Why I’m Transferring 65,000 Starpoints To Virgin America Elevate

Despite Marriott’s takeover of Starwood being well underway, it’s great to see that Starwood Preferred Guest is still innovating as an independent program.

What makes Starpoints so flexible is that they can be converted at a 1:1 ratio into over two dozen airline programs, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred. This means that you can earn 1.25 airline miles per Starpoint, when transferring in the right increments.

They enhanced the mileage transfer program even more back in April, when they added Virgin America Elevate as a 1:1 transfer partner. That means you can convert 20,000 Starpoints into 25,000 Virgin America Elevate points.

Virgin-America-Elevate

That might not sound that extraordinary, except for the fact that Virgin America Elevate points are significantly more valuable than the average airline mile. For one, Virgin America Elevate points can be redeemed for ~2.1-2.3 cents each towards the cost of a revenue ticket on Virgin America. In other words, at a rate of 1 Starpoint per 1.25 Elevate points, that means each Starpoint gets you ~2.6-2.9 cents towards the cost of a ticket on Virgin America.

While the above is a fantastic deal, that’s not the only way you can maximize your Elevate points. They have some great redemption values on partner airlines as well.

Perhaps my favorite value is being able to redeem Elevate points for Virgin Australia business class without fuel surcharges. For travel between the US and Australia, they charge:

  • 45,000 Elevate points for a one-way ticket
  • 80,000 Elevate points for a roundtrip ticket

Virgin-Australia-Award-Space

In other words, 65,000 Starpoints will get you 80,000 Elevate points, which is enough for a roundtrip ticket.

That’s a heck of a deal, given that Delta SkyMiles charges 80,000 miles for a one-way ticket, and that price is going up to 95,000 miles one-way later this year.

Virgin Australia has a fantastic new business class product, which I’m really excited to review.

Virgin-Australia-New-Business-Class-1

Back in the day, Virgin Australia used to be the single most generous airline for releasing award availability between the US and Australia. Unfortunately that’s not the case anymore, and for partner airlines they’ve become much stingier.

However, it’s not impossible to snag space. In looking at trends recently, it seems like Virgin Australia pretty consistently makes business class award seats available within a week of departure.

I pulled up nonstop award availability yesterday through Delta’s website, and saw the following from Los Angeles and Sydney:

Virgin-Australia-Award-Availability-1

Then I saw the following from Sydney to Los Angeles:

Virgin-Australia-Award-Availability-2

As you can see, availability is pretty decent within a week (which I realize doesn’t work for everyone, for obvious reasons).

So my plan is to transfer 65,000 Starpoints to Virgin America Elevate (which converts into 80,000 Elevate points, thanks to the 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred), and then book a roundtrip business class award ticket between Los Angeles and Sydney in Virgin Australia’s new business class.

I’m hoping to take the trip later this month, once I get my passport back, since it’s presently in for a Russian visa.

If you’re in a similar situation and are looking to travel to Australia and can plan last minute, redeeming Elevate points for Virgin Australia business class is pretty tough to beat.

Has anyone redeemed Virgin America Elevate points for Virgin Australia, or is anyone planning on a similar redemption?

Comments

  1. Spoke to them about an inter-Australia flight awhile back. Very friendly agent. Checked availability and was what Delta had, verified the miles and would have been easy to book. Decided to go with AMEX/EY transfer 30% bonus as it was about equal in points therefore less expensive considering value of SPG points.

  2. The problem for us east coasters is getting to the west coast in anything other than delta economy class, which is a grueling way to spend the first or last 5-6hrs of a 22hr trip.

    Anyone have any advice or tricks on that front?

  3. The only place I can go with ELEVATE from Chicago is LHR or DXB. Pretty useless for me!

  4. @ Chris — No, I’m having to transfer them proactively, as they don’t go over instantly.

  5. Check the seat maps for the days you want to travel, not all of VA’s planes have had the refurbishment done on them.

  6. Hi Lucky,

    Did you call in to check the taxes? What Virgin America displays on their website is highly inaccurate. Was looking to redeem for Singapore airlines and was in for a huge tax added in.

  7. The big problem here is that award availability for R/T is only good for one week, and that only if you book the day you intend to leave. Not sure how the time zone changes work, but you have at most 5 days actually there. Perfect for bloggers doing trip reports, or business travelers just going for a meeting. But very few leisure travelers are going to want to go all that ways to only be there for 4 or 5 days.

    I’m doubting you can book the outbound first, then book the return later, and still get the R/T award pricing. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  8. So I need to book 2 tickets US to Australia for Dec 2017 (not available for booking yet). I was going to xfer spg points to my aa account and then book AA F, but the redemption is not saver and will be around 440k miles RT per ticket.

    It looks like I would be better off xfering to Virgin here, even if the redemption is 175k in business. I don’t even have an account with Virgin, but is this a sound strategy?

  9. @Josh

    JetBlue economy is much more comfortable than all 3 legacy carriers’ comparable class.

  10. @ DCS — I earn Starpoints for ~1.88 cents each through tax payments, so the total cost for the miles needed is ~$1,220.

