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Virgin Atlantic used the cover of New Year’s day (a day when a lot of people aren’t paying attention to the miles & points world) to cynically increase the cost of a significant number of awards for travel with Delta without any notice whatsoever. Now, it would appear as if Virgin may be about to backtrack on some of the changes and that we may see entirely different award costs (for some routes) appear at some point this week.
What Did Virgin Atlantic Do?
On New Year’s day, Virgin Atlantic unveiled a new distance-based award chart for award bookings on flights operated by Delta.
For flights between the UK and the US, Virgin Atlantic maintained its usual region-based standard and peak season award charts (mileage costs are for roundtrip travel)…
…but for all other Delta operated awards, the chart now looks like this (mileage costs are for one-way travel):
Moving to a completely distance-based award chart for most awards booked on Delta has seen a variety of one-way Business Class awards increase between 100% and 175% while a few Economy Class awards actually dropped in cost.
Whichever way you look at it, this news equated to a massive devaluation of Virgin Atlantic’s already weak loyalty currency and the fact that this was all done without notice and on a day that was clearly chosen as a good day to bury bad news, just makes things worse.
Devaluations are a fact of life in the miles and points world and that’s just something we all have to deal with and move on from. No one, however, should have to deal with an airline gutting a significant aspect of its loyalty program with no notice. That sort of behavior is pathetic and shameful.
Well, apparently the folks in charge of Virgin Atlantic’s award charts are incompetent as well as shameless and underhand.
Head For Points has been officially told that the charts displayed on the Virgin Atlantic website are incorrect and that the new distance-based award chart is not meant to apply to routes operated by the Virgin Atlantic/Delta/Air France/KLM joint venture. The joint venture doesn’t cover domestic flights within the US or non-transatlantic flights but it does cover most routes that Delta operates between the US and Europe.
On the face of things, that sounds like a little bit of good news but there’s a sting in the tail to what HeadForPoints has been told. A further update from Virgin reportedly said the following:
“With regards to US-Europe flights, we are still finalising the details on the pricing on these routes and the website does not currently reflect the final prices. This will be updated early next week and we will be in contact with clarification.”
Ok, so what appears to have happened is that Virgin Atlantic was in such a hurry to get the devaluation done on 1 January (when it hoped as few people as possible would notice) that it published the new award chart without actually knowing what the final award chart would look like.
Let’s just pause to think about that for a moment. By its own admission, Virgin Atlantic chose to publish utter garbage rather than wait a few days until it had all the details of the devaluation agreed.
That’s just incredible.
Also, that’s not the end of the bad news.
Not only will the new distance-based award chart apply to Delta’s domestic and transpacific routes, but the new pricing will also apply to transatlantic bookings that involve a domestic connection.
If you’re booking an award for non-stop travel between Atlanta and Paris (for example) the cost of that award will be based on whatever chart Virgin Atlantic ends up publishing at some point this week. If, however, you’re booking an award for travel between Orlando and Paris that routes through Atlanta, the cost of the award will be based on the new distance-based chart. That’s going to be a very expensive award to book.
Virgin Atlantic is now charging up to 175% more for select Business Class awards flown on Delta but we won’t actually know how much Delta awards across the Atlantic (excluding the UK) will cost until the team in charge of Virgin’s award charts gets its act together and corrects the error from New Year’s day.
This whole episode has done Virgin Atlantic no favors whatsoever. The airline’s entire brand is based around being warm, caring, and customer-friendly but it’s hard to push that image when no notice devaluations like this make it very clear that underneath the veneer, lies a cold and calculating corporation that’s really no better than any other airline out there.
A little ironically, Virgin Atlantic has always made a big noise about how it’s more of a people’s airline than British Airways and how it’s a lot more caring too, but in the cold light of day isn’t Virgin’s latest move one of the most “British Airways” things that it has ever done?