Why You SHOULDN’T Convert Your Virgin America Points Into Alaska Miles

As of earlier this week it’s possible to convert Virgin America Elevate points into Alaska Mileage Plan miles at a 1:1.3 ratio. This follows Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America closing about a month ago. Points convert almost instantly, though the catch is that conversions are one-way — you can convert Virgin America Elevate points into Alaska Mileage Plan miles, but can’t convert Alaska miles into Virgin America points.

transfer-virgin-alaska-1

I’ve seen a countless number of comments from readers who feel screwed by this deal, though. Take this comment, for example:

This is a bait and switch scam if you are Virgin Elevate Member. I converted my points today thinking I was getting a 30% bump for it, which I did when the points were converted to miles. However the devil is in the details. When I later checked out a flight I was looking at, I noticed this is where the scam is.

Flight booked with Virgin Elevate Point… 3322 Points.
Flight booked with Alaska Mileage Points… 15000 Miles.

Both are the exact same flights/Airline. Alaska is really screwing people on this, cause if this was even an even 1 for 1, the flight should be 4319 miles.

So in other words, Alaska is stealing the value of your points.

Is converting Virgin America points into Alaska miles a “scam?”

Personally I don’t think it’s a “scam” at all, and also don’t think that Alaska is “stealing” the value of points. Instead I think the problem is that a lot of people are converting points without understanding the differences between the two programs. To start, there are a few things to understand:

  • Virgin America Elevate points can be converted into Alaska miles, but Alaska miles can’t be converted into Virgin America points, so don’t convert points unless you have an immediate use in mind
  • You can convert points at any point with the 30% bonus; this isn’t some limited time promotion, and the Virgin America Elevate program isn’t going anywhere in the near future
  • Alaska isn’t giving a 30% bonus on Virgin America points conversions out of the kindness of their heart, but rather because they acknowledge that Virgin America Elevate points are more valuable; so don’t view this as Alaska giving you a “free” 30% points bonus
  • The Alaska and Virgin America programs work very differently; Virgin America’s program is revenue based, meaning the number of points required for an award is based on the cost of a ticket, while Alaska’s program is based on a traditional award chart, meaning the number of miles required depends on award availability rather than the cost of a ticket

Examples of the relative advantages of each program

It’s now possible to redeem Alaska miles for travel on Virgin America, so let’s take a flight between Los Angeles and New York as an example.

A one-way first class ticket costs just 25,000 miles. When you factor in the 30% bonus when converting those points from Virgin America, that’s the equivalent of 20,000 Elevate points.

alaska-virgin-1

Want to book those tickets directly with Elevate points? Those same flights would cost 77,359 Elevate points.

alaska-virgin-3

That means Alaska charges only about a quarter the number of points that Virgin America would directly, which is an incredible value. That’s because the one-way paid cost is ~$1,600, and the Virgin America Elevate pricing is based on that.

alaska-virgin-2

On the other end of the spectrum, take the below Alaska Mileage Plan award on Virgin America between Los Angeles and Dallas, which would cost 12,500 miles.

as-vx-3

Booking that same ticket through Virgin America would cost just 3,370 points, which is less than half the price even when you factor in the 30% bonus.

as-vx-2

It’s that much cheaper because the revenue cost of the ticket would be only $84, meaning you’re getting a better value through Virgin America’s program.

as-vx-1

If you’re redeeming on partner airlines, also keep in mind that the two airlines have very different partners. Alaska has the following airline partners:

alaska-partners-1 alaska-partners-2

Meanwhile Virgin America has the following airline partners:

virgin-america-partners

In general I think Alaska’s partners are significantly more valuable, though if you’re trying to redeem for Virgin Australia business class, for example, Elevate is going to be much more useful.

Bottom line

Converting Virgin America Elevate points into Alaska Mileage Plan miles can represent a fantastic value. Given the option, I’d absolutely take 1.3 Alaska miles over 1 Virgin America point. However, once you make the transfer, it can’t be undone.

That’s why you should not convert Virgin America Elevate points into Alaska Mileage Plan miles unless:

  • You have a specific, short term use in mind
  • You fully understand the differences between Alaska Mileage Plan and Virgin America

The Elevate program is sticking around for now, and the 30% bonus on transfers isn’t going anywhere. Don’t give yourself less flexibility by transferring points yet, unless you’re ready to book an award through Mileage Plan.

