A favourite option of many Velocity Frequent Flyer members is to book reward flights using points on Virgin's partner airline Etihad Airways, particularly in business and first class, including flights operated by the airline's newest Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 aircraft.
While the number of points needed to book these flights has increased over the years, along with the amount payable in actual money on the side, there's still plenty of value to be had: particularly on longer treks between Australia and Europe.
Whether your goal is to fly in first class, business class or economy, here's what you need to know to turn your Velocity points into a near-free international flight with Etihad Airways.
Booking Etihad Airways flights with Velocity points: key routes
From its Abu Dhabi hub, Etihad Airways currently serves Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia, along with Perth until October when the route ceases.
Unlike its rivals Emirates and Qatar Airways, Etihad doesn't fly to New Zealand, and on its Australian routes, first class is limited to its Sydney and Melbourne flights, while its services to Brisbane and Perth top out at business class.
But onward from Abu Dhabi, Etihad flies to a range of European cities including the 'biggies' of London, Paris, Rome and Frankfurt, but also those sometimes harder to access such as Moscow, Dublin, Madrid and Athens, among others.
The airline also maintains a network of flights from Abu Dhabi to destinations across the Middle East, Asia and Africa, plus North America: most useful for Perth-based flyers (for the next few months, at least), but less-so for those based on Australia's east coast where there are much faster ways of reaching the United States and Canada.
Booking Etihad Airways flights with Velocity points: how many points you'll need
Let's start with Abu Dhabi: here's how many Velocity points you'd need to fly there from Australia on non-stop Etihad flights, in first class, business class and economy. For return bookings, double these figures:
|To/from Abu Dhabi (one-way)||First class
|152,500 Velocity points||104,000 Velocity points||56,000 Velocity points|
||No longer offered||104,000 Velocity points||56,000 Velocity points|
||Not available||78,000 Velocity points||42,000 Velocity points|
Note that because Etihad Airways is on 'Table 2' in the Velocity program, the number of points needed to book these flights is higher than for Virgin Australia flights of comparable lengths – although as Virgin Australia no longer flies to Abu Dhabi, Etihad is your only choice for a non-stop journey.
But let's say you're headed for London – here's how that looks flying via Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways, again shown per one-way flight:
|To/from London (one-way)||First class
|203,000 Velocity points||139,000 Velocity points||75,000 Velocity points|
||Not available||139,000 Velocity points||75,000 Velocity points|
||Not available||121,000 Velocity points||65,000 Velocity points|
The same number of Velocity points are needed to fly from Australia to most other European destinations, although a smaller serve of Velocity points can get you a seat on a couple of specific routes, which have a slightly shorter overall travel distance, reducing the number of points required:
|Via Abu Dhabi (one-way)||Business class
|Melbourne to Athens
||121,000 Velocity points||65,000 Velocity points|
|Perth to Moscow
||104,000 Velocity points||56,000 Velocity points|
Flying to Athens or Moscow from any other Australian cities, however, requires the higher number of points.
Booking Etihad Airways flights with Velocity points: making that reservation
For travel in business class and economy, Etihad Airways reward flights can be booked via the Velocity Frequent Flyer website, although first class travel can only be booked over the phone by calling Velocity.
Before we continue, we'll also point out that Velocity levies an "Etihad Airways Reward Seat Carrier Charge" of US$300 (A$400) in first class, US$205 (A$273) in business class and US$50 (A$67) in economy – and this charge applies per reward flight with Etihad, not per reward booking, and kicks in whether you book online or over the phone.
That means if you take a return first class trip between Australia and London, you'd be stung US$1,200 (A$1,600) in fees, on top of the usual taxes and charges applicable to your reward booking, so it's something to keep in mind.
Booking business class and economy class
Searching for your business class or economy reward flight through the Velocity website is relatively straightforward – just plug in where you'd like to fly, and make sure the "use points + pay" option is ticked at the top. For business class, you'll need to change "travel class" to "premium/business", otherwise you'll only see economy flights.
