Virgin America Elevates Car Service, On Demand

As loyalty rewards go, Virgin America‘s Elevate frequent flier program has been on the cutting edge since its inception. Virgin America was among the first U.S. loyalty programs to offer guests the ability to redeem reward points for any unsold seat, on any flight, at any time. Now, Elevate has partnered with Uber, the on-demand personal transportation company, to offer members the ability to earn points riding with Uber.

The move should really come as no surprise. In the air, Virgin offers passengers unique features for their comfort including custom-designed seating, a cabin mood lighting system and power outlets near every seat. An advanced entertainment system is available for each passenger on their own seat-back touch-screen with 25 on-demand films, live TV, seat-to-seat chat and more.

Why not have a car meet at the airport for ground transportation too?
On demand – ordered from a smartphone.

Uber looks to be a perfect fit for Virgin America’s loyalty program. Their simple yet effective way of doing business is more expensive than a taxi, but offers higher quality service and vehicles for those who prefer to travel in comfort and style.

After signing up, users order service on their iPhone and Android smartphone apps in one of three ways. They can set their pickup location on the app’s map, go to and then type in the pickup address or, in the US and Canada, text an address and city to UBR-CAB (827-222).

Uber then dispatches the nearest driver for pickup, sends a text with the estimated arrival time and another when the car arrives.

After the ride, Uber will automatically charge the credit card on file, tip included.

To kick things off, Virgin America is awarding 800 Elevate points to new Uber customers who also are a part of the Elevate program along with $500 in cash and a free flight to one new Uber rider every week from now until October 2.

Flickr photo by vincentq

Virgin America’s Most Frequent Flier Will Get A Gratis Trip to Space

Virgin America is dangling the possibility of Virgin Galactic space travel in front of its most frequent fliers and Elevate reward members with a new promotion.

The Elevate member who earns the most status points between August 8, 2012, and August 7, 2013, will earn the ultimate round-trip flight reward: a sub-orbital space flight on Virgin Galactic. This is part of a series of membership enhancements timed to coincide with the airline’s fifth anniversary.

“We’re excited to add these new benefits to Elevate in response to direct feedback from our members,” added Phil Seward, director of guest loyalty at Virgin America. “We do not have a traditional legacy airline product … Offering a space flight as the ultimate frequent flyer reward seemed a fitting way to recognize our most loyal guest.”

What do you think – would you switch loyalty programs for the possibility of a space flight? If you’re really into the idea, a new promo will let you buy a flight on Virgin Galactic for a mere 2 million miles.

[Flickr via GlenFleishman]

Virgin America; United To Begin San Francisco To Washington, DC, Nonstop Service

Virgin America has been awarded permission to fly into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport beginning sometime this summer. United Airlines began their service today.

While the well-known carriers already fly direct to San Francisco, its US hub, out of Washington Dulles International, this new route opens up additional opportunities for the business and leisure traveler looking to fly from DC proper, rather than 45-minutes outside of the city.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to bring our unique brand of service to this underserved route – and to better connect one of the world’s leading economies to our nation’s capital,” said David Cush, President and CEO of Virgin America. “Until this year, San Francisco has been the largest travel market in the nation previously without nonstop flights to DCA.”

Typically, long-haul flights are rare from the Washington airport, which normally doesn’t allow flights beyond a 1,250-mile “perimeter limit.”

Most of the prior “beyond perimeter” awards had been made to non-California airports. Smaller markets awarded DCA flights in the past include: Denver (four frequencies), Seattle (two frequencies) and Phoenix (three frequencies). Despite its size and the importance of Northern California’s innovation-based technology sector to the national economy, prior to this year the Bay Area never had nonstop service to DCA. As a result, local consumers and businesses suffered for decades with higher fares and limited choices – either flying to Washington Dulles or taking one-stop connecting flights when traveling to downtown Washington, D.C.

A big cheers today for Virgin, United and DC!

[Flickr via maka]

Virgin America expands with service to Philadelphia

Welcome to the City of Brotherly Love Virgin America. The California-based airline has announced that starting April 4, 2012, they will offer three daily nonstop flights from Philadelphia (PHL) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and two daily nonstop flights from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) starting April 10, 2012.

