Interview: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Oli Byers Virgin Atlantic

Oli Byers is Virgin Atlantic’s Senior Vice President of Revenue Management and Customer Loyalty.

Oli Byers is Virgin Atlantic’s Senior Vice President of Revenue Management and Customer Loyalty. Business Traveller spoke to him about the changes to Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club Programme. The details of those changes are here


So is this a partial move towards a revenue-based programme?

“The short answer is yes. We haven’t gone all the way to launching a revenue-based programme, but we do want to reflect that loyalty should be more aligned to spend rather than the number of sectors that someone flies. So yes, we’ve deliberately made changes to reflect the revenue value of the ticket.”

Why did you decide to change?

“If you look at the difference between the cheapest fare and the most expensive fare we offer, and then look at the equivalent number of miles you could earn on those tickets, the difference between the two, the ratio, used to be three to one and it is now more like eight to one. So the changes have made the programme more rewarding for those who are spending more on their tickets.

The main driver for the changes has come not from wanting to become a more revenue-aligned programme, it was for getting a programme that works better for long haul flyers. We looked at it and felt it didn’t do enough for those who fly solely long haul, so this is what we have executed.

Do miles still expire after three years?

We still have a system where the miles expire after three years, but that’s only if you have had no activity with us including credit card spend. Historically if you were a silver member and you reverted back to red you got a new number. Now there is one number assigned to each member no matter what tier the member is.

Why are you increasing the tier points by 25 times?

For existing tier points we are increasing them by 25 is to make them consistent with the new tier points. The new tier point values and thresholds are so that in the future we have the option of introducing the ability for people to be able to earn tier points in other ways. The historic rates were two points in economy and up to six points in upper class, and that didn’t give us the flexibility to allow you to earn tier points in other ways. So today we are not announcing new ways of earning tier points, but we want to have that option. Currently if you are a U.S based customers you can get tier points on the credit card or flying with Delta on one of our tickets you can earn through Flying Club on that. It was quite a low valued currency for tier points. Having a larger currency from 25 points up to 200 in Upper Class will help us.

How many members are there in the Flying Club?

There are 2.3 million members – mostly in the UK, though we have quite a sizeable presence in the U.S as well.

Is this so the programme works better with Delta?

Not particularly. We work an awful lot with Delta across the Atlantic in the joint venture but Delta’s Skymiles is an independent programme. These changes are meant to service our customer base which is long haul flyers rather than Delta’s customer base in the U.S. [many of which are short haul.]

Is the aim of these changes to increase the size of the programme and the number of members?

Yes. We have a goal to make Flying Club more successful. So for a customer travelling once one long haul on leisure every year or travelling with us all the time on business we want the Club to be something they all want to join and see a value in.

But you are trying to stop people game the system?

Yes, and we think that some of the ways that people used to have to do that been reduced by making the value for mile in the programme more consistent in the ways you can redeem. That said, the core is designing a programme for the vast majority, not to stop people gaming it and I’m sure there will be some who continue to try. We also wanted to stop our members feeling they have to save all the time before they can get something that is good value. We have reduced economy flights from 35,000 to 20,000 which is one of the lowest on transatlantic, so we are trying to give people a good deal.

But you still have the taxes to pay?

On redemptions, yes, but on Miles and Money we wanted to come up with a much more flexible and valuable product. So now you can pay for the whole flight including the taxes and surcharges if you’ve got the miles. We know if you look at redemption fares we still require customers to pay for the surcharges but they can use the miles against the total far. Before we just offered you a fixed price discounting in the cabin.

Do you have a guaranteed number of redemption seats on all flights?

No, we don’t have a set amount. We actually saw the changes BA made [with a guaranteed number of business class seats on flights]. We don’t think the changes work because you end up in situations where you guarantee the seats because those who know how to play have got all those seats. If you look at the number of rewards eats on each of our planes, I think we have got a lot of availability – it’s based on where our customers want to fly and we try and create enough availability for them on those flights. It will always vary on flight by flight and depending on season.


Virgin Atlantic introduces widespread changes to Flying Club programme


Virgin Atlantic introduces widespread changes to Flying Club programme

Move to a more revenue-based programme, new miles plus money options and new tier point earning and thresholds

Virgin Atlantic is introducing wide ranging changes to its loyalty programme – Flying Club.

Starting from November 13, 2016, the amount paid for tickets plays a larger part in the amount of miles earned in the programme, and there are new tier point earning rates and tier thresholds. Virgin says

“We have restructured how you earn tier points in each cabin to better align with the price you have paid for your ticket”.

