Through January 31, 2014, the US American Express Membership Rewards program is offering a 40% bonus on points transfers to Virgin America Elevate. The usual transfer ratio is 200:100 (Membership Rewards:Elevate points), so through this promotion the transfer ratio will be 200:140.
Virgin America has a fixed value award chart for travel on their own flights, so their award pricing is based directly on the cost of a revenue ticket. Each Elevate point typically gets you ~2.2 cents towards the cost of a Virgin America ticket, meaning a $220 ticket would cost you ~10,000 points. So even with the transfer bonus you’re looking at a maximum of ~1.6 cents of value per Membership Rewards point. That’s actually not half bad if you’d otherwise book a paid ticket on Virgin America.
Beyond that, Virgin America does have some interesting partners, including Emirates, Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, and Singapore, and there are some tempting redemptions there under specific circumstances. The problem is that I don’t find any of their premium cabin redemptions on those airlines to be the best options out there.
The redemption rates on many of these airlines are quite good, though the issue is that they also impose fuel surcharges. For example:
- A roundtrip between New York and Milan in Emirates business class will run you 59,000 Elevate points (~83,000 Membership Rewards points through this promotion), though there are $1,090 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges on the ticket
- A roundtrip between New York and London in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class will run you 35,000 Elevate points (~49,000 Membership Rewards points through this promotion), though there are $1,130 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges on the ticket
- A roundtrip between Los Angeles and Sydney in Virgin Australia business class will run you 80,000 Elevate points (~120,000 Membership Rewards points through this promotion), though there are $920 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges on the ticket
So the values aren’t bad in terms of the number of points required, but the fuel surcharges sting.
For a bit of context, Membership Rewards also offered a 40% transfer bonus to Virgin America last September.
Overall unless you have a specific redemption in mind I don’t find this transfer bonus to be especially compelling. I think the most compelling way to use points through this promotion is towards the cost of a Virgin America ticket, since each Membership Rewards point will get you ~1.6 cents towards the cost of a ticket.