Has the Virgin America Visa suddenly become one of the most rewarding credit cards for longhaul redemptions?

Link: Virgin America Visa® Signature Card

I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a bit dismissive of revenue based frequent flyer programs and their associated credit cards. It’s not that I have anything against them, it’s just that they’re a bit too straightforward for my liking. With a revenue based frequent flyer program no one wins and no one loses. Given that redemption rates are fixed and based on the revenue cost of a ticket, no one is getting an amazing value with their points.

Conversely with traditional frequent flyer programs there are winners and there are losers. If you redeem your miles for travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco at the “standard” level, you’re one of the losers. If you’re redeeming your miles for international premium cabin travel you’re winning. Big time. In my opinion very few people break even with traditional mileage currencies — they either come out way ahead or way behind compared to focusing the same amount of energy on a revenue based frequent flyer program.

With that in mind, I haven’t paid much attention to the Virgin America Visa credit card. At least not until last night, when I posted about the really interesting reciprocal mileage accrual and redemption partnership between Virgin America and Singapore Airlines. I made reference to the fact that you could transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Virgin America Elevate at a 2:1 ratio, and even with that it can sometimes make sense rather than redeeming directly through Singapore’s KrisFlyer program. But clearly I had a brain fart, because I completely overlooked Virgin America’s co-branded Visa card, which offers one Elevate point per dollar spent.

At that point I had a closer look at the card, and realized it might just be the most rewarding credit card out there for spend in categories that don’t accrue bonuses on other cards.

Virgin America has very simple (and fixed!) pricing for awards on Singapore Airlines (the mileage calculator can be found here). Travel between their US gateways (including Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco), and their destinations in Asia (including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Singapore) cost just 35,000 points in coach, 95,000 points in business class, or 130,000 miles in first class. These rates are across the board cheaper than what Singapore directly charges their own KrisFlyer members, not even factoring in that Virgin America doesn’t charge fuel surcharges, while KrisFlyer does (which on a roundtrip longhaul journey typically range from $250 to $700).

But it doesn’t end there. Some of their intra-Asia redemption rates are nothing short of spectacular. For example, take a look at their roundtrip redemption rates between Singapore and Bangkok. It’s literally just 6,000 points roundtrip between the two cities in economy.

And the cost between New York and Frankfurt is amazing as well. Roundtrip travel is just 20,000 points in coach, 70,000 points in business class, or 90,000 points in first class.

Now there’s one potential issue — For the most part Singapore doesn’t release first and business class saver award space for any flights operated by their new longhaul product to their Star Alliance partner airlines. Instead they release this space only to their own KrisFlyer members. This means that award redemptions between the US and Asia in first or business class on Singapore Airlines aren’t possible using miles from Aeroplan, United, US Airways, etc., given that all their routes to the US feature their new first and business class product. Instead you can only redeem for coach, or for routes operated by the older product.

That being said, I’d hope that this restriction doesn’t apply to travel booked through Virgin America. On one hand I feel like it probably will (why should they give Virgin America different treatment?), but on the other hand I’d hope they would have better judgment than even publishing a premium cabin award chart if they had no way of accessing the space. I tried to find out more, though apparently Virgin America redemptions on Singapore Airlines won’t be available for a couple more days, so I have no way of testing this yet.

Regardless, Virgin America hands down has the lowest redemption rates for coach travel on Singapore Airlines (or just about any airline for that matter!) to virtually anywhere they fly. You really can’t beat 6,000 points roundtrip between Bangkok and Singapore, 20,000 points roundtrip between New York and Frankfurt, or 35,000 points roundtrip between New York and Singapore. I can’t think of any other program with those kinds of rates.

On top of all that the card is actually pretty lucrative for redemptions on Virgin America as well. Each point can be redeemed for roughly 2.2 cents towards the cost of a ticket. Take the following flights between San Francisco and Seattle, for example. Here’s the cash cost for a ticket:

And here’s the cost using Elevate points:

Across the board you’re looking at about 2.2 cents of value per point, which is actually a really good return if you’d otherwise buy Virgin America tickets. The only points currency I value that high are Starwood points, and this is more or less 2.2 cents per point that are “good as cash” towards the cost of a ticket. So for someone that books the occasional Virgin America ticket, this alone may make this the most valuable credit card for everyday spend in categories that don’t otherwise accrue a bonus.

So I’ll post an update as soon as I found out more about redemptions on Singapore. If Elevate members have access to premium cabin award space on Singapore just as KrisFlyer members do, then this will mark one of the most lucrative frequent flyer partnerships in a long time, in my opinion.

If Singapore blocks their new premium cabins to Elevate members then this card will simply be the most lucrative for longhaul coach redemptions.

Link: Virgin America Visa® Signature Card

(In the interest of full disclosure, I earn a referral bonus for anyone approved through the above links. Thanks for your support!)

Comments

  1. You credit card bloggers are really on a tear the last few days…between you and Gary. Cha ching.

  2. I think VA Elevate points are becoming VERY valuable not only for economy coach trips with Singapore but also with Hawaiian AIrlines to Hawaii, PPT, and Aukland.

    I focus on coach because it’s REALLY hard to get a lot of Virgin Elevate points…i mean you get 20K with the card but how do you get another 50K??? fly $10K worth…sheesh!

  3. The sign-up bonus for the card is only 10,000 points. It’s going to take a significant amount of spending to get to those Singapore TPAC flights. Interested to see if this becomes the method to fly SQ business/first class without fuel surcharges. Thanks, lucky.

