Earlier this year Alaska Airlines announced the wind down process for the Virgin America brand, as well as their loyalty program called Elevate. One of the items that was clearly communicated in this announcement was the actual end date for the Elevate program, December 31st, 2017. At that time Elevate would be ended, and all existing Elevate members would be converted into the Alaska Airlines Mileage Program.
With the end of the Elevate program, Virgin America’s other airline partnerships would also have to be ceased. Many of us assumed that it would be the same date at the end of the year. Usually the airline will announce a final date for reservations (and sometime a later final date for flights) on the partner airlines. In an email dated June 15th, Virgin America has announce final dates for earning, redemptions and award travel with those partner airlines. Per the email the last day to earn or redeem points is September 30th, 2017. The last date for award travel is January 15th, 2018.
Not including Alaska Airlines (which will be the surviving parent airline), the other last four partner airlines for Virgin America include Emirates, Hawaiian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Australia.
For Emirates, this change is mostly a nonevent. Virgin America redemption rates per point are attractive, but then they are also coupled with very high carrier fees. For instance, San Francisco to Dubai requires 115,000 Elevate points for a roundtrip redemption. That is a competitive award, but also included are $1,410.00 in carrier fees.
Virgin America San Francisco to Dubai (roundtrip) 115,000 Elevate Points, $1,410.00 carrier fees and taxes.
Alaska Airlines San Francisco to Dubai (roundtrip) 165,000 Mileage Plan miles, $80.00 carrier fees and taxes.
Considering you can transfer 115,000 Elevate points into 149,500 Mileage Plan miles (1.3 conversion rate), it’s obvious that the redemption is more effective in Mileage Plan once the carrier fees and taxes are included. In my research, most other Emirate redemptions gave similar results.
Virgin America allows roundtrip redemptions in Hawaiian Airlines first class to Hawaii for 50,000 miles from the West Coast and 80,000 from the East Coast (and $11.00 in taxes on both). Both are good redemptions rates and if you enjoy flying Hawaiian Airlines this can be a good option. A more preferable route is to convert Elevate points to Mileage Plan miles and then redeem them for Virgin America first class to Hawaii. It’s ironic that most of the time Mileage Plan offers better redemptions for Virgin America than Virgin America itself.
Virgin America Elevate members have been frustrated in using their points on Singapore Airline redemptions, in any class for some time. In regards to flight redemptions, Singapore is a partner to Virgin America in name only, as it is not possible to redeem elevate points for Singapore flights.
For the last couple years, Virgin Australia has been the real gem in the airline partner category, sort of. Virgin America charges 80,000 points for roundtrip travel to Australia and the United States in business class ($130.00 in carrier fees – 45,000 points for one-way travel). This is an outright steal of a redemption, when there is availability. Virgin Australia doesn’t release inventory until a few days before travel and nothing else beyond one week or so. Still, if you can be flexible with your travel plans, this is one of the best use of Elevate points.
Domestic business class redemptions with Virgin Australia are also excellent. Examples includes 27,000 points for roundtrip travel from Sydney to Perth, or 17,000 points from Brisbane to Melbourne. Taxes and fees are very low on these redemptions, and availability is generally good.
Other Non-Arline Partners:
Virgin America’s other partners that include hotel, car rental companies, shopping, and such were also included in this announcement. For all the other partners earning opportunities end on September 30th as well, and are listed here. A couple exceptions to this date are:
American Express Membership Rewards Program transfers: October 31th, 2017
Airbnb Earning: June 30th, 2017
Points.com point purchases October 30th, 2017.
The transfer rate for American Express to Virgin America is 2 to 1, so there are much better places to utilize your Membership Rewards points.
New redemptions with Virgin America Elevate points will mostly be discontinued as of September 30th. The exception to this will be airline redemptions with Virgin America itself, and depending on the flight, there can be value in doing this.
The biggest change is Virgin America’s four airline partners will effectively be shut down after September 30th. The Elevate program doesn’t have a lot of useful airline partners, except for Virgin Australia. The one-way flight redemptions of Virgin Australia’s US-Australia or Australia-US in business class for 45,000 elevate points will be a real loss.
A continuing theme with the Alaska Airlines acquisition of Virgin America has been the speed Alaska is combining the two airlines. This announcement came earlier than many of us thought it would, and just demonstrates Alaska’s focus on getting the integration completed.