Virgin America Elevate Program Review

Virgin America Elevate Program Review

Who Is Virgin America Elevate Good For?

Depending on where you live or where you usually fly, you might never have the opportunity to fly Virgin America, let alone fly it often enough to use its frequent flyer program.

For passengers in the areas in the airline serves, however, the award-winning airline became a fast favorite when it first debuted in 2007 with it fashionable flight attendants, mood lighting and on-demand service.

As the airline begins to operate out of Dallas, from gates it picked up in the US Airways and American Airlines merger, and expands its operations from its usual east-to-west-coast non-stop flights with new flights from the Northeast to Vegas and Fort Lauderdale this fall, the possible applications and inherent value of Virgin Americas elevate points are on the rise.

PROGRAM

ELEVATEELEVATE

ALLIANCE

NONE

CURRENCY

POINTSPOINTS

POINTS TRANSFER PARTNERS

AIRLINE PARTNERS

  • EmiratesEmirates
  • Hawaiian AirlinesHawaiian Airlines
  • Virgin AtlanticVirgin Atlantic
  • Singapore AirlinesSingapore Airlines
  • Virgin BlueVirgin Blue

In the Elevate program, you earn five points per dollar spent on airfare, so if you’re always buying the cheapest tickets possible, this program is probably not a great fit for you. But if you value style, comfort, service and convenience and aren’t afraid to spend a little money on it, Virgin America Elevate can be a great fit.

Hubs:

  • San Francisco International Airport (headquarters)
  • Dallas Love Field (new as of Oct 13, 2014)
  • Los Angeles International Airport

How Can You Use Virgin America Elevate Points?

Since Virgin America has a cash-based earning system, rather than the usual miles-flown formula, it should come as little surprise that redemptions are also valued according to the current cash value of the desired itinerary at the time of booking.

Though Virgin doesn’t have an official fixed value for its points, and in practice they come out to a value of 2.1-2.6 cents per point. You can use your points to book any seat on any plane, though the number of points required seems to push the redemption to the lower end of the cents per point range on more in-demand flights.

You can also use your points to book flights on any of Virgin Americans partners at very low redemption rates, though all partner flights must be booked by phone and many carry high fees and surcharges, unlike Virgin America flights.

Virgin America has also recently joined a program called Virgin Limited Edition, which allows people with hundreds of points sitting around to use them for stays at exclusive properties and resorts that could usually not be booked with points, such as Sir Richard Branson’s private island in the Caribbean.

Program Perks:

  • All tickets are one-way bookings
  • Very low taxes and fees, usually $5 or less per one-way
  • Ability to transfer points from one member to another

Bookings Quirks:

  • No ability to hold award reservations
  • $100 change fee for main cabin bookings
  • Additional $100 point redeposit fee
  • Points expire if there is no activity on the account in 18 months

Best value awards:

If you use your Virgin America points to book Virgin Atlantic flights to Europe, you’ll pay the same (unfortunately high) fees and taxes, but the number of miles required is the lowest of any airline for transatlantic flights: just 25,000 in economy and 30,000 in premium economy, which is Virgin Atlantic’s business class alternative.

Award travel from San Francisco (SFO) to London (LHR)

ClassPointsTaxes & Carrier
Imposed Fees
Airline Name
Economy25,000$475Virgin Atlantic
Premium Economy30,000$790Virgin Atlantic
Upper Class50,000$910Virgin Atlantic

Worst Value Awards:

Since all Virgin America award bookings are tied to the current cash fare of a particular flight, the worst value award tickets come when flight prices are especially high. For Virgin, this is usually the case with last-minute flights during holidays and weekends, so if you’re looking to get away on a Virgin Award at a time like that, you’ll have to look when seats first open up or expect to spend double or triple the points.

The Good Stuff: Upgrades and Elite Status

Since Virgin uses two cabin planes and doesn’t count its main cabin select as an intermediary class, it’s possible to upgrade award tickets directly from the main cabin to first class. Upgrade fees are based on the destination and range from $39 to 399.

Elevate Status Levels and Perks

Like Elevate points, status points are awarded based on how much you spend on your flight, to the tune of 5 status points per dollar spent.

Earn points toward Status when you fly with Virgin America
Earn points toward Status when you fly with Virgin America

You can also earn status points on partner flights, but only 10-80 percent of the miles flown depending on the airline and fare class of your ticket.

Each subsequent level includes the perks of the previous level unless stated otherwise.

  • Silver: 25 percent bonus points, complimentary seat selection, complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select 12 hours before departure, priority check-in, priority baggage handling, priority boarding, priority security screening, 2 passes to the Virgin America Loft at LAX, call center fee waived, take 25 percent off one non-refundable Main Cabin ticket per year, one complimentary checked bag
  • Gold: 100 percent bonus points, complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select 24 hours before departure, 3 passes to the Virgin America Loft at LAX, take 25 percent off two non-refundable Main Cabin tickets per year, 3 complimentary checked bags, reciprocal benefits with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia,

Associated Credit Cards

Virgin America issues two Visa signature cards through Barclays, the black Virgin America Visa Signature Card and the silver Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card.

Both cards offer:

  • 3 points per dollar spent on Virgin America
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
  • 1 free checked bag for the cardholder and a companion
  • $150 off a companion ticket each year
  • Points don’t expire

Virgin America and Virgin America Premium Cards
Virgin America and Virgin America Premium Cards

The key difference between the two cards is in points and fees. The Premium card carriers a higher annual fee ($149 vs. $49), but it confers 15,000 bonus points rather than 10,000 and waived change and cancellation fees on cash and award tickets.You also have the option to earn up to 15,000 status points per year with the Premium card at a rate of 5,000 status points for ever $10,000 in purchases on the card. Cardholders can also carry any extra status points forward to the next year.