Virgin Australia's secret invitation-only The Club could be grounded when the rebooted Virgin 2.0 takes to the skies in the coming months.
Created by former Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti as his answer to the Qantas Chairman's Lounge – which, ironically, Borghetti oversaw during his time as Qantas' Executive General Manager – The Club is an elite program which Virgin uses to woo and wield influence over politicians, upper ranks of Australia's largest companies, deal-makers and power-brokers, A-list celebrities and others who are very well-connected.
Membership to The Club is granted only by the airline CEO, lasts for two years and includes The Club membership for a spouse or partner as well as Velocity Platinum status for a member's nominated personal assistant.
Even the membership card – finished in a dark matte, bearing only Virgin's 'Flying Maiden' graphic and the words 'By Invitation' – is deliberately discreet.
But it's the passport to a cache of VIP perks such as limousine transfers to and from the airport, free upgrades from economy to business class, an 'Executive Services' concierge service available on a 24x7 basis – and, of course, access to The Club lounges at Australia's major capital city airports (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberra).
Secreted behind nondescript doors simply marked 'Private', these havens for the influential and well-heeled are an oasis of calm, privacy and privilege.
Travellers and their guests – who don't even need to be flying – dine from an à la carte menu, choose drinks from a top-shelf selection of wines, and relax in leather-clad winged chairs which are a contemporary version of the classic Chesterfield, until a lounge attendant sidles up to personally advise that their flight is ready for them to board.
This sanctuary of schmooze was seen as crucial in helping Virgin Australia shake off its low-cost Virgin Blue roots and go head to head with Qantas for the lucrative multimillion-dollar travel accounts of Australia's corporate and government market.
But all that could be about to change, with both of Virgin's potential new owners saying they won't chase the top end of town, and dropping the airline's often-criticised 'Qantas Lite' approach for a mid-market position between Qantas and Jetstar.
"We are not looking to take Qantas head on, especially in their corporate part of the market," Bain Capital's local managing director Mike Murphy has said. “We are not looking to attack the very high end of corporate Australia," adding that the outcome of Virgin's previous battle for the suited-and-booted business travel brigade" wasn’t a happy outcome for anybody."
Likewise, Cyrus Capital lead Jonathan Peachey says that Virgin Australia 2.0 “should sit below that very top tier of where Qantas plays so strongly in, and above and maybe overlapping slightly where Jetstar sits. We think there's a really sweet spot in the middle where Virgin can play very strongly."
And there's arguably no room in that sweet spot for The Club, given how heavily it's geared towards the highest of high flyers.
Bain's Murphy believes while "there will always be different segments that will want the much more high spend Qantas experience... we absolutely agree that the positioning of Virgin is and should continue to remain on customer value," he tells The Australian.
"In our research, access to The Club is important to a small elite segment of our customers and not the mainstream. Whether or not we retain that is under evaluation.”