Virgin America’s Elevate frequent flyer program is pretty niche, but has one really specific use for New Zealanders – low tax/surcharge redemptions for Virgin Australia, which ‘can’ be good value for select Business Class flights to destinations in the South Pacific and Australia when there is a bonus Elevate Points offer available.
In this guide, we’ll look at some example routes, and explain how to purchase Elevate Points.
Important Note: The Elevate program will fold into the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program on January 1 2018, following a merger that closed on December 2016. This means that to take advantage of any favourable redemption rates with the Elevate program, you should ensure that you redeem for your flights before the end of 2017.
How much are the points?
You can purchase up to 60,000 points per calendar year, in 20,000 point increments (i.e. to max out, you will need to make three purchases).
Outside of any special purchase offers, each point costs 5.2c USD.
This means that a purchase of 60,000 points will cost $3120 USD.
Example Business Class redemption costs
Some example redemption costs in Business Class for specific airlines/routes come out as follows:
|Example Route||Airline||Points Required||Cost of points (USD)||Taxes (USD)|
|Auckland - Nuku'alofa return||Virgin Australia||10000||$520||$180|
|Auckland/Christchurch/Queenstown/Wellington - Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane/Gold Coast return||Virgin Australia||27000||$1404||$180|
|Auckland - Apia/Rarotonga return||Virgin Australia||27000||$1404||$180|
|Auckland - Melbourne/Brisbane return||Emirates||36000||$1872||$360|
|Christchurch - Sydney return||Emirates||36000||$1872||$360|
|Auckland - Honolulu one way||Hawaiian Airlines||45000||$2340||$49|
|Auckland/Christchurch - Singapore one way||Singapore Airlines||57000||$2964||$33|
|Singapore - London one way||Singapore Airlines||57000||$2964||$344|
Note that none of these redemptions are particularly good value at the moment, as there are no special purchase offers available where you can earn bonus Elevate Points at a cheaper per point cost.
Previous Elevate Points Promotions
Comparing the offer history for points purchase promotions can help guide whether the current pricing is a good deal.
- August 2016 – 80% bonus
- June 2016 – 60% bonus
- February 2016 – 50% bonus
- September 2015 – 70% bonus
- June 2015 – 60% bonus
- April 2015 – 80% bonus
Guide to buying Virgin America Elevate points for Virgin Australia Business Class flights
Buying Elevate points to redeem outright on Virgin America itself is a non-starter, as they have a fixed rate for redemption with a maximum value around 2.2c, whereas the cost to buy Elevate points is much higher than that.
However Elevate has airline partners such as Virgin Australia with which you can redeem in the more, let’s say, traditional (and appealing way) with a partner award chart with zones which can be taken advantage of – this is where the value comes from, particularly when Virgin Elevate have a points purchase special on.
Key things to know
- You can buy up to 60,000 points before bonuses per account per calendar year
- Points will take up to 72 hours to credit to your Elevate account
- You will be charged in USD – don’t forget to convert to NZD
- You’ll need to pay by credit card so don’t forget to factor in the card overseas transaction fees
Example redemptions using Virgin America Elevate points for Business Class travel on Virgin Australia
This is the key Virgin Australia page on the Elevate website, with a handy calculator to calculate the redemption rate.
Example 1: Auckland -> Nuku’alofa return in Virgin Australia Business Class
Using the calculator on the Virgin Australia page, an Auckland to Nuku’alofa return flight clocks in at 10,000 points. One-way Business Class is 6,000 Elevate points.
Example 2: Trans-Tasman redemption, e.g. Christchurch -> Brisbane return in Virgin Australia Business Class
This route comes in at 27,000 Elevate points return, plus $180 in taxes.
The same rate applies for all other direct Virgin Australia Trans-Tasman routes between New Zealand and Australia. One way Business Class is 16,000 Elevate points.
Hawaiian Airlines and Singapore Airlines redemption opportunities
You can redeem Elevate points for Hawaiian Airlines and Singapore Airlines flights too, and once again, the cost in points during a promotion is pretty good.
Availability might be tricky to come by as it’s a partner program, but still worth bearing in mind as an option.
What else to know about buying points from the Virgin America Elevate program
Virgin American Elevate Points, and the Elevate program generally, is not the same as Virgin Australia’s Velocity program. The points are not interchangeable between the programs, so having an existing Velocity balance has no bearing on how you can or can’t use Elevate points.
With that out of the way, let’s look at some of the key things to know about Elevate.
You can only buy up to 60,000 Elevate points per calendar year. Some deals have this limit raised. On top of this then comes any bonus points.
You could set up and use multiple accounts to purchase points if you want to make multiple redemptions for different passengers, or even for yourself – you’ll just need to ensure each redemption you want to make is under the threshold of the points you can purchase annually.
The focus of this guide is not on the Elevate program generally, so I won’t be covering points earn – generally earning points in Elevate for New Zealander’s won’t make much sense.
Virgin America’s airline redemption partners
With Virgin America’s Elevate program you can redeem your purchased points with:
- Virgin Australia
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
In most cases, Elevate passes on the full set of taxes and surcharges with a redemption ticket meaning that buying points and redeeming them can often make not so great financial sense.
There are some specific opportunities that do make sense though despite this, and one of those is Business Class travel on Virgin Australia (when there is a points purchase promotion being run).
How to search for availability
Using the Virgin Australia website for availability searches should match what Virgin America is able to see in their system.
You’ll need to sign up for accounts with both programs to be able to search, but it’s free, so no issue there.
How to redeem your Elevate points
You’ll need to call Virgin America on 1 877 FLY VIRGIN / 1 877 359 8474 in the US to make a booking.
Bookings conditions to take note of include that reward bookings for infants are not permitted and as you’d expect, for children aged 2 and older occupying a seat, the full adult redemption rate will apply.
They also state that once Partner Airline reward tickets are issued you may amend your travel date, route or class of service prior to travel for a fee, and according to their schedule of fees, it looks like the cancel / change fee is $100 USD – but I am yet to test this.
Conclusion – can buying Virgin America Elevate Points get you cheap Business Class on Virgin Australia?
Yes, absolutely. The examples above showcase some of the opportunities to use Elevate points from New Zealand. They can be a bit fiddly book given you need to do so over the phone, but otherwise if the bonus promotion is right, there are some great savings to be had. However outside of the bonus promotion cycle, the savings aren’t so great, if at all.
And remember: The Elevate program will fold into the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program on January 1, 2018. This means that to take advantage of any favourable redemption rates with the Elevate program, you should ensure that you redeem for your flights before the end of 2017.