On September 27, 2022, Virgin Atlantic announced it will be joining the SkyTeam alliance in early 2023. In many ways, SkyTeam is a natural fit for Virgin Atlantic. Delta (also a SkyTeam member) owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic, which also has a close relationship with SkyTeam members Air France and KLM. While this addition to SkyTeam presents some good opportunities for points travelers, it also raises some fears about possible changes to Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club loyalty program.
The Good: More Redemption Options for SkyTeam
SkyTeam is by far the weaker of the three main alliances when it comes to award redemptions. Other than Delta and Air France/KLM, none of the other members have viable loyalty programs. By comparison, oneworld has the likes of British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines among its useful programs. Star Alliance is arguably even better, with Avianca, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, ANA, and United Airlines (among others) as valid options.
A third member major member is a welcome addition to SkyTeam, especially one with easy-to-earn points. Like Air France/KLM, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points are easy to earn. Virgin is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, Amex Membership Rewards, and Bilt Rewards.
You can already redeem Virgin Atlantic points for flights on Delta and Air France/KLM. But once Virgin joins SkyTeam, we will be able to redeem Virgin Atlantic points for flights on other SkyTeam member airlines, such as Korean Air, Vietnam Airlines, and AeroMexico. In fact, ever since Korean Air dropped Chase as a transfer partner a few years ago, traveling on points with Korean Air has become extremely difficult. Having easier access to this very well-rated airline is certainly one of the more exciting aspects of SkyTeam's newest addition.
Virgin's award charts for its partners is pretty generous and they have one of our favorite award chart sweet spots for flying to Japan in first class. Here's hoping this trend continues for the rest of the SkyTeam airlines. It will be interesting to see whether Virgin adopts a separate award chart for each SkyTeam airline or instead adopts one award chart for all of SkyTeam. And if they go with the latter, would they keep Delta and Air/France KLM excluded under their current award charts?
What Will Happen with Virgin's Other Partnerships?
The biggest question is whether Virgin Atlantic will retain its relationship with its many Star Alliance partners. Currently, you can redeem Virgin Atlantic points on ANA, South African Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Air New Zealand, among others. We hope that by joining SkyTeam, Virgin Atlantic won't dissolve all of these partnerships.
Virgin losing its Star Alliance partners would be a huge blow to the value of Flying Club points. Sure, there would still be some value to the program. After all, you can book Delta One for just 50,000 Flying Club points to Europe. But losing Star Alliance redemption options–especially ANA–would be too high a price to pay for gaining access to the rest of SkyTeam.
Many airlines have special partnerships with airlines that are outside of their own alliance. For example, Alaska Airlines' partnership with Star Alliance member Singapore Airlines has continued even after Alaska joined the oneworld alliance.
Virgin Atlantic joining SkyTeam offers reason for excitement. After all, more options for customers is almost always a good thing. The challenge is when those opportunities come at the expense of other benefits to customers, like Virgin Atlantic's fantastic ANA sweetspot. Simply put, losing the ability to redeem Virgin Atlantic points with ANA is too high of a price to pay for increased access to other SkyTeam airlines.
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