Virgin Australia makes its return to New Zealand

The streamlined Qantas challenger is testing the market with Queenstown as its sole trans-Tasman port, for now.

By Matt Lennon, November 2 2022
Virgin Australia makes its return to New Zealand

After several false starts and a near 1,000-day break, Virgin Australia is finally back in the air between Australia and New Zealand, with daily Boeing 737 flights to Queenstown from Brisbane and Sydney and a four-times weekly schedule from Melbourne.

Services from Brisbane and Sydney jet off this morning bound for the South Island’s idyllic adventure capital, with Melbourne joining the fray from tomorrow.

Of the three cities (from tomorrow), flights to Queenstown each day will see Melbourne take off first at 8:25am, followed by Brisbane at 9:35am and Sydney at 9:50am.

New Zealand is Virgin’s third international destination after Fiji and Bali, with Vanuatu entering the mix from March 10, 2023 and Samoa joining the network two weeks later.

Until now, the trans-Tasman flight paths have been dominated by Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin's one-time ally, Air New Zealand, all of which link numerous cities on both sides of the pond.

With Qantas a premium full-service airline, Jetstar flying the low-cost flag, and Air New Zealand playing the field with its tiered 'Seats to Suit' pricing strategy, the existing three-airline spread has the market mostly covered and could leave little room for Virgin’s own middle-ground push.

With this in mind, Queenstown is a curious test case for the rebooted airline, side-stepping the larger cities of Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, but the gamble could work in its favour.

Though beautiful in winter, summer is when Queenstown really comes alive.
Though beautiful in winter, summer is when Queenstown really comes alive.

Although a little late to the party for the 2022 winter season, Virgin’s Queenstown return is well-timed for the summer adventure crowd – hiking, biking and jet boating are just a few of the many reasons to visit – and, of course, the brilliant Central Otago wine region and world-class golfing.

Having recently reported its first profit since being rescued by Bain Capital, Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said she was proud of the journey the airline has been on during the past two years.

“Australians and New Zealanders have a close bond and we are proud to be creating a new gateway between the countries for friends and family to visit each other, businesses to flourish and holiday-makers to seek adventure with more choice and great value airfares," Hrdlicka said.

“Virgin Australia is an airline that’s doing things differently and we are having a lot of fun coming up with exciting new innovations to make every part of the travel experience more wonderful."

Virgin has signalled its plans to relaunch inflight wifi, starting from this Christmas break.
Virgin has signalled its plans to relaunch inflight wifi, starting from this Christmas break.

The Virgin boss has previously refuted speculation the carrier would quickly spread its wings back to destinations once-served and once-promised, such as the USA and Japan.

Instead, “a more pragmatic approach” in the form of renewed partnerships with Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways and others, coupled with new bedfellows in United Airlines and Qatar Airways has given Virgin a strong international network without any of its planes needing to leave the ground.

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 steadily rising threat posed by Rex. 

And while inflight WiFi remains missing in action on its aircraft, it is set to make a long-awaited comeback in the coming months.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1209

JH was on Melbourne radio last week and indicated additional new int'l routes will be announced within the next week or so.  Lots of speculation that this may be a CNS-HND service using the new MAX-8s from 3/23 which would mean they utilise the rights they won back in 2019; no idea if this is true or not.

I understand VA are not too keen on getting back into New Zealand trunk routes where they will always be a minnow compared with QF and NZ so it will be hard for them to be anything but a price-taker which is rarely a situation where you can make a lot of money.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Oct 2018

Total posts 3

Argh I’ll be a bit disappointed if they don’t further expand their NZ operations I.e Auckland. Where did you read about VA not wanting to get back into major cities in NZ? Thanks. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 710

Woo Hoo.  As an aging 'powder hound' and non-financial member of the 'Mt Hotham Wolf Pack', Queenstown will definitely be on the agenda next winter.  But geez, I'll need to start getting 'match fit' now.  Good one, Virgin.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Aug 2017

Total posts 13

Also leaves MEL at a much more decent time, than the QF service at 7.15am (which used to be later in the morning). Go VA.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Mar 2019

Total posts 5

Still no lounge access for VA international is a deal breaker for me 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 710

Agree that BNE International departures are being neglected (fine for SYD and MEL).  How hard would that be to fix, even if offered on a fee paying basis, but from BNE, well  . . . you might as well be departing from Broken Hill airport !!


11 Jul 2014

Total posts 974

If I was a Virgin (person) I would be buying bulk tickets from a current airline doing the routes (Same As Cruise Lines do) on the condition they give the same perks to Velocity members (Lounge Access etc). 

Etihad - Etihad Guest

10 Apr 2019

Total posts 10

Inaugural SYD-ZQN leaving nearly 3hrs late isn’t a good start but glad to have some competition back into Qtown. 

08 May 2020

Total posts 84

It is a petty that Virgin does not fly to Auckland, struggling to get the Platinum by February it is frustrating having multiple flights with Qantas and Air New Zealand which provide me no assistance getting the Velocity moving.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 382

Hopefully additional NZ destinations announced soon, and followed by Haneda.

15 May 2019

Total posts 10

I booked a Business Class flight to Queenstown, not realising that there was no Virgin lounge in the Melbourne International Terminal. Very disappointing 

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