Saving Points With Airline Partners — Reader Success Story

Mar 30, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives — the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! From time to time I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, email it to; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!

Recently, I posted a success story from Matt, who used hotel points to keep costs way down during his trip to the Masters tournament. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jason, who took advantage of the new partnership between Alaska Airlines and Virgin America to save on award flights. Here’s what he had to say:

Jason saved a ton of points by transferring from Virgin America to Alaska Airlines.

One thing I’ve learned from TPG is that it’s important to manage your airline reservations. In other words, whether you buy airline tickets with money or miles, you shouldn’t simply file and forget them.

I have Virgin America Gold status and a lot of points in my Elevate account. Last month, I booked two one-way, first class tickets on Virgin America from San Francisco to Newark as the beginning leg of a trip to Europe later this year. The cost was 36,465 Elevate points (plus the $5.60 security fee) per ticket. Booking was no problem, and we were all set.

Like many Virgin America flyers, I viewed the Alaska Airlines acquisition with some trepidation. However, the favorable transfer ratio from Virgin America to Mileage Plan and the recent updates to Alaska’s award chart created an opportunity to save on the transcon flights I had already booked.

Alaska charges 25,000 miles (plus the same $5.60 in fees) for a non-refundable first class award on flights over 2,100 miles (SFO-EWR is around 2,600). I transferred 25,000 Elevate points to Mileage Plan to get 32,500 Alaska miles. Coupled with the 19,408 miles I already had, that gave me a total of 51,908 miles. I then redeemed 50,000 miles (and $11.20) for two tickets identical to the ones I had already booked.

Finally, I logged into my Virgin America account and cancelled my first reservation. There’s no redeposit fee for Elevate Gold members, so the points I had spent before were refunded to my account at no charge. Instead of spending 72,930 Elevate points, I was able to book the same tickets for the equivalent of 38,462 points, which effectively saved me a total of 34,468 points!

Airline partnerships offer great opportunities to maximize your travel rewards. You can often save by booking awards with one airline for flights on another, but Jason was able to cut costs by simply transferring points from Virgin America to Alaska Airlines and redeeming at the lower rate. His strategy clearly worked, but keep in mind that those transfers only go in one direction. If you have a stockpile of Elevate points, I recommend keeping them in the Elevate program until you’re sure that transferring will work to your advantage.

There are other good reasons to check tickets after you book them. A schedule change could jeopardize your itinerary, and you’ll have an easier time adjusting your plans if you catch it early. Similarly, an equipment change could mean a very different flight experience, so it’s worth making sure you’re booked on the right aircraft. If your ticket is refundable or changeable, then check to see if the price has dropped, and whether better seats or award inventory have opened up. If nothing else, take a second look at your tickets to verify that your travel dates and destinations are correct.

Check partner award charts to see whether you can book the same seats for less.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Jason for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you.

Again, if the strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me and the whole TPG team by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). Feel free to also submit stories of your most egregious travel mistakes. In either case, you’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

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