Worst Reason Ever To End an Airline Frequent Flyer Partnership?

On Tuesday I wrote that Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic would be ending their partnership November 13. It will no longer be possible to earn Virgin America miles flying Virgin Atlantic and vice versa. And it will no longer be possible to redeem Virgin America miles for travel on Virgin Atlantic and vice versa.

This was done without much notice to members. It wasn’t listed on either airline’s website, and neither airline has as of yet emailed members. Virgin America agents were briefed and sharing the details with customers who asked, while Virgin Atlantic agents appeared to know nothing about it.

After I covered the change, Virgin Atlantic reached out with a statement:

We are introducing some exciting changes to our loyalty programme, Flying Club, to offer our members more value for their loyalty. Alongside these changes, we are also changing our membership numbers, offering members a single lifetime membership number so that they can keep it as they move between our Flying Club tiers. Most of our partners have been able to accommodate this change, however, it isn’t compatible with Virgin America’s current system. Unfortunately, this means that the reciprocal agreement with Virgin America will come to an end on 12th November. There will still be many opportunities for our customers to use their miles with many different partners. More information can be found: www.virginatlantic.com/discoverflyingclub.

We will be unable to accept any new reward bookings on Virgin America from 12 November 2016. Any reward bookings made and ticketed on Virgin America prior to this date will be honoured.

Members will be able to earn miles when travelling on Virgin America up to and including 12 November 2016. Members will have 6 months after this date to retrospectively claim for miles for travel up to and including 12 November 2016.

Crucially, Virgin Atlantic says the last day of the partnership is November 12, while Virgin America had told me it was November 13 when I asked.

It seemed like Alaska’s pending acquisition of Virgin America could have been an issue here. Alaska is a British Airways partner, and Delta owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic. Meanwhile Virgin Atlantic’s own devalued program starts November 13.

If a new agreement needed to be negotiated (so that Virgin Atlantic customers wouldn’t overwhelmingly benefit by defecting to the Virgin America program) it might not have seemed worthwhile going through the exercise for a short time.

Virgin Atlantic, though, says the reason for the termination is because of changing IT requirements. And I get that IT is hard. However,

  • Virgin Atlantic also partners with Air China and Hawaiian Airlines and isn’t severing those relationships.

  • Meanwhile Virgin America manages to successfully partner with Hawaiian, Emirates, and Virgin Australia among others.

  • What’s more, it’s not as though Virgin America is using an obscure data platform. Sure, they launched with Travelport’s disastrous airRES, but they moved to Sabre in 2011.

  • Heck, United manages to partner with Air India.

Taking “IT constraints” and suggesting those are fixed strikes me as the worst reason ever to end a frequent flyer partnership.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. And as someone who has never worked for an airline who are you to say? Surely the responsible individuals know more than the self-professed “thought leader”. So after you’ve harped on AA enough you move onto Virgin Atlantic? Seriously Gary give it a break, you seem to have an axe to grind.

  2. Dumbass Josh G is back defending anything an airline’s PR shop says no matter how asinine.

  3. Actually if you look under the partners on the Virgin America site, it states that Nov. 13 is the cutoff date. It also states that Virgin Atlantic’s changes are the reason for the cutoff.

  4. Anytime a press release begins with “We are introducing some exciting changes”, you know you’re in trouble.

  5. @swag, Yeah, kind of like when your boss says “Can you step into my office for a moment??”.
    It’s not going to be good….

  6. @Chris Jensen – I meant to suggest that there was no indication on the site *on Tuesday*. And my contention is that the ‘technical limitations’ explanation isn’t credible, they are CHOOSING not to overcome the technical challenges, so the reason for the end to the partnership is the reason they are making that choice.

  7. From talking to CSRs at both VS and VX previously a lot of partner earnings was worked out by emailing a spreadsheet to eachother. The idea that VX won’t support VS’s new “single membership number” system is patently ridiculous.

    I wish politics wouldn’t always get in the way of the truth.

  8. I agree it’s simply because VX is going to be AS, plain and simple. But I don’t get why this is being cut off so soon as the merger hasn’t concluded yet.

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