Virgin's new family-friendly Velocity frequent flyer scheme
Virgin Australia chief John Borghetti has come up with a very clever point of differentiation for its frequent flyer program: being family friendly.
At first glance, it might not appear to fit with Virgin's mission of attracting big-spending business travellers away from Qantas.
But considering that businesspeople in the peak of their career are likely to also be raising families and striving for a reasonable work-life balance, it's a masterstroke.
Buying award tickets for other family members is one of the most common ways frequent flyer members burn points, yet Qantas' market-leading scheme isn't exactly geared towards giving families maximum flexibility.
For example, while Qantas allows points to be transferred to other family members, it can only be done once per member, per year.
Virgin's new program allows points transfers up to four times a year.
Unlike Qantas, Virgin will soon allow families to pool all of their members' points into one account, allowing any family member to take reward flights as soon as the family has accrued enough points.
Families can also pool status credits to allow a family member to upgrade to the next level of membership.
The status credit pooling is a breakthrough in Australian domestic travel. Take, for example, two partners who both accrue 250 status credits a year, which would be enough to earn them both silver status with Virgin.
They could instead elect to apply all 500 status credits to one of them, which would be enough for a gold membership.
Every time that they travelled together, they'd both get gold benefits such as lounge access, priority check-in, priority boarding, priority baggage and so on.
Every 100 status credits accrued, the gold member would also be issued with a free lounge access pass, which means that when not travelling together, the standard member would still be able to use the lounge sometimes.
Taking family into the lounge
Qantas members who attain gold status can only bring one guest into the Qantas Club with them.
Other family members travelling (apart from children under three) can only be admitted if the gold member has bought an annual 'guest card' at a fee of $320 (or 50,000 Frequent Flyer points).
Virgin allows payment at the door for entry to its lounge for additional members for $65 per person (or $55 if pre-purchased online). Admittedly, it's not cheap, but it may be cheaper than paying $320 for a Qantas Club guest card.
Qantas Platinum members can bring two guests and up to two children under the age of three, but Virgin Velocity Platinum members can bring up to three guests, plus two children under the age of 12.
Companion gold and platinum memberships
Qantas offers a free gold Frequent Flyer membership once an existing platinum member hits 2,100 status credits in a year. However, the expiry date of the gold partner membership is tied to the original member's membership anniversary dates, as one Australian Business Traveller reader found out earlier this year.
Virgin is one-upping Qantas by not only providing free partner gold memberships (at 1,500 status credits), but also partner platinum memberships (at 2,000 status credits).
Even if you're a very frequent-flying executive, if you have to stop flying for a while after the birth of a child, your Qantas membership will be ticking away, with the possibility that you could lose your status in the following year.
Virgin is introducing the ability for any member who needs to stop flying due to becoming a new parent (or after having another child) to pause their silver, gold or platinum membership for six months.
After that, according to Virgin, you "simply pick up where you left off with your membership level intact."
Guaranteed family holidays
Let's face it -- most people like to earn their frequent flyer points with work trips, and then redeem them for free family travel.
But securing seats for the dates that fit with the family holiday plans can be diabolically difficult.
Virgin is promising: "as a gold or platinum member, you can enjoy complete peace of mind knowing you are guaranteed Reward Seats for an annual family trip. Gold members can redeem Points for up to four return Reward Seats for an annual family trip to any Australian destination, while Platinum members can choose from hundreds of international destinations."
Anything "guaranteed" in terms of frequent flyer award flights is to be applauded.
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