Amex 50% Transfer Bonus To Virgin America — Good Deal?

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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.

Virgin-America-Elevate-Bonus

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:

Virgin-America-Points-1

You could redeem just 8,797 Virgin America Elevate points for that itinerary (which is ~12,000 American Express Membership Rewards points):

Virgin-America-Points-2

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).

Virgin-America

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).

Virgin-Australia-New-Business-Class-2

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)

Elevate-Virgin-Australia

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:

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)


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Comments

  1. Do you have the redemption cost for Australia to Fiji (BNE-NAN)? Is there a good place to search for these?

  2. hey Lucky — stupid question (i’m new) .. can i transfer points to Virgin America and then use those V. America miles to V. Australia? or it has to be used strictly on V. America?

  3. So, I tried signing up for a Virgin Australia FF# and it won’t let you if you don’t live in select countries? USA not being one of them.

    Anyone else notice this/found a good workaround?

  4. @Steve – I wouldn’t redeem any miles to fly BNE-NAN. You can fly that route for ~$150 on revenue and it’s only a 3 hour flight.

  5. Ben, I think it will be very use-case specific. I need to fly SIN to CGK/SUB, and for 3600 Elevate points (and the 40% transfer bonus ~ 4800 Amex MR points), I think that’s a good deal.

  6. Ben, I’m curious what your thoughts are on what looks to be some great options for Singapore using Elevate points? I know availability is hard to come by for JFK-FRA but at 20/59/90k points round trip, it looks like a tempting use for this transfer bonus especially with only $147 in fees.

  7. What is the best way to check award availability on Virgin Australia? If it shows saver availability when showing the prices, does that mean I could book an award ticket according to the chart above using Virgin America Elevate points?

  8. So what is one way of getting better value than 1.7 cents per Amex Reward Point?

    …..Just so I don’t spend them too cheaply.

  9. Ever: transfer 12500 to Aeroplan, book any UA domestic oneway award flight that would cost >~$220 cash. Profit.

  10. @Ever: As suggested in this article, transferring them to VX elevate points and then using those elevate points on Virgin Australia would get you considerably better value than 1.7 cents per Amex reward point.

    That LAX-SYD roundtrip biz class ticket would cost you $9k, but you’re getting it for 107k reward points plus $130. On that transaction, the reward points are worth 8.3 cents each ((9,000-130)/107,000).

    The VS fares (particularly one-ways to LHR from the west coast) also put you at well above 1.7 cents, even accounting for the fuel surcharges.

    And outside the VX elevate context (and this specific 50% bonus transfer deal), there are plenty of international business and first rewards that easily give you more than 5 cents per reward point.

  11. @offtheglass, true for bare bones Tigerair. Unfortunately, my use case is very specific. Need to fly past 830pm due to personal commitment, and past that time, my choice is limited to SQ or GA. Both are excellent, but SQ has the edge due to partnership with Virgin America. SQ’s own Krisflyer require 7500 KF for coach ~ 7500 MR points. With the promo, Virgin has the edge of 4800 MR points.

  12. You know, Virgin America elevate is another loyalty program I haven’t really paid attention to but thanks to your blog, I’ll look into this as this is a great way to redeem flights on SQ/VS/VA. Thank you. I’m also glad Elevate allows for one-way redemptions, even if it costs slightly over 50% of a roundtrip award ticket.

  13. If looking to fly Virgin Atlantic it would seem to be better to transfer there as get a 1:1 exchange rate, correct? Worth holding out for a bonus exchange offering? I may move some points to elevate for short hops at this exchange rate.

  14. If I wanted to use elevate points to book a flight on Hawaiian for a 20k round trip what is the easiest way to look up available seats. Does it have to show up on Hawaiian’s website as a 40k point round trip?

  15. @matt — call Virgin America and ask for the “burn desk” to redeem Elevate miles for a flight on Hawaiian (VA / Emirates / Virgin Australia / SQ etc…) they transfer the call to an agent who checks availability and can book it. Takes a while on the phone as they only have a few agents who have access to check.

  16. @Lucky: LAX to SYDNEY is 40,000 points plus $130 taxes. I just chked today, 02/18/2016. When did you check, I like your price of 25,000 miles and $40 taxes.

  17. Hi! Great article and review as I just found out about this program today and it ends March 10th. I have 35,000 Amex points. Would it be worth it to transfer those points into Elevate points if I’m planning to mainly use it for Virgin domestic travel? Any advice would be great!! 🙂

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