Update: This is a targeted offer so in order to see if it is available to you, you will have to log into your Membership Rewards account and go to the Virgin America transfer page to see the transfer ratio.
Now through November 21, American Express Membership Rewards is giving a (targeted) 50% bonus when transferring points to Virgin America’s Elevate program. Normally points transfer at a ratio of 2 Amex points to 1 Elevate point, which is a lackluster normal ratio. With this promo, however, you can transfer 200 Amex points to get 150 Elevate points instead. While there have been recent 30% transfer bonuses from Amex to Virgin America, it’s been about a year since we’ve seen a bonus as high as 50%, so if you’ve been considering moving some points into Elevate but were waiting for a bonus to do so, now is probably the time.
When redeming for Virgin America flights Elevate is a fixed-value rewards program where you can use points to purchase any flight at a value of between 1.6-2.3 cents per point depending on the fare and itinerary. The reason the normal 2:1 transfer ratio is pretty dismal, because it means you are getting between .8 and 1.15 cents per American Express Membership Rewards point – a low value which stands out even more since you can purchase Virgin America flights with Pay With Points at 1 cent per point (1.25 cents per point for Business Platinum cardholders (personal Platinum cardholders get 1.25 cents until December 31) 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, a 100% transfer bonus where you could get points at a 1:1 ratio would be great. With the 50% bonus, however, at least you’re getting between 1.07-1.53 cents per Amex point in value.
Redeeming on Partners
Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia are both partners and you can use the calculator on this page to figure out how many points you’ll need for an award- luckily it’s not based on the price of the flight, so there can still be great value redemptions. A sample Los Angeles to Sydney itinerary in business class costs 80,000 Elevate points and $849 in taxes and fees- not bad for a $5,500 flight (5.8 cents per Elevate point)! With this 50% promotion you’d need 106,667 Amex to create 80,000 Elevate points, so that’s not such a bad deal. If you have enough points, you could alternatively transfer 150,000 Amex to Delta and book the same V Australia award with only $135 in taxes and fees, so 43,000 additional Amex points would save you $714 or 1.7 cents per Amex in value.
Booking Virgin America Flights: Transfer Amex To Elevate, Pay With Points or Redeem Through Virgin Atlantic?
Let’s take an example to see if it makes more sense to transfer Amex points to Elevate or to Pay with Points or to book through Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club, which now allows Virgin America redemptions.
First, using Elevate points. Flying roundtrip from Los Angeles to Cancun for a long weekend beach vacation the week after Thanksgiving would cost you 25,500 points and $63.88
With this promo, you’d need to transfer 34,000 Amex points to get the 25,500 Elevate points necessary to book this itinerary and still pay the $64 in taxes and fees. 34,000 Amex points would be worth $340 in travel using Pay With Points at a ratio of 1 cent per point (or $425 if you had the Platinum card).
However, to use Pay With Points, you have to book through Amex Travel, where the fare for this exact itinerary came out to $623.
So you’d need 62,300 Amex points (49,840 if you had the Platinum Amex) to book the same flights using Pay With Points – it makes a lot more sense to transfer to Virgin America in this case since you’re getting a value of 2.2 cents per Virgin point by redeeming them at Virgin, but only 1 cent per Amex point by using Pay With Points. The one thing to note is that if you did book with Pay With Points, you’d still be accruing elite status and Elevate points at the usual rate of 5 per $1, so a total of 3,115. Probably not worth it if you’re just looking to save some cash on a quick vacation.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of both Amex and Virgin America. The airline has a distance-based redemption chart for Virgin America flights, and this itinerary would require 40,000 miles total. Amex points transfer at 1:1 ratio to Virgin Atlantic, so you’d need 40,000 points to redeem for this itinerary. Still 6,000 points more than you’d need with the 50% transfer bonus to Virgin America. (Just a note, you could also use Virgin Australia Velocity Miles, but for this itinerary, you’d need 16,900 each way plus taxes, essentially saving just 200 miles on the itinerary).
All in all, while I’m not amazed by this transfer bonus because the value of Elevate points are essentially capped at about 2.3 cents each, it’s still nice to squeeze 50% more value out of each Amex point, and as you can see, you can get some pretty good values on flights that beat the other point redemption options.
Just note, many people seem to have had trouble seeing the 50% bonus hard-coded into their Membership Rewards points transfer page, but I have confirmed with my contacts at Amex that it is indeed happening. So to be sure you get the transfer bonus, call Membership Rewards at 1-800-297-3276 and have them transfer the points for you over the phone so you can confirm you are getting the bonus.
Hat tip View from the Wing (and confirmed by our Amex contacts).