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Emirate Airlines and Virgin America announced today, October 21, 2013, that they will be joining forces in a new partnership that will allow members of both airlines’ frequent flyer programs to earn and redeem points or miles for travel across the networks. Virgin America is also a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, which is another factor to take into consideration when deciding which program to use whether you’re earning or redeeming miles.

Starting today, members of Emirates Skywards frequent flyer program will be able to earn Skywards miles when traveling on all Virgin America flights and can redeem their Skywards miles for reward flights on Virgin America routes.

Emirates Airlines and Virgin America announced their new partnership today.
Emirates Airlines and Virgin America announced their new partnership today.

On the flipside, members of Virgin America’s Elevate frequent flyer program can now earn Elevate points when flying with Emirates, which services 135 destinations in 76 countries, including Dubai, or redeem points for international award flights on Emirates.

The Dubai-based airline has regular flights out of New York JFK, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington Dulles, Seattle, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth and Boston, most of which are already Virgin America hubs so the partnership creates a convenient cross-over for customers. Elevate members will also be able to earn and redeem points on Emirates’ new non-stop service between New York and Milan, and enjoy the only First Class cabin service between the two cities.

Emirates now flies from JFK to Milan, offering a First Class service
Emirates now flies from New York to Milan, and is the first to offer a First Class service.

Earning Ratios

Virgin America:

Virgin America Earning Ratio
Table showing the number of points you would earn traveled in each class of Emirates service.

Virgin America members will earn Elevate points with Emirates based on the type of fare you purchase and the distance you fly, so to figure out how many Elevate points you’d earn, you take the base miles of your flight and multiply it by the percentage your fare class earns. The earning percentages range between 20-80% of miles flown.

So the further you go and the higher your fare class, the more points you earn. Just be sure to check that the class of travel is eligible for Elevate points and use your membership number when you book. Only  flights marketed and operated by Emirates are eligible for earning Elevate points, however, not their code-share partners. If you’re already an Elevate member, any Emirates flight you’ve taken on or after October 17, 2013 is eligible for Elevate points. You have six months from the date of your flight to request a credit to your account.

For example, if you fly on Emirates from San Francisco to Dubai round trip in Economy Class on a Skywards Flex fare, you would earn:

  • Base Miles (Round trip, SFO-DXB) – 8,440
  • Economy Class Skywards Flex fare – 40% of Miles flown
  • Total Elevate points earned: 6,500 Elevate points

When it comes to redemptions, you can start redeeming Elevate points on Emirates starting October 24, 2013. 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 and $720 in taxes and fees, while Business Class would be 95,000 miles plus $1,410 in taxes and fees – no mention of First Class and when I called the Virgin Elevate partner redemption desk two different agents told me that First Class redemptions would not be available.

Screen shot 2013-10-21 at 11.41.22 AM

Those mileage numbers might seem small, but remember, you earn Elevate points based on your spending on Virgin, or they transfer in at a ratio of 2 Amex points to 1 Elevate point from Amex, so those numbers actually get a lot further away when you’re talking about how to earn them – not to mention the significant carrier-imposed surcharges and taxes noted.

You’d need to transfer 90,000 or 190,000 Amex points to Virgin America (the transfer ratio is 2 Amex points to 1 Elevate point) for each of those redemptions respectively. To put that in perspective, Alaska Airlines (another Emirates partner) would require 85,000 miles for Economy and 145,000 miles in Business.

Emirates:

Here is Emirates’ new earning/redeeming page and rules for Virgin America.

Screen shot 2013-10-21 at 11.38.19 AMWhen flying Emirates, Skywards miles are calculated using four criteria: route, fare type, class, and tier. You can maximize your miles income with the fare you choose and the class you fly in, once you reach the Silver tier, you also begin to collect additional miles based on your tier status. You can earn between 0.5-2 miles per mile flown depending on all four.

For example, flying from SFO-JFK roundtrip on a discount economy ticket roundtrip would only earn you 2,584 Skyward miles, while flying First Class would earn you 10,344 miles roundtrip.

In terms of redemptions, Emirates has released a chart with the mileage necessary for specific Virgin America routes including the following:

Screen shot 2013-10-21 at 11.48.26 AMFlight redemptions start at 7,500 miles each way on short-hauls like Los Angeles-San Francisco or Las Vegas to LAX and range up to 30,000 miles each way for Main Cabin Select seats on longer-haul routes like San Francisco to Boston or Washington DC to LA. I’ll take a closer look in follow-up posts on potential sweet spots here, but it looks like they’re limited to the short- and mid-haul flights that require fewer miles.

Win A Trip To Dubai

Enter the “Win a Dream Trip to Dubai with Emirates," now through November 21, 2013.
Enter the “Win a Dream Trip to Dubai with Emirates,” now through November 21, 2013.

To kickstart the partnership, Virgin America launched a promotion to Win A Dream Trip To Dubai With Emirates through their Facebook page, where you can enter to win a trip for two to Dubai with Emirates now through November 21, 2013. You will also get 250 Elevate points just for entering, and the whole grand prize package includes:

  • Two round-trip Economy Class tickets from San Francisco to Dubai on Emirates Airline
  • Flights on Virgin America to San Francisco for flyers in our other destinations
  • A three-night stay at Atlantis, The Palm, located on iconic Palm Island
  • A chance to swim with dolphins at Dolphin Bay, Atlantis, The Palm
  • A dune dinner safari for you and your guest

For full terms and conditions, click here.

There have been a number of significant new airline partnerships lately, including Virgin Atlantic partnering with Delta, and the latest union will make Emirates the fifth member of the Elevate family, which already includes Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines.

Virgin America Airbus 320
Virgin America’s Airbus 320

For more information on flying with Virgin America or Emirates, check out these posts:

Maximize Monday: Transcontinental Comparison Is It Worth It To Switch To JetBlue?

What Is The Best US Airline? Virgin America Apparently According To Consumer Reports

My Virgin America Elevate Gold Status Ends, So What?

Top Ten Airline Products I Can’t Wait To Try

New York JFK Milan Route Competition Low Fares On Emirates And Bonus Miles On Delta Alitalia

Emirates Announces New Boston Service And How To Use Miles To Fly Them

Alaska Adds Emirates Award Redemptions Top Ways To Boost Your Mileage Plan Account

Qantas To Team Up With Emirates, Drop British Airways

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