Yesterday was a big day for Alaska Mileage Plan — we learned that their partnership with Delta is ending, that they’re making some great changes to the program, and at what rate Virgin America points will convert into Alaska miles.
Since yesterday the question I’ve been asked most is whether it makes sense to transfer Starpoints to Virgin America, given the arbitrage opportunity available for now:
- Starpoints convert into Alaska Mileage Plan and Virgin America points at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred
- Virgin America points will convert into Alaska miles at a 1:1.3 ratio
- This means you can convert 20,000 Starpoints into 25,000 Virgin America Elevate points, and then convert those into 32,500 Alaska miles, which is a 62.5% bonus when converting Starpoints into Alaska miles
So… should you convert Starpoints into Alaska miles?
I think Alaska Mileage Plan miles are probably the single most valuable mileage currency on a per point basis. There are so many things that make Mileage Plan great:
- You’re allowed a free stopover, even on a one-way award
- Mileage Plan has generous change & cancellation policies (up until 60 days before departure you can change and redeposit your award for free, and within that timeframe the cost is $125 per person)
- Alaska has some unique airline partners, like Fiji Airways, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair, etc.
- Alaska miles are especially useful for travel in Cathay Pacific business class and Japan Airlines business class, especially since you can do a free stopover in Hong Kong or Tokyo, respectively
- Now that American greatly devalued first class redemptions on partner airlines, redeeming Alaska miles for Cathay Pacific first class is the best way to book that award (though do note that Alaska may not have access to all Cathay Pacific seats)
- Redemption rates in Emirates business class are still reasonable, which is a great way to get to many regions, including India, Africa, Asia, etc.
Redeem Alaska miles for travel in Japan Airlines business class
So in general I’m very tempted to transfer Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan for the purposes of premium cabin redemptions on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Emirates, etc. And I think doing so could make sense for a lot of people.
Assuming you value Starpoints at ~2.2 cents each (as I do), getting a 62.5% premium on Alaska miles is the equivalent of picking them up for ~1.35 cents each, which is fantastic. I’d just keep in mind that:
- I don’t recommend transferring points unless you have a fairly short term use in mind (let’s say within six months); much of the value of a points currency like SPG comes from how flexible the points are, and you lose that flexibility when you transfer points
- There’s only so much award availability out there, so if you’re looking for Japan Airlines first class, Cathay Pacific first class, etc., realize that it’s going to sometimes take effort to find seats
- It’s possible that we’ll see an award chart devaluation at some point, though personally I’m not too concerned, as I think Alaska will provide notice of major changes, especially after the last Emirates fiasco
Redeem Alaska miles for travel in Cathay Pacific first class
Keep in mind Starwood is selling points at a discount
Keep in mind that through December 31, 2016, Starwood is offering a mystery bonus on the purchase of Starpoints. The bonus seems to range from 25% off to 50% off, and is available to members who purchase at least 5,000 Starpoints. You’ll want to log into your SPG account here to see which version of the offer you were targeted for. 50% off would be an opportunity to purchase Starpoints for 1.75 cents each, which would be an opportunity to pick up Alaska miles for ~1.1 cents each. Unfortunately most people don’t seem to be targeted for that good of a bonus, though.
Should you transfer Amex/Citi points to Virgin America?
As of now, Virgin America Elevate is transfer partners with both American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou, though the latter partnership ends on January 22, 2017.
In both cases, Amex/Citi points convert into Virgin America Elevate points at a 2:1 ratio.
In other words, 10,000 Amex/Citi points would convert into 5,000 Elevate points, which would convert into 6,500 Alaska miles.
So should you transfer Amex/Citi points to Alaska at a 3:2 ratio?
Personally that’s not a rate at which I’d choose to redeem those points, though I know plenty of others who think that’s a good deal. It’s certainly a better opportunity to transfer flexible points currencies to Alaska than we’ve otherwise seen.
The ability to transfer points from Virgin America to Alaska opens up quite some opportunities for a limited amount of time. I have a sizable balance of Starpoints, and am tempted to transfer quite a few of them to Alaska for the purposes of premium cabin redemptions on their partners.
Do you plan on taking advantage of this opportunity to transfer Starpoints to Alaska at a better than usual rate?