The recent merger of Alaska and Virgin America has created America’s fifth largest airline. We know that Alaska is going to drop the Virgin America brand, but that was originally supposed to happen in 2019. It’s apparently been moved up. Virgin America’s Elevate program is now scheduled to end on January 1, 2018. Its airline partnerships will begin dissolving even earlier.
Virgin America Ends Partnership With American Express
The good news is that you will be able to redeem your Elevate points until January 15, 2018, even after the program is no more. The bad thing is that Virgin America will end its partnership with American Express Membership Rewards on October 31, 2017, and Alaska is not an Amex transfer partner, so this door will close as well.
It’s not like the transfer ratio is lucrative; it’s 2 Amex MR points for 1 Elevate point, which is hardly a good deal. But you can transfer your Elevate points to Mileage Plan with a 30 percent bonus for an unspecified time during the post-merger period. That makes it a somewhat better value proposition. Basically, if you transfer 10,000 Amex points to Elevate, then transfer Elevate points to Mileage Plan, you will end up with 6,500 miles. Depending on how much you value Alaska miles, it might not a bad deal.
Don’t transfer your points too soon though as there could be a transfer bonus before the end.
Not Just for West Coasters
While it’s true that the Alaska cards will mostly benefit those who live on the West Coast where Alaska has a huge footprint, there is a good reason why Mileage Plan is so popular. It has incredible award values and a huge number of partners including American Airlines.
What is Life Going to Be Like After Virgin America?
Virgin America loyalists will certainly miss the ambience. Alaska is a traditional airline, while Virgin America is quirky, edgy and chic. To win over Virgin America fans, Alaska is implementing some design changes. As Alaska’s president Ben Minicucci said, “We’re going to infuse a little bit of red into blue and maybe, make it a little bit purple.”
But while mood lighting and esthetics might be important to some, they don’t have a direct impact on passengers’ wallets. Most frequent flyers will find that Alaska Mileage Plan is vastly superior to Elevate for the following reasons.
1) Mileage Plan is a region-based program, while Elevate is revenue-based. Region-based programs often have more outsized sweet spots.
2) Mileage Plan allows a free stopover even on one-way flights and domestically.
3) Alaska has many more airline partners than Virgin America.
4) Mileage Plan offers great values to its customers, and Alaska makes consistent efforts to ensure its members are satisfied with their frequent flyer benefits. Whether it stays this way remains to be seen.
Still, there are some instances when Elevate members will be unhappy about the loss of the Virgin America program. Alaska one-way flights cost from 5,000 to 12,500 miles depending on the distance and regardless of the ticket price. Yet, Virgin America flights are tied to the cost of the ticket and are worth about 2-2.2 cents per point. So, short and super-cheap flights can cost very few points, especially when they are on sale.
How to Get Alaska Mileage Plan Miles
There are not too many options. There are two Alaska credit cards that are issued by Bank of America: personal and business. Both cards currently feature a 30,000-point bonus and annual fees are not waived for the first year. Aside from a sign-up bonus, Alaska cards have exceptional benefits that put other airline credit card featuresn to shame.
- 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 or more within the first 90 days (limited time)
- Companion Fare: Buy 1 ticket, get 1 for just the taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) after you spend $1,000 or more within the first 90 days (limited time)
- Get another Companion Fare: From $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22) every year on your account anniversary valid on Alaska and Virgin America flights booked on alaskaair.com
- Free checked bag on Alaska and Virgin America flights for you and up to six other passengers on the same reservation
- Earn three miles per $1 spent directly on Alaska Airlines and Virgin America and 1 mile for every $1 on everything else
- No foreign transaction fees
- Annual fee: $75
This card has a number of fantastic benefits. The 3X earning scheme is unheard of for airline co-branded cards (Delta, American, and United cards earn 2X for air travel purchases). Then you get one free Companion Certificate and one $99 Companion Certificate, and you can use them on any published fares (there are no tricks or fine print).
Finally, you get free bags for up to 7 passengers including yourself, and you don’t even have to pay for the ticket with your Alaska card.
The Alaska Airlines Visa Business Card has identical features but it doesn’t have a free Companion Fare – only the $99 one.
Want an Alaska Card?Proceed With Caution
There used to be times when Bank of America gave out its cards like candy. People could apply for a card even while holding the same exact card over and over and over again. The Internet is full of stories of people who have applied for a few cards at a time and got them all eventually, complete with the sign-up bonuses.
Those times are over though. Nowadays, even if you have an excellent credit score, you have to be careful applying for all Bank of America cards, including the Alaska one. Here are a few tips, but remember that there are always exceptions, and following these guidelines doesn’t guarantee you will get the card – only that it will improve your chances.
Don’t apply for the Alaska card if you have another Alaska card.
Don’t apply for the Alaska card if you have too many other BofA cards (some suggest 3 to 4 max).
If you think you’ll need to cancel one of the BofA cards in a few months – call and lower your credit line, because it may become an issue in the future.
The Virgin America credit card that used to be issued by Comenity Capital Bank doesn’t accept new applications.
Of course, using credit cards and flying Alaska and Virgin America are not the only ways to rack up Alaska miles. You can fly on one of Alaska’s 19 partner airlines; shop via the Mileage Plan Shopping portal; dine with Mileage Plan Dining, or explore special promotions and other deals. You can also earn Alaska miles with its partner hotels, car rentals and cruises. And if you need to top up your Mileage Plan account, there is Starwood Preferred Guest. You can transfer your Starwood points to Alaska at a 1:1 ratio, and get an additional 25% bonus for every 20,000 points.