After quitting my cushy airline job two years ago, I knew I had to figure out a way to keep flying in style. As an airline employee, I experienced pretty good benefits, such as cheap (or sometimes free) business class travel, lounge access and space available upgrades. The downside was that I couldn’t earn Virgin Australia reward points or ‘status’, and I had to travel on standby. Meaning that if all seats on the plane were sold out, I got bumped off.
I always knew the day would come when I could no longer rely on my staff travel benefits and the perks that came with it. That day finally came two years ago when I found myself suddenly shafted to the back of the plane with absolutely no special treatment whatsoever.
I needed to do something about this!
So I started searching for an alternative means of ‘funding’ my business class travel habit. That’s when I learnt about airline loyalty programs and the benefits of earning ‘status’… Read on to find out how I managed to earn Virgin Australia Gold Status after only five return flights.
Why is Gold Status So Valuable?
Earning status with an airline is the ultimate goal when it comes to travelling in style. If you collect enough status credits within a 12 month period, you’ll be elevated in status. Once you reach gold status you’ll experience a range of benefits that make flying a lot more enjoyable, such as:
- Lounge Access
- Additional baggage allowance
- Priority check-in and boarding
- Advance seat selection
- Priority security screening
- Bonus frequent flyer points
- Priority waitlist
- Priority customer phone service
- Access to preferential seating zones on the aircraft
Note: benefits may vary for different frequent flyer programs.
Choosing A Frequent Flyer Program
When deciding which airline’s frequent flyer program to become loyal to, my priorities were (in order):
- ability to earn gold status as quickly as possible;
- good international route network;
- easy to redeem frequently flyer points for business class flights or upgrades;
- good customer service.
I spent months researching and travelling on a few different airlines. I focused on those who offered the best network for Australian-based members. On the short-list were; Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qantas, Virgin Australia and Etihad. In the end, I chose Virgin Australia’s Velocity Frequent Flyer Program for a few reasons.
Note: Whilst Virgin Australia is an Australian-based airline, the tips in this article may also apply if you hold a frequent flyer membership with or regularly travel on; Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airline, Hong Kong Airlines, and many other carriers listed here. Virgin Australia holds partnerships with these airlines, meaning that status credits may be transferable as are the benefits of holding Gold Status with Virgin Australia.
1) Ability to Earn Gold Status Quickly
Normally, to earn Gold status with an airline you would need to fly only that airline and no other, as much as you can over a 12 month period. Once you make it to Gold or even Platinum status, it’s much easier to maintain that status over subsequent years. The good news? The Velocity Frequent Flyer program offers a few features which, if used strategically, will help get you to Virgin Australia Gold status much faster, while flying less.
Firstly, you will need to earn 500 status credits and fly four eligible sectors in the first 12 months to be upgraded to Gold status with Virgin Australia. After that, you will only need to earn 400 status credits and fly four eligible sectors within the next 12 months in order to maintain Virgin Australia Gold status.
One unique feature offered by Velocity is the ‘family pooling’ feature. This allows families and couples to link their Velocity accounts and combine their points and status credits. By pooling all status credits under one family member, that person is able to earn Gold status much faster. This feature can be easily set up through your account on the Velocity website.Last year my husband and I took 5 return flights with Virgin Australia within a 12 month period:
- 2 x flights from Brisbane to Sydney;
- 1 x flight from Brisbane to Melbourne;
- 1 x flight from Brisbane to Bali; and
- 1 x Brisbane to LA.
By using the family pooling feature, I collected all of the status credits from both our flights into my Velocity account. After the fifth flight, we had earned more than enough status credits for me to get upgraded to Virgin Australia Gold status. If you travel with a family of three or four (up to a maximum of six), by collecting all status credits under a single beneficiary, that person would be able to earn Gold status even faster!
The downside of family pooling, only the beneficiary gets upgraded. In mine and my husband’s case, I fly the most so I chose to be the beneficiary and collect all the status credits from both of our flights. This means that I got upgraded to Virgin Australia Gold status but my husband did not. As a result, he only enjoys the perks of Gold status when we travel together and not when he travels alone. For us, this worked out to be a worthwhile trade-off because he usually always travels with me.
2) International Route Network
Virgin Australia itself doesn’t actually have a large international route network when compared with other airlines. However, their partnership with these larger airlines means they are able to offer a fairly decent international route network, along with transferable loyalty benefits, to their customers:
- Singapore Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- Delta Air Lines
- Air New Zealand
- Hainan Airlines
- Hong Kong Airlines
- South African Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
Some of these airlines are amongst the best in the world! By being a member of Virgin Australia’s Velocity program, I can earn points (and status credits) when I travel on the majority of these carriers. And now that I am a Virgin Australia Gold member, I get even more perks when flying with them – lounge, priority check-in and boarding, additional baggage etc.