For flyers buying expensive tickets such as Upper Class and flexible premium economy tickets (W, S), the changes are good news. The number of miles earned for these tickets will increase. For those buying the least expensive tickets, the number of miles earned will be reduced. Virgin denies, however, that the changes represent a move to a purely revenue-based system since “The way you earn miles will still continue to be based on the distance flown”.

Tier point changes

Virgin’s tiers are red, silver and gold.

For existing members, all tier points currently held by members have been increased by 25x. The number of tier points needed to reach silver and gold will be 400 and 1000 respectively.

Members will earn tier points for travel depending on ticket type or cabin. Members will earn 25 tier points for the lowest economy tickets up to 200 tier points in Upper Class.

Silver status is reached and maintained with 400 tier points (which could be one Upper Class return flight (J, C, D, I)).

Gold status is reached and maintained with 1,000 tier points (three Upper Class return flights (J, C, D, I)).

As far as miles earned are concerned, there are tier bonuses depending on tier level, so for instance red members will earn 50 percent of the base flown miles in economy and from 400 percent of the base flown miles if travelling in our Upper Class.

Gold members will also enjoy a 60% bonus and Silver members a 30% bonus on flown miles stacked on top of the cabin bonus.

Seasonal fares

To encourage members to use their rewards outside of peak seasons, the standard reward flights start from 20,000 miles, 15,000 fewer miles than before, but peak time reward flights start from 20,000 miles to the new price of a standard reward flight. Taxes, fees and carrier imposed surcharges apply.

There are two prices for each cabin, a standard price and another for peak seasons: Standard price: 16 January – 30 March 2017; 19 April – 21 June 2017; 7 September – 12 December 2017 Peak season: 31 March – 18 April 2017; 22nd June – 6 September 2017; 13 December – 3 January 2018.

The standard reward and peak season reward flights becoming available to book from 16 January 2017.

Upgrading using miles

An upgrade now costs 50 percent of the miles of a reward seat for a one cabin upgrade and 75 percent of the cost of a reward seat for a two cabin upgrade.

Eg: an upgrade from economy to premium economy is possible by exchanging the economy revenue ticket for 50 percent of the miles needed for a premium economy reward seat, or 75 percent of the miles needed for an Upper Class reward seat.

The amount of miles will depend on the season, so it will be need 8,700 miles (a one way standard season reward flight) to upgrade to a one way premium economy reward flight from London to New York, since a one way standard season reward flight in premium economy cabin is 17,500 miles.

An upgrade from premium economy to Upper Class will require 50 percent of the miles needed for an Upper Class reward seat. This would be 18,700 miles (a one way standard season reward flight) to upgrade to a one way Upper Class reward flight from London to Dubai.

Note that these examples exclude the lowest price tickets (N,O,V) in Economy and (K) in Premium Economy. Taxes, fees and carrier imposed surcharges apply and all upgrades are subject to availability.

Miles Plus Money

For every 3,000 miles spent, you’ll be able to get £18 off the price of the fare. Virgin says that “with enough miles, it will be possible to pay for an entire trip using Miles Plus Money, which includes taxes, fees and carrier imposed surcharges”.

You can also earn miles and tier points on all Miles Plus Money bookings.

Miles Plus Money bookings can be made on our website from 13 November 2016, but cannot be made via our Customer Service Centre.

Membership number for life

Previously Virgin changed membership numbers as members moved up or down through tiers. Members will now have a membership number fo life. Red members will have a virtual card (digital).

New membership accounts for under 12s.

Gold members will be able to pool family miles together into one account called: the Household Account.

Singapore Airlines launches Manchester-Houston service

Singapore Airlines B777-300ER

Singapore Airlines has launched its new fifth freedom flights between Manchester and Houston, as well as upgrading its Manchester-Singapore route to a non-stop service.

The carrier is operating the route five times-weekly using a three-class B777-300ER aircraft.

The new route is part of changes which see SIA’s Singapore-Manchester service upgraded to non-stop (having previously routed via Munich), allowing travellers between Houston and Singapore to avail of a one-stop service via Manchester.

Flight SQ52 departs Singapore at 0235, arriving into Manchester at 0900, before departing at 1015 and arriving into Houston at 1435.

The return service sees SQ51 depart Houston at 1915 and arrive in Manchester at 1005 the next day, before taking off at 1135 and landing back in Singapore at 0820 the following day.

Commenting on the new service Ken O’Toole, CEO of Manchester Airport said:

“This new service to Houston with Singapore Airlines will open up a whole new part of America to business and leisure passengers across the North. Houston and Singapore, along with a wealth of other recent new routes, can only be found at Manchester in the UK outside of London.

