After spending a wonderful weekend in New York, we flew out to London from JFK International Airport on a Sunday evening with Virgin Atlantic.
Details of how I booked our Upper Class seats using points can be found on my past blogpost How I Booked Virgin Atlantic Upper Class For This Summer.
Our seat in Upper Class Virgin Atlantic cost USD 419 in taxes & surcharges plus 40,000 miles per person. If we were to pay the full fare without using miles, one way would cost approximately USD 5,500 and a round trip would cost USD 6,685 – PER PERSON – so NO thank you.
We already had miles sitting in our Virgin Atlantic Flying Club from last year that we didn’t end up using so this was the perfect time to utilize them. These miles were transferred from our Chase Ultimate Rewards Points at a 1:1 ratio. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles are also transferrable from the following transfer partners:
You could be based in Australia, Asia or Europe to become members of any of the transfer partners above (except Chase needs to be US-based) and all of the hotels reward memberships (Marriott, SPG, Hilton HHonos, Hyatt, IHG) won’t cost you a cent to sign up, it should take about 2 minutes to register and it’s completely FREE so why not become a member?
Remember all those hotel stays, car rentals and all other credit card purchases are worth something and worth saving. That’s how we managed to collect our miles because we can’t always rely on credit card sign-up bonuses.
Out of all the hotel partners above, SPG would be the most valuable at the moment because of their transfer ratio of 1:1 – so you won’t lose any points when converting SPG (Star Points) to airline miles. If you have an American Express Credit Card issued by Amex (not another bank) – including an Amex Corporate Card, you should be able to access your Membership Rewards account online to check how much balance you have. Some people I know don’t even realize the benefits of owning an Amex card that can be used towards airlines miles including:
- Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)
- British Airways (redeemable for One World Alliance)
- Aeroplan (redeemable for Air Canada, Lufthansa, United flights)
- Etihad Guest Miles (also redeemable for ANA, American Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Alitalia)
You can also redeem Virgin Atlantic flights using Delta SkyMiles, Virgin America, Virgin Australia and Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles – details of SQ Award Chart here.
Getting into JFK Airport from Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon was much bearable than commuting between these points on any given weekday. It took us about 40 minutes by Uber from the center of Manhattan to reach JFK Airport.
Our flight departs at 08:10 PM and we arrived at JFK around 5:00PM. We wanted to make sure we have enough time for check-in, TSA and to have a leisurely time at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse before boarding.
Virgin Atlantic operates out of Terminal 4 at New York JFK International Airport, it was confusing at first because the Upper Class check-in counters are located at the far end of the terminal – next to Delta Sky Priority – completely separate from the main Virgin Atlantic check-in counters.
Delta owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic and they operates several codeshare flights so I can see why they share the same priority check-in area.
The line for Delta Sky Priority check-in was quite long, but there was barely anyone in the Virgin Atlantic line, which was a relief for us. Check-in was pretty straightforward and did not take more than 10 minutes.
Unlike in LAX, the TSA in JFK has a lot more security checkpoints and we were given access to fast track lines and passing security was completely hassle-free.
JFK Clubhouse – Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Lounge
I had been looking forward to experience Virgin Atlantic’s JFK Clubhouse after reading so many good reviews about it.
JFK Clubhouse is located in the A concourse above Gate A4 and A5 – right above our departing gate which was highly convenient.
The sleek and contemporary-designed lounge features a pool table at the center of the clubhouse.
The clubhouse was quite busy when we arrived that we couldn’t find any available seat for the three of us (plus a stroller) – to sit comfortably at the lounge area, so we decided to head to the dining area where it was much quieter.
The food was served tapas style (read: small portions) and we were quite surprised of how tasty they were, especially the truffle grilled cheese sandwich that was so delicious it melts in your mouth. I’d say in terms of food quality and taste for an airport lounge dining, this would be my second best after Singapore Airlines Private Room in Changi Airport.
Once the majority of the passengers left the clubhouse to board two earlier flights, we could finally see some spaces available at the lounge area and managed to snag a cocoon seating area not far from the window overlooking the tarmac.
The clubhouse bar
The bathroom and private shower rooms has a contemporary look and features an enlarged blue prints of NY buildings – a pretty cool touch.
