Today’s article is specifically for people in the media & entertainment industry, heading to LDI in Las Vegas this week.
If that isn’t you, some of this information will likely be useful anyway but it’s been written with LDI in mind.
This year is the first year in a while that I haven’t headed to the desert with countless other folks. But despite not being there in person, I wanted to share some of the thought processes I would go through if I was attending. I’m going to cover tips & tricks for both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights as I know there’s people on both.
If you aren’t already flying Business Class, maybe you want to upgrade from Premium or Economy. The week prior to travel is always a hot time for upgrades. I have been monitoring the BA Avios availability and Virgin points availability. It’s few and far between, but seats do show up last minute. So do not give up hope!
BA allow upgrading at the airport for both Avios and cash. Traditionally, if there’s a cash upgrade available, you should be able to use Avios too. However, that isn’t a hard rule. Arriving early and asking about upgrades at check-in is totally normal behaviour and I encourage you to try. All BA Premium Economy tickets can be upgraded to Business. Most of the Economy tickets can be too – unless you have a VERY cheap ticket. It’s all down to the fare class the ticket is booked in.
Virgin often do airport upgrade offers if the flight isn’t full. If there’s a cash offer, they will usually allow points to be used too. All Premium tickets can be upgraded and some Economy fares too.
The main issue some of you may face is travel agent tickets. If your ticket was issued by a travel agent, sometimes the airline will refuse to do upgrades on this kind of ticket. It’s a bit hit & miss in my experience. Once the ticket becomes “part flown”, i.e. on the inbound flight, then upgrading usually becomes easier. Doing ticket changes at outstations (not the home base for the airline) is also usually easier as outstation staff are more likely to make the rules up as they see fit.
In terms of prices, pre-Covid I’d have expected cash offers for this route to be £650-850 region one way. The way things are right now, I wouldn’t expect to see more like £1200-1500. I would consider anything under £700 good value. For points upgrades, you will pay the taxes & fee difference which used to be £1-200, but now may be higher.
Points upgrades are the best value if you can do them. Remember you’re owed the points for the underlying fare too so remember to chase the carrier for that after the trip.
Airline app upgrades
Both Virgin and BA do upgrade offers for cash via their apps.
I have a rule with these offers – if the “upgrade” price is more than £2000, it’s not an upgrade, it’s just a new ticket.
BA are better at offering attractive upgrades in the app in my experience. So do check the app daily in the lead up to your flight.
First & Upper Class wing
Both BA and Virgin have their own “wings” – dedicated areas of their respective terminals.
They’re very different but offer a unique experience if you haven’t done it before.
For BA you have the First wing in T5 that allows you to go through fast-track security if you’re flying Business/First Class or have Silver/Gold status. This route brings you directly to their lounge complex. The BA wing is at the south end of Terminal 5.
Virgin’s Upper Class wing has drive through check-in. You drive up a private entrance next to Terminal 3, and someone comes to greet you and take your bag. You then get checked in and you’re straight into the private security lane. It’s probably the most seamless check-in experience at Heathrow in my view. The only downside is you have to be flying Upper Class. Golds cannot use the drive-in part, but they can come up from the main check-in downstairs and enter the private security line through the secret door.
The downside to the Virgin wing is it doesn’t go directly to the lounge, you have to go through duty-free like everyone else. But if you are flying Upper, I recommend taking an Uber exec and enjoying the drive in experience. It’s cool!
If you’re lucky enough to have status, you will be allowed into the lounge. You may also be allowed to bring a guest.
BA Silver gets Business Class lounge access for you and one guest. The guest needs to be on a One World flight. That means if you’re flying on the direct BA flight and someone you know is on a connecting flight with American Airlines and you’re both in Terminal 3 at London Heathrow, you can lounge together. Terminal 3 also has a number of good One World lounges – see here.
BA Gold gets First Class lounge access for you and one guest. The same rules as silver apply, they don’t have to be on your flight, just another One World flight.
Virgin lounge access only comes at Gold level but you can guest one person in too. However, the rules do say you have to be on the same flight. Virgin can be flexible, so it’s always worth pleading with the lounge staff if you don’t meet the exact criteria. They may be nice.
Both Virgin and BA use third party lounges as Las Vegas Harry Reid international airport. These lounges can sometimes become very busy so do not be surprised if on the inbound flight the guesting policies go out of the window.
Boarding and disembarking
British Airways are flying their A350 to Las Vegas and Virgin at flying the 787-9.
In both cases, that means the Business Class cabin will be between door 1 and 2. Disembarking will almost certainly be through door 2L.
If you want to be off quickly (and I suggest you do), being as close to that door as possible will ensure you a speedy exit. If you do not have Global Entry… spend the $100 and get it! It lasts 5 years and it’s the best travel accessory you will ever have for US trips.
As I said, British Airways are flying their A350 to Las Vegas and Virgin at flying the 787-9.
So for the cabins, that means BA has the nice new Club Suite (Virgin has a similar product on their A350). So if you get the chance to upgrade, you should get the shiny new cabin unless theres an issue and the 350 gets swapped to a 777 last minute. But as of right now, all flights are showing as A350.
The Virgin 787 is now a bit dated. Although I have a soft spot for it given the hundreds of hours I’ve flown it. G-VSPY is my most flown aircraft if you’re interested! The Business layout on the 787 is 1-1-1. The A aisle faces the back of the G and K seats. So if you’re on the Virgin flight, I’d recommend any of the A seats. 9/10/11A should be the first three of the aircraft too, although proximity to the bar may bother you.
For Premium on Virgin, row 21 is the bulkhead and can only be selected by airport staff. It cannot be pre-booked. If you want a bulkhead seat, ask for 21A/C for the window/aisle on the left or 21D is my personal favourite.
If you’re heading out to LDI, enjoy! Watch out for the upgrades and have a safe trip. Hopefully some of this information was helpful.