Virgin Australia continues to raise the stakes against Qantas in its battle for Australia's business travellers and frequent flyers with a series of American Express cards tied into the airline's Velocity rewards program.
The American Express Velocity Cards earn members from one to three Velocity points per dollar spent on the card -- and these are 'uncapped', so you can earn as many points as your spending permits without suddenly hitting a monthly point ceiling.
To sweeten the deal there's a sign-up bonus of 20,000 to 30,000 points if you spend $500 on the card in your first three months of membership. Points are transferred each month into your Virgin Australia Velocity account.
You also get two free single-entry passes to the Virgin Australia lounge each year, along with standard Amex inclusions such as free domestic and international travel insurance when you use the card to purchase eligible travel, plus travel 'accident and inconvenience cover' and 24/7 member services.
But the stand-out bonus is a 'buy one, get one free' deal on international full-fare business class flights with V Australia for the top-tier American Express Velocity Platinum card.
Here's a run-down of all three cards.
American Express Velocity Platinum Card
Costing a hefty $349 per year, you earn three Velocity Points per dollar spent with a Virgin Australia airline and 1.5 points per dollar in all other transactions, on top of a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points; you also score a free domestic return economy flight with Virgin Australia per year.
Even better, cardholders enjoy an 'unlimited two-for-one deal' on international business class airfares, under which members paying full fare on an international business class ticket with V Australia or new US partner Delta –- but not, it seems, codeshare partners Etihad, Air New Zealand or Singapore Airlines -- can snare a second free ticket on the same flight for their companion. There's no limit to the number of freebie tickets you can get per year, as long as you pay the rack rate for your own ticket.
This freebie doesn't include fees, taxes and surcharges, which can make up a considerable part of the ticket cost, but all the same Australian Business Traveller reckons two-for-one business class seats is a pretty good perk!
American Express Velocity Gold Card
For a more affordable $199 per year you get a kick-starter of 20,000 Velocity points and earn 2.5 points per dollar spent with Virgin Australia, dropping down to 1.25 points per dollar in all other transactions.
Velocity Business Charge Card
This $249/year card is aimed at small-to-medium sized businesses who want a charge card to turn expenses into point-earners. This starts you off with a 20,000 Velocity point bonus, earns 2 points per dollar spent with Virgin Australia and 1 point per dollar in all other transactions.
For full details on all three cards, click to www.amexvelocity.com.au.
The American Express partnership is another notch in John Borghetti's belt as the Virgin Australia CEO reshapes the Velocity programme to be more competitive against Qantas.
Virgin Australia has already confirmed it will offer an elite Velocity Platinum membership level, slotting in above the current top-tier Velocity Gold (although Qantas trumped this by adding its own Platinum One level).
Next on the list was an overhaul of Velocity's 'status credit' system, with credits now calculated on a daily basis instead of a fixed 12 month period and a reduction in the number of status credit levels required to retain Velocity Gold and Velocity Silver membership. (For more details, read our full breakdown and analysis of the changes.)
Virgin Australia has also opened the doors of its lounges – including the new Melbourne Airport lounge and Sydney Airport's kerbside premium lounge entry – to Qantas Frequent Flyer gold and platinum members under a limited-time 'status recognition' deal which runs until Friday July 22.
And we're still hearing rumours of an alliance with the Coles FlyBuy scheme, which would go up against the dominant dollars-for-points alliance between the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme and Woolworths Everyday Rewards Card.