Should You Credit Virgin America Flights To Emirates Skywards?

Last October, Emirates and Virgin America announced a partnership whereby members of both programs can earn and redeem miles for travel on the other airline.

I’m always interested when a “traditional” frequent flyer program partners with a revenue based frequent flyer program, as it makes for some potentially lucrative options for earning and redeeming miles.

Double or triple Skywards miles for travel on Virgin America

Emirates just announced a promotion whereby you can earn double or triple Skywards miles for travel on Virgin America. The basic promotion details are as follows:

  • Earn double Skywards miles for roundtrip travel in Virgin America’s Main Cabin
  • Earn triple Skywards miles for roundtrip travel in Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select and First Class
  • Valid for Skywards members that register and book between November 5 and December 19, 2014
  • Valid for travel through February 28, 2015
  • You must register before travel commences
  • Blackout dates apply between December 20, 2014, and January 6, 2015


Should you credit Virgin America flights to Emirates?

With double to triple Skywards miles, should you be crediting your Virgin America flights to Emirates? And should you be crediting them to Emirates in general?

Crediting to Virgin America

Virgin America has a revenue based frequent flyer program, and you earn five points per dollar spent on Virgin America. Each point can be redeemed for ~2.2 cents towards the cost of a revenue ticket, meaning you’re getting roughly an 11% return on your ticket cost by crediting to Virgin America Elevate.


Crediting to Emirates

If you credit Virgin America flights to Emirates, you earn miles based on distance flown as opposed to ticket cost. You earn anywhere from 0.5 to 2.0 Skywards miles per mile flown, depending on your fare class. Here’s the breakdown:


Which is better?

It’s tough to do a side-by-side comparison since with one program you’re earning miles based on spend, while with the other program you’re earning miles based on distance flown. Let’s assume you’re flying in Main Cabin in one of the fare classes that accrues one Skywards mile per mile flown. And let’s assume you’re paying 10 cents per flown mile, which seems about average nowadays.

If you’re flying between New York and Los Angeles roundtrip you’d be flying 5,000 miles at a cost of $500. If you credit to Emirates you’d earn 5,000 miles. With this promotion you’d earn 10,000 miles total. Meanwhile if you credit to Virgin America you’d earn 2,500 Elevate points, which could be redeemed for ~$55 worth of travel on Virgin America.

I value Emirates miles at a bit over a penny each, as it’s not one of the most useful mileage currencies out there, in my opinion.

With that in mind, in general terms I’d say the return is roughly the same for crediting Virgin America flights to Elevate and Skywards when there isn’t a promotion. When there is a promotion, however, the return is a bit better with Skywards.

Of course this is all in very general terms. If you book a super expensive ticket you’ll proportionally get a better return with Virgin America. If you book a super cheap ticket (that’s still in an eligible fare class) you’ll do better with Emirates.

Bottom line

I don’t think it’s worth switching your behavior as a one off thing to take advantage of this promotion. It can make sense to credit Virgin America flights to Skywards, though in general I don’t think it makes sense to credit just one or two flights there, since there’s not all that much you can do with just a few thousand Skywards miles. One of the biggest “wastes” of miles is over diversifying, in my opinion.

I’m curious, does anyone fly Virgin America a lot but credit their flying to Skywards? If so, what kind of tickets are you usually booking?


  1. One thing to keep in mind is the redemption side of the equation. Given Virgin America’s system, it’s relatively easier to use small points balances. With 5,000 Elevate points, you might be able to get a one-way ticket to LA or Vegas or something like that. On Emirates, you just need a greater balance to be able to use them.

  2. What about crediting Virgin America flights to Krisflyer? I think Krisflyer trumps both Elevate and Skywards.

  3. @ Saif — Yep, agree KrisFlyer is a great option. Was just framing this question specifically in the context of the Skywards promo.

  4. A bit off topic. I am flying EK DXB to SFO in F, where am I best crediting my miles. Virgin America, Alaska or Emirates?

  5. Lucky can you comment on the following:
    If one flies Virgin America a lot but prefer to redeem on Emirates, Singapore Airlines, or Virgin Atlantic does it still make sense to be loyal to Elevate program. An expensive business class ticket on Virgin atlantic for example gives you less than the actual miles flown in Elevate points (no bonuses, and the points don’t even count towards Elevate Silver or Gold Status).

    Is Virgin Atlantic the better program to park miles flown than Virgin America Elevate?

  6. @ Samir Kumar — It all depends how much you’re flying and in which fare classes. Generally in terms of the “earn rate” I find you’ll still do better crediting directly to Virgin America.

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