After many, many years of resisting alliance membership – first Star Alliance when Singapore Airlines owned 49% of the airline, and more latterly SkyTeam when Delta Air Lines bought 49% – Virgin Atlantic has bitten the bullet.
Virgin Atlantic will join the SkyTeam alliance in January 2023.
Rob and I joined the Virgin Atlantic management team and SkyTeam staff at The Gherkin this morning to hear the news. We didn’t know why we’d been invited and, if I’m honest, this wasn’t on our shortlist of potential reasons!
Let’s get the key facts out of the way first.
Virgin Atlantic will join SkyTeam in late January 2023. This is a far quicker accession process than usual, because the airline already uses a lot of Delta’s IT systems and has been doing additional upgrades in the background for the past year.
From late January 2023:
- you will be able to earn and redeem Virgin Points on all SkyTeam member airlines
- elite members of Virgin Flying Club will get lounge access, priority baggage, priority boarding and fast track security benefits when flying with any of the SkyTeam airlines
- elite members of other SkyTeam airlines will get the same benefits when flying with Virgin Atlantic
- long term, you can expect other changes such as expanded codeshare arrangements, terminal consolidation at key airports etc
Who are the other members of the SkyTeam alliance?
There are 18 members if you exclude Aeroflot, which is currently suspended. These are:
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Air Europa
- Air France
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- Czech Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Garuda Indonesia
- ITA Airways
- Kenya Airways
- Korean Air
- Middle East Airlines
- Vietnam Airlines
I think, for reasons I will outline below, elite members of the airlines above will be more excited about this news than Virgin Flying Club elites.
I’m excited. Can I get a status match from British Airways to Virgin Atlantic?
Yes. Virgin Atlantic runs a matching programme if you book a premium cabin ticket with them and provide proof of British Airways status. Click here to claim your match.
Alternatively, take a look at the statusmatcher.com website and see if other SkyTeam airlines will match your British Airways status without requiring you to book a flight.
What about Italy’s ITA? Is it still doing a SkyTeam status match from British Airways?
Yes – but for just three more days! Click here.
- you hold British Airways elite status AND
- you buy a ticket for an ITA Airways flight (no idea how cheap a throwaway ticket would be)
…. ITA will match your BA status, along with that of many other major airlines.
Whilst this is not written on the ITA website, historically ITA has given top tier Elite Plus membership even if you only have a British Airways Executive Club Silver card. This means that you get SkyTeam lounge access.
ITA now shows as a SkyTeam member on the alliance website, having taken over from Alitalia, so hopefully the issues over getting into lounges which existed earlier in 2022 have now gone.
Will the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse be overrun / will I get access with my free ITA status match card?
Probably not. Shai Weiss, the Virgin Atlantic CEO, was asked this question today and he basically said ‘No’, without actually using that word.
You should expect the Clubhouse to be carved out from standard SkyTeam lounge rules – as is already the case for Delta and Flying Blue elite members – and SkyTeam elite members in Economy to be sent elsewhere.
How will my Virgin Atlantic status match to SkyTeam?
Silver members of Virgin Flying Club will receive ‘Elite’ status in SkyTeam. This does not come with lounge access.
Gold members of Virgin Flying Club will receive ‘Elite Plus’ status in SkyTeam. This will get you lounge access across the alliance.
Does this news really change much?
Let’s be honest. My wife and I have around 1 million Virgin Points between us, so you’d expect me to be heavily invested in this issue. My initial reaction, however, was ‘meh’.
I suspect that 90% of the value I will get from being in SkyTeam already arrived when the existing joint venture with Delta Air Lines, Air France and KLM launched. You can already earn and redeem Virgin Points on these three airlines, and get reciprocal status benefits.
(I’m using these benefits too. I have a KLM business trip next week booked on Virgin Points, and next month my family are off to the Middle East in Air France business class, again using Virgin Points.)
There is certainly nothing wrong with airlines such as Korean, XiamenAir, TAROM, Czech etc, but for the majority of HfP readers they are never going to be a key part of their earning or burning mileage plans.
It’s obviously good news that you’ll get status benefits if you do find yourself on one of these carriers. However, in my 30 years of international flying I doubt I’ve taken more than five flights across the other 15 SkyTeam members outside of Delta, KLM and Air France.
I suspect that the most attractive new option for HfP readers will be Vietnam Airlines, which we reviewed here, followed by Garuda Indonesia and Korean Air.
We might lose something too.
If Virgin Atlantic loses its existing non-SkyTeam partners such as Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Australia and Japan’s ANA, your redemption options may even be a little worse. Don’t expect short term changes due to existing contracts, but there is no certainly that these agreements will be renewed.
It is hard to see how ANA redemptions to Asia can remain so cheap when SkyTeam redemptions to Asia on Korean, Garuda Indonesia or Vietnam Airlines will be priced far higher.
This is obviously huge news ….. a story literally 20 years in the making.
And yet, and yet ….. perhaps, following the earlier launch of the Delta / Air France / KLM joint venture, it doesn’t mean as much as it otherwise would.
What is more interesting is arguably what this says about the value of airline alliances today.
If you treat ITA as a rebranded Alitalia, Virgin Atlantic is the first new member of SkyTeam for eight years. Garuda Indonesia was the most recent new member in 2014.
Even the worst pandemic in a century didn’t push Emirates, Etihad and the other major hold-outs into the arms of an alliance. oneworld gets excited about hoovering up small carriers such as Oman Air and Royal Air Maroc.
We had all begun to think that alliances were over, and that joint ventures were the way forward. This is certainly what Emirates and Etihad believe.
Either Virgin Atlantic has smelled something in the air which the rest of us have missed, or it is arriving at the party just as everyone else is heading home. Let’s see.
How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (December 2023)
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):
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.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive 30,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 30,000 Avios) with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold. You receive 25,000 points if you spend £3,000 in three months and a further 5,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.
The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 30,000 Virgin Points.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive a huge 100,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 100,000 Avios) with The Platinum Card. You receive 75,000 points if you spend £10,000 in six months and a further 25,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.
Small business owners should consider the two American Express Business cards. Points convert at 1:1 into 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.)