As Virgin Australia approaches the fifth birthday of its dramatic transformation from the no-frills Virgin Blue to a full-service airline capable of fighting Qantas on its own turf, the challenger will partly see 2016 as a year for consolidation.
The lounge network has been rebuilt, capped off by an all-new Perth lounge sporting the same flagship design as its east coast cousins.
All of Virgin’s Airbus A330s now boast The Business, a premium business class cabin which turns the transcontinental trek into a world-class flying experience.
Bolstered by sensible traveller-friendly perks and smart alliances with the likes of BP, the airline’s Velocity Frequent Flyer program is steadily climbing towards the six million member milestone.
Capitalising on this well-rounded offering should help Virgin Australia edge back into the black from last year’s $49 million pre-tax loss, which was itself a substantial improvement from a $211.7 million loss the year before.
With all the pieces in place, 2016 should be a watershed year for Virgin Australia – and one in which it will face a resurgent Qantas equipped with deeper pockets than ever before.
But 2016 won’t be all about standing still, of course.
Eying a larger slice of the lucrative trans-Pacific market, Virgin Australia’s Boeing long-range 777-300ER jets will be upgraded to The Business “in the first half of 2016”, the airline says.
The wide, comfortable seats with their ample personal space, 18 inch video screens and direct aisle access will easily outclass the Skybed II business class on Qantas’ Airbus A380s and Boeing 747s, giving Virgin Australia a critical advantage in the tussle for LA-bound business travellers.
The refit will also see new premium economy seats with more legroom and upgraded meals to reposition the cabin as a 'business lite' zone.
Meanwhile, the Virgin Australia network is being ‘right-sized’ with the help of budget arm Tigerair Australia, with the low-cost offshoot taking over flights from Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth to Bali from March 23, while from February 1 Virgin Australia will axe its Perth-Phuket route.
However, Virgin will ramp up its trans-Tasman presence on the Sydney-Christchurch and Melbourne-Christchurch routes.
On the domestic front, Virgin Australia will roll out its self-service check-in system and bag drop – which in November debuted at the airline’s new Perth terminal – to other airports across Australia on CEO John Borghetti describes as "a very aggressive" schedule.
Virgin’s Velocity Frequent Flyer scheme entered the new year as the best way to earn points at the pump but there’s more to come, with newly-minted Velocity CEO Karl Schuster teasing that “something very big” for the Velocity-BP partnership is on the way.
“Watch this space – something very big is going to happen with BP next year, that’s all I can say,’’ Schuster said in his first interview earlier this year.
New Velocity sign-ups have reportedly skyrocketed by as many as 50,000 members a week as a result of the alliance.
Virgin’s target for Velocity is seven million members by 2017, while the Qantas loyalty program currently exceeds 10.7 million members – and Virgin has Qantas frequent flyers in their sights.
“Our Game Change Program essentially created an indifference” CEO John Borghetti has previously remarked, beginning with establishing Velocity as an solid alternative to Qantas Frequent Flyer.
“It helped to dislodge those travellers loyal to the incumbent airline group, so that they were happy to travel with either of us, whilst building a Virgin Australia loyalty base.”?
“Going forward, we no longer want to create an indifference for this group – we want to convert more of them to our loyalty base.”
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