Pardon me for being blunt, but it’s about damn time. It amazes me that despite the fact that Virgin America has been around for a few years now, they still haven’t actually done a whole lot to integrate with the other “Virgin” airlines, which seems like a no brainer. While this is hardly the most exciting news ever, it is a step in the right direction for the Virgin family.
As of today Virgin America Elevate points can be redeemed for travel on Virgin Atlantic (points calculator here), and as of March 22 Elevate points can be redeemed for travel on Virgin Australia (points calculator here).
The first thing to note is that for both airlines fuel surcharges are high when redeeming with Virgin America Elevate points. Very high. But the thing is, there’s no way to redeem for award travel on either airline in a premium cabin without paying fuel surcharges, so it’s hardly surprising. Virgin Australia partners with Delta, and they impose fuel surcharges for redemptions on them, while Virgin Atlantic partners with several airlines (including ANA), which also impose fuel surcharges for travel on Virgin Atlantic (the only exception I can think of is US Airways, though they only let you redeem for coach on Virgin Atlantic). Up until this February, Continental partnered with Virgin Atlantic and didn’t impose fuel surcharges, but that partnership is now a thing of the past.
Before we get too far into this, it probably makes sense to establish the value of Elevate points. They can be redeemed towards the cost of Virgin America flights at about 2.15 cents per point, meaning a $215 ticket would cost you about 10,000 points. They can also be transferred from American Express Membership Rewards at a 2:1 ratio, though this week they’re running a 30% transfer bonus.
So what’s the cost of redemptions? Here are a few samples:
New York to London is priced as follows:
As you can see, coach would rarely be worth it on points given how high the fuel surcharges are. Premium Economy is a marginally better deal, while Upper Class would be the best deal.
The same applies for San Francisco to London:
And San Francisco to Tokyo via London (yeah, check out those fuel surcharges):
So on the whole if you have Elevate points I’d say travel on Virgin Atlantic is among the best uses of them. That being said, if you have Membership Rewards points, you’re probably best off redeeming through one of their other partners for travel on Virgin Atlantic, given that transfers from Membership Rewards to Virgin America Elevate are at a 2:1 ratio. A better option might be to transfer to ANA, which has a distance based award chart, as follows:
While they also impose fuel surcharges, the costs should be a bit lower than the above.
As far as Virgin Australia goes, here’s what they charge for a redemption from Los Angeles to Sydney:
Again, a good use of Elevate points, though not something I’d transfer Membership Rewards points for unless they had an amazing transfer bonus (it better be more than 30%). In this case you’d be better off transferring to Delta, which transfers from Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio and charges 150,000 miles, and would have slightly lower taxes and fuel surcharges.
Oddly for Chicago to Sydney (with Chicago to Los Angeles on Virgin America) they charge 180,000 miles for business class, which seems crazy.
In other words, you pay more for the segment from Chicago to Los Angeles than you do for the segment from Los Angeles to Sydney.
But the underlying message here is exciting for those of us that like to redeem for aspirational awards. Previously Virgin America points could only be redeemed for travel on Virgin America based on the revenue cost of a ticket (meaning 10,000 points can get you about $215 towards a Virgin America ticket). That means there was no way to get a good deal and no way to get a bad deal. Now that they have a real award chart for their partners, there are ways to get aspirational awards. Suddenly you can turn 35,000 points and some cash into a ticket that could retail for $6,000.