Virgin Australia is strategically important because they’re one of two significant airlines in Australia. Qantas is closely tied through a joint venture with American Airlines. So most airlines outside of the oneworld alliance (and Emirates) go looking for domestic feed for their long haul Australia routes with their competitor, Virgin Australia.
Virgin Down Under has been linked with Delta Air Lines through a joint business venture, leaving United Airlines in the cold. Its Australia flights have largely had to survive on local market passengers, rather than connecting people from all over Australia.
That’s changing. United and Virgin Australia just announced a partnership set to begin “in early 2022.” And Virgin Australia will no longer partner with Delta.
The United-Virgin partnership will offer:
- Earn and burn miles across both airlines. United MileagePlus members will be able to use United’s flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Sydney (as well as Houston and Melbourne routes once they return) and connect onward to other destinations in Australia as part of the same award.
- Reciprocal elite benefits including priority check-in, boarding, baggage, and security as well as extra baggage allowance and lounge access
United even notes that Virgin Australia will start selling United codeshares on its website and only then begin selling other airline partner codeshares online.
Virgin Australia used to be a great partner to have for redeeming Delta miles on flights between the US and Australia. Half a dozen years ago it was possible to get multiple business class redemption seats most of the time across several routes. Shortly afterward they began limiting availability to within two weeks of travel most of the time, severely curtailing redemption options between the U.S. and Australia because they had been the primary way to redeem at the saver level.
Those days are long gone and post-bankruptcy Virgin Australia isn’t flying to the U.S. Delta suspended its joint venture when the airline ceased serving Los Angeles a little over a year ago. Now United makes more sense for them as a partner because Delta had just a single U.S. flight while United gives them greater reach into the States. And this gives United a domestic Australian partner.
Virgin Australia, by the way, became an Air Canada Aeroplan partner earlier this year so the move isn’t entirely surprising.