3) Redeeming Frequent Flyer Points for Business Class Travel or Upgrades
Point Hacks is a really good source of information when it comes to earning and redeeming frequent flyer points. I’ve been following their advice for years. Being Australia-based, they tend to focus heavily on the two heavy-weight Australian airline rewards programs; Virgin Australia’s Velocity program and Qantas’ Frequent Flyer program. They regularly write articles comparing these two programs and their redemption offerings.
After reading their articles for years and having redeemed points for flights with both Qantas and Virgin Australia, I found Qantas quite difficult to find decent options for business class redemptions.
Qantas Frequent Flyer program has been around a lot longer than Velocity. As a result, they have a lot more members with high points balances looking to use them for business class redemptions. When booking an international redemption ticket for business class on Qantas, I found that I needed to book at least 9-12 months in advance. And even then, redemptions on some routes are notoriously scarce (e.g. Sydney-Los Angeles). Occasionally Qantas releases redemption seats closer to the travel date, but it is difficult to keep track of when this happens and jump on-board before they get snapped up by other frequent flyer members.
As a decent alternative, I’ve experienced much more success redeeming upgrades with Virgin Australia and their airline partners.
4) Customer Service
While Singapore Airlines is pretty top notch when it comes to customer service, I found Virgin Australia to be pretty good as well. Virgin Australia’s customer service is what I call typically Australian style – laid-back and friendly. Although not quite as attentive as the likes of Singapore Airlines, Etihad or Emirates, the staff are generally pretty friendly and helpful.
In all honesty, I was pretty keen to become loyal to Qantas a few years back. I really liked their large international route network, and ease of earning frequent flyer points through credit card spend. However, after flying with them a number of times, I found their customer service to be pretty terrible and this really turned me off. Given that Virgin Australia has partnerships with some airlines that offer award-winning service, this somewhat swayed my decision.
Additional Tips for Earning Virgin Australia Gold Status
If you don’t fly quite so often but still want to earn Virgin Australia Gold status, there are some additional ways to maximise your status earning potential with Virgin Australia. I found that the family pooling feature worked best for me because my husband and I travel together a lot. But if this option doesn’t work for you, here are some additional tricks that you can take advantage of:
1) Don’t Always Buy the Cheapest Fare
It’s always tempting to buy the cheapest fare available! Especially when you find a bargain. But if earning status credits and getting to Gold Status is your ultimate goal, then it pays to do a little more research. Buying the cheapest fare doesn’t always yield the best cost per status credit. Using this strategy to maximise your status credits can get a little technical, but my favourite go-to source for frequent flyer tips, Points Hacks wrote an article that breaks down the math. If used correctly, this method can really help to get you to get the most out of your spend with an airline.
2) Shopping at Coles Supermarkets
Fly Buys and Velocity launched a partnership a few years ago to compete against the Woolworths-Qantas tie up. However, whats so unique about the Fly Buys-Velocity partnership is that you can earn Velocity status credits, in addition to points, when you shop at Coles Supermarkets. By linking your Fly Buys and Velocity accounts, Velocity members can earn 1 Status Credit for every $100 spent at Coles, Coles Online, Liquorland and First Choice Liquor (limited to 10 status credit per month). Coles also offers targeted bonus status credit earning opportunities on occasion.
The number of status credits that you could earn through Fly Buys is not high. However, it might just be enough to get you across the line to Virgin Australia Gold status. Especially if you already shop at Coles on a regular basis.
3) Taking Advantage of Special Promotions
If you occasionally take one big overseas trip, then you could consider taking advantage of special offers that occasionally pop up to earn status with one or two tickets. My go-to source for frequent flyer points advice, Point Hacks recently released a promotion offering an upgrade to Virgin Australia Gold status by purchasing two return Premium Economy flights to LA. Point Hacks regularly feature opportunities to earn airline gold status with one overseas trip. If you’re interested in upgrading to gold status with minimal effort required, it might be worth checking out this promotion or signing up for their newsletter to get notified of similar offers.
Virgin Australia’s Velocity Program is becoming more and more popular. Probably due to the fact that it is much easier to earn status and the service is better than Qantas. Whenever I use the Virgin Australia Lounge, it’s always busy, which tells me that more and more people are taking advantage of the benefits of being a Velocity Gold or Platinum member. It wouldn’t surprise me if the number of status credits required to reach Virgin Australia Gold status is increased in the future. However in saying that, Virgin Australia’s product is very good. They’re regularly refurbishing and expanding their lounge and premium product offering in order to stay competitive against Qantas in this space. Let’s hope it remains that way!
Do you have any additional tips for getting to Virgin Australia Gold Status as quickly as possible? We’d love to hear your recommendations in the comment section below.
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