Frequent flyer programs are a vital component of any airline’s appeal to the business traveller. In recent issues of Dynamic Business we’ve examined the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme. Now Virgin Australia has revved up its Velocity Rewards program as part of its efforts to snare 20 percent of Australia’s business and corporate travel market.
Velocity is now a serious challenger to Qantas Frequent Flyer, and in many ways it goes one better than The Red Roo when it comes to benefits, especially at the top membership tiers.
Even Virgin Australia’s most frequent flyers used to hit the ceiling at Gold status, but the overhauled scheme has introduced a new Platinum grade which kicks in once you reach 1,000 status credits on your flights (with 800 status credits to retain Platinum in subsequent years).
Among the benefits are guaranteed reward seats for international travel; free cabin class upgrades (on availability); access to priority check-in, boarding and baggage plus the overseas lounges of many partner airlines; ability to earn Gold or Platinum membership for a companion; and 100 percent frequent flyer points bonus.
Reciprocal hotel & car hire status
Being a Gold or Platinum frequent flyer with Virgin Australia will earn you equivalent status with the Hilton HHonors or Intercontinental Hotel Group’s Priority Club. This entitles you to free broadband, room upgrades, free breakfasts, access to executive lounges, point-earning bonuses and discounts on reward stays with the hotels.
Velocity Gold members get the choice of either Gold Elite membership with Intercontinental Hotels Group’s Priority Club Rewards or Hilton HHonors.
Velocity Platinum members get the choice of Platinum Elite membership with IHG’s Priority Club Rewards or Diamond Elite membership with Hilton HHonors. Both schemes offer several benefits above what a casual guest would enjoy, but you can choose only one or the other: Hhonors or Priority Club.
Australian Business Traveller crunched the numbers and Hilton HHonors comes out ahead for both velocity Gold and Platinum levels. That said, there are more Intercontinental Hotel Group properties in Australia compared to the Hilton group, especially outside of capital cities, so bear that in mind when making your choice. If you travel to the USA frequently you’ll be well covered by options from the Hilton group, of course.
Velocity members are also eligible for an ‘elite’ membership with either Europcar or Hertz, giving a range of benefits including car type upgrades (book a small car, get upgraded to a standard-size car), discounts on rental rates, and more. As it happens, Europcar’s upper-level members also get status-matching with Accor Hotels’ reward program: so if you pick Europcar’s scheme, you can enjoy elite membership with Accor along with your choice of Hilton or Intercontinental (through Velocity).
Once again, Australian Business Traveller has compared the Europcar Privileges Privilege Executive and Hertz #1 Club Gold programs at both the Velocity Gold and Platinum levels and we rate Europcar as the better choice.
Companion gold and platinum memberships
Qantas offers a free gold Frequent Flyer membership once an existing platinum member hits 2,100 status credits in a year. Virgin is one-upping Qantas by not only providing free partner gold memberships (at 1,500 status credits), but also partner platinum memberships (at 2,000 status credits).
Velocity Rewards has also been redesigned to be family-friendly; an area in which Qantas Frequent Flyer is particularly weak in. At first glance, it might not appear to fit with Virgin’s mission of attracting big-spending business travelers away from Qantas. But considering that businesspeople in the peak of their career are likely to also be raising families and striving for a reasonable work-life balance, it’s a masterstroke.
Buying award tickets for other family members is one of the most common ways frequent flyer members burn points, yet Qantas’ market-leading scheme isn’t exactly geared towards giving families maximum flexibility. One example: while Qantas allows points to be transferred to other family members, it can only be done once per member, per year. Virgin’s new program allows points transfers up to four times a year. And unlike Qantas, families can pool all of their members’ points into a single account, allowing any family member to take reward flights as soon enough points are accrued.
You can also pool status credits, so that a family member can upgrade to the next level of the Velocity program. Status credit pooling is a breakthrough in Australian domestic travel. Take, for example, two partners who both accrue 250 status credits a year, which would be enough to earn them both silver status with Virgin. They could instead elect to apply all 500 status credits to one of them, which would be enough for a gold membership. Every time that they travelled together, they’d both get gold benefits such as lounge access, priority check-in, priority boarding, priority baggage and so on. Every 100 status credits accrued, the gold member would also be issued with a free lounge access pass, which means that when not traveling together, the standard member would still be able to use the lounge sometimes.
Another canny move is to support ‘parental leave’. Even if you’re a very frequent-flying executive, if you have to stop flying for a while after the birth of a child, your Qantas membership will be ticking away, with the possibility that you could lose your status in the following year. Virgin is introducing the ability for any member who needs to stop flying due to becoming a new parent (or after having another child) to pause their silver, gold or platinum membership for six months. After that, according to Virgin, you “simply pick up where you left off with your membership level intact.”
There’s even the lure of ‘guaranteed family holidays’, for when you want to turn all those hard-earned points into a trip for the whole family. Securing free ‘reward’ seats for the dates that fit with the family holiday plans can be diabolically difficult. However, Virgin promises that as a gold or platinum member, you can enjoy complete peace of mind knowing you are guaranteed reward seats for an annual family trip.
Gold members can redeem points for up to four return reward seats for an annual family trip to any Australian destination, while Platinum members can choose from hundreds of international destinations. Anything guaranteed in terms of frequent flyer award flights is to be applauded.
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller.