She wasn’t on Virgin Atlantic’s “Guest List” — so how about a refund?

By | March 23rd, 2017

Did Virgin Atlantic do enough for Joyce Chang? All she wanted was a ride to the airport and to relax in its lounge, a privilege for which she and a friend shelled out $800.

But the car never showed up, she didn’t get to spend much time in the lounge, and now she wants her money back. Is she entitled to anything?

Chang’s problem, experienced on a recent flight from San Francisco to London, is a cautionary tale about optics. Something that looks like a solid case at first can fall apart under scrutiny — and additional details from a company.

But it still leaves open a question: Did Virgin do enough for this passenger?

Chang and her travel companion purchased a service called Guest List, which allows commoners to experience the ground-service products normally offered to Upper Class passengers.

The Telegraph, a British newspaper, describes the amenities:

It begins with a private chauffeur-driven transfer to the airport, after which point Guest List passengers departing from London are permitted to use Upper Class check-in facilities and to fast-track security. Luggage will be tagged as Upper Class and be prioritised for offloading after landing. Similar benefits are available from other airports.

Thereafter, Guest List passengers can use the Virgin Clubhouse – the airline’s lounge facilities. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in Heathrow Terminal 3 was voted the world’s best airline lounge in the recent Ultratravel 100 awards; facilities there include a spa where complimentary treatments and haircuts are provided, a complimentary bar and full catering facilities.

Sounds decadent. Everyone should travel like that.

I can’t blame Chang for buying into this. And all looked well right up until the day before her departure, when she received a confirmation call for her limousine.

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“No driver showed,” she remembers. “I called Virgin and after being kept waiting on the phone for over 15 minutes, was told that there was a miscommunication, no driver would be coming by.”

With the clock ticking, Chang had to move fast. She made alternate arrangements to get to the airport, where she barely made her flight. No time to enjoy the club, for which she’s paid a handsome sum. Disappointing.

“This was our first experience flying with Virgin and we were extremely upset that Virgin was such an inept company,” she says.

Fortunately, the program worked on their way back to the States. But Chang wonders if she deserves a partial, if not a full, refund. That’s a good question.

“I am not happy or satisfied with this entire experience and therefore am requesting a full refund to my credit card,” she told me.

Our advocacy team was all over this case. It appeared Virgin had taken $800 and delivered only half a product. At least it could refund $400, right?

Well, no. Virgin responded to our request and explained its side of the story. Not only had the airline offered to cover the cost of her taxi to the airport in San Francisco, but it also offered the Guest List service on her return flight. She’d only paid for one way.

Chang disputed this account. She says she paid for round trip Guest List privileges. She also noted the offer to cover her taxi was meaningless, since she took advantage of a first-time discount from Uber that left her with a bill of just pennies.

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It’s a classic “she said/he said.” Virgin’s published rates for Guest List seem to corroborate its version. And since we can’t definitively tell who is right, Virgin wins by default. But it’s also a reminder that a case that look airtight may, in fact, not be when a company chimes in. We’re also left to ask if Virgin did enough to compensate this unhappy customer?

Did Virgin offer Joyce Chang enough compensation?

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  • sirwired

    Okay, I can believe that she did not, in fact, pay for round-trip services. But just supplying her with what she paid for on the return trip instead doesn’t really make up for the immense hassle of wondering if you are going to make your flight. This would be a job for a nice voucher; maybe $200-$300…

    On another note… that’s expensive for what you get… a Limo ride and a nice place to chill before your flight for $800/pp/ea. way? Ouch.

  • Michael__K

    “Virgin’s published rates for Guest List seem to corroborate its version.”

    Where did you find Virgin’s published rates?

    According to the linked Telegraph article, “Guest List service starts from […] £340 per couple. ” That would be $425 at today’s exchange rate.

  • Mel65

    So, it was $400 per person for just ONE way? Not $400 per couple? That’s… crazy. But, even if they did only pay for one way…that one way was the departure trip and they didn’t get it. Nice that Virgin said they could use it on the return, but it definitely got the trip off on a stressful foot. Maybe she doesn’t deserve all or even half back, but Virgin should provide SOMETHING that says, “Yeah we goofed…sorry” IMHO.

  • Bill___A

    When there is a screw up, you have to play ball with them. If she had taken Virgin’s supplied taxi, and not had time to enjoy the lounge, that’s one thing. But when she took matters into her own hands, took the Uber, and didn’t have time at the lounge, she made it harder to blame on Virgin. Yes, Virgin’s limo service screwed up. It looks like Virgin tried to make good on it by giving the service on the return flight. I had sympathy for her until I got to the end, then not so much. Disappointing but she might have made it worse.

  • Alan Gore

    This case all depends on whether she paid for the upgrade both ways, or one way. Which was it?

