Sign Up For Virgin America's Frequent Flier Program, Lose Your Discount Airfare

Mike writes to us on Virgin America’s maiden day of service to complain that his discount fare vanished after he signed up for Virgin’s frequent flier program. Mike and his girlfriend tried to buy $44 tickets from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but after signing up for the frequent flier program, the fare jumped to $79. Though Virgin has invested in a state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment system, from the looks of Mike’s letter, they haven’t invested nearly enough in customer service. Mike writes:

My girlfriend and I were booking tickets to fly between Los Angeles and San Francisco. For one reason or another, I was flying round trip with Virgin, and she was only doing the end, San Francisco to Los Angeles leg.

We were booking the tickets at the same time, to make sure we’d be able to sit beside each other. When we started the process, the price of the tickets were $44 each way. After selecting the flights and the seats, we were presented with the option of finishing the purchase, or signing up for the Virgin America frequent flier program, and then finishing the purchase. Both of us chose to sign up for the program.

I finished my application first, and proceeded to finish my purchase. When my girlfriend finished the application a minute later, the ticket price had gone up to $79. Keep in mind, this is after we’d selected the flights and the seats, and had been prompted by Virgin to sign up for the program before finishing the purchase. Essentially, Virgin America was adding $35 to my girlfriend’s ticket price, for the luxury of signing up for their frequent flier program.

She immediately got on the phone with Virgin customer service, who initially offered to bring the price down to $59. When she accepted the offer, the customer service person told her that they (Virgin) wouldn’t actually be able to offer the discount, and it would still be $79.

Do you have any contact for Virgin America’s executive team? I’d really like them to be aware of the irony over losing a customer because of the frequent flier program.

As Virgin launched today, we don’t yet have direct contact information for CEO Fred Reid. That shouldn’t stop you from calling their corporate offices at (650) 762-7000. Politely ask for Mr. Reid’s office, and tell your story to whoever answers.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)


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  1. agb says:

    On the other hand, I’ve had a lot of luck with Southwest’s program. When I signed up, the CSR asked me if he could search my credit card history and give me points retroactively for flights before I signed up…so even though I just signed up, I’m halfway to a free round-trip ticket.

    Oh, and be sure to let us know how the call to the CEO’s office goes.

  2. ptkdude says:

    @agb: OK, this REALLY makes me want Southwest to fly into Atlanta so I can use them.

  3. Karl says:

    Is it possible that the $79 price included all of the various taxes and fees while the $44 price did not?

  4. Kalik says:

    Beyond their in flight entertainment system, I don’t know what the big deal is with Virgin. Compared to United, they have crap CS with frequent flier programs. Example: United lets you book/rebook/cancel award flights without any fee (the only thing you have to pay is the $15 ticketing fee). Virgin makes you pay (I believe) $40 per change, and if you choose to cancel, will make you pay $40 plus they will retain 25% of the miles you were going to use.

  5. hc5duke says:

    @Karl: That was my initial thought. But from the VA website:

    These fares do not include:
    * Federal segment fee of up to $3.40 for each flight segment. Flight segment is defined as a takeoff and a landing.
    * Government-imposed September 11th Security Fee of up to $5 one-way, and $10 roundtrip.
    * Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) of up to $18.

    So for a 1-way ticket, that’s MAXIMUM of $44 + $3.40 + $5 + $18 = $70.40. I actually just went through the process and it came out to $54.40.

    Fare (x1) $40.93
    Federal Tax $3.07
    Passenger Facility Charge $4.50
    Security Fee $2.50
    Segment Fee $3.40
    Total: $54.40

    Clearly something went wrong if she got charged $79

  6. brendang says:

    I’ve had a different but perhaps related experience when booking with Virgin Atlantic. In at least one instance, when I logged in with my frequent flier info, I was quoted a lower trip price for a flight, but it wouldn’t qualify for miles. As I was close to earning a free roundtrip, I opted to pay a little more for the ticket while not logged in, and claim the miles after the fact.

  7. onefortheroad says:

    I’ve been looking at Virgin America since I heard they were going to be starting flights to my favorite location of New York. I looked in to the airfare and compared to Jetblue and Southwest (who does not offer nonstop flights to JFK) the fare was UNBELIEVABLELY low! Fares this summer to NYC have been cloe to $400. I messed up and didn’t book the fare and the price went up as most do. So I booked the fare today. Within 3 hours of booking it went down $30 each way. I immediately called Virgin and they credited my credit card the difference without question.

    I, too, signed up for their frequent flyer program at the time of booking and my fare did not increase. With any fare you have to book it right away. Fares jump up and down all day long! I witnessed it today while I was on hold. Airfare is such a racket, but if you want to travel you gotta play the game.

    I can’t wait to fly them! If they are anything like Jetblue it will be great!

