Virgin Australia says it has no immediate plans to sign up to the new Etihad Airways Partners alliance, despite Etihad holding a 21% stake in the Aussie airline.
“We already have a strong alliance partnership with Etihad Airways which includes leveraging our joint network capability and bringing unique benefits to Frequent Flyer members on both airlines’ programs,” says a Virgin Australia spokesperson.
“Given we have a number of other airline partnerships in place as part of our global virtual network which reaches more than 450 destinations, we have no plans to join at this stage.”
Etihad holds equity in EAP's five other founding airlines – including Airberlin, Air Serbia, India’s Jet Airways and Darwin Airline, the Swiss-based regional airline which is being rebranded as Etihad Regional.
However, Virgin Australia is the odd one out of this mix as Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines are also stakeholders, along with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.
Separate to EAP, Etihad and Virgin are believed to be weighing a closer tie-up between their respective frequent flyer programs.
“You can imagine how closely we now already work together with Virgin but how much more can be done" Etihad chief commercial officer Peter Baumgartner recently told The Australian.
"We have a couple of things in store that are cooking in the background at the moment that are relevant for the Australian loyalty market but I can’t reveal them today.’’
Baumgartner allowed that his airline's "close co-operation with Virgin" did not "go as far as the (loyalty) programs where we have a stake," such as Airberlin's Topbonus and Alitalia Loyalty.
"But we have similar ambitions and certainly the ambition to work towards having the most comprehensive loyalty solution for that market."
Virgin Australia will next month launch a unique scheme with Singapore Airlines which will allow frequent flyers to exchange their Velocity points into SQ's KrisFlyer miles, and vice versa.
However, Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti said a similar arrangement would not automatically be extended to other partner loyalty schemes such as Etihad Guest.
"I don't want to speculate on what we're going to do, but what we've got is a situation where you will see us, from time to time, with different initiatives for different partners which suit our bilateral relationships."
"But if you do one thing with one partner it doesn't necessarily flow that you will want to, or that others will want to, do this, or indeed that it's right to spread that across everybody. In some cases it is, and in some cases it's not."
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