American Express Membership Rewards added the Virgin America Elevate program as transfer partner in October of 2011, but as I wrote about when it first launched, the transfer ratio is a dismal 2 Amex points per 1 Elevate point. Virgin America Elevate is a fixed value rewards program, which means you can use points to purchase pretty much any flight and based on my past research you’ll get between 1.6 and 2.3 cents per point, depending on the day you travel.
The 2:1 transfer ratio is a bummer, because it essentially means you are getting between .8 and 1.15 cents per American Express Membership Rewards points, which isn’t a good deal because you can purchase Virgin America flights with Pay With Points at 1 cent per point (1.25 for Platinum cardholders) and you earn Elevate points on those flights (you don’t earn points when redeeming for flights using Elevate points). So, it would really never make sense to transfer Amex points into Elevate- unless there was a lucrative transfer bonus (in my opinion, at a 1:1 ratio, or 100% bonus would be great).
However, today through September 2, 2012 Amex is offering a 30% bonus on transfers to Elevate, so the ratio is now 200 Amex = 130 Elevate. This makes each Amex point worth between 1.04 and 1.5 cents a piece, which isn’t amazing, but also isn’t terrible, especially since there are few ways to get Virgin America flights with points. One option is to transfer Amex points to Virgin Atlantic and use their zone based redemption chart, which might make sense for expensive flights since they would require more points through Elevate, so do the math before you transfer to select the option that gets the most bang for your points.
Transfer to Elevate or Book with Pay With Points?
Say you wanted to try out their new Philadelphia to Los Angeles route and purchase a ticket departing September 13th and returning September 15th. The flight would cost $297.60 to purchase or you could redeem 12,838 Elevate points and $2.50- you’d be getting a value of 2.3 cents per Elevate point.
If you wanted to transfer from Amex, you have to do so in 130 point increments, so it would be 19,800 Membership Rewards points, which would equal 12,870, plus a fee of $11.88. 19,800 Amex points is equal to $198 in airfare booked with Pay With Point, or $247.50 if you are Platinum cardholder.
This exact flight came to $304.59 through Amex travel, so would cost 30,459 points (24,367 for Platinum cardholders). However, something to keep in mind is that you accrue Elevate points with flights booked with Pay With Points, so you’d net 1,285 points, which at 2.3 cents a piece, is $29.56 in value.
So in this example, booking the flight via Elevate with the 30% bonus at 19,800 Amex points makes a lot more sense than using Pay With Points (30,459) or through Virgin Atlantic (25,000 points).
While I’m not overly excited about this promotion because the value per point is capped, it can be a decent deal for Virgin America flyers. I’d be much more excited about lucrative Delta and British Airways bonuses- I really hope Amex brings them back since it’s been a pretty quiet year so far!