Virgin Australia’s Velocity Frequent Flyer members will be able to earn and spend points on All Nippon Airways (ANA) flights by July – just in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which begin on July 24 – with Virgin also gearing up to sell tickets on ANA services under a codeshare deal.
Access to ANA lounges for Gold and Platinum-grade members of Velocity, and to Virgin Australia lounges for eligible ANA Mileage Club cardholders, is also in the works, as are agreements for the typical suite of frequent flyer perks such as priority check-in and boarding.
“It’ll be done before the Olympics,” Virgin Australia CEO and MD Paul Scurrah tells Executive Traveller, following the airline’s half-year financial results presentation.
“That is our goal that we’re very focused on making sure we achieve, because the Olympics are an event which will bring a high level of publicity and focus on our new service, and we want to make sure it’s in the best shape it possibly can be.”
However, with that deal still months away, Virgin Australia’s Brisbane-Tokyo (Haneda) flights will commence without the bulk of that ANA partnership in place.
For passengers flying beyond Tokyo with ANA, this means no frequent flyer-based lounge access, no earning and spending of Velocity points, and no frequent flyer perks until that ANA deal is finalised.
Guests travelling aboard Virgin Australia’s own Tokyo-Brisbane flight should expect ‘business as usual’, of course, including lounge access at Haneda Airport.
Virgin Australia’s current ANA partnership
The first stage of the coalition between Virgin Australia and ANA kicked off in January 2020, when ANA began to sell selected Virgin Australia domestic flights under an ANA (NH) flight number, in conjunction with the airline’s existing Haneda-Sydney service.
This includes flights from Sydney onwards to Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, the Gold Coast and Cairns, along with journeys from those same cities back to Sydney: all of which can be booked on a single ticket by ANA passengers.
“We’re starting to see good support for our domestic network that’s currently a part of that agreement,” continues Scurrah.
A broader codeshare deal between the two airlines would give Virgin Australia passengers similar travel opportunities in Japan: flying into Tokyo on a Virgin Australia flight, and travelling onwards to a host of domestic destinations on ANA, booked under a Virgin Australia (VA) flight number.
“The relationship with ANA is one we’re thrilled to enter into, they’re an incredibly high-quality partner, and they have a very strong base at Haneda where we’re flying into,” Scurrah elaborates.
Coronavirus strikes Japan, but forward bookings strong
With around 150 people infected in Japan by the globally disruptive coronavirus, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has elevated its Smartraveller advice for the country to “exercise a high degree of caution” – the next level above “exercise normal safety precautions”, which previously applied to most of Japan.
How that will impact the number of Australians visiting the country is not yet known, although Scurrah remains cautiously optimistic on the Brisbane-Tokyo route, even after Virgin Australia reported total losses of $130 million on its Hong Kong venture since commencement.
“We have seen very healthy interest in (Brisbane-Tokyo), and we’re not seeing any drop off in the forward booking profile, so at this point in time, although it’s too early to say how it’s going to play out, we’re very confident it’ll be operating and operating with good support,” Scurrah shares.
“We aren’t giving any consideration to do anything other than operate this route to the schedule we’ve announced, and given the support we’ve seen on Tokyo to date, we’re very confident that it’s going to be successful.”
To help get Brisbane-Tokyo off the ground, Virgin Australia’s agreement with Haneda Airport and both the Japanese and Australian Governments requires the airline to launch daily flights into Haneda from March 29 2020, to secure and retain those Haneda Airport slots: slots being windows of time in which flights can arrive and depart.
While the agreement does allow Virgin Australia to temporarily adjust flights in the future if the need arises, Scurrah hasn’t begun exploring those options.
“There are dispensations you can lean on in unusual circumstances to make sure that you protect the asset that you have,” speaking of those airport slots.
“If, down the track, there is any need to reconsider our schedule or our patterns, then we would be leaning on that (dispensation), but we’re not looking at that right now at all: we’re confident in the interest in that route, and very much looking forward to operating it with high loads and good yields.”
From March 29, Virgin Australia’s Brisbane-Haneda flight (VA77) is set for pushback at 11:40am each day ahead of an 8pm arrival into Tokyo’s most conveniently-located airport. On the return, VA76 takes flight at 9:45pm, reaching Brisbane at 7:45am the next morning.