When they launched their airline and the associate elevate loyalty program Virgin America didn’t actually have any redemption options, just a promise that there would be some in the future. That has finally changed, with the unveiling of flight rewards now available for booking using points as the payment.
The points are earned at a rate of five points per dollar spent, excluding taxes and fees. And the redemption is based on a similar cash basis for buying tickets – 2.15 cents each. And the redemption can be done for any flight with a revenue seat available since the points have a set cash value. There isn’t a cash+points option yet so those F rewards are a bit out of reach for most folks who do not have $10,000 in spend on the airline yet, but they are out there.
From a straight value play the 10% yield on the points isn’t horrible. On the plus side, there are plenty of shorter, cheaper runs that can be redeemed for as few as 2279 points (a 449 fare), or about $455 in spend to earn those points. The more expensive rewards, however, have a much higher cost (48,558 points minimum, which is about a $10,000 spend, for a one way F transcon redemption), making them a pretty poor value.
As a top-tier elite in the Continental program I’ve spent less than the $455 to earn over 20,000 miles, getting me very close to a domestic round-trip ticket. Of course, I had to deal with inventory limitations, but I’ve usually worked around those pretty well. And as the programs scale up to the more valuable reward the cost do not slide up in the traditional programs the way they do with elevate. A round trip ticket to Europe in business class is generally 80-100K points in a traditional program. For a dollar value redemption calculation those seats range from $2,000 when on a good sale to much more. Earning sufficient points for such a trip in a legacy program will cost some money, but not nearly as much as the Virgin America program would cost.
The value of the redemptions looks great when you see that the points are worth over two cents each, but when you consider the cost of earning them the luster starts to rub off pretty quickly. Still, it is good news for folks who have been collecting the points. At least now they know what the points are worth, even if it is not much.
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Elevate is THE WORST!! I have flown 8 one way flights on Virgin America between LAX and IAD. That’s 18,352 miles on any other airline, or 50% towards a Southwest Rapid Rewards ticket. But Thats only 4580 points on Virgin America (I average $114 per flight). Right now the cheapest flight between IAD and LAX is $134 each way or 12,464 points for a free round trip ticket. So I am only 37% of the points needed to get a free trip, the same flight that I have traveled 4 round trips. With any other airlines I would be 73% towards a 25,000 mileage award, and 50% towards a southwest ticket (Southwest also has no change fees). And all of those other airlines have much larger choice of destinations for my free ticket. The Elevate program is clearly and definitely the WORST in the industry. Interestingly they had 4900 points as the amount for a free ticket on their wesite for more than a year. Too bad this is NOT even enough for a free ticket for the $59 each way ticket between LAX and SFO which requires 5488 points. What a scam!
Sorry to see that you’ve learned this the hard way. Collecting points in a program without understanding the redemption possibilities is a risky proposition, and you seem to have lost.
That being said, the 10% return on value will get you a free one-way after 10 one-way trips, and you’re pretty close to that except for the fact that the fares went up a bit.
Flying 20 transcon segments on any other carrier (the amount to get a R/T reward) would have you sitting on about 50K points, which is enough for two reward seats if the inventory is available or one if you have to do double points. And if you do it all in one calendar year you end up with even more thanks to elite bonuses.
The shine is going to rub off from the VX product pretty quickly now that it is clear they aren’t looking at the elevate program as being at all competitive with other carriers’ programs.
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