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Over the course of this week, I’ll be going through ideas on how you can score some last-minute elite-qualifying miles on the US legacy carriers to put you over the edge for elite status qualification before the end of the year. Posts so far include Last-Minute MQM Ideas for Delta Medallion Qualification, Last-Minute Elite Status Qualification Ideas for American Flyers, Last-Minute United Premier Status Qualification Ideas and Last-Minute US Airways Preferred Status Qualification Ideas.
To commemorate its fifth anniversary, Virgin America launched a two-tier elite status program earlier this year and it’s been doing everything it can to entice flyers to go for status including brief double points promos and offering status matches to United and American elites.
To qualify for the basic tier, Silver, you must earn 20,000 Elevate status points – the equivalent of spending $4,000 in flight purchases in one calendar year.
To qualify for the higher tier, Gold, you must earn 50,000 Elevate status points – equivalent to spending $10,000 in one calendar year.
Elevate status points can be earned on purchased flights with Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. Points earned from the Virgin America Visa Signature card do not count. Travelers earn 5 Elevate points per $1 spent on travel on Virgin America itself, though they earn points based on fare class and the distance of the flight on partners Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.
-Priority check-in, security clearance and boarding
-Points-earning bonuses (25% for Silver, 100% for Gold)
-Free checked bag allowances (1 for Silver, 3 for Gold)
-An expanded advance-purchase upgrade window for First Class (12 hours for Silver, 24 hours for Gold)
-Complimentary space-available upgrades to Main Cabin Select (12 hours for Silver, 24 hours for Gold)
-Complimentary access to newly designated enhanced seat assignments within Main -Cabin (rows 5, 6 & 9 on the A319, and 5,-7 & 9 on the A320), which will be called “Main Cabin Express” (other members will just have to purchase them for $20)
-Enhanced digital/social media rewards (such as earning double points by checking in at airports and other locations through Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare)
-15% discount on Main Cabin tickets (1 per year for Silver, 2 per year for Gold)
-No Elevate points redeposit fee for Gold
-No call center service fee
The perks are pretty in line with many of the major carriers – the one drawback to Virgin America is that their international redemptions don’t seem to be great value propositions to me considering you only get up to about 2.3 cents per point in potential value. That said, if you were a Gold elite and had the Virgin credit card, you’d be earning 13 points per dollar spent on Virgin America, which translates into an almost 30% return on your investment when it comes time to redeem, and it’s hard to argue with that.
So if you’re a frequent Virgin flyer and are considering elite status, here are some ways to boost your Elevate balance in the last mad dash for qualification.
1. Fly Partners: Sure, you know you have to buy Virgin America tickets and fly in order to earn those Elevate status points, but you can also earn Virgin America Elevate points when you fly Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, so if you have some big holiday trips coming up on those carriers and don’t know where to accrue the miles/points you’d earn on them, consider crediting them to Virgin America. The earning structure is a bit complicated in that you earn points in percentages of mileage flown based on the fare class. So for instance if you were to fly on Virgin Atlantic from LAX-London roundtrip on Virgin Atlantic, you’d be traveling about 10,000 miles. On deeply discounted promotional fares, you’d earn just 10% of those miles as points – so 1,000 Elevate points (equivalent to spending $200 on Virgin America tickets), but if you pay for an Upper Class fare, you earn 60%, so 6,000 Elevate points total (like paying $1,200 on Virgin America). It’s not an awesome ratio, but if you need something to put you over the hump this could be worth it. Click on the links to see the Virgin Atlantic earning structure and the Virgin Australia earning structure.
2. Status Match From Another Airline: Between now and April 30, 2013, qualifying elite level flyers from United Airlines and American Airlines’ frequent flyer programs can request matched status to Virgin America’s Elevate Gold and Elevate Silver Status levels. Approved flyers will receive their new Elevate status through to April 30, 2013, and will have to retain their status through the end of 2013 by earning sufficient status points by flying Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. To match to Gold status, you’ll need to be either a United Premier 1K or Platinum, or an American Executive Platinum. To match to Silver status, you’ll need to be a United Premier Gold or American Platinum member. To keep your Gold status after April, you’ll need to earn 12,000 status points (equivalent of spending $2,400) – reduced to 5,000 status points for Virgin America Visa Signature cardholders. To keep your Silver status after April, you’ll need to earn 8,000 status points ($1,600) – reduced to 3,000 points for Virgin America Visa cardholders. I submitted my request based on my American Executive Platinum status and was granted Elevate Gold status within one week, which I plan on testing out over the next couple of months.
3. Credit Card Spending Bonus: In addition to lowering the spending requirements to retain status for cardholders who status match from other airlines, the Virgin America Visa also awards bonus Elevate status points when cardholders hit the spending threshold of $25,000 within an “applicable” (basically a calendar) year. Cardmembers that have an annual fee will earn 10,000 status points (provided the annual fee has been paid) and Virgin America Visa cardholders not paying an annual fee will earn 5,000 status points. Each year will be measured based on billing cycle end dates beginning in January and ending in December of the applicable year, regardless of account open date. Any eligible purchases made after the December billing cycle end date will be applied to toward the next year’s status point earnings. As with most airline co-branded credit cards’ spending threshold bonuses, this one comes at a fairly high price – $25,000 – so you might be better off starting your spending for next year after the December billing cycle ends, but if you’re close to that threshold and can hit it with some reasonable purchases before your billing cycle ends, you might as well get the 10,000 status points since that’s already halfway to Silver status.
On the bright side, the credit card’s bonus went up to 20,000 Elevate points this summer and was only supposed to remain so through August, but the offer is still available. You earn 20,000 points with your first purchase and an additional 5,000 by making a balance transfer within 30 days. Note, these points do not count toward elite status.