End of an era as Virgin Atlantic stops its free Upper Class chauffeur service

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Virgin Atlantic has announced that it is ending its free Upper Class chauffeur service.

It will still be around for a few weeks before it stops.  Virgin Atlantic will honour it for all qualifying bookings made until 30th June, which theoretically could mean that people are still using it in May 2021.

In reality, given that it is now restricted to full fare Upper Class ticket holders – and these are typically short notice bookings – the service will be pretty much done and dusted by the end of July.

I used this service a couple of times.  The first time was probably 20 years ago when I flew Virgin Atlantic to Johannesburg whilst working on a banking project there.  As a relatively young guy, and in the days before you could order a top-end Mercedes from Uber or Wheely via your smartphone for a few pounds, it felt very glamorous.

Virgin Atlantic closing its free chauffeur service

The chauffeur car service even led to physical changes at the airline.  Heathrow Terminal 3 was redeveloped to allow Virgin Atlantic to offer drive-thru check in via the Upper Class Wing (picture above).  You could hop out of your car and directly into the airport via a dedicated channel.  I assume this feature will remain, although whether your Uber driver can find it is a different question.

In recent years the number of people who could use the service was restricted.  The current rules are:

you must be flying on a J, C or D class Upper Class cash ticket (flexible or semi-flexible)

…. booked directly with Virgin Atlantic, and

…. flying on a Virgin Atlantic aircraft, not Delta or another codeshare

In the announcement yesterday, which is hidden away on the website here and only visible if you click ‘Other Travel News’, it says that:

“In recent years, of the 20% of Upper Class customers that are eligible for a complimentary transfer, fewer than 50% choose to use one.”

50% seems like a decent take-up to me.  However, as the service includes not just chauffeur cars but also limobikes and Heathrow and Gatwick Express tickets, you should also assume that there were some marketing failures.  After all, you had to get to the airport somehow!  I admit, however, that the hassle of claiming a (relatively) cheap rail ticket might have been more trouble than it was worth.

Virgin Atlantic closing its free chauffeur service

There is also the ‘benefit’ that:

“we’ll be providing a consistent experience with our partners Delta, Air France and KLM”

…. although ‘lowest common denominator’ was never a Virgin Atlantic aim.

It is tricky to see this as a major cost saving measure.  Let’s do the maths:

there are 44 Upper Class seats on an A350

let’s assume 75% load factor, so 33 seats filled

of which only 20% qualify for the chauffeur service, ie 6 people

of which only 50% were actually using it, ie 3 people

of which, at a guess, a third took the cheap option of a train ticket

This meant that Virgin Atlantic would be funding four chauffeur trips per flight (one at each end of the flight for two people) at a maximum cost of possibly £400.  Frankly, I would have expected Virgin Atlantic to absorb £400 per flight purely for the marketing value of being seen to offer the service.

Virgin Atlantic closing its free chauffeur service

The trend, of course, is against inclusive car services.  Etihad and Emirates have both made sharp cutbacks to eligibility and no longer offer cars on reward flights in Business Class.  I have taken advantage of many of these over the years.

Lots of people will drive you to your plane door these days.  Air France and Lufthansa – and even British Airways if you are important enough and running late – will drive you across the tarmac to your flight if hold the right class of ticket.

(It’s odd how Virgin Atlantic isn’t bringing itself ‘in line with its partners’ by driving you to your aircraft like Air France does in First Class!)

At London City Airport (First Class Lounge review) or Manchester Airport (PremiAir review) you can be driven to your plane, after checking in at a VIP terminal, for £95 or £100 respectively.  Signature also lets you use their VIP terminals at Gatwick (Signature Elite Gatwick review) and Luton (Signature ELITE Luton review) amongst others.

It looks like the days of being driven from the airport to your home for free, however, are numbered.

For now, you can still find details of the Virgin Atlantic chauffeur service on its website here.

Virgin Atlantic closing its free chauffeur service

How to earn Virgin Atlantic miles from UK credit cards

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Flying Club miles 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 Flying Club miles.  That page is regularly updated with the latest special offers and will still be accurate even if you are reading this article months after publication.

You should also take a look at the article we ran recently on the top 10 reasons to get the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard credit card.

(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles?  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.)

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Comments

  1. Remember some folks will have been getting to the airport via other flights too…

    Integration of ex-Flybe connections will be much more useful for non-Londoners!

  2. Definitely poorly marketed. I’ve had colleagues who failed to know that transfers were available to them. If you book via our corporate platform (Concur), there’s no clear indication that a transfer is available. Even if you manage your booking on the Virgin site, it’s still not obvious.

