A couple of weeks ago my grandmother passed away – she had lived a long life, passing exactly ninety four and a half years from the day she was born, had her family close to her all her life and did not suffer any great illness, so while it was of course a sad loss for the family, when you live that long and it ends well I believe you count your blessings. Anyway this meant I needed to get to the UK at very short notice and frankly this is where having a host of miles can be very valuable. A quick scan on Kayak put coach fares in the $1,500 plus range, more like $2k for any kind of reasonable routing. And regular readers will know that thanks to this hobby I’ve become allergic to coach 🙂 So I looked at my miles balances and while United and US Airways seemed like the obvious candidates, I do have a decent stockpile of Delta SkyMiles and I figured I may as well try and see what I can do with them. To my surprise availability at short notice was very good, and I managed to book an open jaw round trip starting in Washington DC to Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, Heathrow to Manchester on Virgin Atlantic’s new domestic service Little Red, the same back to Heathrow, Delta Airlines from Heathrow to JFK in business class on the way back and then a last hop from LaGuardia to RDU in Delta domestic F. This cost 100,000 SkyMiles plus $342 in taxes and fees. The taxes are largely the UK luxury passenger departure tax as Delta does not charge fuel surcharges on awards departing from the USA. This was a great use of SkyMiles! I used another 4.5k Avios to get me from RDU to Washington (national) and took a Uber ride from DCA to IAD. This report will only include the international and UK domestic portion. I also needed to overnight in Manchester Airport on the way back and was very happy to be able to use up some Club Carlson points to get the Radisson Blue Manchester Airport which is directly connected to the terminals. I splashed out 51,000 points for a business class room as the base 38,000 rooms were sold out. But I have SO MANY Club Carlson points and I am sure they are about to get flushed down the value toilet so was fine with this, especially given the cash rate was about $256 for the night, so a theoretical 0.5 cents per point which is round about where I value those points – currently.
I made a couple of iterations of the booking, learning in the process the flexibility of last minute Delta bookings, and then it was time to go. After a short hop on AA and a nice Uber ride I arrived at Washington Dulles. While parts of Dulles are awful, I do like the international area, so many different destinations and a real multi-national feel:
I made my way down to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, which turned out was right opposite the gate for our flight. Our carriage was already awaiting us. Last time I flew Virgin Atlantic I had booked a flight specifically to try out the New Upper Class Suite, but a last minute equipment swap meant I got the old product. So I was glad to see tonight’s flight was on the A330-300 with the new product:
I then headed into the Clubhouse, decked in the Virgin Atlantic colors
I was given a super-warm welcome at the Clubhouse, the lady at reception was so friendly and it all fitted in nicely with the fun Virgin image. I dropped my rather large bag off and then made my way to the bar to get a snack and something to drink. The clubhouse is not particularly big, certainly nothing like the amazing one in London, but it does have a nice bar area with a decent dining menu available:
I enjoyed a cold meats plate and a couple of quick glasses of Champagne and then it was time to board. I was the very last person to leave the club so when I got to the gate there was no line and pretty much everyone was on board.
Once on board it was time to check out the New Upper Class Suite. My main impression is it was pretty much exactly the same as the old version! Well not quite exactly the same, but really a very incremental change. It still has the same herringbone layout with the middle seats facing inward and outer seats facing inward. To be honest this is the worst possible configuration as the outer “window” seats face the inside of the plane rather than the windows, and the middle seats face away from each other, thus making them useless for traveling with a partner. So as you can see you end up feeling pretty close to your neighbors
While it is a bad choice of cabin layout, and the suite is definitely a little on the cramped side, I still LOVE the Virgin Atlantic service. I particularly enjoy the champagne service in the Austin Powers style glasses 🙂
I do like the new suite’s decor too… the dark wood tone is nice and the glass dividers are nice. You do see through them but in a very muffled kind of way so they help make the place feel a little more spacious without impeding seriously on privacy. I took a few more shots around the suite
I like the fact that they allow you to use the in-flight entertainment on the ground. Before long we were up and away with a nice sunset in the DC area
Very shortly after takeoff the dinner service began. The Dulles flight takes off early evening, in our case a wheels up around 7pm, so my plan was to have dinner on board and then try to get some sleep before arriving in London. I started off with yet more Champagne, of course! Served up with chips… well actually I now felt back on British territory so the Champagne was served with crisps 🙂
The table was set which is a very nice setup for a business class service
For starters I had a smoked salmon sushi rice dish which was pleasant enough:
And then for the main course I went with steak, which was pretty good, I liked the garlic butter
Then to finish off I went with the cheese plate, particularly because it has a Welsh cheddar. As a Welshman I had to go with that, and the cheddar did not disappoint at all and was the highlight of the meal
After dinner I went to get changed into my PJs. I didn’t get a picture but Virgin do provided PJs in Upper Class unlike many competitive business class products, and they were a pretty decent pair. After getting changed I stopped by at the on-board bar at the back of the Upper Class cabin. The bar on the A330 is very small with room for maybe 3 passengers and was not particularly well stocked. I was looking for some Baileys for a night cap and they ended up having to go back to coach to steal some mini bottles! After our very cool on board bar experience with Emirates, this was a bit of a let down, but still managed to while away some time with a pleasant chap heading to the Middle East and at least one of the flight attendants was a fun chat. Anyway after that I headed back to the suite and slept for a few hours. I did not get any picks in bed mode but it’s worth noting the seat is a “convertible” seat in that it flips right over rather than just lying flat to make a bed. And you are provider nice bedding with a bed cover and duvet. It was a very comfortable seat for sleeping, though as I say it’s a pretty narrow seat which is fine for someone like me who is pretty average size but might be a squeeze for someone tall or wide.
Anyway I was woken up for breakfast and was really made to feel back home in Britain with a “bacon butty” offering for breakfast. I remember back in my university days eating bacon butties on the train back in the days of the national British Rail service. Since then Virgin has taken on that particular rail line and the bacon butty is no more, and this morning’s offering definitely was not as good as my memories of the BR version (though not sure if that is because the version in my memory is better than reality or not!)
After that and the usual spinning around drawing circles in the sky around Heathrow we landed to a beautiful sunrise at the other end of the journey
And with that the short but pleasant flight was done. While the seats are small and the layout not the best, I can’t help but love Virgin Atlantic. I am sure it’s the Brit in me so it may not appeal to all, but they do hit the right spots for me.
Next up the domestic legs on the new Little Red product along with the Radisson Blu at Manchester Airport…
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