Virgin Australia devalues Velocity elite status, pauses codeshare flight sales

Oct 22, 2020

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Virgin Australia quietly unveiled a handful of negative changes to its Velocity loyalty program. These include the suspension of selling international codeshare flights and devaluing a handful of elite status benefits.

These changes come months after Virgin Australia entered administration — similar to filing for bankruptcy in the U.S. — due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the months following, the airline announced it would end most international flights, suspend its transpacific partnership with Delta Air Lines and run an all-737 fleet in the future.

That said, this round of changes to codesharing and loyalty programs show just how dire the situation is at Virgin Australia. Here’s a look at all of the changes recently announced by Virgin Australia.

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Virgin Australia suspends international codeshares

Virgin Australia won’t sell codeshare flights until further notice (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Effective September 2020, the airline has suspended the sale of codeshare flights on its international partners. So, in short, you cannot book partner flights with a Virgin Australia flight number until further notice. Travelers who have already flown one of these flights can request retroactive points credit if the points don’t automatically post to their loyalty account.

For background, codesharing is when an airline sells another carrier’s flight as its own. For example, you were once able to book Virgin Australia flights that were actually operated by Delta Air Lines. The flight would be a Delta flight, but Virgin Australia members would be able to book the flight with a Virgin Australia flight number.

Thankfully, you can still credit flights booked with a partner to Virgin Australia, so long as the flight doesn’t have a Virgin Australia flight number. This means that you can put your Virgin Australia loyalty number on a Delta itinerary and earn points and status credits without change. The airline’s website notes that Velocity members will continue to earn a Tier Bonus on Delta Air Lines and Etihad Airways partner flights.

Related: 8 common misconceptions about visiting Australia

Huge elite status devaluations

Virgin Australia has gutted some of its most valuable elite status benefits — including Comfort+ upgrades on Delta flights, (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Even worse, those with Virgin Australia Velocity elite status won’t have access to as many benefits going forward. Effective September 2020, Velocity Gold and Platinum members can no longer access Alitalia, Hainan Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines lounges worldwide. This is especially disappointing to those flying to cities where Virgin Australia or another partner doesn’t offer a lounge, like Hong Kong (HKG). It’s also worth noting that Virgin Australia’s own lounge network remains closed.

Further, Velocity Platinum, Gold and Silver members can no longer request upgrades to Comfort+ on Delta flights. Further, since Virgin Australia is no longer selling Delta codeshare flights, you can’t upgrade with points on these international flights either.

Related: The best ways to use points and miles to fly from the U.S. to Australia

Bottom line

These changes are indeed heartbreaking for Virgin Australia elites. That said, Australia has continued to restrict international travel, so it won’t actually affect too many travelers. It sounds like many of these changes are temporary, but it makes me wonder about the future of Virgin Australia as a whole. If it transitions to a mostly domestic airline, will it also break off its international partnerships?

If it does, this could come as a huge devaluation to Velocity elites in the long-run. With no international partners and benefits, many Australian partners will be forced to move loyalty elsewhere if they rely on international connections for leisure or business travel. These travelers will likely switch to Qantas — the largest Australian airline — so there’s the possibility of a lucrative status match on the horizon.

Only time will tell how this plays out, but I hope that Virgin Australia is able to bounce back post-pandemic. Competition has proven to be a good thing for the airline industry, and without it, we might see higher flight prices in Australia. Even a smaller Virgin Australia with international partnerships would be better than a Qantas monopoly on the market.

Feature photo by Peterfz30/Shutterstock

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