What Happened To Virgin Australia Business Class Award Space?

Australia is historically one of the toughest destinations in the world to get to on miles, at least from the US. That’s simply because the capacity between the two countries is fairly limited, so you have a lot of people competing for limited inventory to a very “aspirational” destination.

The only airlines flying nonstop between the US mainland and Australia are Delta, Qantas, United, and Virgin Australia. American will also be launching flights between Los Angeles and Sydney as of December 2015.

Park-Hyatt-Sydney-45

Virgin Australia is historically generous with awards

While Delta, Qantas, and United have all historically been stingy when it comes to releasing saver level premium cabin award space between the two countries, Virgin Australia has been generous by comparison. Really generous. It was pretty normal to consistently see them release multiple business class award seats per flight (they used to fly from Los Angeles to Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney, though in the meantime have axed the Melbourne flight).

Qantas-Award
Even booking 11 months out, Qantas barely has business class awards available

And in many ways I’d say this redemption sweet spot increased the value of points from Delta SkyMiles, Virgin America Elevate, etc.

The amount of space Virgin Australia released was arguably too good to be true. Typically when one airline offers exceptional value in one area, you can expect that over time they’ll begin to move towards the “norm.” And it seems like that’s what’s happening.

Virgin Australia has virtually stopped releasing business class awards

It shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but Virgin Australia doesn’t seem to be releasing much saver level business class award space to/from the US at all at the moment.

In the past they’d make space available as soon as the schedule opened, though looking at space 10-11 months from now from Los Angeles to Sydney and Los Angeles to Brisbane, you won’t find a single seat (the below reflects one way pricing for travel on Delta, which isn’t at the saver level):

LAXSYD1

Even looking at space earlier in the year from Los Angeles to Sydney, you won’t see a single saver level seat:

LAXSYD2

Not even for travel closer in, like in the next couple of months:

LAXSYD3

Looking at the Los Angeles to Brisbane route, I see two dates next June with business class award space, but that’s it:

LAXBNE1

Why the sudden change in availability?

What explains the sudden change in inventory? There are a few things which might be at play:

  • Virgin Australia will shortly be introducing a new business class product on their 777s, which looks great. While it doesn’t represent a capacity reduction, it is possible that they’re trying to make an effort to sell more seats.
  • This could be temporary — sometimes award patterns randomly change. We see this all the time, whereby airlines go through phases where they just don’t make award space available. It could be that someone in inventory management fell asleep, it’s a glitch, or they’re testing a different strategy. But it has certainly happened before.
  • This could be an intentional and (possibly) permanent change. This wouldn’t surprise me, given how generous Virgin Australia was with awards. They really don’t have much of an incentive to be so generous with releasing award space, especially when members of partner airlines are booking many of those seats. So it could be that they’d rather try to sell the seats for cash, or otherwise would rather make those seats available to those on paid economy/premium economy tickets, who would rather upgrade.

Virgin-Australia-New-Business-Class-3

Bottom line

It’s definitely disappointing to see that Virgin Australia isn’t making much business class award space available anymore. That being said, I don’t really think it comes as a surprise, given how much more generous they’ve been than everyone else.

While I wish it weren’t permanent, my guess is that this will be the new norm.

Have you redeemed partner miles for travel in Virgin Australia business class? Are you (potentially) sad to see this redemption opportunity go? 

Comments

  1. Plenty of availability via Velocity’s site for travel to LA so it’s possible they’re keeping it more exclusive to their members than for Deltas site. Even a couple of weeks out you can often find routes from the east coast of Oz. I’m happy to be a Velocity member and redeem around 10 times a year with them as well as EY flights.

  2. I’ve redeemed for two trips, including a long Australia visit and recently my honeymoon to Bali (connected in Brisbane). Both trips were in biz row 5 and it was a great use of Delta miles. Bummed to see this be the new norm.

  3. Amex Velocity card has been offering 100k signup bonus so it could be a combination of the new product, glut of points and a temporary reduction of released award seats while the spike of points works their way out of the system.

    CX F/J LAX-HKG-SYD/BNE could be a good non-direct method. That’s what I have booked for next year.

