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.