Virgin Australia 737-800
Virgin Australia is selling a minority share of its frequent flyer business to a prominent Asia-Pacific investment group in a move that will yield A$336 million ($314.1 million) for the airline.
The carrier announced the sale on the same day that it reported a net loss of $A355.6 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014.
Just a day earlier, Qantas revealed its decision to not sell a partial stake in its own frequent flyer program after carefully considering such a step.
Under the deal, Affinity Equity Partners will purchase a 35% stake in Virgin’s Velocity frequent flyer program. The sale price means the enterprise value of the entire program is A$960 million.
Velocity will remain part of the Virgin Australia Group, and while it will have a separate board, the airline will appoint the chairman and retain majority representation.
Airline CEO John Borghetti said the carrier is not considering selling any further stakes in Velocity. Regarding the contrasting choices Virgin and Qantas have made regarding their loyalty programs, Borghetti notes that they are “in very different situations.” While the Qantas program is very mature, the Virgin equivalent is not, and the addition of Affinity as a partner will help “turbocharge its development.”
Velocity has 4.5 million members, and the carrier plans to grow the program to seven million members over the next three years.
Virgin’s fiscal year net loss was significantly worse than the $98.1 million deficit in the previous year. The underlying pre-tax loss for the 2014 fiscal year was $211.7 million, versus a $93.8 million loss in 2013. Both the international and domestic operations saw wider losses.
Revenue increased by 7.1% to A$4.3 billion, and yield was up 1.2%. Virgin Australia’s share of losses from its 60% ownership of Tigerair Australia was A$46.1 million and Virgin said it plans for Tigerair to achieve profitability in fiscal year 2017.
Applauding the government for its recent repeal of the carbon tax, Virgin says the fees cost it more than A$100 million over the past two years since it was unable to pass them on to customers.
Virgin Australia made some adjustments to its fleet plan to improve its productivity and efficiency. It struck a deal with Boeing to bring forward the first deliveries of its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from 2019 to 2018, and is also retiring two of its older Airbus A330s.
One of the A330 retirements has already occurred, and the other will coincide with the delivery of another new A330 in September. The A330s are currently used for flights to Perth from the major east coast cities, and the net decrease of one aircraft will be absorbed by replacing A330 service between Perth and Brisbane with 737-800s. Frequency will be increased on this service to maintain capacity.
Virgin Australia has also announced it will add its business-class product to the 737-800s that it uses for short-haul international flying to New Zealand and Pacific Island destinations. The business-class seats will be added to 10 aircraft in March and April 2015. The other parts of the carrier’s domestic mainline and international operation already feature business class.
Borghetti said Virgin Australia will soon make a major announcement relating to its domestic and international premium product, although he would not reveal any more details.