Virgin Australia: two years into the business travel battle...

By David Flynn, February 6 2014
Virgin Australia: two years into the business travel battle...

Talking Point | It's been just two years since Virgin Australia launched its domestic business class, bringing with it a welcome and long-overdue dose of competition into what had effectively become a monopoly market for Qantas.

But transforming from the budget Virgin Blue to a 'full service' airline wasn't just a matter of ripping out the old premium economy rows for a modern business class cabin with seats and service to match.

New lounges followed, combining hip contemporary design with flyer-friendly features like Sydney's premium entry from the street through a dedicated security area and straight into the lounge.

A revamped frequent flyer scheme packed new perks like family pooling, gratis status in Hilton and IHG loyalty programs and a 'parental leave' mechanism to put your status on hold.

Virgin ramped up its delivery of new aircraft, from the first Boeing 737-800 with the 'Boeing Sky Interior' cabin to Airbus A330s with international-grade seating and meals for the transcontinental service between the east and west coasts.

Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti's prediction that travellers were ready for what the renewed airline would offer appears to have been borne out.

From almost a standing start – especially in the premium arena of business and corporate travel, which was largely held to be rusted on to the Red Roo – Virgin has clawed out a sizeable chunk of the domestic market, challenging and by some estimates stepping over Qantas' cherished 'line in the sand' of a 65% share.

The uptick in Virgin's popularity seems evident everywhere we look: feedback from readers and social media, and of course increasingly crowded lounges and flights.

So today we want to hear from you, the AusBT community, on how the resurgent Virgin Australia has impacted your travel habits.

Have you, your colleagues or your company shifted your domestic business travel from Qantas to Virgin over the past two years? What has Virgin done right, what could it still do better, and what other boxes does John Borghetti need to tick?

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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.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 13

I have family members who are long term employees of Qantas and was, up until about 12 months ago, a loyal Qantas customer. Then I was put in charge of booking air travel at work and began to investigate the business case behind using Qantas as opposed to Virgin. The results of my research and my subsequent experience with both airlines have changed my thinking entirely, both corporately and privately. I would now class myself as a staunch Virgin supporter.

What have they done to earn my support? Being a Gold tier flyer and having access to the express entry at SYD has made my business travel a more streamlined and pleasant affair. I rate the SYD Virgin lounge superior to the Qantas Club lounge. The customer service on both airlines is fairly similiar but based on personal experience the Virgin cabin crew have more energy, enthusiasm and time for me as the customer. Moreover, Virgin are more willing to accommodate my young family when they accompany me on my travels. I also love the family pooling feature.

The one thing Virgin lack in comparison to Qantas is the so-called seamless checkin. If Virgin were to provide RFID bag tags and chiped FF cards, similar to Qantas' Q Tags and Q Chiped cards I think that would be of immediate benefit to customers.

To my mind even if I were, which I will be one day, a Velocity Red tier flyer my preference would still be Virgin 11 times out of 10.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 May 2012

Total posts 580

To be fair, Virgin's Velocity membership cards are RFID enabled and can be used with the self check-in kiosks (touch your card against the RFID sensor on the top of the machine to print your boarding pass) and also the lounge entry machine (when you're not using Premium Entry at their Sydney lounge).

However, I agree they're missing a Q bag tag alternative.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Jan 2013

Total posts 241

I'd like to second some of Christopher's points. I think Virgin wins my vote simply as the challenger brand. There is a youthful enthusiasm in their service and I often just get the feeling they want it more. Even if you are able to remove the general coolness that comes from the Virgin name, you get the sense that they're more hungry for my business.

Qantas is nice and I occasionally like the luxury of a full service airline, (and work got me a QF Club membership,) but I always leave feeling they have a sense of entitlement. That they don't need to fight for anything as if things go too badly Uncle Tony [our PM] will bail them out. Still, credit where credit is due, their new uniforms have spruised the place up a bit.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 529

I'm not sure it is fair to say that they don't need to fight for anything. I think they are struggling at the moment and there is no indication at all that "Uncle Tony" is going to do anything to bail them out.

If it did come down to that though... Do you think it is better to let Qantas disappear and have Virgin become Australia's only carrier?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Jan 2013

Total posts 241

Fair point AusFlyer, I wouldn't want to go back to the days of a monopoly. 

