Is Virgin Atlantic finally about to join an alliance?

Bloomberg recently reported that Sir Richard Branson has stated that Virgin Atlantic is in ‘fairly advanced talks’ to join one of the major airline alliances.

The phrase ‘about time’ is the one that instantly springs to mind.  Despite having Singapore Airlines, a member of Star Alliance, as a 49% shareholder, Virgin Atlantic has been going it alone since it launched.  And, for a relatively small airline, going it alone is no longer a cosy place to be.

To be fair, Virgin is not short of commercial partners.  If you collect Virgin Flying Club miles, you are not restricted to earning or spending on just Virgin Atlantic.  It has arrangements with Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Cyrus Airways, Gulf Air, Hawaiian, Jet Airways, Malaysia, SAS, Singapore Airlines, South African, US Airways, Virgin America and Virgin Australia.  However, these are generally restrictive – usually only allowing you to earn or redeem on selected routes.

Joining a full alliance, Virgin Flying Club miles would be freely spendable across a wide range of airlines, across all routes and classes.  This would make them far more valuable and make Virgin a far stronger competitior to Avios / British Airways Executive Club.

Virgin will never join oneworld, since BA is a core member.  That leaves SkyTeam and Star Alliance.

Skyteam is seen by many as the favourite, because Virgin Atlantic would bring in a number of destinations that Skyteam does not already serve.  However, the reason that Virgin would bring a lot to SkyTeam is that SkyTeam is basically a club of losers!

That may sound a little harsh, but it is difficult to know how else to describe a grouping of Air France, Delta, Korean Airlines, Czech Airways, Aeroflot, Alitalia, Saudia etc.  I can honestly say that of the 18 SkyTeam members (see here) there isn’t a single one I am desperate to try out.  Even the convenience of Air France / KLM for a UK resident is offset by the blocking of First Class awards to SkyTeam partners and their poor business class offerings.

Star Alliance, by far, provides the better option.  Virgin would be joining a grouping of 27 other airlines including some of the best on the planet, including its 49% shareholder Singapore.  Virgin would also fill the gap left in Star Alliance for a UK member following the takeover of bmi by BA.  However, Virgin doesn’t add much in way of new destinations for Star.

I am hoping for a move to Star.  It would allow me an easy route for redeeming my Amex Membership Rewards points for Star redemptions.  Star is also good for availability, especially with the European partners of Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian and Turkish – far better than Avios availability.  Add all that to the Virgin earning routes via their UK credit card and Tesco points conversion, and you would have a real winner as far as I am concerned.

The wind seems to be blowing slightly towards SkyTeam, however.  Let’s hope not.  In any event, an announcement seems a while off and it would still take a year or so for the airline to officially join.

(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles? Click here to see recent articles on Virgin Atlantic, Little Red and Flying Club, and click here for the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

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Comments

  1. I still miss the golden days when I could fly VA and credit to BMI, earning Avios for my flight!

  2. Sadly, I think VS will join ScaryTeam. Virgin Australia are already tightly bound into DL for their flights to the US, and they’re promising flights to the UK soon. I guess they’d prefer to be the coolest kid in a class full of dorks.

  3. “I am hoping for a move to Star. It would allow me an easy route for redeeming my Amex Membership Rewards points for Star redemptions.” – I’m sure I’ve missed something here (so I apologise in advance!) but don’t MR points already convert to Singapore Airlines miles (whatever they’re called)? If so I don’t understand why the addition of Virgin to *A would make any difference.

    • Yes they do. And to SAS. But each programme has different award charts, different rules on whether you can do one-ways, different cancellation fees, different miles expiry policies.

      Of course, VS has MASSIVE problems with its programme. Especially cancellation, where you lose 25% of your miles if you cancel your booking AND you don’t get back the fuel surcharge, so effectively a £300 cancellation fee. That would be a £1,200 hit should my family of four cancel a redemption booking, plus the loss of miles. Truly shocking.

      What I don’t get with SAS or Singapore is Amex transfer bonuses, WorldPoints conversion, Tesco conversion or the chance to redeem on that many direct flights from the UK. Of course, if Virgin join Star and keep such crazy cancellation policies for Star redemptions then I would only redeem through them in extreme cases anyway where I knew I wouldn’t cancel.

  4. Christophe says:

    Are you sure Skyteam is a club of losers ?
    Cathay is definitively better and more usufull for european travellers than KE as LAN is compared to aeromexico + Aerolinas Argentina (but what about the future of Lan into Oneworld ?). But what about Mainland China ? 4 airlines in Skyteam and none in Oneworld …
    What about American vs Delta, BA vs AF, S7 vs Aeroflot, Finnair vs KLM, Malev (oups !) vs Czech, (still alive) Royal Jordanian vs MEA + Saudia, Iberia vs AIr Europa + the new Alitalia ???
    And what about the poor business class offering of AF/KLM ? Should you speak about award bookings availability, then it’s definitively better with AF/.KLM than with BA.