One of Virgin’s newest airline partners is United Airlines, and for me, it is a game changer in terms of redeeming Velocity points due to the sheer size of its route network and the value that it offers. It offers new ways to get to Europe via North America and earn Velocity points and status credits in ways you couldn’t before. Here’s how I would go about redeeming Velocity Points on United Airlines.
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Earning Velocity Points with United Airlines
As with Air Canada, the points earning rate differs depending on if you book a codeshare flight, that is, a United Airlines flight with a VA flight number or directly with the airline. This means that you can earn more Velocity points on a VA codeshare flight than you would on a UA flight. When booking, it is worth looking at flights directly on the Virgin website and comparing them with the cost of a flight through the United Airlines’ website. If there isn’t much difference, then it is worth booking the codeshare as you will generally earn more points this way. The same story applies to status credits, where VA codeshare flights earn more than a UA flight
Redeem Velocity Points on United Airlines
Redeeming points is where this partnership excels. United has plenty of award seat availability, and although mostly in economy class, there are bargains to be had given the low taxes that these flights typically come with. On top of this, United flies to many destinations in the US, South America and Europe, with frequent flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. These flights only increase in frequency, meaning more opportunities to redeem flights. The one trade-off you take is when flying to Europe, the journey is slightly longer than flying Westwards. Regular journeys will be around 30 hours compared to the 24-26 hours the other way. But I think this option is worth looking at when you’re saving money and can’t find other award tickets. You can look at how to redeem Velocity Points here, but here are a couple of examples of significant award redemptions possible with the new United Airlines partnership.
This partnership provides a great redemption opportunity to fly to multiple Mexican cities with one stop via United’s Houston hub for only 54,800 points and less than $200 in taxes. This includes Mexico City, Cancun, and Guadalajara. These destinations would have previously required at least two stops to reach, and the low fares make it much more appealing as a holiday destination that is a bit unusual and different for Australians.
While award availability to cities like Barcelona, Vienna, and Milan is relatively easy to come by with Velocity Points using airlines such as Qatar and Etihad, it can be a different story. Redeeming points to popular and busy airports like London Heathrow and Paris can be challenging as the flights are booked out. United offers a higher frequency of flights from both their hubs in the US and Australia. This allows you to redeem a flight to London via Los Angeles or San Francisco for only 59,800 points and $133 in taxes. The flight takes around 30 hours instead of the usual 26 hours flying Westward, but these savings can be worth it if you can get a visa/ESTA for the US. It is also a convenient trick for peak times when reward flights to Europe can be extremely scarce.
Lounge access could be clearer
As I’ve detailed before, lounge access with Velocity can be all over the place. Virgin’s website clarifies lounge access reasonably well. Still, the summary is that if you are flying domestically, you don’t get lounge access with United Airlines as a Velocity member unless you have an international flight on the same ticket. You can not access other Star Alliance lounges with your Velocity membership unless you are flying in business class with United (which would give you access regardless of your Velocity status). However, United has made deals that allow you to access the Singapore Airlines’ lounge in Sydney and Melbourne if you are Velocity Gold or Platinum. This is very confusing, so please look at the Virgin website for specific guidance before your trip.
Velocity’s new partnership is a great way to redeem flights to the US and beyond. While there are a few things to watch out for, like visa issues and flight routes, that are a bit unconventional, I think this program can offer real value to everyone and is worth looking into when you want to redeem your Velocity Points.