Once upon a time, Virgin Atlantic never missed an opportunity to have a joke at the expense of its arch-rival British Airways.
Whether it was BA’s decision to introduce World Images tail fins, or to order twin rather than quad-engine long-haul aircraft or the botched opening of Terminal 5, Virgin Atlantic always seized the opportunity to generate free publicity. Meanwhile, BA had no option but to maintain a dignified silence through gritted teeth.
For a long period of time, this worked very well. It generated huge PR for Virgin Atlantic and, at least in PR terms, closed the gap in terms of the relative size of the two airlines.
Over the past few years, things have gone very quiet in terms of the rivalry between the BA and Virgin. Partly because Virgin has undergone changes in management and a restructuring to stem years of financial losses whilst BA has expanded considerably, primarily thanks to its merger with bmi in 2012. Also, the overtly contrived publicity stunt has long been out of fashion.
So it’s something of a surprise to see Virgin launch a new promotion actively encouraging passengers to switch their bookings from BA to Virgin with the promise of a £50 discount.
Here’s how it is supposed to work:
- You make a flight booking directly with British Airways (a price quote is not sufficient).
- You then contact Virgin Atlantic twice, first by e-mail and then by telephone to make the same booking, and Virgin will give you a £50 discount off your flight for the same dates and destination.
- You then have to contact BA to cancel your booking.
- Crucially, you must contact BA within 24 hours of making your original BA booking in order to cancel your booking without penalty. Otherwise, the cancellation will be processed in accordance with the rules of your fare and could be non-refundable.
- Passengers are encouraged to share their experience using the hashtag #VAnotBA on social media.
Here is why this promotion is a bad idea:
1. It feels like it is run for the benefit of Virgin Atlantic rather than passengers.
A £50 discount is, in the grand scheme of things, quite modest. There is also a very limited window of opportunity. The promotion runs from today, Tuesday 13 June to Thursday 15 June.
A cynic might wonder whether this promotion is run primarily to generate PR.
2. It requires a lot of effort on the part of passengers
To take advantage of this promotion, you have to first make a booking direct with BA, e-mail the booking reference to Virgin, call Virgin to obtain a discounted flight and then contact BA to cancel your booking and obtain a refund from BA.
This is a lot of effort for a £50 discount.
3. It could all go wrong very easily
BA’s 24 hour cancellation window, amongst other limitations, only applies to direct flight only bookings. It does not apply to BA Holidays bookings with hotels or car hire or flight bookings via travel agents.
BA is hardly going to be charitable if passengers inadvertently find themselves having to pay for two flights to the same destination on the exact same day.
You also have to wait for BA to process your refund. Given how busy the airline is dealing with compensation claims from last month’s IT outage, this could take many weeks.
A passenger could also easily find themselves having to pay a credit card bill with two flight bookings before the BA flight is refunded. If a passenger cannot settle the credit card bill in full, the interest cost could easily wipe out the £50 saving.