Most frequent travellers acknowledge that, whatever they may think of Virgin Atlantic’s on-board product, the ground service at Heathrow (and to a lesser extent Gatwick) is unbeatable. It certainly leaves British Airways a long way behind, even with all the improvements from Terminal 5.
If you fly Virgin Upper Class on a fully-flexible cash ticket, you get all of these extra benefits:
- A chauffeur driven car to and from the airport (75 miles radius)
- At Heathrow, be dropped off at the Upper Class Wing, a drive-in / walk-through private area, with your baggage unloaded and checked in for you
- At Heathrow, use a private security channel (fast-track security pass at Gatwick)
- Access to the Virgin Clubhouse lounge – the Heathrow one is generally seen as one of the top 10 airline lounges in the world
Guest List allows you to access all of these benefits if you are flying in Economy or Premium Economy.
The Guest List service is now a year old. If I am totally honest, I did not expect it to last this long – I genuinely didn’t think that enough people would pay the money. It seems that I was wrong – or that Virgin has a very modest new business target.
The price list (and full details) can be found here. It goes from £240 for one person, one way, up to £3,600 for nine people who require a car to and from the airport on both the outbound and return flight.
As a first birthday promotion, Virgin is currently offering 5,000 Flying Club miles with the purchase of a ‘Guest List’ package. This is a one-off award per booking, so it has more impact on a booking for one person – I doubt it would swing the decision of anyone contemplating paying £680 for a family of four.
The core market, of course, is not the family market but corporates who want to trade down from Upper Class to save money but retain access to its perks.
I would say that this service works best if:
- You live nearly 75 miles from the airport, and would otherwise have a hefty taxi bill or car parking bill
- You are going to Heathrow, where the facilities are substantially better than those at Gatwick (no drive-through check-in, no private security and immigration)
- You do not have Virgin status which would otherwise get you Clubhouse access
- You will have enough free time at the airport to enjoy some of the amazing features of the Clubhouse
- You are not travelling with children (kids over 2 count as a ‘person’ for the purpose of calculating your fee)
For me, it would be a poor deal. We will soon have 2 kids over 2 years old and we live relatively close to Heathrow (a £50 taxi ride). £680 one-way would effectively mean paying £630 (knocking off the cost of a taxi) for private security and immigration and lounge access – not a great deal. However, if I lived 70 miles from Heathrow with, say, a £150 taxi bill and was travelling alone, the £240 fee would not look too bad. 5,000 Flying Club miles on top may even be enough to swing it.
(Thanks to Duncan)