As a 20 something who has mostly worked in budget accommodation, community service and emergency management, I like brands like Virgin who go out of their way to appear energetic and youthful.

Case in point, the recent Virgin saftey video addresses a serious issue in a way that shows staffers enjoying the service they provide. So far over 8.6 million people viewed it.

Qantas's responses was to release a statement saying they don't see saftey as a joking matter.

I appreciate my demo/psychographic is dissimilar from the vast majority and am respectful of the fact some people do want the old fasion elegance of Qantas. It's just not my brand of vodka for the most part.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 529

Since I have so many Qantas points and all my credit cards aligned to Qantas, it was a pretty easy decision to stick with Qantas. If I had really experienced appalling service (as some people seem to have) or felt like I had been treated badly (as some people seem to have), I might have changed, but I must be lucky because I haven't been unfortunate enough to experience those problems. Sure... I have had flights where the service has been poor, but I have travelled on the best airlines and experienced that.

I have flown with Virgin a number of times, especially when I status matched to Platinum level with them and truth be told they were good. Were they so good that I felt the need to shift all my flights across? No.

There are aspects of the Virgin FF program that are great but the great thing about Qantas FF is that Qantas is part of OneWorld and therefore the ability to use points on a range of carriers is much greater. I pre-plan big holidays and have rarely had an issue buying Business class tickets with points. WIth the partnership with Emirates, I have even been able to book redemption tickets only a couple of weeks out of my travel date. Now I haven't tried redeeming points on Virgin for international flights so I can't comment on whether the same offerings are available there.

John Borghetti has done many things right and has turned Virgin around to be a huge competitor to Qantas. There is no doubt in my mind that he should have got the top job at Qantas and it makes me wonder how great Qantas could be now if he had.

For the time being though... I will stick with Qantas as my first choice (due to my status and points) but will continue to fly Virgin as needed.

04 Nov 2012

Total posts 217

I too have my 2 ANZ CC alligned to Qantas and rack up lots of FF points by using them, I don't wish to change banks nor get another CC, also agree being a Oneworld partner has many benefits.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 783

SYD express entry - car drop-off to plane in ten minutes - total win. Priority checkin, security and boarding always works (for us anyhow!). Since becoming platinum, answers to my reqeuests are now "Yes" instead of no. Flying QF just feels like being with a creepy nana. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

07 Jan 2014

Total posts 32

Lifetime status would also be nice.... 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Jun 2013

Total posts 26

As a now self funded flyer , I had to look for the best bang for my $$ for me to maintain some status with an airline & this is were Virgin fitted like a glove . My tipping point to Virgin was about 3 years ago . When searching for a Premium Economy Fare to the US , Qantas were asking for aroung $5K return , while Virgin was approx $3.5K.... I just thought to myself , surely there cant be that much difference in offerings between the two , to warrant me spending the extra  with QF , and guess what... there wasnt . In fact it was a better experience IMO than what QF has given me in the past. And when i say better , its simple things like crew engagement with me , they are happy to be there looking after you . Food / drinks / IFE were on par .

Other experiences that really put Virgin ahead IMO , are the Sydney express entry , love it . Priority boarding works with Virgin , while QF still have no idea. Domestic Business class is now on par if not better than QF . Maintaining my Gold status which gives you lounge access is somewhat easier with Virgin compared to QF .    

I agree with Christopher , that seamless checkin is still a clear winner with QF ,  although priority checkin has worked reasonable well with me to this point . Unless any future employment with some travel dictates for me to travel QF , then i dont see me chaging in the foresable future .  

Finally , whilst i favour Virgin with my expenditure , I am a firm believer that Australia needs both a strong and profitable Virgin & Qantas in our skies . 

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 738

For me it was a simple decision when I moved back to Australia from overseas. Virgin gave me immediate gold, Qantas didn't. 

Virgin lounges still have a little bit of catching up to do (though the newly extended MEL lounge is a huge improvement -- just need to fix the food). Flying in a 737 isn't quite as comfortable as a widebody. Free "tea, coffee or water" feels like cheaping out (I know they're changing this). Oneworld beats Virgin's cobbled-together program on which I couldn't even book an open-jaw ticket to the US (and hence have to fly Qantas on my next journey, aww poop). Still, I'm happy to be with Virgin and hope they fix some of these areas soon.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Nov 2011

Total posts 122

As a self funded flyer, I travel mostly during school holidays and weekends. Flying during these times, I find that VA is not generally cheaper than QF, and in some cases more expensive at times. Internationally, its a different matter, though really only comparable between SYD/LAX.

