Virgin Blue has come out swinging with allegations of trickery and anti-competitive behaviour by Qantas toward its frequent flyers, but what took them so long?
The airline has been invisible or inaudible on the issue of Qantas attempts to force credit card users to lock themselves into its frequent flyer program since Qantas emailed around 5 million of its members late in January giving them a 31 March deadline to choose only Qantas approved “direct earn” card products.
In fact, the writing has been on the wall of a major anti-competitive drive by Qantas in relation to points schemes since 12 December, when it signed a heads of agreement with Woolworths to join its Everyday Rewards program, a deal which delivers the loyalty trifecta of groceries, supposedly discounted petrol and “free” airline seats.
Virgin Blue ran dead on that issue as well, as has the ACCC, which disgraced itself years ago by allowing discount petrol to be linked to the other everyday necessity of food on the launch of major pay-our-grocery-prices-or-pay-more-for petrol schemes by the Coles and Woolworth brands and their program partners.
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Qantas will be an everyday part of grocery buying using Everyday Rewards from a date to be announced but expected to be mid year.
With only six days to run before Qantas cuts off the earning and burning of flight redemptions of its points on some credit and charge card programs, Virgin Blue is diving into the action like a 200 metre freestyle swimmer who didn’t hear the starter’s gun and missed the first three laps.
Or maybe it believed public cynicism or common sense over frequent flyer schemes in general and these two Qantas initiatives in particular would win the day, and has changed its mind just as the real calamity became apparent.
On each of these occasions, Virgin Blue did not respond to queries about its position.
Whatever Virgin Blue believed, it is at last urging frequent flyers “not to be duped out of flexibility and freedom of choice.”
Virgin Blue CEO, Brett Godfrey says “competition is what keeps airlines honest, yet under our competitor’s scheme … there’s no real need to work hard to provide members with the best deal”.
Godfrey also points out that despite the Qantas warnings, people will still be able to use their card points for Qantas or other airline flights in many cases, comparing, picking and choosing between the programs for the best deal of the day.
“Consumers should not be pressured to sing away their freedom to choose. That’s not loyalty, that’s trickery,” he says.
But why didn’t he say so when it mattered?