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Program Score Card: Virgin America Elevate

Aug. 11, 2010
4 min read
Program Score Card: Virgin America Elevate
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Virgin America celebrated its three year birthday this week and it has garnered a huge, loyal fan-base in that short amount of time. It's even been featured in a reality show, Fly Girls, that followed the lives of it's perky flight attendants.

What Virgin America is really known for, is its low-fare structure, technology, in-flight amenities- including mood lighting, in-flight entertainment and WiFi. Not only do they sell snacks on-board, but you can purchase them through the in-flight entertainment system (RED).

Virgin's fleet of 30 Airbus A319/320 aircraft service 9 destinations in the US and Canada.

Currency= Elevate Points (Sign up link here)


Flights: 5 points per dollar spent on base airfare on Virgin America. Points awarded for mileage flown and fare class on partners:
Virgin Atlantic:

Promotional EconomyN, V, X, O
Discounted EconomyL, M, Q
Full Economy ClassY, B
Premium EconomyW, S, K, H
Business ClassZ, R, J, D

V Australia: Fare classes V,Q earn 10% of miles flown. K,G,E,L,N,T earn 20% of miles flown. Y,B,H earn 40% of miles flown. W,S,R,O earn 50% of miles flown. I,D earn 60% of miles flown. J,C earn 80% of miles flown.

For Virgin Blue: Fare classes R,V,X earn 10% of miles flown. A,B,C,E,G,H,J,K,M,P,Q,S,T,U earn 20% of miles flown. N,Y earn 40% of miles flown. W,O earn 50% of miles flown.

Credit Cards: Official Elevate Visa- 2,500 point sign-up bonus, 1 point per dollar on regular purchases, 3 points/dollar on purchases. No annual fee. Apply here.

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Parners:1 point per dollar spent on car partners, 1 point per $2 for Hilton stays and 1,000 points/stay for Morgans Hotel stays .

Redeeming: Points can be cashed in to purchase flights. If you book a flight on a Friday/Sunday- each point is worth about 1.6 cents and 2.1 for all other days. Once a ticket is "purchased" using points, it looks and acts like a purchased fare.

Expiration: Points expire after 18 months of no activity.

+No blackout dates
+ Relatively valuable points (most airlines give about 1 cent value each)
+ Cheap upgrades to first class $70-$270 each way (no points required)

- No international awards (except for Toronto and soon Mexico)
- Relatively few partners (only Hilton and Morgans hotels)
- Limited route network

Elite Status: None

Overall Summary:
Virgin Elevate is basically a 10% rebate on travel. For every $1,000 you spend, you get about $100 for future flights- with no black-out dates or capacity controls. My only real problem with the program is that there aren't enough partners. I'd like to see them become an American Express Membership Rewards partner (like Virgin Atlantic) and also join for dining.

Also, they don't recognize their best customers with any benefits. I think first class boarding and increased point earning opportunities would be nice for frequent flyers. They compete on a lot of longer haul domestic/transcontinental flights, so as a top-tier business travel, any of the legacies are going to treat me a lot better: guaranteed exit row/premium seat, potential upgrade and 100% or more bonus on points. Even JetBlue offers a more spacious coach cabin. That's a lot to give up for mood lighting and a 10% future credit on travel.

I do like the direction Virgin America is going. Once they start building up their flight network and expanding upon their agreements with other airlines, I think they will become a force to be reckoned with in the loyalty program arena.

Overall scores:

Points: B+
Elite Program: N/A
Overall Grade: B

First steps for Virgin America to get the overall score moving towards an A:
1) Establish an elite status program for frequent flyers
2) Get more partners (especially hotel and transfer partners like Amex and Starwood)
3) Strengthen relationships with international airlines in order to allow for more redemption opportunities

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