Virgin America Joins Legacy Carriers with an Introduction of Frequent Flyer Tiers

As one of the most frequent flyers of Virgin America (well…up until the website debacles of 2011), I have been asked my opinion on their announcement today of adding tiered status to their eleVAte program: Silver, requiring 20,000 Status Points per year; and Gold, requiring 50,000 Status Points per year. Because the program is monitized, this equates to $4,000 and $10,000 in spend respectively. Tiers go into effect August 8th.

From their announcement page, benefits are:


Monitizing a frequent flyer program is a bad move in my book, but I’m sure it helped VX in their battle regarding their ownership with the government as this paves the way for taxation on redemptions.

The numbers don’t make much sense since you can definitely get top tier status (and far more benefits) on one of the big carriers for less than $10,000 in spend. Furthermore, they state that if you have a Virgin America Visa and spend $25,000 on it, they’ll give you 10,000 Status Points — halfway towards Silver. Um…run the numbers and tell me how THAT makes any sense.

As usual, trying to find a definition for the mysterious new “Main Cabin Express” on VX’s website takes A LOT of poking around. Strategically Googling it doesn’t help either as they apparently don’t tag their information. After 10 minutes, I found:

“In addition to both the expanded advance purchase upgrade window for Virgin America’s exclusive eight-seat First Class and complimentary advance upgrades for the carrier’s premium Main Cabin Select, the airline will begin designating the most sought-after seats in its Main Cabin – seats in rows five, six and nine aboard the Company’s Airbus A319 planes and rows five, six, seven and nine aboard A320 planes for status members. Starting later this summer, Elevate Gold and Elevate Silver members will have complimentary access to these “Main Cabin Express” seats at the time of booking. Elevate Red members and all other guests will also be able to purchase Main Cabin Express seats at booking, as available, for an additional $20 on the base fare. In addition to a premium confirmed seat, the service will include priority boarding privileges and preferred overhead bin space. Main Cabin Express seats that remain unsold 24 hours prior to flight will be free of charge as available seats for all guests at check-in.”

These are regular seats! Row nine on the A320 is a non-reclining exit row seat. “…most sought-after…”??? I hardly think so! Yes, a lot of people strangely like to sit in the front of the economy cabin. But when the plane is not very full, I would prefer room around me as opposed to six in a row.

Finally, let’s discuss the “Complimentary Upgrade to Main Cabin Select.” Once upon a time, there was only “Main Cabin” and “First Class.” In the second half of their first year, like the other carriers, VX started charging for “Main Cabin Select”. It incrementally has gone up in pricing to upgrade — currently sitting at (well…AGAIN, this used to be easily found on their website — first in the FAQ’s, then moved to the Fees page. Clicking “Fees” now leads you to “Page Not Found”.  After another 5 minutes, I got it.):


Because of this structure, MCS was rarely always filled as people did not want to pay the extra money for the upgrade. NOW, with the complimentary upgrades, there will be a shift to MCS being completely full. This will not bode well for the airline.

I understand that much of VX management comes from AA, but if you’re going to act like the legacy USA carriers, you fail your original mission of disrupting the industry and risk following the fate of your predecessors.

Combined with the ridiculous website issues that still plague the carrier (and their bizarre concentration on social media), the hemorrhaging of business will unfortunately flow faster.

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