I decided to give my toddler a quick shower and put him in comfortable sleeping clothes before boarding the aircraft, I did not find any baby changing tables in the shower room though – perhaps they have it in other shower rooms.
Fresh towels and a bath mat were already stocked in the room without having to ask for it because no staff was on stand by outside the shower rooms unlike in Qantas First Class Lounge in LAX or Etihad Lounges that had full-time staff ready to assist passengers and immediately freshen-up the bathroom / shower rooms after every single use. So I feel these areas were a little abandoned because when I came back to use the same bathroom, the used dirty towels were still there.
About 45 minutes before the flight schedule, we finally made our way to board the aircraft and it turns out we were the last Upper Class passengers who boarded when we thought we got there early.
Inside Virgin Atlantic Upper Class B787-900
VS 112, New York (JFK) to London Heathrow (LHR)
Duration: 7 Hours
Aircraft: Boeing 787-900
Three Cabins (Economy, Premium Economy, Upper Class)
Configuration: Upper Class, 1-1-1, 31 Flat-Bed Seats
Seat: 5A & 6A
VA Seatmap 787-900 (photo: SeatGuru)
The warm yet fun pink lighting inside the cabin was consistent with the theme that you would experience inside all Virgin aircrafts. I’m not a huge fan of the staggered herringbone seat design of this aircraft that makes the individual seat looks vastly narrow and tight.
Seats on row A would be the better choice because you will be facing the back of row G and there are no other passengers facing your seat.
Row G & K are almost facing each other that when you sit on your seat, your view will most likely be other passengers’ feet (unless you have a foot fetish then that’s a different story).
The seat width is 22″ (56cm) and the pitch when turned flat is 78″ (198cm). The bed mattress is actually attached on the back of the seat and once you turn it into a bed but still want to watch a movie, you’ll have to use pillows or lean against the window as it won’t allow you to have it on a semi-reclined position (similar to Singapore Airlines Suites seats).
The crew does a turn-down service for every passenger because once they see you trying to do it yourself they immediately come over and offered to do it for you – so a lot of passengers who seem to be regular Upper Class flyers always calls out one of the crew if they want to turn the seat into a bed.The mattress for the flat bed is one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever had up in the air.
The white duvet for the bedding (unfortunately not pictured) was high quality and thick like what you would get in nice hotels.
The ottoman is not movable and it has an extra seat belt allowing you to dine with a companion face-to-face as they sit on the ottoman. (No, the iPad doesn’t come with the seat.)
The seat may be a little tight but it can still fit an adult and a little human comfortably.
Sunset at JFK as we were taking off.
The personal IFE monitor when stowed away.
The personal IFE monitor when pulled out.
A great feature in the cabin is of course the bar, accessible exclusively for Upper Class passengers. We were probably the only few ones who actually sat and spent some time at the bar – as I rarely saw anyone else hanging out in this area.
Dinner was served about 1 hour after take-off and it was quite tasty – no disappointment here.
You get to create your own breakfast menu, which I didn’t end up getting because I was still asleep while everyone else was having breakfast – and we were about 30 minutes out of Heathrow when I got up so they couldn’t serve anymore food, but the crew gave me some fresh fruit to nibble – there goes my perfect breakfast.
My favorite amenities bag so far! – Made by Herschel
One upside of sitting on a herringbone seat facing inward is the awesome view you get looking out all the windows across the cabin as the plane makes a turn.
Overall, the service from the crew was genuinely friendly and exceptional, you can tell these people really enjoy what they do.
The design of the cabin is very modern including, how to store away the tables was made very efficient and my most favorite feature is the auto-dimming windows – there is no window shield – you just press a button and it will dim by itself, once we’re about to land all the windows turned to clear automatically (or centrally controlled by the crew – who knows).
If you are traveling solo, I’d definitely recommend flying Virgin Atlantic between United States and London because of the service (exceeds British Airways’) and a number of modern features of the cabin that adds up to the entire experience.
The space can be quite limited if you were to travel with a lap infant and if you are traveling with young children who are in their own seat – the divider makes it hard to reach the person sitting next to you if you ever need to assist them.Including you honeymooners – you won’t be able to hold hands during the flight.