For example, we're going to search for a one-way business class reward ticket from Melbourne to London:
On the next screen, things get a little tricky, and you'd be forgiven for thinking there were no reward flights available when you're greeted with "premium reward sold out" and "business reward sold out" at the top of the screen, and a horifying number of points for "any seat business":
However, keep scrolling down the page, and you might spot something useful in that same Business Reward column – being a journey for the correct number of points at 139,000:
Clicking on the flight number in red also reveals the aircraft type operating each flight. Here, '789' refers to Etihad's Boeing 787-9, while '388' means the Airbus A380...
... and because Etihad's latest Business Studio business class seats are available on both those aircraft, you'd be flying like this all the way to London:
On the Airbus A380 leg, you could also make use of The Lobby: Etihad's inflight bar and lounge area, nestled between business class and first class on the superjumbo's upper deck.
However, you'll notice the cash amount to be paid alongside this ticket is rather pricey, at A$643.85 (on top of your 139,000 Velocity points), plus Virgin Australia's obligatory credit card surcharge which is levied on the final screen of the booking process.
Because Velocity's website also lists reward flights with other airlines, not just Etihad Airways, you might choose to scroll up and down this same flights page to review any other options, even if they're not with Etihad.
A quick browse shows comparable business class flights with Singapore Airlines for the same 139,000 Velocity points but just A$91.58 to be paid on the side – a saving of over $500, while still flying in style and departing and arriving at relatively the same times:
Because Singapore Airlines also offers premium economy, and you can book premium economy using Velocity points, this extra option also presents itself where available, allowing you to save some points if you're happy to fly further back (but at a difference of just 26,500 Velocity points from Australia to London, business class certainly is a more comfortable way to fly!).
Booking first class
For first class flights – which can only be secured over the phone – you'll need to call Velocity Frequent Flyer on 13 18 75 between 7:30am and 10:30pm Sydney time, seven days a week – or +61 2 8667 5924 during the same hours if dialling from overseas.
As you can't check for availability using the Velocity website before calling, you may wish to adopt one of these time-saving tricks to help find a suitable flight which can be booked using points, before calling Velocity to make that successful booking.
One route is to visit the Etihad Guest website instead – not the Velocity website – and to search for the flight you want to book, by toggling the payment method to "miles" rather than "cash", revealing what's available using points. Here's how that looks when searching for a first class ticket from Sydney to Abu Dhabi:
You don't need an Etihad Guest mileage account to make this search, and if you encounter any problems, just click "proceed without logging in", because what you're looking for is availability in the "GuestSeat" column under the "Guest First" heading, ignoring "OpenSeat":
In this case, availability in first class appears on the mid-afternoon EY451 flight and the evening EY455 departure, both of which are served by Etihad's Airbus A380s. Armed with this knowledge, you could then call Velocity and make your request for a specific flight, knowing that reward availability is most likely available.
Once your ticket is confirmed, you could soon be flying in the airline's first class Apartment!
The other route is to use ExpertFlyer, if you have a subscription. You'd enter a similar search, choosing "Etihad Airways - EY" in the "airline" box and then ticking "Guest First - Award & Upgrade (O)" below:
A similar result is revealed, showing that two first class reward seats are available on each flight:
Just keep in mind that these approaches reveal which flights are available for points-based bookings to Etihad's own Etihad Guest frequent flyers. It's not a sure-fire thing that the exact same flights will be open for booking using Velocity points too, but it's the best way you can search and identify flights you can most likely book using Velocity points.
The only way to confirm exactly which flights you can book is to call Velocity, but as a general rule, if a flight is open for booking using Etihad Guest miles, there's a very good chance you'll be able to book it with Velocity points, whereas if a flight can't be booked using Etihad Guest miles, you won't be able to book it with Velocity points.
That's what this search process helps to reveal – flights which you definitely won't be able to book using Velocity points, alongside those which you'll have a pretty good chance of securing if you call.
It's not easy, but flying first class using points wasn't really meant to be!