Why the Virgin Australia-Virgin Atlantic alliance matters
With ACCC approval granted, Virgin flyers won't have to make so many phone calls.
Last Friday, regulator the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) effectively gave provisional approval for Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic to more closely cooperate on aligning flights over five years.
While the two airlines both license the Virgin brand (enjoy the cash, Mr Branson), that doesn't automatically mean that they co-ordinate schedules or do any of that major other airline partner stuff. Doing that at scale normally requires regulatory approval, since it can potentially diminish competition from other airlines on the same routes.
That said, the two Virgin-branded airlines have offered codeshare-connected flights since May 2018, allowing you to fly Virgin Australia from Australia to Hong Kong and then connect to Virgin Atlantic services to London.
You can also redeem Velocity Points for Virgin Atlantic flights, although there's no option to do that online – you're stuck with ringing a Velocity call centre instead.
Given that Virgin Australia isn't a member of any of the major airline alliances, those are both potentially useful perks. So what difference will full cooperation make?
The most obvious is greater co-ordination of Virgin Australia flights to Los Angeles to meet connecting services to the UK and Ireland. Bluntly, this is never going to be as seamless as flying through Hong Kong, because you'll have to clear US customs even if you have no intention of staying in the country. But fully linked schedules would mean a bit less cursing as you race through LAX. (There will always be some cursing because, well, you're in LAX.)
Getting those flights via the USA better co-ordinated is certainly at the top of the ACCC's list.
"In authorising this cooperation, we expect to see improvements to the carriers' schedules and services to passengers," ACCC commissioner Stephen Ridgeway said.
From a frequent flyer point of view, the other key change is the promise of "enhanced frequent flyer and lounge cooperation". Being able to book Virgin Atlantic reward flights directly from Velocity itself would certainly be a big improvement on the current arrangement. And that is one of the options that has been promised, as the ACCC determination ruling notes:
the [partnership] would enable further opportunities to earn points (from new connections), reciprocal 'bonus points' and upgrade arrangements, automation of rewards and tier status recognition, and the introduction of online points redemption facilities.
The ACCC ruling is a draft determination, not a final decision. It has invited submissions on the proposal up until 4 October and expects a final decision by November. At this stage, it seems unlikely full approval won't be granted. I'll be watching with interest, and contemplating some Virgin Atlantic bookings as part of my 2020 flight goals.
Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on Finder.
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