  11. @ vlutisluv – Thanks, but what I meant to ask is whether there’s a way to get to Australia from the east coast of the US for the same mileage price. (I believe you can do it using Delta metal from JFK-LAX, but they almost never release premium cabin space.) If I wanted to pay cash, I could fly JetBlue… but then the value of the redemption is much less. Am I misunderstanding VX’s program?

  12. I love the Virgin product! I haven’t flown Virgin Australia. Are there other redemptions besides Australia on that carrier?

  13. Ben, have you confirmed that Virgin America sees the same availability as displayed on Delta’s site? I’ve never tried to book these, but have always wondered if the availability is the same since VX does not have online searches. Any chance VX has access to more availability than DL?

  14. I transferred MR points earlier this year to VX Elevate when they had that transfer bonus. I was hoping you’d say VA award availability has gotten better as I need time to plan an Aussie trip… But even if I don’t end up using these VX miles, at least I know they will become Mileageplan miles. Do you know when VX elevate miles will be transferred to Mileageplan?

  15. In a similar situation to Josh, I live on the East Coast and getting to LAX is the issue.

    With VX’s program, for that 80K miles round trip in business is that from ALL of North America to ALL of Australia? Meaning can you book a VX flight from NY to LAX, then VA from LAX to SYD, and connect to a VA flight from SYD to another Australian city?

  16. @Lucky — Since you are a top SPG elite and you stay often at Starwood properties, I can see how you can earn starpoints at higher rate through revenue stays. However, it is unclear to me how you earn more than 1 starpoint/$ for paying taxes (with what CC?). A new or old trick in the book?

  17. @Conway I believe VX charge on a per flight basis So getting from the East to West coast would be an extra VX award ticket.

  18. @ DCS — I’m earning one Starpoint per dollar spent on tax payments by using the SPG Amex. They charge a 1.88% fee to process the payments. So for example, a $10,000 tax payment costs $188 and earns 10,000 Starpoints.

  19. @DCS
    Lucky “earned” his Starpoints through tax payments, which he would have to pay regardless so no additional cost out-lay to him, except the 1.88% service charge to pay taxes via CC. IOW, he is just telling you the “out-of-pocket” cost to accumulate the points.

  20. Never mind, I didn’t hit page refresh before my previous post so obviously I wasn’t needed in the “conversation” at all.

  21. Lucky, excellent arbitrage on Starwood – Virgin America – Virgin Austria.
    I’ve been a Delta elite forever, but am currently taking the VX status challenge to enjoy the airline before their absorbed. I know the program is week – but still want to enjoy the elevate/VX experience before the airline is gone.

  22. I don’t know if i’m buying your screenshots. The best i’m seeing on Delta’s site is 220,000 miles for a round-trip business class from LAX to SYD. Are there different award charts based on your status with Delta?

  23. @ Brian — Directly on Delta’s site, has nothing to do with status. Just look at availability over the next several days.

  24. Forgive my ignorance…I interpreted your post incorrectly. I do have a question though. What would be the best route to go to convert AmexRewardPoints to score award travel such as this. I got in on the 100,000 pt sign up bonus and am hoping to use it to get to Australia sometime after the first of the year.

  25. I just booked 2 one-way interisland flight on Hawaiian for 3k points each. It’s about 3 cents per mile so it wasn’t that bad.

  26. Don’t forget to do your Australian visa before you go. They are getting really strict on short notice visas.

  27. I like Elevate too but there is a question mark over the program given the impending merger with Alaskan. I’d assume their programs will be merged, but on what basis?

  28. @Robert Hansen. You make a good point. But if you just book a one-way to get there, then another one-way to get home (after it becomes available), you still are only paying 90,000 miles total, which isn’t bad at all.

  29. I just flew this route over the past few weeks. LAX to SYD in VA. I booked Delta low level award last year before things tightened up and the miles went up.. The outbound LAX to SYD was the new beds and the product is similar to AA new seat on the 777W (Business). I liked the new seat and all was good. Tons of extra storage etc. The service on the flight is poor. They served me the wrong main dish, had to replace that, three different times I ordered coffee and it did not come. My breakfast service was also not complete as to what I ordered. Really crummy crew. My wife asked for the inflight snack which was prawns. The FA send sorry that is for later. Later means the FAS are eating them in the galley. Zero other snacks were seen on a 12+ hour flight. On the return I was sure I had the new beds also. I was wrong. I got on the plane and was pissed. The old CRUMMY beds. No privacy etc. ZERO STORAGE.
    Service was somewhat better at least with one of the FAS. Zero snacks in the galley. I asked for the in flight snack and the FA told me she might have to substitute. She never returned. That means the FAS must have eaten everything in the galley. Even though Virgin Atlantic MIA-LHR can vary per service I am less impressed on a much longer route from VA.

  30. @Mitch – I don’t know how availability on VX compares to DL, but I doubt it is better. Using Elevate points on partners can be challenging. I was able to book 5 RT tickets LAX-LHR in Virgin Atlantic prem econ last summer. Since one cannot search on the VX website, it took multiple phone calls and emails before the agent was able to find these. I was also able to book 5 RT tickets LAX-HNL in HA econ 2 summers ago. It also took multiple phone calls. Both these trips were booked months in advance, not last minute.

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