Virgin America 60% Bonus on Purchased Points - Worth It?
Now through March 14, 2014, Virgin America is offering bonuses of up to 60% on purchased miles. Unlike some past Virgin buy miles promos, which were just a flat bonus no matter how many points you purchased, this one is tiered in the following way:
Buy 500 – 2,000 points to get a 30% bonus
Buy 2,500 – 5,000 points to get a 45% bonus
Buy 5,500+ points to get a 60% bonus
So ordinarily, Virgin America Elevate points cost about 5.2 cents each, but with this promo, the price comes down as low as 3.25 cents per point, and you can purchase up to a maximum of 20,000 points (plus the 60% bonus for a total potential of 32,000 points).
The Elevate program is a hybrid fixed value/ traditional frequent flyer programs – when you redeem on Virgin America you can use points for any flight, but when redeeming on partners there is an award chart and availability is limited.
Virgin America Redemptions
When you redeem for Virgin America flights, you get between 1.6 - 2.3 cents of value per point depending on the itinerary. So while you can get some good deals on economy redemptions, it doesn't make as much sense with First Class redemptions. For example, this itinerary from LAX to Cancun in March would cost $351 plus taxes and fees.
Or it would cost 15,800 plus taxes and fees.
So you're getting about 2.2 cents per point in value. With this promo, to get those 15,800 points, you'd need to buy 10,000 Elevate points and score a 60% bonus for a total of 16,000 Elevate points.
So a $460 JFK-LAX economy flight might be as low as 20,000 points. The benefits of this quasi-fixed-value redemption system is that you can book any flight and you don’t have to worry about a horrible redemption where you get little value out of your points. On the negative side, booking expensive tickets, especially in first class, gets very pricy. That same JFK-LAX in first class might cost $3,450, which would require 150,000 points (versus just 50,000 on other carriers like United).
Redeem on Partners
Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia are both partners of Virgin America and you can use the calculator on this page to figure out how many points you’ll need.
Roundtrip from JFK to London on Virgin Atlantic would cost you 15,000 points + $450 (or so - taxes can come in lower from time to time) in economy, 25,000 points + $760 in Premium Economy, and 35,000 points + $1,130 in Upper class.
So even if you were just going for an Economy redemption, you'd need to purchase 9,500 points + 5,700 bonus for a total of $494 and pay the $450 taxes/surcharges on top of that - coming in at nearly $1,000. While this might be cheaper than some economy tickets, you should definitely do the math and look around for cheaper purchased tickets.
At 3.25 cents apiece, you'd be paying the equivalent of about $1,140 for the points necessary for an Upper Class ticket plus the $1,130 in taxes/fees for about $2,270 total. That could be well below the $4,000-$5,000 Virgin Atlantic normally charges for Upper Class tickets, but again, shop around and make sure that airfares are high enough to justify a points purchase instead of just purchasing tickets.
On the other hand, redeeming points for flights on partner Virgin Australia from LAX-SYD looks like this:
So for that economy ticket requiring 40,000 points plus $820 in taxes and fees, you'd be paying the equivalent of $2,120. Not a great deal. For business class, you'd need 80,000 points + $920 for a total cost of $3,520 in terms of the value proposition of this promo. Tickets can go for upwards of $6,000 on this route, but that's still a lot of cash to shell out - and remember, you can only buy up to a total (max plus bonus) of 32,000 points, so you're nowhere even near the redemption level here.
I’m probably not going to take advantage of this myself, but there could be value for those who are looking to use Elevate points on premium partner awards. Remember that Virgin America is also an American Express transfer partner, albeit at a 2:1 ratio, so that is probably a better way to top up your Elevate account. Amex has also run a couple transfer bonuses recently (the last was a 40% transfer bonus in January), which can make the value proposition a little bit more enticing.