Virgin Australia will no longer offer its “Fly Ahead” benefit to Velocity Gold members from 19 November 2021, except when travelling on an Economy Flex or Business ticket.
Fly Ahead has been a hugely popular Velocity Frequent Flyer benefit since the program’s inception. With Fly Ahead, Velocity Gold and Platinum members have the option to switch to an earlier flight if they arrive early at the airport and there are seats available on an earlier departure.
Virgin Australia removed this benefit for customers booked on its cheapest Economy Class “Getaway” tickets back in 2016. But the benefit was still offered when booked on an Elevate or Freedom fare. Virgin’s domestic Economy Class fare families have today been renamed as Economy Lite, Economy Choice and Economy Flex.
With the new fare categories, Velocity Platinum members will continue to receive access to “Fly Ahead” when booked on any fare type except Economy Lite. But Velocity Gold members will no longer have access to this benefit when travelling on an Economy Choice fare from 19 November 2021. There is a significant price difference between Economy Choice and Economy Flex fares.
Here’s the new matrix describing Velocity Frequent Flyer status benefits on each of Virgin Australia’s new fare types from the Virgin Australia website:
Fly Ahead will continue to be offered to both Gold and Platinum members travelling on Economy Flex and Business fares from 19 November 2021.
Economy Flex and Business fares allow fee-free changes until the time of departure anyway, however a fare difference may apply. A benefit of Fly Ahead is that any fare difference is not charged if a seat is available on the earlier flight.
Larger gap in Velocity Gold & Platinum benefits
Other changes announced by Virgin Australia today include the loss of complimentary seat selection on Economy Lite fares, except for Velocity Platinum members. Platinum members can continue to select any available seat free of charge from the time of booking, including Economy X seats when booked on an Economy Lite ticket.
As a result of these changes, there is now a greater difference in the benefits offered to Velocity Gold and Platinum members. This could incentivise more people to aim for Platinum status. Unfortunately, this has been achieved by reducing Gold benefits rather than increasing Platinum benefits.
Why Virgin Australia offers Fly Ahead
For years, Fly Ahead has been a key benefit of Velocity Gold and Platinum status that Qantas doesn’t offer. It was introduced after business travellers told a focus group at the time how infuriating they found it when they turned up early at the airport after a long day, just wanted to get home, and the airline tried to charge them hundreds of dollars for an empty seat on an earlier flight.
Phil Gunter, who ran the Velocity Frequent Flyer program at the time, recently explained to the Loyalty Podcast that Fly Ahead turned out to be a win-win for both frequent flyers and the airline.
According to Gunter, the airline’s revenue managers were concerned that frequent flyers would stop buying flexible fares if they offered the ability to catch an earlier flight on cheaper tickets. But this didn’t really happen.
“We tracked it, and it paid off. What we found was people that previously got flexible tickets were still buying flexible tickets for all the other reasons you get flexible tickets. That was the big risk, the big fear, that people would start trading down and buying the cheapest tickets. They still bought the flexible tickets,” Gunter told episode 23 of the Loyalty Podcast.
In fact, in addition to the unique benefit attracting new customers over from Qantas, there was an unintended operational benefit for the airline.
“It then brought forward capacity which meant there was more capacity later on [in the day]. For all sorts of reasons, that’s better for the airline,” Gunter said.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: VA axes ‘Fly Ahead’ for Gold frequent flyers
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