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.)