The Virgin America Elevate Program Will Be Discontinued As Of January 1, 2018

Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America closed in mid-December, though for a while we didn’t know what the future of the combined airline would look like. That’s because Alaska was still deciding to what extent they wanted to keep around the Virgin America brand.

Alaska-Virgin-America

Last week Alaska finally shared a vision for what they wanted the future of the airline to look like. That future basically consists of “business as usual” for Alaska, and not much of the Virgin America brand surviving, other than a “hip” vibe. For example, Virgin America’s spacious first class product will slowly be phrased out and replaced by a more standard first class product (which I can’t imagine will compete very well on transcon flights).

New-Alaska-First-Class

We learned that the Virgin America brand as such would be discontinued sometime in 2019, and that Virgin America’s Elevate program would be folded into the Alaska Mileage Plan program sometime in 2018, though didn’t have an exact timeline beyond that.

Well, per an email sent out to members today, it looks like the Virgin America Elevate program will be discontinued as of January 1, 2018. That’s earlier than a lot of us were expecting.

Virgin-Elevate

At that point Virgin America Elevate points will automatically be converted into Alaska Mileage Plan miles at a 1:1.3 ratio (which I think is fair), and presumably status will also be matched (presumably Elevate Silver members will become MVP members, and Elevate Gold members will become MVP Gold members), etc. In the meantime, Elevate members can already choose to convert points to Alaska Mileage Plan at that ratio.

While many Virgin America flyers are understandably frustrated by “their” brand being discontinued, the good news at least is that Mileage Plan is a rewarding frequent flyer program. Elite members can look forward to unlimited complimentary upgrades, earning miles based on distance flown rather than dollars spent, and some amazing award redemption opportunities.

At the same time, this also means that some of the unique partnerships that Virgin America Elevate has will be discontinued. For example, redeeming Elevate miles on Virgin Australia is a great value (between the US and Australia in business class, the cost is 45,000 points one-way, or 80,000 points roundtrip), and presumably that partnership will be discontinued when the program ends, or perhaps even earlier.

Virgin-Australia-New-Business-Class-1

Bottom line

For those of you who are thinking of redeeming Elevate points on one of their unique partner airlines, you have another nine months to do so. While I understand the frustration of the Virgin America brand being discontinued, the good news at least is that Virgin America flyers have a great frequent flyer program to look forward to.

Elevate members — aside from the changes being made to the airline, are you looking forward to the Mileage Plan program as such, or no?

Comments

  1. I was seriously thinking of defecting from AA, but going to standard first class when AA has lie flats (at least one per day lax-Mia and all day lax-JFK) makes me reconsider.

    I’m wondering how AS upgrade opportunities compare with AAs on transcons.

  2. I have virgin Australia flights in Feb that I was going to credit to virgin america…looks like that can’t happend…..

  3. I read this as only “points you convert” are given the 1 – 1.3 transfer rate. I imagine that at program end, the rate won’t be quite as generous if you don’t move them.

  4. @R You can also credit VA flights to Delta, Etihad, and Singapore’s programs, if they’re of any use to you. DL miles never expire while Singapore (and Etihad I think) have hard expiration dates for miles.

  5. @DKim raises a good point. Does anyone know if the 1 to 1.3 ratio will hold when Alaska automatically converts the points on December 31st? If not, then I (and I suspect many others) will convert all my points on 12/30.

    @Lucky: Is there any way that you can get confirmation from Alaska on this point?

  6. @Lucky: Any word on when the Virgin America credit card will be discontinued? Alaska’s website FAQ’s reference the card but say that the airline doesn’t know yet when it will be discontinued. Any idea on this point? It really matters to Elevate members because in addition to earning points, the higher end card also earns status points which can make it much easier to qualify for status in this final year of Elevate. Anything that you can share would be much appreciated! Thanks for all that you do.

  7. @Bob

    There has been no word, or even rumors on the longevity of the Virgin America Signature credit card(s).

    Almost all the benefits associated with this card relate to the Elevate program, and since that program ends in 2017 so would the card benefits. My impression is that NONE of those benefits will transfer to Mileage Plan, but again this is only an opinion.

    I have the card and find the status point earning perks very valuable. After this year I’m not expecting much. If you haven’t gotten the card I would do so ASAP. If you already have it, I wouldn’t expect more past Dec31.

