Virgin Australia is rolling out a cut-price Economy Lite fare without a checked luggage allowance, as the airline continues to chart its own course in the market and differentiate itself from full-service rival Qantas.
As the entry-level offering in Virgin's new economy fare structure, Economy Lite will be a 'seat only' package where the only bag travellers can bring – without paying an additional fee – will be classified as their 7kg of hand-carry.
The next two fares up, labelled Economy Choice and Economy Flex, continue to include a single checked bag of up to 23kg.
Economy Lite fares – which can be booked only through Virgin Australia, not via partners such as travel agents – also forego free seat selection until three hours before the flight, even if you're a Velocity status member with Preferential Seating benefits. There's also no ability to upgrade to business class using Velocity Points.
However, Economy Lite fares will still earn both Velocity Points and status credits, albeit at a reduced rate – although they don't count as an 'eligible sector' for the purposes of retaining Velocity status.
The Velocity Points earning rate for Economy Lite fares remains set at 5 points per dollar.
The Velocity status credits earning brackets for Economy Lite will be
- 5 status credits for trips up to 750 miles (eg Sydney-Melbourne, Sydney-Brisbane)
- 7 status credits for 751 - 1,500 miles (eg Melbourne-Brisbane)
- 10 status credits for trips above 1,501 miles (eg transcontinental east-west routes)
Economy Lite: how much will you save?
Virgin claims that Economy Lite "will reduce the lowest lead-in fare to just $59", although the airline hasn't identified which route this is for.
But Economy Lite won't be available on all dates or across all destinations.
While a quick check by Executive Traveller this morning showed no Economy Lite fares listed between Sydney and Melbourne for mid-November 2021, they appeared on the Sydney-Brisbane route for the same dates.
As a benchmark, this sees Economy Lite priced from $105 one-way, compared to $115 for Economy Choice and $269 for Economy Flex.
Economy Lite fares on the Sydney-Brisbane route will earn 525 Velocity Points and 5 status credits (against 575 points and 15 status credits for Economy Choice).
The three new economy class fares replace the previous trio of Getaway, Elevate and Freedom, although not on a direct like-for-like basis; the airline says that travellers with bookings ticketed prior to 19 August 2021 "will retain the original terms and conditions of their ticket."
Although the three new economy fares are now on sale, travel on Economy Lite will be available only from 20 September "following a system enhancement."
In addition, from 19 August 2021, Velocity members will see a higher earn rate for status credits on Economy Choice and Economy Flex fares "on selected routes."
The bagless brigade
Virgin expects the Economy Lite fares will appeal not only to day trippers and weekend escapees but also to the many business travellers who know how to pack smart with just one carry-on bag.
The airline claims its research showed that nearly one in three of its passengers don't bring a checked bag when they travel, with that number even high on flights darting along the east coast 'golden triangle' between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
In response, Qantas affirmed that all its economy fares continue to include checked baggage, along with "complimentary food and drinks (and) fast WiFi," while positioning low-cost arm Jetstar as the pick for price-conscious travellers.
While some will consider Economy Lite marks a return to the airline's low-cost Virgin Blue roots, many international airlines have adopted no-bag fares.
These include Air New Zealand through its 'Seats to Suit' strategy, along with European and North American airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Swiss, Virgin's US partner Delta Air Lines and fellow mid-market challenger JetBlue.
More significantly, Economy Lite is in keeping with Virgin's decision to focus on value and as part of that, giving passengers "only what they want."
With the airline no longer offering free meals or even snacks in economy class, and WiFi likely to return as a paid offering if it returns at all, Virgin has stripped out pretty much every cost-associated component of its economy travel experience.