Virgin Australia holds back on NZ bubble flights

Virgin's not so bullish on the NZ travel bubble.

By David Flynn, April 7 2021
Virgin Australia holds back on NZ bubble flights

Quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand will take off on April 19, but Virgin won't resume most of its Kiwi flights until October 31.

Instead, the airline will focus on building out its domestic network and shoring up its market share in the face of competition from Qantas and Jetstar and attempting to see off the threat of new challenger Rex.

The move, announced as Qantas and Air New Zealand rushed to unlock over 30 routes and almost 300 weekly services across the pond, came as a surprise on the back of recent comments by Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka that a return to overseas flying "will be one of the first things we do."

"It will be anywhere where a (Boeing) 737 can fly, so that will include New Zealand, Fiji and Bali," Hrdlicka remarked on March 8.

Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka: NZ flights will come, but not right now...
Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka: NZ flights will come, but not right now...

Instead, the airline says it is taking "a more pragmatic approach" to both domestic and overseas flying, saying it was" mindful of evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business."

Virgin has previously pushed back a restart of NZ flights twice this year, first to March and then June.

"For this reason, we have suspended the sale of most New Zealand services until 31 October 2021", with the exception of some Queenstown flights slated from 18 September.

It's understood that the airline is also facing a shortfall of aircraft, with all of its Boeing 737s – a fleet that's some 25% smaller than when it entered administration, with many jets returned to leasing firms – currently committed to domestic routes. Virgin is now looking to lease back up to nine Boeing 737s, which could be used on trans-Tasman flights. 

Virgin's new business class menu – and for dessert, even lower fares.
Virgin's new business class menu – and for dessert, even lower fares.

This means Virgin's short-term focus will be firmly on the home ground battle "as we push ahead with plans to grow our core domestic Australia operations."

This has most recently included the launch of new business class meals, moving to a fully 'buy on board' model for economy passengers, and reopening all airport lounges including a new-look lounge at Adelaide.

Virgin's new-look lounge design embraces the airline's more casual vibe.
Virgin's new-look lounge design embraces the airline's more casual vibe.

A review of the airline's business and economy fare structure will "reduce airfares even further by the middle of this year," Hrdlicka has said.

The six-month delay to relaunching trans-Tasman flights will see Virgin opt out of what's expected to be a 100,000 passenger per week rush on travel in the wake of a year-long lockdown on both sides of the pond.

This will include the ski season from late June, which typically sees an exodus of Aussie powder-hounds headed for the likes of Queenstown and Canterbury.

Instead, Virgin will cede the skies to Qantas, Jetstar and one-time ally Air New Zealand.

Qantas and Air New Zealand will dominate the trans-Tasman skies for the next six months.
Qantas and Air New Zealand will dominate the trans-Tasman skies for the next six months.

With Qantas as a premium full-service airline, Jetstar as the low-cost carrier and Air New Zealand playing across the field with its tiered 'Seats to Suit' pricing strategy, the three-airline spread arguably encompasses the entire market and could leave little room for Virgin's own middle-ground push.

Qantas, having scheduled more than 120 NZ flights a week between itself and Jetstar within hours of the travel bubble announcement, today added a further 20 return flights a week from May to October to capitalise on Virgin's absence.

Qantas is also rolling out its international-grade Airbus A330s crowned by its flagship Business Suites for all Sydney-Auckland and Melbourne-Auckland flights and will a new daily Gold Coast to Auckland service from April 19, with thrice-weekly Cairns-Auckland flights to follow “in time for the June long weekend” through to late July.

As Australia gets travelling again, you could earn as many as 120,000 bonus Velocity Points from a single credit card application: read our roundup of the best Virgin Australia Velocity credit card sign-up offers.


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.

I’m just amazed VA is letting down it’s Frequent Flyers with no option if someone is a VA loyalist, previously ET has suggested being Gold VA and Gold QF, there is a strong case to start putting points and status credit into QF now. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 101

Why?  They went broke and what they did before didn't work. Seems like, they are being sensible. Your VA points are more likely to be safe now

Well I’ve got 20 flights booked for work and I need to do 2 trips to NZ as soon as possible as well, so if I can’t give money (business class tickets) to VA Qantas is going to get my money.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Aug 2017

Total posts 70

On the one hand, it's difficult to fault Virgin for making decisions based on what's best for the business, rather than on the emotion/sentiment of the occasion. If this is what they need to do in order to repair their balance sheet, then so be it.

On the other hand, this is just the latest example of Virgin's ownership/management saying one thing and doing another. To many people I'm sure that doesn't matter. But to this Virgin frequent flyer, it damages their credibility and their brand.

Feels weird to give up / delay the NZ market just as it opens. Doesn't fill you with much confidence.

Oh well, guess I better do that Qantas status match thing that's reopened.

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 141

Got a VA booking ZQN-BNE mid-July. Made it 3 weeks ago. Wonder how long til I'm informed the flight's cancelled or was never going to happen anyway.

*humph* Qantas status match it will have to be for me to. Gold... Ewww ;-)

no virgin means fares to NZ, will be higher much higher.

Virgin doing Queenstown flights starting when Qld school holidays start in Sept. Good time to go skiing there, but fares will be high as nonstop flights almost always sell out completely in school holidays.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

21 Jan 2016

Total posts 202

A travel writer from one of NZ major media outlet's made the comment that VA is talking to Air NZ about a co-share agreement to/from Auckland and some domestic flights from Auckland to Wellington and Christchurch. If this is the case, any VA co-share arrangement with Air NZ will probably centre around the B789's that Air NZ will be using to fly the Tasman.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 390

Virgin has said it will look to rebook passengers who were booked on its now-cancelled NZ flights with Air New Zealand, which makes sense because it's not as if they will rebook them onto Qantas LOL

I've always thought it was a shame to see the VA/NZ alliance fall apart, although I understood the reasons why, because it made sense for VA/NZ to combine forces against QF. I'd expect any new codeshare agreement between Virgin and AirNZ might need some approval from consumer bodies like the ACCC, which usually doesn't happen quickly, and Virgin says it wants to resume NZ flying from Oct 31, so could that approval come fast enough to make a difference in the next six months, or might Virgin decide to largely give up on New Zealand and hand it over to AirNZ under a renewed partnership?

BTW, why would the codeshare agreement you mention "centre around the Boeing 787s", surely it would be an agreement based on routes not aircraft??

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 315

It'll be a while before any codeshare agreement between VA and NZ will be drawn up, if at all.   Considering the agreement between NZ and QF that was striked up by former NZ CEO Luxon directly after the NZ/VA JV expired.

Saying that, with new management teams at NZ and VA (therefore ending the Luxon and Borghetti/Scurrah eras) it does allow for a fresh start in the future.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 795

If COVID pops up again in NZ or somewhere in Australia, the borders could once again snap shut. You can't blame VA for not wanting to take a gamble at this time. 

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

28 Jun 2019

Total posts 82

Surely there must be more to it than that, as the same could be said about domestic flights in Australia. 

I can't imagine VA's BNE - PER flights are looking great this week.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Dec 2016

Total posts 16

I have to agree with Virgins decision too many ifs around a shut down due to a break out in either country. I for one won’t be planning any overseas travel until later this year. Been caught once in the past 4 months having to cancel and re book interstate travel and accommodation etc 

Ironic that Virgin refuses to fly to NZ, the only country we have a travel bubble with, yet Jayne moans and whinges about opening up borders and letting people die. What is you want Jayne, why open borders if VA can't even be bothered flying to NZ???

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Virgin Australia holds back on NZ bubble flights