Today, an unknown number of Virgin Blue Velocity members (including me) received an email titled “Surprise!- You’ve Turned Gold”.
The email announced that the recipient had been granted a free upgrade to Velocity Gold, the Gold level membership of Virgin Blue’s frequent flyer programme for a period of one year. The email went on to describe perks available to Gold members when travelling including:
- Free Lounge membership, so you can catch up on work, relax and escape the airport crowds.
- Priority check-in.
- Up to 32kg of checked baggage at no cost.
- Two personalised baggage tags
No reason for the unexpected upgrade was given, apart from “you came so close to making it on your own”, suggesting that the recipient’s Velocity points for the past 12 months came close to the number required to qualify for Gold status. Except they didn’t. At least not in my case. Not even close. You normally need to reach 50,000 points to qualify.
My husband received the same email, as did many others, judging by the discussion on Twitter shortly thereafter.
Still, it was a delightful surprise. Feeling chuffed, I click on a link within the email to an explanation of Velocity Gold. ONOZ. It led to a bizarre error message stating that the whole thing had been a terrible mistake:
Friday the 13th strike
Oops! Due to an error, you may have received an email regarding a Gold upgrade by mistake. Please disregard the free upgrade communication. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.
Virgin Blue is yet to offer any explanation for the error, apart from a single tweet blaming the email screw up on Friday the 13th. The backlash on Twitter so far has been brutal. Result? Gold Standard Marketing FAIL.
What do you think? Should Virgin Blue honour their original offer? Or is their Friday 13th excuse enough? Please add your comments below.
UPDATE 1: According to @bengrubb, Virgin Blue is blaming an IT glitch for the problem.
UPDATE 2: I created a new hash tag on Twitter for the incident called #velocitygate and it seems to have taken off.
UPDATE 3: Not sure when it went up, but the Velocity Rewards site now features an apology front and center of their home page. It’s a step in the right direction:
UPDATE 4: According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today (17 November), the email glitch was human error, pure and simple and accompanied by tears of panic as it was posted out to over 1 million recipients by mistake. No action will be taken by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over the glitch and if Velocity members still have an issue, they are being advised to contact the airline directly. Drama over, move along please, nothing to see here.
Well…that email led me to book two flights to LA with them, so they better not revoke it. I am yet to receive the error email. We’ll see!
If it was a marketing ploy it certainly backfired in a lot of ways.
Hey Catherine – I haven’t received the “We screwed up” email either, but if you click on the *Velocity Gold* link in the original email, you’ll see it leads to the “We screwed up, let’s blame it on Friday 13th” web page
Just got the email! Rah! What do we do now?
Scrap that. I just got the *Oops!* email too. I just love the punchline at the bottom: *Velocity. Rewards You Faster* ROTFL!
Maybe Friday the 13th is the new April fools?
They should have offered something over the top – diamond, zirconium, black (American express urban legend turned real) or depleted uranium.
Great title for the blog, you bet me to it ?
I think that legally they will need to honour this. The email is the legal proof and they have to honour it. I feel sorry for the person who accidently clicked “Select All”! Boy are they stressing out right now!
@Kara – you know, I wouldn’t be too sure about that. If they can show evidence it was a technical error, I think they’re off the hook. Even if it’s proven to be human error, I don’t think they are legally accountable. Regardless, you can bet they’re getting top legal and PR advice right now. Someone’s working overtime this weekend!
@Andrew – well, I guess it could’ve been worse. Might have offered us all Platinum Membership instead ?
@David – thanks for stopping by. My Dumbass posts are actually a series. Check the topic drop down list for more FAILs of the dumbass kind.
@Catherine – I’d call their customer service and explain the situation. I’m sure they’d refund you or perhaps give you a seat upgrade or something. Good luck and pls comment to let us know how you got on
My first reaction to the emails was a pang of fear, like “Oh, no…I’ve been phished”. It all somehow looked sinister so I was genuinely frightened. This soon turned to a realisation that the emails, together, were a crude way around the fact that I had opted out of their “Velocity Communications”. The way the Oops email was worded simply did not ring true – it was worded so that I almost felt that the reason I wasn’t upgraded was that I had opted out of their communications. If someone had genuinely made a mistake the apology would be more convincing and would be a management email in a different format, not a clearly marketing format.
They’re blaming it on an IT error – http://itnews.com.au/News/160494,virgin-blue-error-upgrades-passengers-to-gold-status.aspx
i agree with austin. this was a dishonest marketing tool. virgin should be made to honour the first emails.
How does “Friday the 13th” even qualify as an excuse?
That’s so lame. They should at least make some concession if they are not going to cough up the Gold Membership.
Free class upgrade or something. Anything.
@ Ben – yep, saw that last night and tweeted: http://twitter.com/kalena/status/5676727490
@ Stephen and Rob – well it is still early days. They may well offer something, esp when/if the major media agencies start milking it, which I’m guessing they will
What ever the case its going to be a battle of the PR titans next week and this will test Virgin’s agency strength in dealing with the issue and not making it worse as they appear to have done so far…
As you can see PR and social media doesn’t work only office hours….
@David – It certainly was a colossal mistake. But I don’t think they need to honour the offer – would be logically impossible and judging by the number of persons the accidental email went out to, financially infeasible. I don’t expect compensation – I’m more interested in the disaster control side of things. I felt their *Oops! Friday 13th* response was a little dismissive, as did many others it seems.
Having managed customer service teams one of my favorite ways to deal with a mistake like this is to defuse a lot of the hostility by empowering the customers, but in a way you control. If you give them a semblance of power they as a group will be settled, though you will always have a few outliers that need to be dealt with directly.
I’d have sent an apology email with some options for the customers to pick from.
1. 500(or whatever) air miles. We know it isn’t the original offer, but despite our mistake we do want you to have something.
2. I am an idiot page. If you choose this we will print out an I am an idiot page for each one we get. One of these will be put on the marketing manager’s door each day until they run out.
3. Karma. You accept our apology and someday, something good will come back to you.
And no, they certainly in no way should or have to honour a mistake.
@ Eric – Yes, customer-choice options would be a sensible response. Love the idea of the *idiot* humiliation page. Immediately diffuses the anger with humour and would win kudos as well as publicity, provided no single staff member is blamed or overly sensitive. But haven’t seen much about the issue today, so I think it has mostly blown over due to w/e. Lucky Virgin Blue!
@Kalena based on the my blog traffic while it has slowed to around 50% of what it was Friday/Saturday there is still a lot of interest around it.
Polling my website visitors
38% think is a marketing stunt
55% think its human error
3% think its a technical issue
@ David – a marketing stunt? That is pretty far-fetched.
Yep just one of those rumors people were suggesting so i thought id include it, based around the iSnack 2.0 theories. I wish i had of added it earlier….