Virgin America Added As Citi ThankYou Transfer Partner

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Citi Thank You is quickly becoming one of the most valuable transferrable points currencies, and they’ve just added another transfer partner — Virgin America Elevate.

Why Citi ThankYou points are becoming so compelling

As I’ve explained before, there are two cards accruing Citi ThankYou points — the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card and Citi Prestige Card — which are especially awesome thanks to their recent refreshes.

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card is a mid-range card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year), intended to compete with the likes of the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It has a generous sign-up bonus of 50,000 Citi ThankYou points after spending $3,000 within three months.

Furthermore, it offers an extremely rewarding points earnings structure, as follows:

  • 3x points on travel
  • 3x points on gas
  • 2x points on dining out and entertainment
  • 1x point on all other purchases

Singapore-Suites-Double-Bed
Redeem Citi ThankYou points for travel in Singapore Airlines Suites Class

Meanwhile the Citi Prestige Card is intended to compete with the likes of The Platinum Card® from American Express ($550 annual fee), and also has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 ThankYou points after spending $3,000 within three months.

The Citi Prestige Card offers the following points earnings structure, which is among the most rewarding out there for a “premium” card:

  • 3x points on air travel and hotels
  • 2x points on dining at restaurants and entertainment
  • 1x point for all other purchases

On top of that, the card offers the following perks, which in my opinion more than justify the annual fee:

Citi ThankYou now partners with Virgin America

Many would say that Citi ThankYou points aren’t quite as valuable as American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and I’d say as of now that’s true, marginally.

That being said, Citi is really working hard to make ThankYou a leading program, and they’ve added yet another great partner today.

Citi ThankYou is now transfer partners with Virgin America Elevate. For what it’s worth, Virgin America Elevate is an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, though doesn’t partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest.

Much like with American Express, Citi ThankYou points transfer to Virgin America Elevate at a 2:1 ratio.

Citi-Virgin-Elevate-1

However, to celebrate the new partnership, Citi ThankYou is offering a 25% bonus on points transfers to Virgin America through October 21, 2015.

Citi-Virgin-Elevate-2

That means through October 21, 2015, points transfer at a 1,000:625 ratio. The transfer bonus is hard coded into the transfer ratio, meaning you can take advantage of the bonus as often as you’d like.

How valuable are Virgin America Elevate points?

Like many low cost carriers, Virgin America is revenue based on the redemption side, whereby you can redeem each point for ~2.1-2.3 cents towards the cost of a revenue ticket on Virgin America.

For example, here’s a comparison of revenue fares and award fares between Chicago and Los Angeles:

Virgin-America-Bonus

Virgin-America-Bonus-1

So at a transfer ratio of 2:1, that means you’re getting ~1.05-1.15 cents per Citi ThankYou point. With the 25% transfer bonus, you’re basically getting ~1.3-1.4 cents of value per Citi ThankYou point.

That’s not an amazing value, to be honest. That’s because each ThankYou point earned with a “premium” ThankYou card can be redeemed for towards the cost of a paid ticket on Virgin America. In both instances you’d earn points for the cost of those tickets, so that would typically be a better value.

Also keep in mind that you can combine points between cards, so if you have both of them you can redeem them all at the higher rate.

So why is Virgin America a useful new transfer partner? Because what makes Virgin America unique among low cost carriers is that they have award charts for redeeming points on their partner airlines.

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.

Virgin-Atlantic-Upper-Class
Redeem Elevate points for travel in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

Here are some examples of the redemption costs:

  • A roundtrip between New York and Milan in Emirates business class will run you 55,000 Elevate points, 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, though there are $1,150 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, though there are $130 in taxes and fees on the ticket

The values aren’t bad in terms of the number of points required, but the fuel surcharges on Emirates and Virgin Atlantic sting. That being said, redemptions on Virgin Australia without fuel surcharges are sort of a sweet spot.

Virgin-Australia-New-Business-Class-2
Redeem Elevate points for travel in Virgin Australia’s new business class

A one-way redemption from Los Angeles to Sydney on Virgin Australia would cost you 45,000 Elevate points plus ~$40. Under the normal transfer ratio from Citi ThankYou, that means you’d need 90,000 points for that redemption. Meanwhile with the current 25% transfer bonus, you’d only need 72,000 Citi ThankYou points for that business class seat. That’s a fantastic value, especially given how good Virgin Australia award space is between the US and Australia.

Bottom line

Am I rushing to transfer all my Citi ThankYou points to Virgin America Elevate? Nope. Do I see myself potentially transferring some points to Virgin America down the line? Probably, for travel on Virgin Australia.

The value in flexible points currencies comes from their flexibility (shocker, I know!). And having Virgin America Elevate as a Citi ThankYou transfer partner opens up some fantastic niche redemptions, like Virgin Australia business class.

Do you see any value in having Virgin America Elevate as a Citi ThankYou transfer partner?


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Comments

  1. Seeing Virgin America being referred to as a low-cost carrier makes me wonder what the definition of a low-cost carrier in the US is. In other parts of the world, full service in economy entails some form of food, while in the US, none of the legacy carriers offer food. In fact I’d argue that Southwest often offers better service than the legacies. Is it merely because the legacies have international flights and first class? Virgin America has both of those, and still advertises itself as a low-cost. Confusing!

  2. The lines between low cost and premium service are pretty thin. It’s really about saving $ for the air carriers and with oil prices at a 30-40 yr low they are making buckets of money. I haven’t flown for several years and after reading some of the stories in Ben’s blog not sure I would look forward to it. :). Having said that I think anytime a CC gives you options to fly that’s a good thing. Looking at the fuel surcharges on the other carriers makes me cringe ,that clearly is a rip off. It’s every man for himself in the skies today. Good report Ben

  3. I don’t know if Virgin America has access to (or allows access to) more Virgin Australia award space than Delta does, but availability to redeem Delta miles on Virgin Australia in business on their trans-Pacific flights has dried up dramatically lately compared to what it used to be.

  4. Lucky, is it possible to add a NYC-LAX leg for free on a LAX-SYD VA award through this VX method the way one could add a leg like that on an AA or UA award?

  5. @ Matt — The pricing is different if you add a segment to the front end. Rather than costing 45,000 Elevate points, it would cost 60,000 points.

  6. Hi Lucky,

    I recall an post made by one of your contributing writers that explained the value of transferring TY pts to Virgin Atlantic and then using Virgin Atlantic pts to redeem on Virgin American. From what I remember, there were some awesome value in regards to short haul West Coast flights.

    Do you know if this has changed at all since Virgin America has been added as a transfer partner?

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