One of the things both Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains (East and West Coast) have in common is they compete with British Airways. Flying Club is one of the means that Virgin Atlantic use to encourage frequent flyers to choose their services and create a positive impression of their brand.
The main drawback of Virgin Atlantic is their route network, they're very competitive on the routes they do fly, but their network, even when taking into consideration their partner airlines, is very small compared to what BA can offer.
One area Virgin Atlantic no longer competes with BA is on domestic routes. A few years ago they tried a domestic operation under the 'Little Red' brand but this was closed down after a few years and more effort was focused on their core routes. But Virgin does have two rail operators that serve all the domestic destinations that British Airways serves. These are (west coast) Glasgow, Manchester, (east coast) Leeds (& Bradford), Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness. British Airways doesn't fly anywhere south of London but have partnered with GWR to offer connections to Devon, Cornwall and South Wales.
More points and better rewards
You might say both Virgin Trains franchises already have an agreement with Flying Club, but they're not a partner in the same way as an airline partner would be. Airline miles are usually earned based on the mileage flown (usually there's a minimum mileage earned) multiplied by an amount based on the fare class. Some cheaper fares may be multiplied by 0.25 or 0.5 whereas business class is usually multiplied by 1.5 or 2.0.
Back in 2015 before Virgin Atlantic closed down their Little Red domestic flights I earned 1000 miles on a cheap ticket from Heathrow to Edinburgh, my train ticket from Edinburgh to King's Cross earned only 272 miles (£136 x 2) even though it was significantly more expensive than the flight. Airline partners also earn something called Tier Points (or Status Miles in some schemes) that allow you to climb the tiers of the scheme and earn more benefits.
Points wise, you can actually do better buying a coffee rather than a train ticket! Avios (the loyalty currency used by British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Flybe and others) have partnered with Caffè Nero to offer up to 10 Avios per £, which is worth significantly more than the 2 miles/£ you get on train travel.
One key aspect missing with rail travel currently is the ability to earn status benefits. If you fly frequently enough you will earn benefits that make the airport experience less stressful and perhaps (in the case of lounge access) even enjoyable. Many companies have a standard/economy class only policy so a weekly rail traveller Edinburgh - London now has no way of getting into the First Class lounge on a standard class ticket, nor can they use their Nectar points or Flying Club miles to upgrade.
A weekly flyer with British Airways will earn silver status after 25 return trips on the cheapest fares or after 15 return trips on flexible economy fares. Among other benefits, silver is enough to give access to the British Airways business class lounges on any ticket. Currently domestic flights are single class but BA plan on launching Club Europe later this year, economy passengers will be able to use Avios points to upgrade to Club Europe from most economy fares.
Although East Coast Rewards did not offer status benefits it did allow the purchase of lounge passes of various durations using points. One drawback of East Coast Rewards is you couldn't use points to upgrade, this meant if someone else (e.g. your company) purchased a standard class ticket the only way you could upgrade is by paying the fare difference yourself.
It would be a good idea for Virgin Trains (both of them) to becomef a full partner of Virgin Atlantic to attract customers from BA who currently travel a mix of transatlantic and domestic who currently dismiss Virgin Atlantic as a viable option. Here's a few ideas they could consider:
- For longer travel offer miles earnings at a similar level that a flight would offer, e.g. standard advance may offer 0.25x miles, first advance 0.5x miles standard off-peak 0.75x miles, standard anytime 1.0x miles, first off-peak 1.5x miles and first anytime 2.0x miles.
- For shorter distances that don't compete with air travel the current earning scheme could remain.
- Consider offering tier points (for status) on the longer trips.
- Consider (on a trial basis) offering lounge access to Flying Club Gold members or the opportunity to purchase a lounge pass with miles.
- As an added bonus offer miles (at a reduced rate) for all other rail travel booked through the site, the commission will more than cover this and will provide an added miles earning opportunity that BA doesn't currently offer.
- Provide protection in the event of delays for those who are travelling on both Virgin Trains and Virgin Atlantic. See the partnership BA has with GWR.
- Offer mileage redemptions (fixed rates not money off) and miles for upgrades for train journeys. Miles for upgrades should be able to be purchased separately from the base ticket so business travellers with a standard class only policy can upgrade their tickets.
Providing protection in the event of a delayed flight (meaning that a customers advance train ticket would still be valid) would provide reassurance even to those with no interest in loyalty schemes and would give an incentive to travel by train to the airport rather than drive.