  8. When I read this email it seemed like they were suggesting that the points might not convert 1:1.3 in the future. One thing they did say is that flying Virgin 1 mile will get you 1 Alaska mile. Which may be a hint at them going 1:1 before Jan 1st. I’m still doubtful and am guessing it’s just a marketing tactic (or maybe I didn’t read it in depth and they explicitly said 1:1.3 during auto conversion).

  9. @Jimmy Gottfredson: Thanks for your helpful response. I’m in the same boat as you. I’ve had the higher end version of the card for years and love it. I also depend on it for my status.

    I’m not concerned with what happens next year, as I agree with you that the benefits will go away in 2018. However I’m very concerned the impact in 2017 of when the card might end.

    Obviously December 31, 2017 is the last day. But if, for example, it were to end on June 30, 2017, that would be very tough for me because I haven’t maxed out the spend yet to earn the max 15,000 status points on a $30,000 spend.

    If I have until the end of the year to spend the $30K, that’s not a problem. But if it’s abruptly cut short, I’m screwed. That’s why I’m desperate to find ANY information as to when the card benefits will be cancelled. This is so frustrating . . .

  10. So if you’re flying either airline (and assuming you aren’t going for status), you should be crediting miles to Virgin America?

  11. X, it depends. Crediting to VX will give you Elevate points based on dollars spent. Crediting to AS will give you Mileage Plan points based on miles flown. So it will depend on your status and cost per mile of any given flight.

  12. @Bob

    I see what you saying, and I don’t have the answer either but, I’ll share with you what I expect.

    I expect existing card holders to be protected until the end of 2017, at the very least. I have several other “discontinued” cards from other hotels and airlines and once they are issued it’s rare for the issuing bank to just cancel and shut them down. Usually the bank stops accepting new applications, and then lets the existing CC holders tapper off over time. There’s no guarantee with Virgin America that will happen, but I’m not worried about it nonetheless. Alaska’s treatment of Virgin American Elevate members has been exemplary so far; except for stuttering the whole thing down next year 😉 .

    I’m about halfway through my 30K of spend and hoping to have it finished by July. Hopefully for all of us Alaska doesn’t change its pattern.

  13. @Jimmy Gottfredson —> I agree with your take above. I suspect that no new applications will be accepted for the VX credit card. In terms of my own personal status, I typically make status on flight segments, rather than on status points or spend, and so far am about 2/3 of the way to Gold between what I’ve already flown and have already booked. I expect to make it by 12/31.

    I especially want to repeat something you said above: “Alaska’s treatment of Virgin American Elevate members has been exemplary so far.” As a VX customer, I have zero complaints so far in terms of steps actually taken. Of course I’m concerned about the changes to come, but I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude towards what’s coming rather than pre-judging events still in the future (as of this writing).

    I’ve also made it a point to always ask several employees — from the ticket counter and gate staff, to the flight attendants and crew — how Alaska (the company itself) is treating *them* and so far, the response has been 100% positive and, IMHO, credible/believable. There have been some reports of “attitude” from some individual AS employees towards those working for VX, but that may be just a personal beef, a misunderstanding, or someone having a bad hair day — who knows.

  14. @DKim and @Bob —> Yes, that’s how I took it as well: only the Elevate points YOU convert will be worth 1.3 AS miles. If AS does it, it will [probably] be at a 1:1 ratio. I’ve already moved the bulk of my points over, and will move the rest (plus those accrued through the rest of my flights and credit card spend) no later than 12/15/2017, to make sure I get the 1.3 conversion.

  15. @X —> One thing that @shza fails to mention is that you should also take into account that 1.3 conversion rate when deciding which airline to credit your points/miles to. AS is one of the last that credits actual miles flown, whereas VX awards points based upon ticket price (as do the vast majority of carriers). Take the VX points, multiply them by 1.3, and THEN see which number is greater: the AS miles, or the Elevate points.

  16. @Lucky —> You make a great point. The ability to use VX points on VS has already vanished, and no doubt the ability to use them on VA is counting down. But the counter to that is, as you said, ” . . . the good news at least is that Mileage Plan is a rewarding frequent flyer program. Elite members can look forward to unlimited complimentary upgrades, earning miles based on distance flown rather than dollars spent, and some amazing award redemption opportunities.”

