60 Seconds with Phil Seward, Virgin America's Director of Loyalty

60 Seconds with Phil Seward, Virgin America's Director of Loyalty

Virgin America Elevate turned five this year and in celebration has launched a status program for their best customers. We recently spoke with Phil Seward, Virgin America’s Director of Loyalty, to learn about the elite program shortly before it was announced. You can read the related article in our Inside Edition section, including the benefits associated with the status levels.

InsideFlyer
What’s the latest with Virgin America?
Phil Seward
As you know, we are about to celebrate our fifth anniversary. Shortly after the launch of the airline, we introduced our frequent flyer program Elevate, and at the time, it was the only revenue-based frequent flyer program for a U.S. domestic-based airline. We wanted to make the program clear, simple and very easy to engage with. As we’ve grown over the last five years we’ve amassed a strong following of guests who have helped us get to where we are today. To thank these guests for their loyalty to Virgin America, on Aug. 8th, we are launching two new status levels in the program: Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold. We’ll be measuring qualification to those two tiers based on our points system, which is at the core of the Elevate program today. We’ll be tracking status points alongside reward points and will have a threshold of 20,000 status points in a calendar year to achieve Elevate Silver status and 50,000 status points for Elevate Gold status. The program will run on a calendar year basis with annual qualifying year running from January through December and then an associated benefit year–so as you earn status in the qualifying year, you’ll get the benefits for the rest of that year through to the end of the following calendar year.

IF
Can you explain status points vs. reward points?
Seward
Sure–this is pretty similar to the difference between reward miles and elite qualifying miles in other FFPs. We’ll separately track status points towards status qualification that will be earned similar to our current reward points, but they will be limited to certain behaviors; not all activities that earn reward points will earn status points and status points won’t be redeemable. Firstly, all flights on Virgin America currently earn five points per dollar spent on the base fare; Elevate members will also earn status points at that same rate, so basically all revenue flights on Virgin America will earn the corresponding amount of status points. Secondly, we’re also including any qualifying flight activity on Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic, based on the distance flown and fare purchased. Finally, we have a lot of members with our low annual fee Virgin America credit card, so they will be able to earn 10,000 status points when they spend more than $25,000 on their card each calendar year. So it’s a flat 10,000 status points per calendar year once the spend threshold is met. We also have a no annual fee credit card that will earn a maximum of 5,000 status points after spending more than $25,000 in a calendar year.

IF
Since you are not launching at the first of the year, can you talk a bit about how members will be welcomed into the status levels?
Seward
Our goal was to make sure to recognize as many qualifying members as early as possible when we launch the new benefits, so we basically broke this down into three groups: members who’d already qualified based on their spend so far this calendar year, members who’d qualify based on a rolling 12 months spend and some of our newer members based on their behavior since joining Elevate. This way we can make sure that those guests who have either earned the status already–or are on track to earn it–can experience the new benefits as soon as we launch the program. Anyone who is placed in a status level at launch will have the benefit throughout 2013, but will need to earn sufficient status points during 2013 to renew for 2014.

IF
How many members will be getting status at the launch?
Seward
One of our objectives was to make sure that status was genuinely meaningful for members, and to ensure holding it would be prestigious and exclusive. At launch, we’re probably looking at no more than two percent of our current Elevate member database. What we didn’t want to do is flood these new status benefits across a large base of guests and dilute them from day one. This is about recognizing guests who have made a conscious choice to choose Virgin America due to our fantastic in-flight product and our differentiated service; we want to make sure that we can offer them a set of truly meaningful benefits that will make travelling with Virgin America even better than it is today.

IF
How will members be informed that they have earned the status?
Seward
Back in 2011, we ran an invitation only VIP program where we hand selected a number of members to participate in a beta program, so we could understand the benefits that really made a difference to our guests. The VIP program members will automatically be upgraded to our new Elevate Gold status and we’ve already let them know. All of our other qualifying members will be notified that they’re getting Elevate Silver or Elevate Gold status by email and some of our new members will be welcomed into elite at some of our airports on the day we launch.

IF
Anything else to add?
Seward
The headlines are true! We’re going to be giving one of our Elevate members a free trip into space on board Virgin Galactic. We’re really excited about this promotion and we’re dubbing it ‘Mission Galactic’: the mission is to earn the most status points between Aug. 8, 2012 and Aug. 7, 2013 to win a space flight. In essence any one of our members could win, and they won’t need to redeem any of their reward points!

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