  4. I would have assumed that in upgrading their fleet with the new business class, it would entail taking planes out of service and thus losing capacity?

  5. So Lucky, given your team’s keen eye on award availability, what are the most practical premium class award routings to Australia, in terms of availability right now, from each of the three major alliances?

  6. Glad I snagged an 80K business class flight a month ago for this December. Yikes! Not good. Haven’t flown Virgin Australia before, looking forward to it.

  7. “While it doesn’t represent a capacity reduction, it is possible that they’re trying to make an effort to sell more seats.”

    I thought you said previously that the number of seats per plane will be reduced with the new product? Why would that not affect availability?

  8. Although I see mention here of someone redeeming 80k a month ago, from my tracking (and I was tracking), the awards were 100% removed on or about 27 July. I mentioned this in another comment I left for Tiffany back in early August.

  9. I haven’t been bothering earning skymiles of late anyway. Even still, I will miss this option going forward if this is the new normal. Australia in Biz Class is the sole reason I started earning miles. I can manage in economy if it comes to it, I’ve done it before. I’d just prefer not to. Glad I booked my flight to Australia via Asia a few days before Dividend Miles disappeared.

  10. @Caroline, thanks for the data point! I’m guessing you lucked out somehow. When I was looking in late July it was WIDE open to anywhere in Oz via LAX, then poof! Gone. Very glad you were able to book. I ended up booking EK/EY 1st class to get there – it’s a nice way to go, but I had really wanted to use up my stagnating 160,000 DL points!

  11. I see plenty of business class seats on Alaska air to Brisbane and SYD. I thought Alaska pulls from the same AA inventory? I already booked Virgin seats for next year figuring that space could dry up. That does happen from time to time.

  12. @Caroline. Delta is always a punching bag. There are some major sweet spots. With AA MIA-LHR they will stick you on BA, usually not non stop and huge fuel surcharges.

    Delta has decent Availability on Virgin with ZERO Fuel surcharges. Coach seats all the time 30K each way.

    In the past year using Delta I got : ATL-JNB 2 seats business at 160K, 2 trips one way London in Virgin Upper Class 62.5 one way per ticket no BA surcharges, AMS-MIA 62.5, and two business class to Australia for next year at 160K per. They are not stagnating for me. Ever look at the UA award chart lately? Ever try to go to South Africa with American?

    Rob

  13. @robertw477, I hear what you’re saying, surely. Delta is my go-to airline and where a majority of my points were amassed. I was replying to another comment about them and “stagnating” was in regards to the devaluation and lack of understanding how many points are need b/c of unpublished award charts. I’m glad you’ve snagged great options that are available with them and I’m glad I have too.

  14. It’s not Virgin Australia but I just canceled an AAdvantage award from AUH to LAX – Oct 18. Hope this is useful for someone.

  15. Virgin Australia’s 777 re-fit programme kicks in when it cancels these services to free up a plane for refurbishment:

    VA29 SYD-AUH from 27 October 2015 to VA30 AUH-SYD 16 December 2015
    VA29 SYD-AUH from 02 February 2016 to VA30 AUH-SYD 06 April 2016

    So likely two planes will be done by Christmas, with the remaining three in the new year.

    Yet close-in award space still hasn’t been great (even though it will be the old product).

  16. I was able to snag JFK-LAX-SYD in F on AA/QF for early August 2016 using 72.5K AA miles + $26.20. I had been checking DL as I wanted to burn some of my Skypesos and since I couldn’t find VA space to LAX, for the fun of it tried SYD-JFK, and found plenty of 80K J seats available on KE SYD-ICN-JFK. These have totally disappeared as well. I’m hoping VA makes inventory available again – I flew them roundtrip LAX-SYD a few years ago (sadly when DL still applied fuel surcharges) and had very enjoyable flights. Otherwise, I’ll be flying home on 2 award tickets. Either SYD-HKG-JFK or MEL-DXB-LHR-JFK. I’m going to wait it out for a while and see what, if anything, turns up.

  17. Hi Lucky,

    How to check availability space on Virgin Australia award ? if i use virgin australia Frequent flyer website, will the space availability same if i redeem using krisflyer miles ?

    Thanks,

    Rio

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