Connecting flights will also be available from PHL to Virgin America’s San Diego, Seattle and Las Vegas destinations. “This is a great development for the entire Philadelphia region, including northern Delaware, southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “New airline service not only lowers fares for travelers, but it is also a major economic driver – stimulating business travel, tourism and local job growth. Virgin America’s new flights also validate the strong and growing business travel link between our region’s innovation-based sectors and those on the West Coast.”

At a time when most airlines are cutting capacity, Virgin America will bring much needed nonstop competition from California’s largest airports to PHL. Currently, only legacy carriers serve the West Coast-PHL routes nonstop. When entering markets that offer little low-fare competition, Virgin America has historically seen fares drop by up to one-third. In addition, 50% of travelers flying from PHL to the Los Angeles market now use connecting flights and 45% of those traveling from PHL to the San Francisco Bay Area are connecting passengers.

The PHL announcement was first shared with the carrier’s social media fans earlier today, via a video that spotted the mysterious ‘Greenman’ from the FX television show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” near a Virgin America aircraft.
To kick off the fares, the airline is offering a “The City of Brotherly Love: Just Got Lovelier” sale, with PHL-LAX fares from $129 and PHL-SFO fares from $149 each way.

5 airlines with great in-flight services in economy class

Last week, I spent 13 hours desperately trying to fall asleep on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to London; my economy class seat didn’t have a personal entertainment system and the cabin monitor was pitch black from my angle. The week before, my sister took a red-eye United Airlines flight from Honolulu to San Francisco without the benefit of a pillow, blanket, or snack.

For many airlines, it looks like in-flight services in economy class are going the way of liquids on board. But thankfully, there are still some airlines that understand that service, entertainment, and even a few extras are a part of the customer experience, even for the peons in coach. These five are leading the pack.

Virgin Atlantic
Not only does Virgin offer one of the best personal entertainment systems I’ve ever experienced, they also offer a uniquely British flight experience on their Heathrow-JFK service. From complimentary English publications like Hello and Tatler in the waiting room, to free toiletry kits with socks and eyeshades, to a high tea service with scones and clotted cream, the attention to detail is there.Singapore Airlines
Rated by Zagat as the best international airline for both premium and economy seating, Singapore Airlines spares no expense with their amenities, offering all passengers luxurious Givenchy socks and toothbrush/toothpaste kits. If you happen to snag a seat on their Airbus A380 (say, through this sweet deal) or Boeing 777-300ER planes, you’ll also be able to read digitized versions of publications like the Wall Street Journal and Elle Magazine on Krisworld, the airline’s award-winning inflight entertainment system.

Though it’s a budget airline, JetBlue’s little extras make the flying experience one of the best in the U.S. Their entertainment systems offer 36 channels of DIRECTV programming, while their complimentary snack selection runs the gamut from Terra Blues chips to animal crackers (who doesn’t love animal crackers?). Plus, their Shut-Eye Service on overnight flights from the West includes free eyeshades and earplugs, plus hot towels and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee upon arrival.

Virgin America
Yup, Virgin again. Their American cousins offer sexy dim cabin lighting, standard and USB plugs at every seat, and the ability to easily offset the carbon emissions from your flight through a credit card swipe donation to Plus, from now until January 15, passengers on flights departing from San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Boston, Chicago, and New York JFK can enjoy free in-flight WiFi on new Google Chromebooks through the Chrome Zone pilot program.

Emirates Airlines
I first flew Emirates Airlines from Tokyo to Dubai when I was 12 years old, and it still sticks out as one of my favorite travel experiences. At the time, I was blown away by one of the first economy class personal entertainment systems in existence, as well as the extra Swiss chocolates snuck to me by the charming flight attendants. These days, Emirates offers 1,200 channels of programming plus telephone, SMS, and e-mail services on their ice entertainment system; regionally inspired multi-course meals with locally sourced ingredients; and cabin lighting specially designed to ease jet lag. I’m betting those chocolates are still there too.

[Flickr image via Richard Moross]