Don’t make this mistake when booking Virgin Reward Flights

Angus Kidman 15 February 2018 NEWS

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Spend your points wisely to maximise the current 30% off "sale".

So Virgin has a pretty good deal on Reward flights using your points right now. Until 28 February, you can get up to 30% off the points total required to book flights on Virgin Australia and several of its partners, including Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic and Delta. The deal covers all classes and flights through to 9 January 2019.

Booking flights (or upgrades) is the best way to use points, and getting flights for 30% less points than usual is definitely appealing. I took advantage myself yesterday, booking a flight using the stash of points I'd built up through occasional Virgin flights and ongoing flybuys transfers. But doing that also reminded me that Virgin's booking interface has a quirk that can easily make you waste your points.

The usual base number of points required for a Gold Coast to Sydney flight (the route I was booking) on Virgin is 7,800. During the sale, that's reduced to 5,400. However, when you search for a Points+Pay flight, Virgin puts all the emphasis on the option where you use points to pay not only for the flight but also for airport taxes. So you get two choices with an economy seat: use 5,400 points and pay $20.99, or use 8,900 points and pay nothing.

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The 8,900 point option remains front and centre throughout the booking process. It's only right at the end that you have the option of specifying exactly how you want to use your points.

Let's be very clear here: using your points to pay for airport taxes is a waste. Here's how the maths breaks down. The flight I ended up booking would have cost $133 up front. So in this example, 5,400 points are worth $133, meaning 100 points are worth around $2.46.

Airport taxes on this route are $20.99. I'd need 3,500 points to pay for those. In this scenario, 100 points are worth $0.59 – around a quarter of what I'm getting by spending them on a flight. So it's really not worth using them to pay the taxes. Better to hang onto those points and use them later for another flight.

It's quite likely that I could find flights for 5,400 points that even cost more than $133 (say, Sydney to Melbourne on a Friday night). That would make the contrast even greater.

This isn't exclusively a Virgin issue; Qantas also gives you the option of using points to pay for airport taxes, and it's a similarly poor use of those points. However, Qantas' interface doesn't emphasise the use-as-many-points-as-possible approach quite as much. Regardless, the lesson for frequent flyers is simple: use points for flights, but pay the taxes yourself.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on finder.com.au.

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