“This underpins the role we play in the North as the global entry point of the Northern Powerhouse and as economic provider and job creator for the region.

“Furthermore, at a time when there is a lot of uncertainty following the Brexit vote and ties with Europe, this new east and west route connecting America to Manchester and on to Asia, clearly highlights the role we play with connecting the North to international markets, unlocking trade, tourist and economic opportunities.”

Etihad launches new amenity kits designs

Etihad Airways amenity kits

Etihad Airways has unveiled new destination-inspired business class amenity kits designs for routes to New York, Sao Paulo, Rome, Melbourne and Bangkok.

The new designs build on the carrier’s existing partnership with Luxe City Guides which was launched last year, with each bag containing a specially created city guide “showcasing a selection of each destination’s best hotels, restaurants, spas, bars, boutiques, and shopping, as well as services, specialists and personal tour guides”.

Etihad has also updated its existing Abu Dhabi kit with a new design and fully updated city guide.

The kits are influenced by the architectural features on the respective cities, with the New York bag inspired by the city’s grid-like streets, avenues and iconic yellow taxis, and the Melbourne kits reflecting the city’s 19th century buildings, the Yarra river and the coastline.

The business class bags also contain Scaramouche + Fandango skincare products including a facial moisturiser and a honey and shea butter lip balm, as well as socks, an eye mask, a dental pack and earplugs.

Etihad recently unveiled a new range of amenity kits for its first class passengers, created in collaboration with fashion designer Christian Lacroix and Hungarian skincare brand Omorovicza.

Delta, Virgin Atlantic and Jet Airways announce new codeshare agreement

Delta Virgin Jet Tails

Delta, Virgin Atlantic and Jet Airways have announced a new codeshare agreement covering services between North America and India via London Heathrow.

From November 2 Jet Airways customers travelling between India and North America will be able to connect at Heathrow onto nine US destinations operated by Delta, namely Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Salt Lake City and Seattle.

At the same time Delta customers will be able to connect onto Jet Airways services to Mumbai and Delhi via Heathrow, and onto 20 Indian destinations including Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Calicut, Chennai, Cochin, Coimbatore, Goa, Hyderabad, Indore, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mangalore, Pune, Trivandrum and Vadodara.

The new agreement adds to the existing Delta and Jet Airways codeshares via Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris CDG.

Then in 2017 (subject to government approvals) Delta’s transatlantic joint venture partner Virgin will expand its existing codeshare agreement with Jet Airways, with the Indian carrier placing its code on Virgin flights from Heathrow to ten North American cities including Miami, Newark, San Francisco and Washington.

Virgin already codeshares on Jet Airways routes to five Indian cities from Heathrow via Delhi.

Codeshare services will be available at, and, and Delta and Jet Airways frequent flyer programme members will “soon be able to enjoy network-wide, reciprocal mileage earning and redemption privileges”.

The new agreements follow the recent announcement that Skyteam members Air France, KLM and Delta plan to form a joint venture covering multiple routes to and from their hubs at Amsterdam and Paris CDG in Europe along with Atlanta, Minneapolis and New York JFK in the USA.

British Airways and Qatar Airways expand codeshare agreement

British Airways and Qatar Airways expand codeshare agreement

Qatar Airways has expanded its codeshare agreement with British Airways, to include BA flights within the UK and selected routes from Heathrow to Europe.

The carriers recently announced a joint business agreement on routes between the UK and Doha, and the new deal will see Qatar Airways codeshare on all BA flights within the UK, including routes to Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Leeds, Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle.

In addition Qatar Airways will codeshare on selected BA flights from Heathrow to Europe, namely routes to Dublin, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Luxembourg, Basel, Bilbao, Malaga, Ibiza, Palma, Lisbon, Faro and Billund.

The news follows BA’s upgrading of its Heathrow-Doha route to a direct, non-stop service from October 30. The carrier had previously offered a one-stop service to Doha via Bahrain.,

Emirates to launch world’s shortest A380 service

Emirates A380 at London Heathrow

Emirates has announced what it says will be the world’s shortest scheduled A380 flight between Dubai and Doha, a distance of just 379km.

The Gulf carrier will roster the superjumbo onto one of its nine daily frequencies on the route from December 1.

The flight departs Dubai at 0745, arriving into Doha at 0805, with the return leg leaving Doha at 0950 and landing back into Dubai at 1200.

The Dubai-Doha route is the most served on Emirates’ network, and the carrier said that demand is “steadily increasing”, with over 700,000 passengers carried since January this year.

