Yesterday, Condé Nast Traveler published “How One Guy Vacationed With Richard Branson…By Using Points.” That guy was me. My wife and I enjoyed an all-expense-paid week on Richard Branson’s Necker Island, and we paid for it with miles. A lot of miles. 1.2 million miles.
Was it worth it?
When we arrived at Beef Island airport, in the British Virgin Islands, a taxi van drove us to a nearby dock. There, Necker Island staff took our bags, handed us Champagne, and welcomed us onto a small speedboat. Eight other guests had already boarded. We sped towards Necker Island and our anticipation grew. In many ways, the boat ride seemed like our entry into an amazing shared dream…
As we neared the island, Necker staff waived from the dock and helped us out of the boat. Then, Sir Richard Branson himself stepped out to greet us personally. It felt very much like the opening scene in every episode of Fantasy Island.
We were led to a nearby table for lunch while our bags found their way to our rooms. As we introduced ourselves to the other guests, lunch appeared. One delicious dish after another was set in front of us family-style. Nearly everyone at the table was new to the island. And our shared first-time-on-island experience quickly bonded us together.
I hadn’t intended to tell the other guests about how I used miles to book the trip, nor that I blogged about earning miles without flying for a living. I feared that people who had spent over $30,000 for the week would be pissed. But soon enough I was asked directly about why we chose Necker Island and I answered truthfully. No one seemed disturbed at all. Instead, their eyes lit up. They wanted to know how to find my blog and whether they could do this too! Most of the guests were British, though, and so wouldn’t have access to the same credit card offers and deals that I write about. Still, they promised to share the blog with their American friends.
One guest who arrived later that night asked if I was The Points Guy. Um, no.
My favorite conversation starter was to ask other guests why they chose Necker Island. Over the course of the week I learned that I wasn’t the only one with an interesting story. At least two other guests had booked the island with miles. One flies Virgin Atlantic for work and charges everything to his Virgin Atlantic credit card. The other owns a business and charges all expenses to his Business Platinum card. This was his third year visiting the island thanks to transferring Amex Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic. One guest had won the week at a charity poker tournament. Two had won charity auctions. One had received the week as a gift from a friend! Another was there for the second week in a row. She explained that she was signed up for Virgin Galactic and that every year many soon-to-be space tourists visit Necker Island at the same time (the week before my trip). Was Necker Island included in the Virgin Galactic price? Nope. Apparently (and, in retrospect, this shouldn’t be surprising) many who can afford a Virgin Galactic ticket (currently: $250,000) can afford an annual week on Necker Island as well.
You can’t get bored on Necker Island…
I only got lost twice hiking around the island
I paddle boarded (and got my name on the records board despite a very slow time):
I pedal boarded:
That didn’t go exactly as planned
I snorkeled, free dived, and SCUBA dived (dove?):
Sadly my underwater camera is now permanently underwater. I forgot to strap it to my scuba gear.
Group activities included a guided hike around the island (no getting lost that time!), zip-lining, Lemur feeding, off-island excursions, a tour of Richard Branson’s estate on nearby Mosquito island, a tennis tournament, Champagne Sabering lessons, and several evening parties. It was great.
Richard Branson frequently spent time with the guests. He dined with us several times, joined a few parties, and actively participated in the island tennis tournament (and scored the winning point). I had a number of opportunities to talk with him. We discussed what would happen if Alaska Airlines dropped the Virgin America brand (he would re-start Virgin America as a new company). We talked global warming (I mentioned that my wife and I own a positive energy home and we earned a “well done!” from Richard). We talked politics. And, we discussed miles. In fun, he gave me the finger.
Lodging, meals, and weather
Our room was in the truly great Great House. Our patio and full ocean view was drop-dead gorgeous. The patio included an outdoor shower which I used daily. While the room itself wasn’t huge, it was luxuriously appointed and perfect for our needs. The king bed was incredibly comfortable. Every room included island necessities such as sunscreen, bug repellent, straw hats, and a wicker beach bag. Laundry deposited in the bathroom laundry bag was washed and pressed daily.
Breakfast was served every morning at the Great House at a large outdoor table. Both buffet and menu service was available. My favorite but admittedly boring choice was their Eggs Benedict.
Lunch and dinner locations varied each day. Some meals were served family style, some included menu service, and a few were buffet style. Meals were almost always excellent.
Drinks flowed non-stop. Nearly every gathering spot on the island includes a well-stocked bar. And every staff member was more than happy to step behind the bar to serve drinks. Sometimes we even ordered non-alcoholic drinks.
With regards to weather, we were very lucky. Even though it rained several nights (almost always while we slept), every day was sunny and clear. Each day’s high temperature was in the low 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Was it worth it? Was it worth 1.2 million miles?
The single 1.2 million Virgin Atlantic mile price included all taxes, all tips, all meals, all activities on the island (except massages), and all off-island excursions for two people for 7 nights. We did have to pay ourselves (mostly with points, of course) to fly to the British Virgin Islands. Once we arrived, though, I put my wallet away and never touched it again all week.
On the other hand…
While the island was beautiful, we’ve been to more beautiful places. While the food was excellent, we’ve had better. Price-wise, I expect that it would be possible to cobble together a similar sounding trip for far fewer points.
I don’t believe that anything else in the world would be quite like this. The island, the incredible staff, the animals, the fellow guests (now friends!), and even Sir Richard Branson himself combined to make Necker Island magical… a true fantasy island. It was a vacation of a lifetime.
So, was it worth 7 months of my time to collect 1.2 million Virgin Atlantic miles?