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It’s been a while since a rewards program offered the ability to gain elite status when transferring points — in fact, the last time was 2011, when Amex offered Delta Medallion Qualifying Miles with Membership Rewards transfers.
Starting today through December 31, 2015, if you transfer 80,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points to Virgin Elevate (Virgin America’s points program), you’ll earn Gold status through February 2017 — that’s almost 17 full months. Elevate Gold is the program’s highest elite tier, and this limited-time offer is open to all US American Express Membership Rewards cardholders.
While 80,000 MR points equals just 40,000 Elevate points at the normal transfer rate, you can take those points relatively far on Virgin America. Right now, I value Virgin America points at 1.5-2.3 cents apiece and Amex Membership Rewards at 2 cents each, but the ability to earn Gold status certainly makes for a compelling reason to consider transferring points to Elevate. Additionally, if you transfer points between September 8 (today) and October 8, you’ll earn a 25% bonus. Using this bonus, transferring 80,000 points from MR to Virgin America will net you 50,000 Elevate points, totaling up to $1,150 in Virgin America fares, and of course Elevate Gold status. In the past, Amex and Virgin America have offered better transfer bonuses, but this can still be a lucrative deal.
Elevate Gold isn’t as lucrative as top tier status on carriers like American and United, but these benefits are still valuable if you’re a frequent flyer — especially considering that the status is now relatively within reach for all Amex cardholders. Elevate Gold status benefits include:
- Access to the Virgin America Loft at LAX
- Priority security and boarding
- Three free checked bags
- Complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select (24 hours before the flight)
- Advanced access to first-class upgrades (24 hours before the flight)
- 100% bonus on points on all money spent on Virgin America flights (Elevate members usually get 5 points per dollar)
- 25% off non-refundable main cabin tickets (two per year)
Virgin America award tickets are based on the cost of the ticket, so the amount of points needed for flights varies. However, economy tickets between New York and Los Angeles often start around 7,000 Elevate Points each way, whereas first-class seats start at approximately 30,000-40,000 points each way. Of course, because the cost is tied to the cash price of a ticket, it’s difficult to pin down an exact price.
While Virgin America flights are fixed value, meaning the most value you’ll get out of 50,000 points is $1,150, it also has five partner airlines for awards (Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Emirates, Hawaiian and Singapore Airlines) and the amount of miles needed varies based on the partner. However, in almost all cases it would be more valuable to directly transfer from Amex to Virgin, Emirates, Hawaiian or Singapore (or Delta for Virgin Australia) than to do it through Virgin America. Especially since it’s easier to book awards directly through other programs (Virgin America doesn’t let you book online).
In general, I wouldn’t take advantage of this unless you have Virgin America travel in the future and you can definitely get value out of the Gold elite status. That being said, it’s a relatively small amount of Amex points to transfer, so if you want to have a backup status on your non-primary airline, this might make sense. I like seeing American Express innovate, and I hope to see similar deals with other transfer partners in the future.
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||N/A||Introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $195.||0%||Excellent Credit|