Comments

  1. Amen, 2 days ago when i saw or read the article with the link on converting VX to Alaska Points i was about to do it as well, and just for the heck of it , did a quick check on a simple itinerary on Alaska that exactly matches the trip i am about to take on VX in a month and saw the differential on points, to come to a quick conclusion this is a very bad deal.
    Appreciate you bringing this to your reader’s attention. Hopefully people didn’t drain much of their VX points to Alaska pool and more importantly Alaska rectifies the award points required to closely match on VX itineraries

  2. Who is using points on a flight that costs $84? Just buy the cheap flight and use the miles for the expensive ones, especially Alaska’s partners for business/first class. I took the 30% bump and a chance at more Alaska miles without looking back. Much better use of miles IMO.

  3. Echoing other comments. My only Virgin miles were from those surveys last year that Lucky helpfully linked to (thanks!). Was a no brainer to convert my 1750 or whatever I had. The nearest Virgin airport to me is 1.5 hours and there’s no way I’d use those points.

  4. Lucky,

    Virginia America counts an award flight purchased with elevate points as a segment for status qualification. Any idea if the same holds true if Alaska points are used?

  5. @Seth – sorry, but that’s not going to happen. As Ben said, VX elevate is a revenue based program while AS is miles based. Mileage Plan will never make awards specifically on VX to be revenue based because they don’t have incentive to and it doesn’t make sense for them. As Ben noted, the mileage based VS system can both be good AND bad for award redemptions. It is neither a “very bad” nor a “very good” deal. (I actually think it’s fairly good because now I can use my VX points to fly CX!)

    As the merger continues, I fully expect future RDMs on VX to start becoming mileage based to be in line with AS.

    @Patrick – a lot of people, actually…mostly those not in the miles and points world. For them it’s all about getting where they need to go “for free” regardless of the price, even if it’s to save them $84. To many, the calculation is that it saves them $84 they otherwise would have to pay (which could be used for other things like paying down student loans, saving up for a mortgage, etc)

  6. The other thing is that since VX elevate accruals and redemptions of points are revenue-based on VX flights, there’s really no need to use VX points only on expensive, first class flights (until the merger happened). It costs basically the same cost per point whether you are redeeming a $49 fare from SFO-LAX or a $1600 fare from LAX-JFK.

    Of course, the merger makes things a bit different, especially given the vast expansion of partners and the ability to convert miles to AS so you can fly VX first on the cheap. But prior to that, it really didn’t matter what the revenue ticket costed (same thing with Southwest).

  7. And Singapore is only a virgin elevate partner on paper. Try reddening miles for a seat and I guanrantee Ull need some acid reducing medication shortly there after.
    After which I’ll transfer ur points to Alaska. How if u want to go to Hawaii, that’s a different issue

  8. Seriously??? You clearly hadn’t thought this through with your original posts. We all screw up once in awhile.

  9. @ Jackie @ Pauls98 — I wrote the post announcing it was possible to transfer points to Alaska, not Ben, and intentionally didn’t include a recommendation to transfer or not transfer points, just a warning that it was a one-way move.

    It’s neither a universally good nor bad deal, as it depends entirely upon your situation, and the programs are very different. Like Ben reiterates in this post, you shouldn’t make any transfers unless you fully understand the differences between the programs.

  10. It’s too bad you didn’t mention an email some [all?] people on Virgin got, where not only do you get the 1.3x conversion, but you also get either $100 or 10,000 Alaskan miles if you convert. Now that offer IS time limited…ends Jan 31. I’m guessing that probably swings things toward you *should* convert, but I got here by googling for some advice for that decision, and I thought that second offer might’ve been discussed.

  11. @Jeremy,
    You do NOT need to convert some VX points into AS miles to earn the 10K bonus.
    You only need to activate your new AS Mileage Plan acct (which was created for you if you have a VX acct and they could find a matching AS acct) or link your VX and AS accts.
    For me it was simple and fast. And all of my VX points remain in my VX acct (where they’ll probably stay until I’m forced to convert)

  12. Looks like they are converting our Virgin to Alaska miles anyways by Jan 2018. Should we might as well convert now and earn then so called 30% bonus?

  13. As of today, Virgin America points will automatically be converted to Alaska points by the end of this year.

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