    IMO the best benefit of this was getting the transfer at your destination airport too. You arrive with jet lag and typically there’d be a Virgin Agent ready to meet you just after baggage reclaim.

    All that said, most corporate travellers (who will actually be on tickets with this perk) will likely be able to expense transfers anyway.

    • Yes the transfers at the other end were always the part I valued.

      To/from central London it was ok for early flights, but later in the day the traffic made train+taxi the faster option.

    • Oh! Matron! says:

      Had a transfer from JFK to EWR (*) with Virgin’s service and can tell you that it was worth the expense.

      (*) really long story, bets told over a decent malbec

    • That’s probably part of the issue. Does Concur adjust its ‘must book cheapest ticket’ to reflect the £100 saving on taxis to and from the airport? No.

      • Back when bmi (remember them?) offered free airport transfers on their Moscow flights, the travel team at my then employer didn’t even know anything about it.

        That said, I’m also always suspicious about reliability of airline arranged transfers; I almost missed an EY flight once when the included transfer failed to show up at my hotel in Abu Dhabi. The airline didn’t care, other than offering to reimburse the taxi fare (£10?).

  3. OT – but the mention of being driven to the plane reminded me…

    Has anyone here used the Fattal private terminal outbound at TLV?

    We will be going there in a while and I was thinking of using it on the return (via BA), to save time and hassle, plus the lounge itself looks better than the ones in the man terminal.

  4. “It’s odd how Virgin Atlantic isn’t bringing itself ‘in line with its partners’ by driving you to your aircraft like Air France does in First Class!”

    Come on Rob, you can do better than that.
    Upper Class isn’t a First Class product as well you know.

  5. Remember it was potentially four limo journeys you got – one waiting for you in arrivals when you landed and then back to the airport to fly back to the UK.

    • Yes, by ‘flight’ in the article I meant ‘sector’.

      Emirates / Etihad were potentially offering EIGHT free cars per return flight if you did a stopover!

  6. “Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Wing” is in the Addison Lee destination list – so they should be able to find it (use your £10 Amex credit too!)

  7. Will this be the end of Tristar/Addison Lee?

    • Unlikely, although if EK were to drop Chauffeur Drive as well that would undoubtedly be a massive combined blow to them. Addison Lee itself isn’t in the best of shape and I have a feeling Tristar is probably the bit that actually makes a decent profit.

      • Yes, Addison Lee is reportedly close to receivership because of the huge amount of debt that the original private equity deal injected into it.

        • Fares higher than a black cab for short distances in London wouldn’t have anything to do with it, I’m sure.

        • Lady London says:

          I really don’t know why the regulators have continued not taking action on this standard private equity technique.

          • Which is the reason why Thomas Cook went bust, too much debt from the Private Equity company.

          • No it wasn’t, Thomas Cook was a quoted company.

          • In that case they should probably stop people borrowing large multiples of salary for their mortgage too, since both carry a risk of default.

            The problem is that banks systematically underprice risk, not helped by the fact that bankers are incentivised by large bonuses to get money out of the door. Who cares if the loan fails in 5 years?

          • Lady London says:

            As an ex-Private Equity person I am sure you know it’s a bit more complicated than that Rob.

    • Maybe if Addison Lee go bust, AMEX platinum will offer Uber credit instead, as they do in the US!

  8. When we first started flying Virgin Atlantic for the first year or two they included the chauffeur even on points bookings. For us, traveling from San Diego to Los Angeles that was a real benefit. Back then they also had in air massages (neck & shoulders) which we loved.
    And complimentary Bumble & Bumble haircuts at LHR. You are right. End of an era.

  9. The Original David says:

    What the hell is a limobike?

    • Shoestring says:

      We use Yamaha FJR1300’s (with ABS) which have been fitted with a rear seat back to give passengers total confidence while on the move. They have been fitted with a bluetooth intercom and phone so you can talk to the rider in transit and even make and receive phone calls.
      https://limobike.com/about/

      • Lady London says:

        Bankers used to think they were so trendy using it.

        • Not quite! None of my colleagues ever tried it and I would never consider it.

          • Lady London says:

            As a motorcyclist I agree with you. However some colleagues proudly said each time it was the only way to cut through the traffic to a flight. They did also think they were trendy also and for sure it sold Virgin seats.

  10. I only managed to use it once, years ago, soon after the Gatwick services started. Seemed pretty impressive as a once only Virgin business flight as I remember.

  11. Most useful location for me was always JFK, which is a long way from downtown Manhattan, (unless you go by chopper!)
    I remember buying the VS limo service for 10k (or 15k?) miles when on a G fare to JFK.

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