While I generally look for cheap or inexpensive tickets, I find myself willing to pay a small premium to fly oneWorld because of status with QF (god bless double status promos). With the new partnership with Emirates, I have found myself also leaning towards them when thinking about flying to Europe/Middle East (that is when USDM becomes harder to book), though CX is preferable. The lounge and baggage entitlements are also more streamlined and easier to keep track of. Having the oneworld logo helps better than the confused look of the Velocity card I got in Portland, OR flying Delta.

Having previously split my flying half an half between the two (making use of Virgin Money CC and a partner's staff travel), I have found myself switching back to Qantas based on pricing, timing/frequency of flights and generally better FF earning rates for domestic flights for the fare types i fly. I am generally disappointed with what is on offer at major meal times in the Virgin Lounges (particularly experiences in Brisbane and Melbourne) as opposed to hot options etc in Qantas Clubs. I also personally find the seating/areas of Qantas lounges to be more comfortable than Virgin ones.

Generally for me, the vibe of QF and the little things make me keep going back to them. DJ has certainly up'ed the game, but with OW and their overall product, I still think QF is more 'polished'.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2012

Total posts 125

It's good to see competition in the market. For example, if it wasn't for Virgin, Qantas business class passenger's on the A330, might be still sitting in the "work station" seat.

Qantas now realise that they have to fight for their survival, rather than rely on the tax payer for a bail out. Echoing some comments here, some (not all) Qantas staff had a sense of entitlement, which Qantas passenger's can pick up on. Although many other Qantas staff are world class and genuinely enthusiastic. It just varies too much.

A big plus for Qantas is the RFID technology for checkin baggage. A big minus is the "premium boarding". It simply doesn't exist!

A big plus for Virgin is the enthusiastic staff and excellent A330 business seats. A big minus is the lack of RFID technology for checkin baggage. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 May 2012

Total posts 580

As a Platinum with both Virgin and Qantas, I do enjoy the added flexibility and competition that Virgin delivers. Their unique benefits such as IHG/Hilton partner status for Gold/Platinum members and their Premium Entry in Sydney add great value to their offering.

That being said, I generally prefer Qantas over Virgin on domestic routes in Economy due to my perception of Qantas' all-in approach to "full service." However, I look forward to seeing how Virgin's new in-flight meals between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne will begin to challenge this notion.

Unfortunately, the lack of an upper tier lounge for Business and Platinum passengers is a significant shortfall on Virgin's part. The domestic business lounges which Qantas offers to these passengers is a key reason that they're my preferred carrier.

When travelling overseas as a VA Platinum, being able to use the Etihad First lounge in Abu Dhabi and the Star Alliance First lounge in LAX is an amazing benefit which matches (to a degree) the First lounge accessibility as a QF Platinum when travelling through oneworld hubs.

However, inconsistencies (through lack of training) in recognition of benefits at partner destinations (such as with Etihad in Manila) are a key problem which plague Virgin's virtual network. This problem is inherent in Virgin's lack of an alliance membership.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

06 Feb 2014

Total posts 15

The Embraer planes.  Why bother paying business class when you get dignity-preserving seats, unlike the back of the plane on 737s and sundry Airbuses?  Come to think of it, being serviced by those planes is one of the upsides to Adelaide being a "backwater" :)

The linkages to SQ are nice, too.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 700

I like the Embraer E-jets too, sometimes bigger is not better (especially if you are in Y).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 700

I am a fully earnt Platinum in both QFF (plus LTS) and VFF, yet I still give most of my domestic travel (all J) to Virgin. The reason is that they just provide a more pleasant experience, from check-in to leaving the airport. Sure QF has domestic J lounges, but I really don't find the standard VA lounge all that different (not for my needs at least - plus Premium Entry is a real benefit), and VA staff seem more happier to see you (and help you) than their domestic QF counterparts. Even over the phone, VA seem to do better than QF for their Platinums.

Where Qantas comes into its own is on the International side, even if it is premium J & F is being squeezed by the Asian and Middle East. I've had some excellent CSM/crews, a few ordinary ones too, but the best ones keep that fondness alive.

