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Virgin Atlantic guts its network – Tokyo, Cape Town, Mumbai, Vancouver scrapped

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If anyone was still wondering why US airline Delta bought 49% of Virgin Atlantic last year, the answer is now clear.  It intends to turn it into a UK – US feeder service for its own routes.

That is the only interpretation you can have following the major announcement Virgin made yesterday.  It is scrapping its routes to Tokyo, Cape Town, Mumbai and Vancouver.  Sydney was dropped earlier in the year.

In return, it is increasing frequencies to various US destinations.

The full details can be found here on the Virgin Atlantic website.  In summary:

Virgin Atlantic

New flights:

5th daily flight from Heathrow to New York JFK

2nd daily flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles

2nd daily flight in Summer from Heathrow to Atlanta

5 additional flights per week in Summer from Heathrow to San Francisco

2nd daily flight in Winter from Heathrow to Miami

The following changes are being made with Delta:

Virgin to take over Heathrow to Detroit from Delta, this becomes a year-round rather than Summer-only service

Virgin to take over Manchester to Atlanta, in return for Delta taking one Heathrow to Newark service

Delta to launch Manchester to New York

The following routes are being scrapped:

Tokyo, as of 31st January

Mumbai, as of 31st January

Vancouver, as of 11th October (was Summer only)

Cape Town, as of 26th April (was Winter only)

If you booked on any of the cancelled services, Virgin is being very non-committal about what will happen to you:

What are the options available for passengers?

We will discuss options with passengers and will consider offering a full refund or rebooking them onto another carrier.

The telephone number to call if you are impacted is here at the bottom of the page.

None of this should come as much of a surprise, of course.  Virgin Atlantic has been losing money for a long time.  The on-board Upper Class product and service – which admittedly I have not flown in a long time – is generally unpopular with the business community.

Whilst Virgin Holidays does an excellent job of filling the economy seats, the real money is in the pointy end.

The airline is also surprisingly low-key in its promotional activity.  It is rare (at least, rare compared to BA and the Middle Eastern carriers) that I write about a Virgin fare sale in premium classes.

UK-US air routes are amongst the most profitable in the world, commanding high premium fares for relatively short distances.  You can’t blame Delta for insisting that Virgin focusses its activities there.

It also punches another hole in the Heathrow expansion argument.  We are constantly told that there is huge untapped demand for more flights to India, for example, yet both UK airlines have cut back massively in recent years.  If Virgin cannot make Tokyo work, you have to question how they would make money flying to second-tier cities in China.

The question now is how much more of the Virgin route network is safe.  The Dubai route must be getting crowded out by multiple BA, Emirates and Etihad services.  The Hong Kong route has lost its onwards connecting passengers who continued to Sydney.  Is there really a lot of premium traffic to Delhi?  The others look a little more secure but lets see.


HFP Virgin Atlantic Rewards credit card

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (November 2020)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Points

As well as the two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (see here, one has a bonus of 15,000 Points), you can also earn from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.

(Want to earn more Virgin Points?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

Comments (74)

  • Paul says:

    Gutted. I have a lot of flying miles which i had intended on using on the cut routes. I am glad I switched most of my my CC expenditure to BA though i’d rather fly UC than CW. The double blow is that with less capacity to the routes Virgin have cut I can see premium cabin redemption availability becoming scarce. I will probably cancel my Black Virgin Amex.

    • ankomonkey says:

      Very similar to me. I have 270k VS miles saved up for 6 redemptions on the NRT route. I will almost certainly let my VS silver status lapse (not that it got me much anyway) and will cancel my 2 VS credit cards. VS was easier and cheaper to redeem on than BA. I see already scarce BA availability tightening. Much of my motivation for collecting airline miles has been crushed by the cancellation of this one route.

  • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    I thought LON-CPT was a packed route with high revenue per pax ever since SAA pulled out. This must be an absolute cash cow now that BA is running a monopoly using A380s.

  • Jon says:

    I’m directly affected by two of these cuts – I fly to Tokyo around 4 times a year on Virgin and do the Vancouver route to visit the in-laws usually once a year.

    Regarding Tokyo, I’m surprised by this because the pointy end of the plane always seemed full when I flew out there. In fact, I thought they were planning to move their operations from Narita to Haneda earlier this year. So now I’ll be looking at Singapore Airlines indirect routings rather than flying BA to Japan in future.

