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TPG reader Scott sent me a message on Facebook to ask about the new partnership between Alaska Airlines and Virgin America:
“What is the benefit of moving Elevate points to Mileage Plan now vs. later?”
Earlier this month, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America began allowing members to transfer from the Elevate program to Mileage Plan. The transfer ratio is favorable, as each Elevate point will get you 1.3 Alaska miles. However, that doesn’t mean you should be in a rush to exchange all your rewards right away. If you use the Elevate program even occasionally, I’d recommend waiting.
The key factor here is that transfers between these two programs only go in one direction: you can convert Elevate points to Mileage Plan miles, but you can’t convert them back. Each program has its sweet spots, so in order to maximize your points and miles, you’re better off having access to both of them. It would be a shame to miss out on a good deal by merging your rewards prematurely.
For example, a flight from Seattle to Los Angeles in mid-March would cost you 15,000 miles round-trip on Alaska, but I found comparable itineraries on Virgin America for as few as 4,300 points. Even with the 30% transfer bonus, booking through the Elevate program is a much better option. That’s likely to be the case when fares are low, especially when you’re flying in economy.
On the other hand, first-class awards from LAX to Washington, D.C. can be had this summer for 50,000 Alaska miles round-trip, including service on Virgin America metal. Those exact same flights can cost as much as 89,000 points if you book them through Elevate instead of Mileage Plan. In that scenario, you’d save more than 50% by transferring around 39,000 points to Alaska in order to get the 50,000 miles you need.
There’s no advantage to transferring your points early, so I recommend keeping them in your Elevate account until you need them. It’s possible that your accounts may eventually be merged and all your points pooled if Alaska decides to get rid of the Virgin America brand. However, we have no reason to suspect that will happen soon, or that the transfer ratio will change in either case.
While you shouldn’t rush to transfer your points, there’s no harm in linking your accounts. You’ll get 10,000 bonus miles for connecting your Elevate account to an existing Mileage Plan account. If you don’t already have one, you can instead opt for a $100 discount off an Alaska-operated flight, but I think the miles are more valuable.
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Alaska miles are extremely valuable because you can book awards on partners like Emirates, Icelandair, Korean Air and Japan Airlines. The current bonus of 40,000 miles can book you a roundtrip ticket on Alaska Airlines from Boston to San Diego or New York to Seattle, for example.
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