  4. Spending $25,000 a year on this card earns an additional 10,000 point bonus! This makes it very easy to earn that roundtrip coach ticket from the US to Asia.

  5. post title seems like a reach. To fly NYC-Frankfurt, you’d need to get the card and then spend $80,000 on the card – and hope that somehow Singapore changes their trend and offers premium space… and that by the time you spend $80k ($80k!!!!) on the card, that VA is still around…

  6. I second Michael’s statement. I sure wouldn’t want to sit on a big stockpile of VA miles. Maybe Branson can pull of a miracle but if not it is hard to see them still flying in 18 months.

  7. If you live in Southern California a simple way to earn some extra Virgin America points is Mogl. It’s a dining program that returns 10% in cash or VX points. Here’s my referral link – http://mo.gl/1eiijd52 . We’ve pulled down enough for a couple flights.

  8. I am looking at VA award calculation website and I cannot even select Singapore as my origin from the drop-down… or Bangkok for that matter.
    When I select NRT to SIN it prices out at 90k for first… HKG to SIN 50k… not that great but would be cool to try the suites if they release them to VA.

  9. Hi Lucky, Is there anyway to transfer from Virgin Atlantic to the Virgin Elevate program, I have 40k which id like to use wqithout paying hefty fuel surcharges?

  10. Hi Lucky, Is there anyway to transfer from Virgin Atlantic to the Virgin Elevate program, I have 40k which id like to use wqithout paying hefty fuel surcharges?

  11. So if I don’t live in a SQ gateway city would I have to buy separate positioning flights to get there and back?

  12. It’d be majorly awkward if SQ releases R class to VirginAmerica but not to the likes of LH, LX, NH …

  13. @ flip — Unfortunately I believe the 10,000 bonus points are actually status points and not redeemable points, unless I’m misinterpreting it. 🙁

    @ jay — There’s no doubt the card is best for big spenders. I got an email yesterday from someone saying they put a million dollars a year in spend on their credit card, and for someone like that I think this card is awesome. Especially if that spend is on business expenses that don’t otherwise accrue bonus points.

  14. @ Lantean — You shouldn’t have any trouble selecting it as the origin. Just be sure that you select your origin before you select your destination.

    @ James F — There’s not unfortunately. Sorry.

  15. @ HoKo — For their other partners they let you add Virgin America positioning segments, though that the price is calculated differently. It doesn’t appear as if there’s an option to involve tag flights here.

  16. Are we sure yet that VA does not impose fuel surcharges at the time of booking? According to their terms and conditions: Reward flight redemptions do not include any applicable passenger taxes, fees, charges and surcharges, which may cost up to $2,000 and which will be charged to and payable by each guest. The amount of such fees is subject to change and are payable at the time of booking.

  17. @ Bill — They impose high fuel surcharges on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, though if you like at the price breakdown for Singapore it seems pretty clear that they don’t.

  18. After making the initial spend they sent me a postcard (similar to the US Air but half the amount) saying I could earn 7,500 additional miles by spending $750 a month for the next three months.

  19. Great find. This hinges on confirmation that the fuel-surcharges won’t be imposed. I hope that’s the case. Even if fuel surcharges were imposed in the future – this is cheaper than direct Singapore redemptions.

    I wish Amex would do a promo for MR Xfers to Virgin Elevate now 🙂

    Also, folks that want to use this: jump on it quickly.

    This may end up being a repeat of the Iceland-Air / Alaska US–>Hawaii episode. In that case Iceland Air pulled the redemptions and revised them.

  20. @Natalie Thanks, I signed up under your mogl account!

    If 1 elevate= 2.2 cents and per dollar spent you earn 30 elevate, that is $.60

    vs 10% cash back, which is $.10

    Not counting any double dip if you collect points from United/AA Dining systems, or CC bonus for the purchases.

  21. @ Andrew — It’s 30 Elevate points per dollar cashback, not per dollar spent. So it’s the same as earning three Elevate points per dollar spent. The cashback is a much better option in my opinion.

  22. @Lucky So if I understand the “deal” you are pointing out.

    Assuming a USA-SIN RT (130k)
    25k max signup bonus
    105k/3 points per dollar spent
    $35k annual spend
    Earns you 1 F seat (If SQ permits premium bookings)

  23. I’ll echo Michael and Dan’s statements. Virgin America burned through $63 million in 4Q2011 and 1Q2012.
    They only had $75 million cash on hand at the end of 3Q2012 and there have been rumors floating around that the investors aren’t going to drop any more money into the airline which is why aircraft orders were cancelled. Virgin America got $150 million December 2011 and burned through $85 million in 9 months (they had $10 million cash on hand before the extra $150 million).

    I’ve noticed that their sale fares are getting lower lately, telling me that they’re getting desperate for cash. I think they’re burning the furniture to keep the house warm.

    Elevate Points may soon be as valuable as your Circuit City/Borders/Bennigans gift card.

  24. @Lucky,
    This is a great deal. However, I frequently received 25,000 miles promotions from Barclays Card for VA mileage. If I really intend to get this card, I’d ratrher wait until 25,000 offer returns. Do you think it will return or when it will return?
    Thanks,
    Andy

  25. anyone tried redeeming for Singapore suites today?
    😉

    @lucky – not sure why i cannot select Singapore as my origin… it’s simply not in my drop-down… weird.

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