Virgin Australia launches cut-price ‘seat only’ Economy Lite fare

The new entry-level economy tickets come with no bags but a few caveats...

By David Flynn, August 19 2021
Virgin Australia launches cut-price ‘seat only’ Economy Lite fare

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.

Also read: Virgin dials back ‘Fly Ahead’ perk for Velocity Golds

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Mar 2019

Total posts 4

Terrible that velocity members still have to pay for baggage on Lite fares! 

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 662

I don't see a problem from a user point of view BUT I don't normally book Jetstar because of the issues faced onboard with unruly passenger special in and out of holiday locations like Gold Coast. Drunk, Drug affected etc and just behave poorly.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

09 May 2013

Total posts 7

May have missed this mentioned elsewhere, but the page on Virgin's website explaining the new fares also references 'Fly Ahead' ending as a benefit for Golds from mid-November, and becoming a Platinum only benefit. 

Hi Sven, you can read our article about this here.

Although the savings don't seem that great, because Virgin's economy fares are generally low to begin with, I'm all for this simply because it makes sense not to charge people for a bag they don't have, in the same way that I'm happy to have the option to pay for a decent meal if I want that.  The more that Virgin can avoid being a 'me-too' against Qantas, which is where John Borghetti took the airline, the better for everyone. Markets work best when there is differentiation. Of course Virgin is also caught between Jetstar and Qantas in being mid-market, but that's just how it is.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 194

I'm sort of in the middle here, I don't need a checked bag but I definitely want seat selection. If Velocity status gives you advance seat selection on an Economy Lite fare then I could see myself going for this on capital city routes when the client or project has a tight budget. I honestly wish Qantas would introduce a cheaper seat-only fare.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

06 Apr 2012

Total posts 115

If Virgin is bringing in the 'Economy Lite' fare class primarily as a mechanism to compete directly for Jetstar and Rex customers, it may make sense if they made seat selection and checked baggage as 'paid add-ons' that the passenger can choose to pay for during the booking process.   

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 197

How dare a member have to pay for a bag??? Well the fare has already been reduced. See it as an improvement and more choices. Want a bag included - select the fare above, and that’s only a modest increase. I think it’s a great option for traveler. Just like travellers have a choice for a J seat on airline A of $299 or B $715. It’s about the choice for us all.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 648

I'd  bet that the greater majority of Virgin's "bagless" brigade are East Coast travellers on a day business trip to an adjacent capital city with no luggage. Save approx $10.00 and earn a withered number of miniscule status credits which apparently don't count for status recognition? Not exactly business-friendly to the traveller - but SME's who send their staff interstate on day trips will lap this up, given the influence of "best fare of the day" policies. 

I can see some very disappointed biz travellers on this fare, once the small print finally registers.

Further, the oft-dominated weekend couples leisure brigade will usually have some luggage, even if it at a minimum. So to me, this new policy is clearly aimed at the business traveller in Economy. Could that be the reason why there's no mention of the additional cost of luggage for a purchaser of an Econonomy Lite fare or two?

Frankly, Virgin may have gained a dubious competitive edge, but what value is that if Rex introduces an ace-serving Frequent Flyer program with superior benefits? 

With Virgin over-reaching during the week to tart up the upper end of their FF lounge program, one has to wonder how detached they really are from directly competing with QF?  Having a foot in each camp perhaps?

07 Mar 2017

Total posts 51

Not necessarily. Many business travel trips are booked through travel agents. Note that the article states this new "Lite" fair is only bookable through Virgin direct, and not through TAs. 

Unless this changes, it won't be presented as an option for many business travellers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 648

With all due respect, if what you suggest is true (many businesses booking domestic travel through travel agents) then I am left wondering which decade you are citing? The only option that might be remotely possible would be with OTA's such as Expedia etc, although if you're gonna do that, you'd be better off booking direct with an airline.

For SME small businesses, why would you be paying a travel agent to organise a few single / return sector tickets in Economy, when this can be seamlessly done over the internet? Also, what is the 'value-add' on such a proposition?

Let's face it - if you are booking domestic travel through the likes of AMEX, CW Travel or similar ilk, you are inevitably a medium or larger corporate. And one which QF or VA would have tried to directly establish a corporate contract with. That is not 'bottom of the market' material.

Irrespective, your assertation also indirectly suggests that Qantas has wasted an absolute fortune setting up its separate 'Business Rewards' Program for SMEs. You know, those single or dual employee / owner businesses? Not bloody likely, IMHO.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 502

Oh contraire my good man, let me assure you. beyond any doubt, that 'back in the day' this flyer and his colleagues un-ashamedly and positively 'milked' the ridiculous policy of "best fare of the day" to such an extent the cost of air travel increased (until discovered at the next Board meeting).  Our alumni group (of a well known construction company) laughs over that at every Christmas drinks reunion.  

But your comment about SMEs being chased by both QF and VA is right on point.  Thank-you.

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 197

These fares would be “lead in” and available most likely months ahead of the flight. I wouldn’t think many business travellers would be booking business trips months in advance and certainly not non-flexible ones. I’d say it’s aimed at leisure travellers or business travellers on leisure with family.

Noting with your lounge access you could enter on this fare.

21 Jul 2020

Total posts 12

I have heard a rumor that gold and platinum can’t enter the lounge with the new bag only fares?

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 318

I wouldn't trust rumours on anything like this. If it's legit I am sure we would have seen it reported right here on ET.

09 Sep 2020

Total posts 10

Just forever question about Virgin, do they anticipate  International Long Haul flights being revived or is that  dead and buried, that is soo sad in so many ways, good, caring crews who actually had time for their passengers,  extremely helpful in so many ways both on the ground and inflight, nothing too hard for them, no one from Virgin wants to answer this question, would like  Ms H to give a glimmer of hope to us all. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 303

Even Virgin doesn't know when they'll be resuming long haul international, if at all.  To add, not even Qantas knows when they'll be resuming International Long Haul as long as international borders remain closed. 

Virgin also doesn't have any active wide bodies remaining in the fleet. All A330s bar one and one 777 (VH-VOZ) has been returned to lessors, whilst 4x 777s has been placed in long term storage in the USA in custody of the banks.


Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 502

Virgin will wake up and resume long haul flights, but only between BNE/SYD/MEL to LAX, and only after they see Qantas resume that service.  So, based upon past performance, I'd expect there to be a 2-3 month lag (perhaps even 4 months).  The 777-300ERs are likely to be still parked in the USA, with Virgin livery.  I'm sure they'd have no trouble sourcing 2 more to compliment the 6 needed for those 3 sectors.  


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