The airline also said that “The increase in capacity between Dubai and Doha will help to grow trade inroads between the UAE and Qatar”, with the UAE currently Qatar’s fifth largest trading partner with bilateral trade volumes of over US$7 billion in 2015.

Emirates said that transferring travellers from Doha will be avail of “seamless connections of under four hours to some of the most popular onwards destinations serviced by the A380 including New York, London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Manchester, Dusseldorf, Milan, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam”.

The A380 operating the route will be configured with 429 economy seats, 76 full-flat business class seats and 14 first class suites.

Doha will be Emirates’ 45th A380 destination, with the carrier currently operating a total of 85 superjumbos, and another 57 on order.

Oakwood Worldwide launches new app in Asia-Pacific

Oakwood Ho Chi Minh City

Guests staying at Oakwood Worldwide properties in Asia-Pacific will now be able to make use the company’s new mobile app, providing personalised check-in information, directions to properties using GPS technology and the ability to submit service requests.

The app was first made available in the US in late 2015, prior to its launch in Asia-Pacific, and was developed in response to the growing need of business travellers to have instant access to their travel information upon arrival in a city.

“We wanted to provide our guests with a smart, one-stop-shop-solution for their reservation with us,” said TJ Spencer, Oakwood Worldwide’s vice president sales and managing director of APAC. “Business travellers in Asia Pacific today are digitally driven, so by packaging our content into an app we are able to deliver what they need into the palms of their hands.”

The Guest Mobile App initially will be rolled out to major Asia-Pacific markets including Singapore, Australia and Japan, before being rolled out across Asia-Pacific and later the EMEA region in 2016.

Spencer added: “With Asia Pacific accounting for more than half of the world’s mobile population, it was a natural move for us to bring the Guest Mobile App to this region next. It is the latest of our technology innovations and we are thrilled to be able to provide an intuitive and interactive experience to our customers in the region.”

China Airlines unveils new A350 livery

China Airlines' new A350 Syrmaticus Mikado livery

Taiwanese carrier China Airlines unveiled a new Airbus A350 Syrmaticus Mikado livery to mark the commissioning of its first new A350 aircraft. The livery features the Syrmaticus Mikado bird, a species endemic to Taiwan, and was unveiled to the public with a demonstration flight on Friday. Meanwhile, an online vote to decide the Chinese font for the new aircraft livery has also been launched, with all members of the public able to participate.

The aircraft is the first of a total of 14 A350-900 XWBs the carrier plans to introduce to its fleet between now and 2018 as part of a move to revitalise its fleet. China Airlines took delivery of the aircraft earlier this month, and the introduction of the new A350 makes China Airlines the first airline in Taiwan to fly the aircraft.

The A350 initially will be deployed on the carrier’s European routes, with direct flights from Taoyuan to Amsterdam, Vienna and Rome beginning next year. The new routes will bring China Airlines’ number of direct flights to Europe to two per day and 16 per week.

Customers who purchase tickets from Taipei to Amsterdam, Vienna, Roma and Frankfurt, or on connecting flights to other parts of Europe before November 30, will receive a discount of TW$3,500 (US$110.9). The offer is available for all classes and all return flights departing from Taoyuan before December 31, 2017.

Cathay Pacific flies first A350 to Auckland

Cathay Pacific's first A350-900 to New Zealand arrives in Auckland

Cathay Pacific’s first A350-900 flight to New Zealand arrived in Auckland last Friday, making the Hong Kong carrier the first international airline to operate the aircraft to the Australasian nation. The aircraft replaces the A340-300, which previously serviced the route, making Auckland Cathay Pacific’s third long-haul destination after Düsseldorf and London Gatwick to be serviced by the A350.

Flight CX197 arrived in Auckland on Friday, following an overnight journey from Hong Kong. New Zealanders were given their first glimpse of the aircraft as it flew over the Waitemata Harbour before landing at Auckland International Airport.

“New Zealand has long been an important market for our airline, so it gives us all at Cathay Pacific great pleasure that we’ll now be serving this magnificent country with our innovative A350,” said the airline’s director of sales and marketing, Dane Cheng.

“This special aircraft takes our passenger experience to a whole new level and I believe it will be a game changer for travellers from New Zealand heading to Hong Kong and beyond.” Along with Cathay Pacific’s latest in-flight entertainment system, the A350 also offers wifi connectivity in all classes.

Cathay Pacific currently has five A350s in operation and will have taken delivery of a total of 22 by the end of 2017. Rome and Paris are set to be the next destinations to welcome the carrier’s A350 in the coming months, while its Vancouver and recently launched Tel Aviv routes will see the aircraft deployed in March.