Virgin Australia is shifting from a total weight policy to a per-bag charge for checked baggage. Whether that's good or bad news depends on how you currently use the system. Here's how the (complicated) new rules work.
Picture by Simon Sees
Right now, the following baggage allowances apply on Virgin Australia (in addition to the 7kg of hand luggage everyone gets). In practical terms, you get no checked baggage allowance on the very cheapest tickets, 23kg if you pay for a more flexible ticket, and additional allocations if you're a highly-ranked frequent flyer. Regardless, you can spread that allowance over multiple bags.
As is usually the case, booking extra baggage online is cheaper. Buying baggage allowance costs between $12 or $15 online, or $40 at the airport. If you exceed the allowed weight, you'll pay $15 per kilogram. (You can compare these rates to Virgin's rivals in our roundup of domestic airline baggage fees.)
From May 16 2012, the situation changes. The allowance will be calculated based on the number of pieces rather than the total weight.
If you want to purchase additional checked items, you'll pay on a per-item basis, rather than the current approach of paying by weight. On Tier 1 flights, a single extra bag costs $12, two costs $32, and three costs $52. On Tier 2 flights, those prices rise to $15, $45 and $75.
The tricky bit is that you can only purchase a maximum of three items online, and that includes any allowance that comes with your fare. So if you're a Platinum member entitled to two pieces of baggage, you can only purchase one more bag online.
You can also purchase additional allowance for up to six more bags at the airport, but at much higher rates: $40 for the first item, $100 for two, $160 for three, and a truly obscene $120 each for each item after that. Any bags which exceed the weight limits (23kg if you're not a frequent flyer) cost $40 each. While Virgin says this is cheaper than its previous per-kilo approach, that very much depends on how far over the limit you went.
On the whole, the rules are less generous, especially to frequent flyers and business travellers (an area where Qantas and Virgin continue to battle it out). For instance, as a Platinum member, I was previously entitled to 69kg, which I could spread over three bags of 23kg each, or even four bags of 15kg. I'm now only entitled to two bags of up to 32kg each. In practice, I'm unlikely to want to travel with that much baggage anywhere, but I might well want to take some separate bags or individual items. That will now cost me more.
Not checking luggage remains the best way to avoid extra charges, but requires careful planning. If you do need to check baggage, check our guide to maximising savings. What's your take on the new Virgin approach?