Executive Traveller exclusive
Virgin Australia is once again looking to woo VIP flyers, with the launch of its new Beyond tier and the opening of elite Beyond lounges in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane earlier today.
However, Virgin Australia Beyond will retain The Club’s invitation-only exclusivity: counter to previous indications by Virgin of a “more transparent eligibility criteria” – expected to be tied to travel spend, among other factors – will not be made public.
Entered via discreet doors where only members know the location, the lounges feature leather and oak-clad walls, plush Chester-style armchairs, and bright greenery. Seating pods enveloped by frosted glass maintain privacy and discretion for those inside.
Numerous seating zones are spread throughout, providing different spaces to dine, relax, refresh and recharge. End of day facilities such as showers (available from July 1), towels and premium bathroom amenities by Appelles Apothecary Lab are also available.
Beyond membership remains invitation-only
Beyond membership is granted by the CEO and executives of Virgin Australia for the airline’s most loyal guests, which include decision makers for the airline’s corporate accounts and key leaders in many industries across the country.
The membership roster of The Club was previously a mixed bag of the airline’s most highly valued passengers, from politicians and high-ranking government officials, business leaders, A-list celebrities to those with enough sway over a company’s travel policies to direct substantial bookings to Virgin and its partners.
(There were also the more nebulous ‘F-o-Js’, which in the Borghetti era stood for Friends of John, and in 2022 may well continue as Friends of Jayne.)
The new door list sees these lounges “reserved for Virgin Australia’s most loyal guests from the worlds of business, travel, politics, sport, music, entertainment and society.”
“Virgin Australia Beyond is reserved for our most loyal and valued guests and signifies a fresh take and a move forward on enhanced status and service, in true Virgin Australia style,” explains airline CEO Jayne Hrdlicka.
“Beyond is more than just a future-facing name. It’s our promise to always give a little extra. To provide service that’s as tailored as it is effortless, and to consistently deliver an experience that goes above and way beyond.”
Former members of The Club who have been deemed Beyond-worthy will see their membership start on April 20, with complimentary Beyond membership for a nominated spouse or partner.
Beyond membership will last for 12 months and “will be reviewed and renewed as appropriate on an annual basis.”
Trial membership for some Club members
But not everyone who has a now-obsolete matte black The Club card tucked into their wallet or purse will make the cut.
Some will be offered a trial membership lasting either six or nine months which will be “subject to review at the end of the period.”
Those who don’t receive a personalised email invitation from Hrdlicka will instead receive one year of Velocity Platinum membership, for which they’ll need to earn the usual 800 status credits to remain minted after April 2023.
Beyond Lounge: Dining has been upgraded
To coincide with the opening of Beyond, Virgin Australia has unveiled a fresh à la carte menu for Beyond members, featuring light and substantial fresh menu options using the finest Australian produce.
Morning flyers may opt to enjoy some pre-flight breakfast with options including eggs cooked to order with their selection of the usual trimmings.
One of the healthier options to get your day going include organic buckwheat and date-toasted muesli with yoghurt.
Other times of the day may warrant a grass-fed steak sandwich, superfood salad with red quinoa and avocado, or some grilled calamari spaghetti.
Alternatively, place your order for some haloumi sliders, pulled beef tacos or a flat equivalent filled with hot smoked salmon.
There’s also a selection of freshly made sandwiches with your choice of leg ham, chicken or roasted vegetables. Or if you’d just prefer a snack, take your pick from truffle fries or an artisan cheese board.
If your sweet tooth needs nourishing, the all-day dessert menu features delectable morsels including salted caramel tart, pistachio pavlova, and chocolate mud cake.
This can be washed down with some of the finest drops from winemakers on both sides of the Tasman, with labels such as Pinot Gris from the Adelaide Hills; Barossa Valley Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand.
Breakfast and all-day menus will rotate regularly in line with supply and seasonality, while hosts will also make tailored dining recommendations to guests in line with how long they are due to spend in the lounge prior to boarding.
Perks that go “above and Beyond”?
Also on the cards for Beyond members are what’s described as “a carefully curated mix of exclusive benefits” to be detailed in the coming weeks.
Virgin has previously surveyed many Club members to determine what they wanted from the airline’s most elite tier, with Hrdlicka previously noting four clear callouts from the feedback, with members placing highest value on
- a private space to work or meet with colleagues
- dedicated phone concierge service
- convenience and privacy moving through airports, and
- complimentary upgrades
This broadly lines up with what several Club members told Executive Traveller at the time of the survey, which focused on The Club as an overall package for high-value travellers.
“It’s about having a better environment than the main lounge, much less crowded, a quieter and more private space where you’re comfortable talking business with colleagues,” explained one former Club member, a CEO in the manufacturing industry.
Flight flexibility was another item on the survey’s checklist.
“That’s very important for me,” said one Club member who flies between capital cities at least weekly. “If I’m on a 5pm flight and my day finishes early I want to move to the 4pm flight if there’s a seat, without paying extra.”
He cited a recent experience when changing to an earlier flight would have cost several hundred dollars, “which is more like the Jetstar approach than how you’d treat a high-value customer.”
Beyond lounge services
Virgin Australia has acted on feedback from its ultra-loyal frequent flyers, who asked for private space to work while waiting for their boarding time.
In turn, the airline has incorporated a boardroom into each of its three new Beyond lounges where members can meet with colleagues or take phone calls.
Its two largest facilities in the 109-seat Melbourne lounge and 91-seat Sydney haven will each also include a private office where members can quickly connect and continue their working day.
In keeping with its guests' desire for a quiet environment, boarding announcements will not be heard over a loudspeaker in the Beyond facility, replaced by a personal visit from a Virgin Australia lounge host who will advise each guest their flight is due to board.
Virgin's business triple play
Beyond can be seen as the third plank in Virgin Australia’s play for business travellers.
It follows the launch of the Business Flyer loyalty program for Australia’s small-to-medium enterprise (SME) market and the slashing of baseline business class fares to as low as $299 on key routes such as the Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne ‘triangle’.
“With the additional airfare discounts we are offering under the Business Flyer loyalty program, on top of Velocity Points earn for businesses, it’s going to be very hard for any business owner to look past Virgin Australia when choosing a domestic airline partner,” says Virgin Australia chief Hrdlicka.
“We know that’s important for small to medium-sized businesses and corporates who are emerging from the pandemic more conscious of value provided by their partners than ever before.”
To further bolster its appeal to the business market, Virgin plans to increase the number of flights between Sydney and Melbourne – the country’s busiest route – "during peak business hours" to up to 35 flights per day from the start of July 2022 – the highest level of service frequencies offered since March 2020.
Sydney-Brisbane will also see up to 20 daily flights, with up to 13 daily services between Brisbane and Melbourne, plus up to 11 daily on services between Adelaide and Melbourne.
But the Club lounges at Canberra and Perth Airports won’t be coming back, with Virgin’s Chief Commercial Officer Dave Emerson remarking in late 2021 "regrettably, we just couldn’t make them viable."
"While Canberra and Perth are a really important part of the Virgin Australia network, standalone premium lounges in these airports are not commercially feasible."