or two), don’t mind making a brief phone call to book your flights and aren’t fussed about earning status credits, you can save hundreds of dollars every time you travel, without sacrificing that all-important business class seat.