New Virgin America Redemption Options on Virgin Atlantic and Australia: Worth It?

by on March 21, 2012 · 12 comments

in Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic

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Virgin America Elevate members can now use points to redeem for flights on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, but before you get too excited, fasten your seatbelts because the fuel surcharges, taxes and fees can get out of this world.

Elevate points can normally be used towards any Virgin America flight for about 1.6-2.1 cents per point towards airfare. So you can buy a $400 New York to Los Angeles flight for between 19,000 and 25,000 points. Not bad. So will you be able to get more or less value out of international redemptions? It all depends.

Virgin Atlantic:
You need to use the calculator on this page to figure out how many points and how much cash you need, but I priced a couple popular redemptions:
NYC- London

NYC to London

For economy awards, I doubt this redemption method makes sense since the taxes/fees are a whopping $650. I’ve seen airfare to London on the NYC route for cheaper than that, so always price it out before you go ahead with a redemption, because you don’t earn points on award tickets. If the fare is over $1,000, you’d be getting at least 2 cents per point, so it would be better than redeeming for Virgin America flights.

Upper class (business class) is 35,000 points, which is  low for a European roundtrip, but remember, at a 2:1 ratio of Amex Membership Rewards points to 1 Elevate point (though there is currently a 30% transfer bonus promo), you’d be spending 70,000 Amex points on top of  a whopping $1,100 in taxes/fees. These tickets can easily cost over $3,000, so those 70,000 Amex points will still save you $1,900 or 2.7 cents each – not great, but not bad either  if you don’t mind laying out that amount of cash.

Virgin Australia
Virgin Australia is also a partner with Delta airlines and they require 150,000 miles and about $600 for a roundtrip business award. With Virgin America, the same award costs 80,000 points (123,200 Amex points with the current 30% transfer bonus) and $849, which is also a good-not-great deal in my book. The advantage with the Delta award is that you can add on legs within the US at no extra fee as long as they are at the low-mileage level and with Virgin America they charge a huge premium for domestic legs (an extra 150,000 points to leave from JFK for a total of 230,000 Elevate points).

Virgin Australia LAX- Sydney

I’m not freaking out over these new options since they require a hefty cash, but I welcome new options and I do believe value exists for some people (rarely for economy class travel). Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia generally have good award availability (I guess not being in a major alliance helps keep inventory open) and they both have reputations for good customer service and innovative customer experiences.

As with all miles and points decision, do the math for your personal situation. If you are about to shell out a premium for tickets and transferring a relatively small amount of Amex points to Virgin America will save you thousands, then go for it! Alternatively, if the fees on an award come close to the amount of buying a ticket outright, then I’d opt to save your points for more valuable redemptions.

Seth at Wandering Aramean does some great analysis on this redemption option as well.

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  • Seth Miller

    If you’ve got to transfer AmEx points anyways then there are nearly always better transfer routes available. ANA is generally going to offer much better rates for redemption on Virgin Atlantic than Virgin America will, for example.

    A couple of the Virgin Australia options don’t suck, but none of these are very good.

    And it is certainly worth noting that the cost to accrue the Virgin America points is generally much higher than for other program. The 35,000 point NYC-LHR Upper Class ticket would actually cost 70,000 Membership Rewards points, making the point value from Membership Rewards only 2.7 cents, not 5.4. Not horrible, but also not as high as other options out there.

    The link to my analysis that you provided includes these details and more. :)

  • The Points Guy

    You’re right about the 2.7 cents each–I’m blaming my math on the lingering effects of jet lag after my long flight yesterday. Thanks for pointing it out, Seth!

  • Jmw2323

    62,000 MR transferred to elevate for LAX-BNE-LAX even with the $850 fees is a great deal in my book. would have to assume and hope that adding ORD would be corrected as another 100k (77k MR) is preposterous. If not, not too hard to get to LAX

  • Jmw2323

    question remains as to how much availability on the kangaroo route. we all know how hard it is to redeem One World partners on QF

  • Jmw2323

    not sure if I misunderstood or of if you mis-quoted but would cost 122k MR with the 30% bonus for LAX-SYD-LAX

  • The Points Guy

    You’re right, I fixsed the numbers, thank you for helping clarify!

  • milevalue

    I didn’t even plug the JFK-LHR awards into my calculator because my subjective value for coach/premium economy/upper class is about $650/$750/$1100, so I would be getting negative value out of redeeming the Elevate points (because I wouldn’t be earning Elevate points by buying with cash.)

    LAX-SYD: assumptions- subjective value of $1200/$1300/$2000 for economy/premium economy/business. (seatguru says Virgin Aus flies the route with fully flat beds). taxes and fees $749/$790/$849. Elevate points 40k/60k/80k. Elevate points foregone by not purchasing the ticket 1498/1498/1498.

    The Elevate points foregone is calculated this way: if I didn’t use miles to book the award, I would only book a flight to Australia in the deepest discount economy. If I did that I would earn Elevate points equal to 10% of the miles of the flights, which has at 14,976 r/t. The foregone points are crucial to add in to your cents per mile calculation.

    Plug it all in to my calculator and I get:

    1.09 cents per Elevate point for coach
    0.83 cents per Elevate point for premium economy
    1.41 cents per Elevate for business class

    (Note: this is my cents per point based on my subjective valuation of trips in the three classes. Your valuation there will be different and will affect your cents per point.)

    As tpg pointed out, you can get a higher cents per point on US flights.

  • Simek

    Yes, but what is the redemption availability actually like on Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Australia? Suppose you have little or no chance to redeem AAdvantage miles or Avios on Qantas becauseof lack of availabilty, but it’s easy to use Elevate points for VA flights. Then wouldn’t it make more sense to redeem your Elevate points?

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  • Karl Mitchell

    I think you’ve missed a trick here. The rarely-discussed Virgin America credit card gives 1 mile/$, plus some additional points for extra spend up to $20k (up to 6% bonuses). However, for redemptions in Virgin Atlantic these points are worth double compared with other programmes (50,000 for LAX-LHR business return, as opposed to 100,000 with VS), and so this is the equivalent of 2.12 miles/$. IF you want to fly Virgin Atlantic, this is a remarkable return for a fee-free credit card, and actually slightly better than the BoA VS card (which is at best 2.1 miles/$).

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