Virgin Australia ponders the future of The Club

What do members of Virgin Australia's invitation-only The Club want from the VIP loyalty program?

By David Flynn, July 12 2021
Virgin Australia ponders the future of The Club

With domestic business class relaunched, all lounges reopened and more Boeing 737 aircraft set to join the fleet, Virgin Australia is now turning its attention to the invitation-only The Club program, including elite Club lounges and premium travel perks.

Members of The Club last week were invited to take part in an online survey outlining what they want from the program, created by former CEO John Borghetti as Virgin's equivalent to the Qantas Chairman's Lounge.

"Work to design the future direction of The Club loyalty program is underway," noted Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka in the email.

"As a business that’s committed to being customer-led, I’m contacting you to ask for a few minutes of your time to provide feedback on The Club loyalty program through a short survey."

Hrdlicka's outreach comes as the airline prepares to reopen its Melbourne domestic lounge in the coming weeks – the extended closure of which has seen Melbourne's Club lounge serve as a temporary space for business class passengers and Platinum-grade frequent flyers while the main lounge was being renovated.

What do The Club members want?

Executive Traveller spoke with several members of The Club, who said the survey was built around what was important to them as high-value travellers, and focussed on The Club as a package rather than just the lounges – although they all said that reopening Club lounges was top of their list.

"It's about having a better environment than the main lounge, much less crowded, a quieter and more private space where you're comfortable talking business with colleagues," explained one member, a CEO in the manufacturing industry.

"I get that Virgin's changed and they won't go back to those Luke Mangan meals" served in Club lounges during the Borghetti era, said another member who flies weekly from Sydney to both Melbourne and Brisbane.

"But you want decent quality food and drinks. Some of what they've been serving in Adelaide is pretty decent, so upgrading that for The Club would be about right."

Premium entry and flight flexibility

Bringing back the Premium Entry facilities at Sydney and Brisbane, which let travellers fast-track their way from kerbside to the lounges, also rated highly.

Flight flexibility was another item on the survey's checklist.

"That's very important for me," said one The Club member who flies between capital cities at least weekly. "If I'm on a 5pm flight and my day finishes early I want to move to the 4pm flight if there's a seat, without paying extra."

He said his most recent experience was that changing to an earlier flight would have cost several hundred dollars, "which is more like the Jetstar approach than how you'd treat a high-value customer."

Outreach welcome but overdue

More broadly, there was a feeling that Virgin's outreach to The Club members was long overdue.

"They've done a pretty average job of communicating with Club members, who are people who have a high influence on travel spending – I would have thought they'd have been more on the front foot," one survey recipient told Executive Traveller.

The airline wasn't "going to get the big banks, law firms and mining companies who spend millions (on flights)," reasoned one The Club member. "But they can and do get companies in the middle who direct $100,000 or $200,000 their way, and all that adds up."

"If you have just ten companies spending just a hundred thousand per year, that's a million right there. You have a hundred of those companies and you've got $10m in revenue."

"It's been more than six months since Bain took over Virgin and they've had more than enough time to think about this," another echoed, "but we're only now being asked what we might want."

"It actually seems a bit like an after-thought, almost as if they're either not serious about The Club  or they've already made up their minds and are going through the motions of 'consultation'."

Virgin Australia responds

Approached for comment by Executive Traveller, a Virgin Australia spokesman said the airline was "committed to investing in products and services our guests value so it’s important that Club members have a say in the future direction of the loyalty program."

"To date, we have had an overwhelming response to the survey, and together with these results, and direct feedback sessions with members, we'll be able to shape a very strong loyalty program for Club members."

The Club members who spoke with Executive Traveller all said they would accept sharing Club lounges with frequent flyers at a new top-tier Velocity level, similar to Qantas' Platinum One, but felt that allowing in Velocity Platinum members – which is Velocity's current highest tier – would see the smaller Club lounges become too crowded and less private.

Read more: Virgin ponders Velocity VIP tier for 'super Platinum' frequent flyers

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.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 628

Some of those Club members that commented have magic fingers when it comes to making money, I just hope VA listens.