    AS is partners with 18 different airlines (soon to be 17). OK, two are Alaska-based (PennAir and Raven), and — at least in my mind — don’t really count for much. The remaining 16, on the other hand, provide connections into two of the three major alliances: OneWorld via American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Latam, and Qantas; and — even though Delta will no longer be a partner as of 30 April 2017 — SkyTeam, via Alaska’s on-going partnerships with Air France/KLM, Korean Air, and AeroMexico. Only StarAlliance is out in the cold, so to speak. Then, there are the other independent carriers: Condor, Emirates, Fiji, Hainan, and Iceland. Singapore Airlines is a loss; Emirates is a partner with both VX and AS. But in the end, there are more than enough opportunities for travel wherever you want to go.

  17. Presented in the FWIW Dept. . . . Much has been made of the lack of lie-flat seats between the coasts. Well, neither VX nor AS has them, so that in and of itself is no different. A few planes *do* have them, including AA, Delta, and JetBlue, but not on every flight. Personally, unless it’s a red-eye, I don’t have much use for a lie-flat seat between the West and East Coast, but that’s just me; obviously it matters to a good number of other passengers.

    That said, another source of disappointment/discontent is the 41″ pitch of AS’s FC cabin versus VX’s more generous 55 inches. (Both are 21″ wide.) Fourteen inches is a lot, though I have a difficult time imagining it in my head, to be honest. I don’t think 41″ will feel cramped, but then again I’m 5’11” and it may to those over 6′ tall. But it might be useful to compare that 41″ to other offerings. With the EXCEPTION of those lie-flat seats, the 737s and/or Airbus 320 family offer the following seat pitch on airlines with a First Class cabin: AA 37-41″; DL 36-38″; UA 37-38″.

    I don’t know, but 41″ seems to be at the very top of the offerings — only VX @ 55″ beat it with a non-lie-flat seat. So, yes, it’s a comedown, but I (personally) don’t see it as horrific. Still better than anything in the sky, tied only with AA’s 737-800s.

    What IS disappointing — indeed, the biggest disappointment for me (and for those FA’s I’ve spoken with) — is the demise of RED (IFE system), and its on demand food ordering menu.

  18. @Jason Brandt: There are a few other disappointments with the merger:

    1. Alaska’s forthcoming premium economy seats aren’t as good as the current Virgin Main Cabin Select seats. The pitch is smaller (35 v. 37-38), and Virgin provides free food, drinks and movies, while Alaska will only provide free booze and movies, but not free food (and in worse seats).

    2. Virgin gave unlimited free access to its LAX Loft lounge for Virgin Gold members. Alaska is allowing Elevate members free access to its LAX lounge for the rest of this year, but after that, you will have to pay. Thus, as a Virgin Gold member, I lost my free unlimited lounge access. Virgin Silver members also will lose their discounted lounge access. Sure, Alaska gives Golds two lounge passes per year, but that’s lame compared to unlimited free access with Virgin.

    3. As we’ve discussed, Virgin’s higher end credit card allows you to earn up to 15,000 status points. That’s 75% of silver status and 30% of gold status. Alaska’s credit card doesn’t allow you to make any inroads toward status. I depend on those spend points for status, so it will be much more difficult for me to make status with Alaska next year.

    I also agree with you that the loss of on demand ordering in Main Cabin and Main Cabin select is a bummer. So too is the loss of the IFE screens.

  19. @Bob — I agree with most of what you’ve said, with the following additions/comments:

    In re: #2 above, admittedly that could/would be a far more important problem for LAX-based elite passengers, or those Gold members who regularly fly to LAX. Considering, however, that SFO is their home base and that there has *never* been a lounge there . . . while I do appreciate your loss, it wasn’t something that I thought of, as I benefited very little from it (I think I accessed the Loft at LAX twice since it opened). OTOH, I’m excited to see what the AS Lounge will be once it opens at SFO.

    Similarly, in re: #3 above, I’ve always achieve status through flight segments, not status points, so I hadn’t thought of that either. Indeed, I readily admit there are other disappointments than just the loss of their IFE. I neither intended for it to seem nor meant it to be like that was the only issue. Each of us who are regulars on VX — whether Red, Silver or Gold vis-a-vis status — certainly look at the merger in ways which it will affect them personally first, before taking a broader look at the whole issue.

    Clearly on board service is where the vast majority of the customers will see the changes. As I mentioned above, I can’t picture in my head whether a drop from 55″ to 41″ in pitch will be noticeably “horrible” (purposefully in quotation marks). The loss of MCS service to AS Premium Economy is something I hadn’t considered as a separate issue from the overall issue of on board service as a whole. Thus I mentioned the loss of VX’s IFE audio/video/food ordering capability as the primary issue, but — yes — you’re quite right: the loss of food in Prem. Econ. is yet one more issue.

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