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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:

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.


How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (February 2024)

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

You can choose from two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (apply here, the Reward+ card has a bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points):

Virgin Money is offering double points on spending until 14th April (£5,000 cap) to new customers when you apply for the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard. Click here to learn more.

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

15,000 bonus points and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend Read our full review

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard

A generous earning rate for a free card at 0.75 points per £1 Read our full review

You can also earn Virgin Points from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for a year and comes with 20,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 20,000 Virgin Points.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 40,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 40,000 Virgin Points.

The Platinum Card from American Express

40,000 bonus points and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Small business owners should consider the two American Express Business cards. Points convert at 1:1 into Virgin Points.

American Express Business Platinum

Crazy 120,000 points bonus (to 9th April) and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

Huge 60,000 points sign-up bonus (until 9th April) and free for a year Read our full review

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

(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 (73)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Tim Tinsley says:

    Just a word of caution to those that have flights booked using virgin miles. When virgin pulled the Sydney service I had upper class seats booked using miles. Initially they only offered me economy seats on cathay. In the flying club t and c , it states that for cancelled flights they will only rebook in economy. It’s good to see that it appears that they are not using that clause this time either, but this is a nasty sting in the tail of the t and c’s. I don’t know if other ff schemes have the same clause.

    In the end I got business seats booked in revenue so ended up earning avios pts!

  • Charlie says:

    I flew Virgin upper class to Tokyo using miles, it was a fantastic experience, this was 2 years ago and the flight was almost empty. At the time I knew things were bad because some Virgin flights to
    Tokyo were scrapped on the same week, I think it was a reduction in frequency. I can’t see this happening with HKG though as i often fly this route and it is very popular.

  • Kwab Asare says:

    Virgin also have a sizeable Japanese speaking crew employed on the LHR-NRT route. All very friendly but not all speak great English so I guess we could see some ‘restructuring’ going on….

  • Victor says:

    I have a flight booked in March to Tokyo, as the booking was through LastMinute.com on calling Virgin they said call LM, on calling LM there was nothing that they could do as apparently the flight is operating!? Yesterday you could still book the flights on the Virgin website after the announcement. How long does it take the news to filter through to agents? I am keen to get a re-booking on ANA rather than a refund as fares have gone up between booking and now.

  • James says:

    The last thing anyone needed was another daily LHR-NYC rotation, how many is that now? :/

    • olireaction says:

      Evidently there is demand for another NYC rotation or they wouldn’t be adding it! Its important to offer more daily rotations to secure corporate contracts too, which are very valuable to the airline – more so than extra holiday makers…
      I’m devastated at the loss of NRT, but if it makes VS profitable again so be it. If they can’t survive then my VS miles really will be worth nothing!

  • Lady London says:

    I’m wondering has anyone noticed any chance in the Virgin T3 lounge due to any influx of
    Delta passengers?

    • Rob says:

      Probably lots of ex-Delta lounge visitors going “wow, you mean the alcohol is free in here?”

  • ABC says:

    Shouldn’t we expect VS to introduce short haul traffic to major cities in central Europe? LHR is not a hub for Sky team. It’s currently more flexible to enter the EU via CDG and AMS.

    • Rob says:

      It would be very difficult given their current slots. If you have a landing and take-off slot 12 hours apart, to facilitate a New York return, you can’t do much with that in terms of European short-hauls. I doubt Little Red’s weak performance has given them any incentive.

  • Keith Priestnal says:

    I am gutted at the loss of the direct Cape Town flight. It mat have something to do with the withdrawal of the A340 but a major holiday destination lost unless travel via other hubs.
    This leaves the only direct flight from the UK is BA. Very disappointed.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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