United snags Virgin Australia as a partner, displacing Delta


Virgin Australia and United Airlines secured a new partnership for connections between the United States and Australia. The deal, effective from April 2022, sees Delta Air Lines drop from the role it held over the past decade.

Virgin Australia customers will have significantly more options for travel from Australia to the States, with more than three-times as many services available to them, which is great news for Australian travelers.

Virgin Australia played up United’s superior network between the US and Australia in announcing the deal. United offers significantly more route options than Delta did. These include more gateways on the US side, such as the Houston-Sydney flight that the carrier expects to resume in 2022.

Commenting on the new deal, United CEO Scott Kirby believes that “Looking ahead, Virgin Australia is the perfect partner for United. Our partnership provides considerable commercial value for both airlines and a shared commitment to offer the best travel experience for our customers.

The partnership will establish codeshare cooperation, as well as reciprocal loyalty benefits. Members of both the Velocity Frequent Flyer and MileagePlus programs will be able to to earn and redeem points, as well as realize elite status benefits when traveling on either carrier.

These elite benefits include:

  • Priority check-in

  • Priority boarding

  • Priority baggage delivery and additional baggage check allowance

  • Priority security clearance

  • Lounge access

The new partnership comes up short of the prior Delta/Virgin Australia deal in that it does not include anti-trust immunity. But it still provides a significant boost for United in the region.

United still has its joint venture with Air New Zealand that covers the US-New Zealand-Australia market. The overlap between Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia is limited today, but as the trans-Tasman segment reopens that could add additional opportunities.

Technically the Delta/Virgin Australia deal collapsed just over a year ago. The joint venture fell apart as Virgin Australia went bankrupt, cut all long-haul operations, and reorganized itself into a new company.

That Delta announced more than $1 billion of new investments in equity partners AeromexicoLATAM, and Virgin Atlantic and no money was flagged for Virgin Australia was probably a pretty good indicator the relationship was not going to recover.

Virgin Australia issued a separate statement noting that all current bookings would be honored and that the existing loyalty partnership would wind down in a controlled manner as the United arrangement launches next April.

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