About a week ago I shared the details of the partnership between Virgin America and Singapore Airlines, which in some ways looked quite promising. Then a day later I posted about the Virgin America Visa card which is issued by Barclays, since I thought the new partnership could have potentially huge implications on the value of the card.
Virgin America’s award pricing for travel on Singapore Airlines between the US and Asia is simple and extremely lucrative — it’s 35,000 Elevate points for coach, 95,000 Elevate points for business class, and 130,000 Elevate points for first class. Best of all there are no fuel surcharges on these redemptions, while Singapore Airlines will often charge $600+ per ticket when booking directly through their KrisFlyer program.
While American Express Membership Rewards points only convert to Virgin America Elevate points at a 2:1 ratio, the Virgin America Visa® Signature Card accrues one Elevate point per dollar spent on everyday purchases. So if you’re a big spender and a lot of your spend is in categories that otherwise wouldn’t accrue bonuses, I’d say this has the potential to be a phenomenal card.
Virgin America redemptions on Singapore Airlines only became possible a few days ago, so one big question lingered — would Virgin America get access to the same award space that Singapore gives their Star Alliance partners, or the same award space that Singapore gives their own KrisFlyer members? Singapore generally doesn’t release any premium cabin longhaul award space in their new first and business class to their Star Alliance partner airlines, which means for all practical purposes you can’t use miles from Aeroplan, United, US Airways, etc., to travel on Singapore Airlines out of the US.
Optimistically I had hoped that Virgin America would have access to the same space as KrisFlyer for two reasons:
- Virgin America published a first and business class longhaul award chart specifically for travel on Singapore, and that would be a moot point entirely if they didn’t have access to that inventory. If they hadn’t intended to give them more access and planned properly it seems like it would’ve been in both airlines’ best interest to only publish a coach longhaul award chart.
- Virgin America is a much smaller partner than virtually all Star Alliance member, so the impact of releasing premium cabin award space to them wouldn’t be nearly as great.
Well, figuring out what space they have access to has been a real adventure. The Virgin America partner award desk is what you’d get if you combined the IT of Delta SkyMiles, the knowledge of US Airways Dividend Miles agents, and the patience of Priority Club Rewards agents.
Every time I’ve called to ask about Singapore award space the agent has taken a deep breath as if they were about to manage a space shuttle launch. They’ve put me on hold for about 20 minutes, and then come back and asked if they can call me back while they investigate further.
Well based on my queries thus far it seems as if Virgin America has access to the same Singapore premium cabin award space as the Star Alliance, meaning all longhaul first and business class seats operated by the new product are off limits.
So I hope ya’ll don’t mind, but I’ve taken the liberty of helping Virgin America rewrite their award charts in a way that’s easier to understand:
So is this partnership utterly useless, and for that matter is the Virgin America Elevate Visa useless? If you’re looking to redeem for international premium cabins, maybe. But for coach awards this card does still present an amazing value.
35,000 points roundtrip to Asia is unheard of good, and availability on Singapore in economy is generally excellent.
But you also should be able to redeem miles for regional business class, where availability is both excellent and Virgin America has attractive redemption rates. For example, roundtrip travel between Singapore and Bangkok costs only 13,000 points in business class and 6,000 points in coach.
Domestically Virgin America Elevate points are still quite valuable. Each point gets you roughly 2.2 cents towards the cost of a revenue ticket. That’s the same I value Starpoints at, so for everyday spend the Virgin America Visa Card ties for the most rewarding for non-bonus categories.
What about Virgin America’s other partners? Well, they partner with Hawaiian, and have phenomenal redemption rates between the west coast and Hawaii at just 20,000 points roundtrip in coach or 50,000 points roundtrip in first class.
Redemption rates on Virgin Atlantic are quite good as well, at just 35,000 points roundtrip in Upper Class, plus the standard taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges of ~$1,100 per ticket. Virgin Atlantic’s only partner which doesn’t impose fuel surcharges is Hawaiian, and they charge 125,000 miles for the same award. I don’t know about you guys, but all else being equal I’d rather pay an extra $800 in fuel surcharges than burn an extra 90,000 points.
So to sum it up this partnership isn’t quite as good as I had hoped, though can still be extremely valuable under many circumstances. I think the key is that the Virgin America Visa® Signature Card can be very rewarding if you’re a big credit card spender. With other cards you can easily transfer points and earn bonuses through category spend. That’s not the case on this card, though if you put hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on cards, I’d put a substantial chunk of spend on this card.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I earn a referral bonus for anyone approved through the above links. Thanks for your support!)