VA International ain't bad either, but it doesn't have the QF Platinum bonuses of F lounge (that's a lounge decent enough for a couple of hours enjoyment) and can't offer A380 benefits (or F for that matter). VA's partners fill those gaps somewhat.

10 Nov 2011

Total posts 4

Following on from others' comments about the lack of recognition on Virgin's virtual network, I must say that I have been particularly disappointed of late. I am Virgin Platinum FF and, at numerous locations around both the Etihad and Delta networks, I have received almost no recognition. The Etihad lounge in JFK did not allow me entrance, Delta staff across several locations in the US had no/little knowledge of their partnership with VA, and there are countless other examples where the purported benefits of priority luggage/check-in/security screening were not readily available.

I find that the new Velocity Global Wallet cards make the situation even worse: there is no sign of the Virgin Australia logo or name *anywhere* on the card and, with the addition of the Visa prepaid card components, the FF card now actually looks like a credit card. When showing it to non-VA airlines, my experience has been that most staff immediately think that it's just any old credit card.

Flying Virgin domestically is great, but I find that their virtual network concept works in theory, but is very lacking in execution.

Um, maybe you need to have another look at your card. Mine has VAfF all over it - both sides! 

10 Nov 2011

Total posts 4

Really? Maybe we have a different set of cards .. mine says "Velocity Frequent Flyer" all over it - both sides. In other words, not Virgin Australia. The point in my original comment above was that non-VA overseas airline staff don't have any brand recognition of the word "Velocity".

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Feb 2014

Total posts 1

I fly enough from Perth across the country to maintain both Gold with Qantas and Platinum with Virgin. While I like to fly enough to maintain both, in the last year Virgin have won me over for domestic flights.

The Virgin staff just seem happier to help, and as a FF you feel more appreciated. Qantas just don't match Virgin in customer service in my experience. One of the worst experiences I've had was with a recent Qantas flight out of Perth. Myself and another couple stood in the Priority Service Lane for a good 20 minutes while everyone served the economy boarding lane. When our flight was called to be closing in 5 minutes we requested that one of the economy service desks please check our bags in, and instead were met with a massive amount of attitude, and on top of that, a refusal to serve us. Not the best way to treat your Frequent Flyers, especially those who can travel with which ever airline they want for work.


13 Dec 2012

Total posts 20

My brother started flying Virgin when he moved to the Gold Coast a few years back. Qantas weren't flying there then (only Jetstark), so he moved over and he encouraged me to give it a go too. 

I fly from Melbourne to Perth once or twice a month and I had no problem with the Qantas service, apart from the lucky dip of a gettting an old 767 vs an new A330 each time. However, once I came across to Virgin I got hooked on the A330 business class seats. I'm now a committed. 

I took my family to the USA on VA, and although velocity screwed me out of the family pooled status credits (despite what the VA staff told me on the phone, you must pool before you go to earn pooled status), but I quickly earned platnum from my weekly domestic economy hops.

I've had platinum for nearly 2 years now and I have also had the Hilton Honors Diamond and Hertz Presidents Club cards work for me when travelling overseas. I don't travel O/S enough to worry about OneWorld etc.

I would echo the sentiments of others here in saying that not even Virgin America checkin staff at seatac seemed to have a clue what Velocity was. All of the real problems that I've had with VA relate to velocity and thier stingy customer service. It needs some serious work VA!

That said, I've got the credit cards hooked up to velocity points and all that. I've even been able to share a bonus Gold Membership (reward for 500 status credits over platinum re-earn) with my mum which was nice.

But I think that if Qantas refreshed the service to perth and pushed for our business enough I'd consider going back. I don't see it happening though.

Virgin Australia - Platinum

21 Dec 2012

Total posts 87

Self funded gold Qff and platinum velocity. Virgin for me just. But that's because consistently they are cheaper plus I can fly to the good coast and the family pooling is great, my fiancé and I both maintain platinum by swapping back and forth.  Qantas domestic business class still has far better food on average and virgins customer service still has some issues. For international though qantas is better, the virgin/ Singapore alliance for example is a joke, even as a platinum I couldn't get j or f redemption on any time I tried. I even mock booked every month of the year. No luck. An alliance is worthless if you can't get value out if it.

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