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Now through January 31, 2014, American Express Membership Rewards is offering a 40% transfer bonus to Virgin America. Points usually transfer at a ratio of 2oo Amex points to 100 Virgin America Elevate. With this bonus, though, you’ll get a rate of 200 Amex to 140 Virgin – the minimum transfer amount is 200 Amex points. Remember, when transferring Amex points to US frequent flyer programs, there is a fee of .06 cents (six hundredths) per point transferred up to a maximum fee of $99.
Amex has been pretty aggressive lately with short-term transfer bonuses including some to Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, El Al and new partner, Emirates, and we actually saw another 40% transfer bonus to Virgin America for two weeks in September.
When redeeming 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 is 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 – and an even higher 1.25 cents per point for Business Platinum cardholders and you still earn Elevate points on those flights, so you’re getting a better value for your Amex points (even with this promo) and earning Elevate points and status on your ticket.
So, it wouldn’t really make sense to transfer Amex points into Elevate unless there was a truly lucrative transfer bonus. In my opinion, a 100% transfer bonus where you could get points at a 1:1 ratio would be great. However, with the 40% bonus, however, at least you’re getting between 1.12-1.6 cents per Amex point in value.
One partner to consider using your Elevate points on is Virgin Atlantic. Roundtrip, you’d need the following amount of miles and taxes and fees:
So for Economy, you’d need 15,000 Elevate points – so 30,000 Amex points normally, but just 22,000 with this transfer bonus. For Premium Economy, it’s 25,000 Elevate points, so 50,000 Amex points normally but 36,000 with this bonus, and for Upper Class it’s 35,000 Elevate points, which you’d normally need to transfer 70,000 Amex points for, but only 50,000 with this transfer bonus. Granted, you’re still paying over $1,100 in taxes and fees, but on a $5,000 ticket, that could still be worth it to you.
Virgin America and Emirates also recently announced a new partnership where you can earn and redeem Elevate points on Emirates, and Emirates Skywards miles on Virgin. You can calculate the Elevate points you’ll need for Emirates redemptions here, but to take a quick example, to fly roundtrip New York JFK to Dubai would require 45,000 Elevate points (65,000 Amex points during the transfer bonus) and $720 in taxes and fees, while Business Class would be 95,000 Elevate points (136,000 Amex points during this promo) plus $1,410 in taxes and fees.
So though those numbers are much better than with the normal 2:1 transfer ratio, they’re still not that attractive – especially given the large taxes and fees you’d still have to pay on award tickets.
All in all, I’m not that thrilled by this transfer bonus because the value of Elevate points are essentially capped at about 2.3 cents each. But it’s still nice to squeeze 40% more value out of each Amex point, and you can get some pretty good values on flights by redeeming for cheap flights on Virgin America at a fixed rate as well as the airline’s other partners that might beat the other point redemption options out there.