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Here’s a transfer bonus which actually has the potential to be a very good deal.
50% bonus when you transfer Amex points to Virgin America
Through March 10, 2016, the US American Express Membership Rewards program is offering a 50% bonus on points transfers to Virgin America Elevate.
The usual transfer ratio is 200:100 (Membership Rewards:Elevate), so through this promotion the transfer ratio will be 200:150. The bonus is hard coded into the transfer ratio, meaning the bonus points should post instantly and you can take advantage of the promotion as often as you’d like.
Redeeming Elevate points for travel on Virgin America
Virgin America Elevate is a revenue based frequent flyer program for redemptions on their own flights.
That means the number of points required for a flight on Virgin America is entirely dependent on the cost of a revenue ticket. Each Elevate point typically gets you ~2.2-2.3 cents towards the cost of a Virgin America ticket.
For example, take the below flight between San Francisco and Honolulu, which costs $199:
You could redeem just 8,797 Virgin America Elevate points for that itinerary (which is ~12,000 American Express Membership Rewards points):
With the transfer bonus you’re looking at a maximum of ~1.7 cents of value per Membership Rewards point for revenue based redemptions. That’s a pretty good use of points, in my opinion, especially compared to the cost of using the “Pay with Points” option available on many Amex cards (which in my opinion isn’t how you should redeem Membership Rewards points, but I know that doesn’t stop lots of people).
Redeeming Elevate points for travel on other 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. You can find all of Virgin America’s partner redemption rates here.
The redemption rates on some of these airlines are quite good, though the issue is that in many cases they also impose fuel surcharges. For example:
- 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 a sweet spot. Before I explain, I should caution that Virgin Australia business class award availability isn’t as good as it used to be (though it’s still not impossible to find).
But let’s look at Virgin Australia redemptions in particular, because they represents a great value. Business class between the US and Australia costs:
- 45,000 Virgin America points one-way (60,000 Membership Rewards points)
- 80,000 Virgin America points roundtrip (107,000 Membership Rewards points)
That’s an exceptional value, and considerably less than the 80,000 miles one-way which Delta charges, which is increasing to 95,000 miles one-way for travel as of October 2016.
Bottom line on Virgin America transfer bonus
For a bit of context, here are the transfer bonuses we’ve seen from Membership Rewards to Virgin America in the past:
- In September 2015 there was a 25% transfer bonus, plus Gold status if you transferred at least 80,000 points
- In January 2015 there was a 35% transfer bonus
- In April 2014 there was a 30% transfer bonus
- In January 2014 there was a 40% transfer bonus
- In September 2013 there was a 40% transfer bonus
This is the best transfer bonus we’ve seen from American Express to Virgin America in years, and one which represents a very good value. If you’re looking to travel on Virgin America, getting ~1.7 cents per Membership Rewards point isn’t half bad. There are certainly ways to get better value, but for the “average” traveler, I’d consider it a good redemption. But the real sweet spot here is for travel on Virgin Australia in business class.
One of the credit cards I use most for everyday spend is the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card, which offers:
- 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x), 2x points at US gas stations, 1x points on other purchases
- Use your card 30 or more times on purchases in a billing period and get 50% more points on those purchases less returns and credits
When you think of how quickly that card racks up Membership Rewards points, it makes the above transfer bonus even more compelling, in my opinion.
Do you plan on transferring Amex points to Virgin America with a 50% bonus?
(Tip of the hat to Mac)