  8. Trojan69 says:

    Booking an airfare is the ultimate “you snooze, you lose” process. While I agree it’s a pretty lousy thing that Virgin won’t honor the first quote, I am not to worked up about it. This happens with regularity across all airlines.

    As with any transaction, until the offer is honored via actual exchange of value, there is nothing.

  9. MickeyMoo says:

    I don’t know that I’d call it a racket exactly – airlines refer to it as yield management. A pretty sophisticated algorithm is employed to vary fare availability from one moment to the next depending on a variety of factors: popularity, weather conditions, availability of lower fares on that route from other carriers at a similar flight time, and the statistical likelihood of no shows, etc…. Still sucks if you start chatting with your seatmate and find out they paid 1/2 as much as you did though….

  10. SirNuke says:


    Boing Boing gave Virgin American rave reviews (Xeni Jardin flew on the maiden voyage). I’ve been fairly impressed with the quality of Virgin offerings in the past, and I hope this endeavour holds up to that standard.

    None the less, this quirk in customer service is an unfortunate start…

  11. jburland says:

    Signing up to a FT program won’t ratchet up the price. Getting distracted and not completing the transaction might. My guess is the $44 tickets sold out while they were signing up and the next available fare class was $79 by the time they got round to completion.

  12. HawkWolf says:

    if established carriers can’t stay in business without filing for bankruptcy and cancelling flights, charging ‘normal’ rates, how can newcomers charge about a third of the price and not immediately run out of business?

  13. sleze69 says:

    So I think this really comes down to the whole fees thing that corporations use to lie to us when they advertise one rate and then charge you a higher one. Wendy’s $.99 cent burger doesn’t add a $.05 “bun fee”. This is something that should be legislated. Gas stations have been including taxes in their prices for years.

  14. Consumertaz says:

    @HawkWolf: Unions and overloaded pensions obligations are killing the older airlines.

  15. forever_knight says:

    what misleading article.

    this isn’t due to signing up for frequent flier program. that’s just an unfortunate coincidence. what most likely happened is that Virgin offers 4 seats on it’s planes at that price. once those are gone, the next cheapest tickets are 35 bucks richer. if his girlfriend would have completed her application first and bought her tickets she would have got the cheap rate.

  16. B says:

    @Consumertaz: They’re not doing a very good job of it, though, since the older airlines all posted huge quarterly profits.

  17. Jasmo says:

    It’s sad that people are bitching about a 79$ flight. Sure, 44$ is better, but for real, folks, it’s 2007.

  18. Voyou_Charmant says:

    Sounds like a real tragic event, spending a wopping $79 to fly across the country on what appears to be an airline that cares about their passengers comfort. Probably China’s fault. Maybe if you write a letter to someone you can get something for free!

  19. rixatrix says:

    I’m not entirely convinced that this guy didn’t buy the last $44 seat out from under his girlfriend, leaving her with no choice to pay in the next highest bracket. This is how airlines price their seats – once the cheap ones are gone, they’re usually gone forever, and the person sitting next to you on a flight could’ve paid $200 more or less than you did for a plain old seat.

    Way to go, boyfriend. You should probably split the difference with your girl, and then you’ll both have a $61.50 seat.

  20. lucidpsyche says:

    I actually compared fares between Virgin and JetBlue. Virgin’s LAX to Dulles flight cost significantly more than JetBlue’s Long Beach to Dulles (a comparable route; JetBlue doesn’t fly out of LAX).

    Since when is a flight from San Francisco, Calif., to Los Angeles, Calif., across the country?

  21. The Walking Eye says:

    Both of us chose to sign up for the program.

    Essentially, Virgin America was adding $35 to my girlfriend’s ticket price, for the luxury of signing up for their frequent flier program.

    So why didn’t he get charged for the luxury of signing up? All the seats at a ballgame aren’t $5 and if there’s only one left, that’s all you get. It’s gotta be something in the algorithm or ordering system where it’s first to complete the transaction that gets the rate.

  22. mikejstein says:

    Rixatrix @ Walking The Eye –
    I’d completely agree with you, except that we had already chosen seats at the $44 price level. This was already after we’d begun the process of reserving the seats. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the seat price to say even during the course of one transaction – kind of like how ticketmaster holds your tickets for you while you complete your purchase.

  23. Buran says:

    @HawkWolf: Because the new guys know how to run a business and the old guys are refusing to wake up and are demanding (and getting) government handouts to stay in business.

    We need to cut them off.

  24. Buran says:

    I’d love to try VA. But as usual, St. Louis gets left in the dirt.

    Thanks for nothing, Branson. You want my money? Make it possible for me to give it to you.

  25. The Walking Eye says:

    @mikejstein: Yeah, I thought of that too, but it could be that the tickets aren’t held and/or their programming sucks for the ticket ordering.