Today we’re providing an overview of the Virgin America frequent flyer program, called Elevate.
While many people think that VA is owned by my favorite business guy, Sir Richard Branson, that’s only partially true. He was the mastermind behind the idea, but US law does not permit foreign entities from owning more than 25% of a US airline. Thus, the Virgin Atlantic Group controls 25%, and a mysterious group called VAI Partners owns the other 75%.
Virgin America Is Primarily A West Coast/East Coast Airline
It should be no shocker that Virgin America flies almost exclusively within the US (with the exception of a few routes to Mexico) given its name. VA is primarily a West Coast carrier, with San Francisco and Los Angeles serving as their 2 key hubs.
So if you are flying from one of their major cities, such as Seattle, Boston, Chicago, DC, Dallas, NYC, etc, you’ll first need to fly to either SFO or LAX before heading on to your final destination. If you are lucky enough to live near SFO or LAX, then you can fly direct to basically all of the cities that VA flies to.
You can check out their route map here.
A Quick Primer On Virgin America Elevate Status
Virgin offers 3 classes—Elevate Red, Silver and Gold. Just signing up for Elevate gets you Red Status. The table below outlines how many status points it takes to get to each level, and some of the more interesting associated benefits, in our opinion.
|Status points required||Automatic||Earn 20K status points in 1 year||Earn 50K status points in 1 year|
|Reward points earned per $1 spent on Virgin America flights||5 points||6.25 points||10 points|
|Complimentary upgrades to main cabin select||None||12 hours before flight||24 hours before flight|
|Complimentary checked bag weighing up to 50 lbs.||No||1 free checked bag||3 free checked bags|
|Take 25% off any non-refundable Main Cabin ticket (Good for any day of the year)||None||1 ticket per year||2 tickets per year|
Earning Elevate Points
There are a couple of different ways to earn status points. Note also that once you achieve a given level (Silver or Gold), you’ll stay at that level for the remainder of the year you earned it, as well as the entire next calendar year.
- You’ll earn 5 points for every $1 spent on your base fare. So, we can determine that to reach Gold status this way, you’d need to spend $10K flying on Virgin America.
- On Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, the points you earn are based on the number of miles flown, as well as the class of service you travel.
- Finally, if you use the Virgin America Visa Signature card. For the low annual fee version of the card, if you spend $25K or more in a calendar year, you’ll earn 10K status points—putting you half-way to Silver status. On the no-annual fee version, if you spend $25K or more, you’ll earn 5K points.
Deep Dive on Earning Elevate Points With Partners
The table below gives you an idea of how many Elevate Points you earn on VA’s partners:
|Class of Service||Partners||Points Earned as % Miles Flown|
|Promotional Economy||Virgin Atlantic||10%|
|Discounted Economy||Virgin Atlantic; Virgin Australia||20%|
|Full Class Economy||Virgin Atlantic; Virgin Australia||40%|
|Premium Economy||Virgin Atlantic; Virgin Australia||50%|
|Upper Class/Business Class||Virgin Atlantic; Virgin Australia||60%|
So, for example, if you flew a 10,000 mile route on Virgin Atlantic in Premium Economy class, you would earn 5,000 Elevate Points.
Redeeming Your Elevate Points
Redemptions on the website seem very straightforward. There are no blackout dates or other restrictions. If the seat is available and you have the Elevate points, it’s yours.
Their website is nice in that you don’t need to sign in to see how many points it would take to fly a particular route. It’s also easy to toggle between the cash price for a ticket versus points required for the award.
How Much Are Elevate Points Worth?
This is always a critical question when considering a rewards program. You can read our full analysis on the value of Virgin America’s Elevate points here, but the short answer: roughly 2.1 cents per point, which represents excellent value relative to other frequent flyer loyalty programs.
Redeeming Your Miles On Partner Airlines
Virgin America has partnered with Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and Hawaiian Airlines. In terms of getting maximum value for your points, our general rule of thumb is that partner airlines offer significantly less value than if you redeem on the source airline.
I took a quick look (call it a sanity check), and priced out a flight from Boston to Tokyo. It would require 45K miles and $1,250 in taxes and fees for Economy Class. I then went to Kayak and priced out a market rate fare—which came to $1,241 (with one stop, economy). Basically, the taxes you are paying on the award flight are equal to the entire cost of the ticket on the open market, thus valuing your miles at zilcho.
Closing Remarks on the Virgin America Loyalty Program
While understanding the value you get from the miles or points earned from a given frequent flyer loyalty program is important, perhaps even more important is understanding whether a given airline is the right fit for your future travel needs.
For example, if you know you’ll be flying to the Far East quite a bit in the near future, then the Virgin America program probably won’t offer much value. But, on the other hand, if you live in Boston and your son or daughter just got accepted to UCLA, then this may be the perfect loyalty program for you.
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