Using Virgin America Elevate Gold for discounted upgrades to first class?

Last August Virgin America introduced two elite tiers to their Elevate program. I thought this was pretty cool since it’s rare to see a low cost carrier with more “traditional” elite tiers. Then later last year they started offering status matches to American and United elite members.

Anyway I figured I’d status match, even if just for giggles, given that I think Virgin America’s days are numbered. They upgraded my status within a few days, though I didn’t actually think I’d take advantage of it.

I’m an MVP Gold member with Alaska, and they fly everywhere I could want to fly on Virgin America with more frequency, a much more liberal change policy, and free upgrades to first class.

Meanwhile Virgin America offers their Elevate Gold members free upgrades to Main Cabin Select, which are the coach bulkhead and exit row seats, with the added benefit of free movies, drinks, and food. And while I think that’s a generous/good upgrade policy, I’d still rather take first class on Alaska (which I consider to be little more than a nice bus) over a coach seat with better food, drinks, entertainment, and power ports.

But what actually tempts me as an Elevate Gold member is the discount for upgrades to first class, if I’m understanding things correctly. If you’re just a non-status passenger upgrading to first class you can pay to upgrade to Main Cabin Select or first class (with the first class fee being essentially the sum of an upgrade from coach to Main Cabin Select and from Main Cabin Select to first class).

However, as an Elevate Gold member you get a free upgrade to Main Cabin Select 24 hours out, and you should be able to upgrade to first class from there by paying just the Main Cabin Select to first class upgrade fee, which is usually pretty reasonable. Here’s their upgrade chart:

So I’d basically end up paying just $39 to upgrade for a west coast flight, which seems like a reasonably good deal.

Anyway, if my understanding is correct the status match is at least a nice way to save on the cost of upgrades to first class. I won’t be flying them a lot, though if this works I’ll fly them down to LA a couple of times, especially in connection with a visit to The Loft.

Given that their first class is substantially better than domestic first class on virtually every other US airline, it seems worth trying.

Anyone have experience with this?

Comments

  1. AdamH says

    Hmm. So you think once you hit the window and if space is available to “upgrade” to a MCS seat gratis you would only pay for the upgrade from MCS to F instead of from MC to F. That would be a decent savings.

  2. mike says

    I flew Virgin from SFO-LAX over the holidays (with my Gold Status) and upgraded to Main Cabin Extra. i was offered an upgrade to first class for $39, but could not justify it for a 50 minute flight at 7:00 in the morning…the free snacks were nice though. You can order as much as you want from the TV’s and the F/A bring it over to you…If they offered free upgrades to first i could see value in Virgin for SFO-based fliers, but i value upgrades too much and cannot afford an extra $170 for a transcon upgrade..i will stick with UA & AA

  3. lucky says

    @ AdamH — Yep, and I’ve confirmed this from an “official” source too (though we know they can be wrong at times). :D

    @ Mike — Agree, for SFO-LAX I’d have a hard time justifying it. But for SEA-LAX/SFO it seems like a decent value.

  4. AC says

    Ben, I don’t think it is $39 to upgrade from MCS to First on SEA-LAX/SFO. The upgrade fee is distance based so I believe it’s higher than $39. Maybe $59?

  5. lucky says

    @ AC — To the best of my knowledge both routes are in the “shorthaul” category, for which the upgrade fee is $39 from Main Cabin Select to first class.

  6. Ryan says

    I looked into this once, and I read several places that for the high value upgrades (like Transcons) this basically becomes a 24-hour “browser refresh lottery” since they are highly coveted.

  7. lucky says

    @ Ryan — Yep, transcon upgrades seem to be quite difficult, while all other upgrades are generally easy.

  8. Adam says

    I matched to Gold back in Dec via UA and had a roundtrip on VX BOS-LAX. Exactly at T24 I logged in and had been “upgraded” to MCS. The upgrade to F was $169 and there were available seats (7am flight). I’ve sat in MCS in the past but never F because it was cost prohibitive for a general member. Sprung for the upgrade and well worth the 6.5 hr flight (headwinds). Best domestic F product in my opinion with an actual footrest!! The return LAX-BOS was an 8am flight and also had seats avail but had been upgraded to MCS and didn’t want to spend another $169. I’m based in BOS and their route network only services SFO/LAX non-stop so it’s back to UA and AA for the most part also due to their “more rewarding” FF programs. Great experience especially for an early morning transcon.

  9. Ryan says

    Ben, I upgraded to FC from MCS on the Sea-Lax route last May for 69 bucks which I definitely think it was worth it for the 2 hr flight. I know some road warriors don’t think highly of the service but the seat alone is worth the money. From LA, we continued on to Bos for 169 per on a red eye and was great to be able to recline nicely and sleep the whole flight.

  10. Nick says

    I notice for the refundable west coast fares I buy, UA is usually $40 to $50 more expensive than VX. Same with transcons – UA is more expensive. I guess I’m just prepaying the upgrade fee. If I could do that on Virgin maybe I would give them a try.

  11. says

    Hey Lucky, thanks for the tip. Just got a confirmed long haul upgrade LAX-EWR for only $149 rather than $299 due to the automatic MCS upgrade. I had a friend on the itinerary who wasn’t Gold so we needed to first separate her from the PNR. A little nerve-wracking but well worth saving the cash!

  12. says

    I’ve been a Gold Member since the program began. I’ve almost always been able to get the upgrade to first class on west coast and transcon flights for business and weekend/leisure travel without much hassle although they increased the fees recently. Best in the business by far.

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