  • MarkKelling

    Maybe a refund of what a taxi ride would have cost would be nice.

    The cost is only $400 pp each way (“she and a friend shelled out $800″) and while not cheep, is not really that bad all things considered.

    They offer the same limo ride as part of your ticket for their version of 1st class. It costs extra there too. Or you can save money by opting out of it (depending on your viewpoint). At some airports you were actually driven right to the plane skipping security and all that, getting a quick wanding before walking up the steps. In the New York area, you were fed at a fancy restaurant (including alcohol and desert) before heading to the airport. I did that one once and it really was worth it to me. But not worth enough to do it every flight. :-)

  • MarkKelling

    I found the pricing or even any mention of this service nowhere on the Virgin Atlantic website. You would think that something offered for this price would be everywhere.

    Maybe it was either a limited time offer or did poorly so that it has been removed. Or maybe the Upper Class passengers complained enough about the economy riff raff in the club so they no longer are allowed in. :-)

  • MarkKelling

    Well, was she supposed to just continue waiting for a limo that never showed up? If she would have waited any longer, she would most likely have missed her flight. Taking the Uber did allow her to catch her original flight.

  • James

    The limo ride only applies to some of the business class fares — not all. I live about 15 mies from the airport, and Heathrow Express is faster than any limo in London, so the difference isn’t worth it to me. But if I were 100 miles or so from the US airport and getting the UK side limo to the Midlands, I’d consider it.

  • Bill___A

    That’s academic – whether an uber is faster than a taxi. Looks like she waited too long anyway. Probably since she paid one way it would have been nice of them to give the service to her on the return flight and give money back – but since she refused the cab and contended that she paid return when apparently she did not – I imagine Virgin wasn’t feeling so generous. And although the limo shouldn’t have screwed up, we weren’t told what the ‘miscommunication” was…knowing the nature of that would help.

  • AAGK

    Is it just me or is the Virgin lounge terrible? It charged for the brand of alcohol I wanted. An Uber black car will get you to the airport just as well. I rarely get to the airport early enough to use the lounges but when I do, it is only bc they are free. An airport lounge is not worth paying for in terms of value. Virgin should refund them.

    Also, I once saw some guy at the SFO centurion lounge standing in the middle with towel around his waist waiting for the shower and I am against that.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I disagree with those who feel the return trip use of the facilities is enough. When you arrive home, you don’t want to linger in the airport lounge, you want to go home. You only use the airport lounge on the outgoing flight, when you get there very early to ensure you make your flight, and security was a breeze so you have a couple of hours to spend. This is a total fail by Virgin.

  • PsyGuy

    Commoners? As opposed to what the landed gentry and lords and ladies?
    It does sound decedent and for £800 it is. An Uber and a lounge pass would have cost a lot less, and apparently accomplished more.
    The LW’s confusion may be in her lack of understanding that to the upper class one should always arrive fashionably late.

    For £800 sounds more like a roundtrip benefit to me than simply one way. Either way I think VA swindled the LW out of either money or benefit.

  • PsyGuy

    #VIRGINFAIL

  • PsyGuy

    It’s not terrible, but it’s not worth £800. I usually get charged for top shelf spirits, though the well is often times a step or two up from the worst label.

  • PsyGuy

    She had to take matters into her own hands, she couldn’t depend on VA to supply one service, why assume they can provide another. Further a taxi and a limo are not the same category of transportation. You can’t sell a limo, provide a sedan and then call it a limo.

  • PsyGuy

    The LW wasn’t paying for efficiency but for class of service.

  • PsyGuy

    Are you checking the UK of VA?

  • PsyGuy

    An Uber Black and Lounge pass would have cost a lot less.

  • PsyGuy

    It would still be a no for me.

  • michael anthony

    Although there are exceptions. Most US to Europe flights are red eye. Many paxs complain of how hard it is to sleep and arrive dead tired. I can see buying the package for your destination flight, so u can eat, relax, etc, before departing and then try to sleep most of the way. Definitely an advantage for arrival in London, so I can understand the difference. Virgin should also understand that.

  • jsn55

    Interesting case … $400 for a limo ride and lounge time? Sure, the Virgin lounges are great, the one at Heathrow is spectacular … but that’s a LOT of money. I got stopped by her statement that she almost missed her flight out of SFO because the limo didn’t show up. How much time could it take to call a taxi or uber? So I am questioning her whole story. However, Virgin was generous in offering her the same treatment on the way home. Errors happen often in travelling, why didn’t she accept their offer of the special services on her return?

  • AAGK

    Terrible was an exaggeration but I’m speaking within a limited context. I agree with everything you said. 1k for a lounge is not worth It. I hope Chris continues to expose this issue where folks are falling for the lounge exclusivity marketing. For a less experienced traveler, it may sound way cooler than it is. I didn’t realize lounges were charging so much for access.

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