Virgin Australia furthers loyalty partnership with South African Airways

From April 30th, Virgin Australia Velocity members can now earn points and status credits on South African Airways (SA) marketed and operated flights. Previously this was only available on SA flights that were marketed, or sold by Virgin Australia under their codeshare agreement. Redeeming miles for South African Airways flights is now also possible.

From today, this is what the earning table looks like for South African Airways marketed and operated flights:

SAA

This step marks the last phase in the extension of the VA/SA partnership (which officially commenced on October 21st last year). Since then Virgin Australia has placed its VA code on South African’s daily direct Perth-Johannesburg service, while SA have enjoyed codeshare agreements on Virgin Australia’s domestic flights to and from Perth.

The partnership was however confusing when it came to points earn and lounge access for Virgin Australia members. Previously, lounge access was only offered for Velocity Gold and Platinum members when a flight was sold under the VA codeshare. No points would be earned if the flight was sold by SA. This was in stark contrast with Virgin Australia’s other airline partnerships.

Whilst the points earn rate on cheaper fares is low, it’s not unsurprising. United Airlines have a very similar mileage earn chart for South African Airways.

SAA UA

In fact, Virgin Australia are offering a better earn rate on some of the economy fare classes.

The other piece of the puzzle that has been finalised is lounge access for Virgin Australia elite members. Virgin Australia’s lounge access page has been updated with the following information:

SAA Plat

Whilst the above table mentions Platinum members, the table is identical for Gold members. Its worth noting too that priority check-in and boarding are also extended to Velocity members with status.

South African Airways do not have a large lounge network of their own, but it’s nice to see that access to all SAA operated lounges has been covered. We would recommend having a printout of the table from Virgin Australia’s website along with your membership card handy during the initial phases of these changes since lounge staff are not always completely across new rules.

South African Airways have also added Virgin Australia into the partner earn table for their frequent flyer program, Voyager:

SAA Earn

Virgin Australia’s redemption table has also been modified to include South African Airways. Unfortunately, they have chosen to place them in the most expensive category, shared with Singapore Airlines.

VA redeem

What this means in real world terms is that to redeem for a Business Class flight, one-way from Perth to Johannesburg, you would need to use 95,000 miles. This seems excessive compared to Perth to Abu Dhabi which is a longer flight, yet only requires 70,000 miles to book a flight operated by Etihad. These differing award charts for certain partners does little to reduce confusion with Virgin Australia’s program.

Since online bookings are not yet available, we would recommend using United Airlines’ website to look for available award seats before calling Virgin Australia to book.

Update: Virgin Australia have a double points promotion for flights on South African Airways between 16 May and 31 July 2015. Registration required by 9 May.

These changes are well overdue and resolve much of the confusion that existed with the partnership over the past 6 months. Whilst South African Airways have a slightly dated fleet of aircraft they operate a large network with Africa and provide a useful extension to Virgin Australia’s ‘virtual network’. The ability to earn, redeem and have status recognition between the two airlines will now finally allow travelers to get the most out of this partnership.

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