I know two Club members personally and both feel that Virgin has done a terrible job as keeping them in the loop with all this. You think as "high-value customers" they would not be treated almost like an after-thought which is how they feel now. Apparently the survey also included some options for what they wanted such as credit cards and travel discounts, so the options were pretty broad.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 289

"If you have just ten companies spending just a hundred thousand per year, that's a million right there. You have a hundred of those companies and you've got $10m in revenue." That's really solid logic and Virgin needs to be paying attention to this. I think ET previously reported that one model for The Club membership that Virgin or rather Bain was looking at was tying membership to spend, to make sure The Club was actually for commercially high value passengers. Virgin could do very well by appealing to top execs in all these mid-market companies, which in a way are just like Virgin as a mid-market airline.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 168

Qantas should be chasing as many Club members as it can find and offering them Chairman's Lounge membership in exchange, plus throw in some Platinum or Platinum One memberships for their top staff who also travel. If it can redirect those hundreds of thousands of travel spend dollars per year away from Virgin and into its own bank account then that's a double win for Qantas.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 628

The funny part about that idea, Qantas offered Club members QF Gold and some are already life time gold so they took it offensively and told Qantas where to go.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 168

Well I don't blame then, that's just insulting. If they're in The Club then they should at least get a starter membership in Chairman's Lounge so they can show the power of their travel spend influence. But this also speaks to a need for both Qantas and Virgin, the ability to easily track spending which comes from a 'VIP' member. Set a minimum spend based on the company's size and travel habits, then hold members to that.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 468

. . . . as you would if a restaurant offered to refund the cost of your bus/tram/train/cab fare if you came and ate there.  

Can't understand what is taking Virgin so long here, or what's so hard about this. Virgin doesn't need to recreate The Club as a wanna-be version of the Chairman's Lounge, and it has said as much itself. On the weekend I caught up with a mate who is a member of both The Club and Chairman's Lounge, and he says Virgin just needs to reopen the Club lounges with better F&B than the main lounge, offer free on-departure upgrades to business class based on availability, guarantee no-fee flight changes, add a 'premium' service hotline like they had and like Qantas offers which will basically treat you like a VIP customer, all this is actually not much cost to Virgin but would treat The Club members like the high-value customers that they are.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 468

You're nailed it L-I-T.  Even pre-Covid, air travel was a bit of a pain and dreadful drain on time (when measured door-to-door, not just flight time).  Air travel was a measure of last resort.  Zoom/ Teams/etc. will have reinforced that, to a degree.  But if Jayne & Co were to recognise that "the ten companies spending just a hundred thousand per year" are, typically, far more nimble and flexible than  larger corporates AND if they were to make that flying experience 'less troublesome", rather than shift to Zoom or Teams, that $100,000 per year could quickly move to $150,000 or $200,000 per year - each.  

Even if those ten companies increase travel to just $150,000/year (". . . because with Virgin its easier and simpler ..."), that's a 50% increase, quite a nice earn if you can lock it in.  

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 289

That's a good point about impact of Zoom and these smaller companies with smaller travel budgets, I think like most companies coming out of COVID they could also have less to spend on travel, which also puts them right into Virgin's cross-hairs as the desired target market seeking 'value'.  People used to say "look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves", maybe for Virgin it should be about looking after the small to medium businesses with $50-100k to spend on travel and the millions will take care of themselves.

I hope some of those high IQ club members said;

Add P1 with access to Club or separate lounge 

Life Time Gold / Life Time Platinum

International Airline Partnerships

06 Mar 2021

Total posts 1

Yeh I don’t understand why they don’t do lifetime gold or platinum 

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 289

I think 'International Airline Partnerships' would have to be on hold when pretty much nobody can leave the country, so I don't blame Virgin for putting this to one side for now, as long as members make it clear they want to see those partnerships with SQ, Delta and Etihad for example return.

I absolutely agree that Virgin should have its own version of the Qantas P1 tier with Club lounge access, this has been suggested before as a way to expand the Velocity VIP tier to which Club members formally belong. Lifetime Gold and Lifetime Platinum would also make a lot of sense from a broader frequent flyer and loyalty perspective.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 231

I would say and just my 2 cents - it's least of their concerns as long as they have a club lounge available for J/Lounge members. Given travel is restricted and these state closures are frequent, still not many people for business flying which would be I assume largely their pool of VIPs. Looking like 2022 should have a better picture of offerings to club members.

14 Jul 2021

Total posts 1

I am a long time Club member and have not even received an email, so they can't even get that right at the moment.

I think it's time to venture to QF.... 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Jan 2015

Total posts 17

Same for me.

I didn’t even know that VA were running a survey until I read it here on ET.

Yes, my mate who's a Club member tells me he spoke with some others who didn't get the survey, they didn't even know there was one until they saw this story (seems a lot of Club members are also ET readers!), so now they also have their noses out of joint at Virgin for not asking them. VA2 really has mismanaged The Club at ever step of the way so far.


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