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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week — Mondays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.
As a result of the acquisition of Virgin America by Alaska Airlines, we’re now just 30 days away from the termination of Virgin’s Elevate points program. So TPG reader Dan is thinking about exactly when will be the best time to transfer his Virgin points over to Alaska’s Mileage Plan…
Is this a good time to convert Virgin points to Alaska? Or should I wait till that last minute before Virgin disappears forever? Do I run the risk of losing any points?TPG Reader Dan
If you’re a regular reader of The Points Guy, you’ve probably heard us say many times that you should only transfer points when you’re ready to use them, and not before. That’s because when we talk about transferring points, we’re usually referring to flexible point currencies such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards, and once you’ve transferred points from those programs to one of their respective airline or hotel partners, there’s no way to transfer them back. So your best bet is to keep your flexible points flexible for as long as you can.
The same is true of transferring points from Virgin America Elevate to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. You can only transfer points in one direction — from Virgin to Alaska, not the other way around. Once you make a transfer, you can’t transfer them back, so you need to really make sure you’re ready to move the points over.
The good news is that unless you have an immediate need to transfer, there’s no harm in simply waiting for Virgin’s program to end on December 31, 2017. That’s because if you don’t transfer them yourself, Alaska will eventually do it for you. According to Alaska’s FAQs regarding this particular aspect of the merger:
What happens if I don’t transfer my Elevate points to Mileage Plan miles?
If you do not transfer your Elevate Points to Mileage Plan Miles by early 2018, all of your Elevate points will automatically be converted to Mileage Plan miles.
And yes, Alaska has confirmed that you’ll still get the same transfer ratio even after December 31, so there’s really no harm in waiting. However, if you’re looking at redeeming points for a Virgin flight between now and then, you should make sure to compare the point or mileage costs for using Elevate points versus Mileage Plan miles. Since you can redeem Alaska miles for Virgin flights, you could potentially find a better deal booking with one currency over the other (though note that all Virgin flights will become solely Alaska flights as of April 25, 2018)
As an example, let’s search for a one-way Virgin America flight between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX) using Virgin Elevate points for Wednesday of next week:
The first four options all come in at the same price of 18,998 points for main cabin seats. But if we do the same search at alaskaair.com, we can find the identical four flights, but with much lower prices…
The same flights are only 12,500 miles one-way using Alaska Mileage Plan miles. Even better, since Elevate points transfer to Alaska at a 1:1.3 ratio, you’ll only need to transfer 9,615 Elevate points to Mileage Plan to book one of these flights. That’s nearly 50% less than if you booked the identical flight directly with Virgin using Elevate points. Also, these flights are currently selling for $404 each, so this would be an excellent redemption since you’d be getting over 4 cents per Elevate point in value.
So, Dan, don’t discount the possibility of transferring any points you might need before December 31, but also don’t transfer them before that unless you have a specific need. Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image by Alaska Airlines/Bob Riha, Jr.
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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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