Digging in With Virgin America

Virgin America

Now that the website troubles appear to be beyond them, we can finally take a look at Virgin America’s plan to get things started. I’ll try to keep this post from getting too long, so I’ll save talk about the website itself for another post. Let’s get started.


The airline begins flights on August 8 from San Francisco to both New York/JFK and Los Angeles. 07_07_20 bransongoBy the time the end of October rolls around, they’ll also fly from San Francisco to Las Vegas and Washington/Dulles. In addition to SFO, LAX will also have flights to Dulles and JFK. If you think United is in the airline’s sights, you’re right. They compete on every single one of these routes nonstop. I’m sure the wheels are turning at United as we speak on formulating a defense plan.

The Dulles flights aren’t going to very competitive for the business crowd – there are only two flights a day to each city. The Vegas flights appear to be mostly just a case of the airline preferring to fly the planes somewhere rather than sit them on the ground waiting for the next east coast trip. You can almost always make some extra cash heading to Vegas. Then there’s SFO to LAX.

It’s one of the last bastions of Southwest-free flying on big routes in the West. So when Virgin America comes in with five flights a day, they’re at least trying to make a dent. Unfortunately, there are some gaping holes in the schedules. For instance there are no flights from LAX to SFO between 630a and 1140a. Actually, it’s the same hole on southbound flights. Can they do better than Frontier, who just pulled out of the market? I’m not convinced at all, especially since most of their amenities really aren’t that important on such a short flight. That doesn’t mean I won’t try them on my next trip up north!

The crown jewel appears to be the route they announced would be their first – San Francisco to New York/JFK. They will have four flights a day once the ramp up is complete, and that’s a pretty healthy schedule. They’re lacking a midday and late evening flight heading west and a midday and late afternoon flight going east, but that’s not a dealkiller. They do have some heavy competition here, though.

United and American both offer three class service while JetBlue helps cover the coach market. Can their powerports and cool vibe beat JetBlue’s 2 to 4 extra inches of legroom? Not so sure about that. But from trip reports I’ve seen, JetBlue doesn’t even seem to be able to fill their flights on that route too well. Can Virgin’s four more flights find enough passengers?

I’ve put a full list of their schedules up here.

Fees and Such

As far as fees go, they seem to be quite fair. Most fares have a $40 change fee, though the first class seat I priced didn’t have one at all. There is no option to search for refundable fares, so I’m going to assume they have none.

If you want an exit row or the bulkhead in row 3, you’re going to have to pay more for it. I looked at SFO-Vegas and it was $15, but SFO-JFK was $25, so they use variable pricing based on length of flight. Good idea.

I love that on the seat map, you can click on a First Class seat and it will prompt you with an upgrade option. I don’t think they’re making it any cheaper than if you picked First Class initially, but it’s a good way to upsell anyway.


The airlines has launched with a frequent flier program, eleVAte (with annoying spelling and all), ready to go. It’s a pretty simple model. You get 5 points for every $1 you spend on tickets. They say you’ll be able to redeem as few as 4,900 points for a free flight, or $980 worth. Of course, it doesn’t say what that’ll get you – they don’t have any specific reward info on the site yet. What we do know is that you can redeem for any seat on any flight. There aren’t any blackout dates either. It’s the SPG program of the airline world.

I like mileage programs that actually reward you for spending more money. It makes no sense to me that other airline programs give you four times more miles for buying a $198 roundtrip flight across the country than they do for buying a $198 roundtrip flight within California. In that case, the second passenger is likely to be more profitable. Ideally, you’d like to tie mileage rewards to profitability, but rewarding it by dollars spent is as close as you can get without making the program too complicated.

I think that’s enough for today. Keep an eye out for more Virginwatch as time goes by.

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1 comment on “Digging in With Virgin America

  1. Just got a chance to go through your recent updates and wanted to make a point about tying profitability and the frequent flyer program.

    SQ recently changed their PPS program (FF prog. which requires biz/first class flights) so that instead of sectors/miles flown in biz/first it’s SGD 25k in biz/first to qualify for membership.

    There’s a bit of a revolt and disgruntled folks over at flyertalk but …

    As for Virgin America .. I gotta admit I’m curious. I’m flying home later this year … maybe I’ll try’em out. :)

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