    For Vancouver I’m not as surprised – especially as they never flew there during ski season, which, given the popularity of Whistler etc. following the Winter Olympics in 2010, I would have thought would be a no-brainer. Now there’s only BA or Air Canada flying direct there, neither of which are a particularly appealing business class product.

    I have to seriously consider whether to maintain status with Virgin next year. With fewer places I’m interested in going to for miles redemptions and an ageing business class product, I suspect I’ll have to move my focus elsewhere.

    One final thing – I don’t get why they’re continually trying to increase their links to the US, which is already massively over-served by the BAAA near-monopoly, along with a myriad of US carriers. Surely it would make more sense to differentiate by extending East and South rather than West?

    But then I obviously don’t know the details of their revenue by route over the last few years, so it presumably makes sense to them…

    • Tim says:

      But the money is in flying to the US. Going East would just mean competing against the lower cost carriers like Emirates and co. Not sure how much more there is going south? They pulled out of Accra last year and obviously aren’t doing too well to Cape Town. At least to the US, they have all the support of Delta and its hubs

  • Oh! Matron! says:

    I’m at a loss as to what to do. Most of my flights do tend to be North America and I don’t mind changing to get somewhere. However, I really don’t know if I should keep shovelling money into VS’s Flying Club. Do I move to BA? Do I move to *Alliance…. Do any of the * Alliance big guys (united, luthansa, etc) status match with my FC Gold? Apart from Aegean, Turkish, etc

    • James67 says:

      Have a close look at Delta Skymiles, it might help focus your thoughts.

      • Mikeact says:

        ‘Focus’, definitely. Do your homework before signing up. A lot of very unhappy Delta’s over there.

  • James Ward says:

    For now, at least, there doesn’t seem to be any problem rebooking. I had two award seats booked for NRT next April and have just been offered a choice of BA or ANA for rebooking. Presumably, these will book into a (Avios earning) revenue class…

    • MDM says:

      They seem to be booking VS G (UC rewards seats) into ANA Z (Business revenue seats).

      I was not given a choice but would choose ANA Business over BA Club if I had.

      • Lady London says:

        I think you will be safe. The one place VS is NOT going to rebook you, ever, is BA !!!

        • James Ward says:

          Not true – they’re rebooking my partner and me on BA. I would have preferred ANA but the connections back up to Manchester weren’t as good and *A points are not as much use to me as the Avios I’ll earn from flying BA revenue fares.

  • Billy says:

    Virgin are investing in new product, they are trialling it on some flights.

    This is VS returning to it’s routes – they never dropped “Atlantic” from it’s name.

    • MDM says:

      This may be true but it is a long way from the vision I imagine SRB had a few years ago for his airline! Otherwise why go to the trouble and expense of setting up routes such as SYD or HKG?

      Returning to their roots maybe but a big step backwards in many ways.

      But they have gotta do what they have gotta do.

      Why they suddenly drop the routes and disrupt so many (often brand loyal) customers plans is uncertain. this was clearly not a snap decision. Why not just stop taking bookings from T-360 days (or whatever)?

      But I am not a bean counter.

  • CV3V says:

    I did an economy flight with Delta to New York years ago, we got pizza and ice cream, it was great!

    The addition of an extra Las Vegas flight is good news though isn’t it? It has always been a popular route and tricky to get reward availability.

    Slightly O/T but bear in mind that MAS will be up next with its list of route cuts. For oneworld redemptions to the far east starting in Europe (to avoid UK taxes/levys etc etc) please bear in mind the route cuts being discussed include AMS, FRA and CDG – also given the value of the LHR slots perhaps even they aren’t safe.

    • JQ says:

      So the highlight of flying DL was a pizza and ice cream…

      • CV says:

        Yes! That and the flight beginning in Edinburgh and not London, a much more relaxing experience.

        At the time Continental had just started on the route and were offering return economy flights for £160 (ish), good ol’ days.

    • Malaysian have already said they won’t be dropping LHR and they’ll continue to operate the A380 on this route for all flights.

  • pazza2000 says:

    Hopefully the increase on the LAS / LAX routes will have a positive effect on award availability.