Update: SPG has brought back the ability to transfer SPG points to Virgin America Elevate online. Phew!
The merge between Alaska Airlines and Virgin America have finally closed, and Alaska is quickly getting the ball rolling on reciprocal earning and redemptions. You can already earn Virgin America Elevate points on Alaska flights, and vice versa. Elite members from both airlines will also get priority check-in and boarding when traveling on flights from both airlines.
Virgin America Elevate Points Will Transfer to Alaska Miles in A 1:1.3 Ratio
Starting January 9, Virgin America Elevate program members will be invited to create accounts with Alaska’s Mileage Plan. At that time, more details will also be made available regarding transferring Elevate points to Alaska miles, though the ability to make transfers may not start on January 9.
Eventually, Virgin America Elevate points will transfer to Alaska Mileage Plan miles in a 1:1.3 ratio.
Virgin America has a semi revenue-based redemption scheme, and each point is usually worth a minimum of 2.1 cents when buying tickets. However, sometimes you can derive up to 2.4 cents in value per point, depending on the flights. Virgin America also has a fixed-value partner award chart, but since they levy fuel surcharges and have recently lost Virgin Atlantic as a partner, it’s not as lucrative as before.
All in all, I personally value Virgin America points at around 2.2 – 2.3 cents per point, so at the announced transfer rate, Alaska miles will “carry” a value of 1.7 – 1.75 cents per point. It can be hard to figure out a transfer rate between a revenue-based and a region/distance-based program, but I think this is a pretty fair rate, all things considered.
SPG Removed Virgin America Elevate as a Transfer Partner Without Notice
One great way to leverage this was by transferring SPG points to Virgin America Elevate at a 1:1 ratio. Of course, SPG gives you 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points transferred. So if you were making transfers in 20,000-point increment, you would be getting an effective 62.5% bonus when you transfer SPG points to Alaska (indirectly).
If you were going to transfer SPG points to Alaska miles anyway, this was an amazing opportunity to earn a substantial bonus. But this was even more lucrative for some people: SPG is doing an offer where you can buy SPG points with a 50% bonus, and if you are targeted, you can buy SPG points at 1.75 cents each.
With this effective 62.5% bonus, this means you could be generating 32,500 Alaska miles for 20,000 * 0.0175 = $350. That is almost a penny an Alaska mile, which is incredible. Understandably, many people may have been taking advantage of the SPG transfers to Virgin America. Unfortunately, it looks like SPG has just removed Virgin America Elevate as a transfer partner.
While the terms & conditions online still says Virgin America Elevate is a 1:1 transfer partner as of this writing, you are no longer able to initiate transfers.
I think this is really sketchy on SPG’s part. To be completely fair, it’s clear that in light of the merger, Elevate is a program that will be on its way out. But the programs between the two airlines are still existing separately, and since you are still able to use Virgin America Elevate points, removing them as a transfer partner without notice is a pretty bad move.
As a side note, last month, Virgin America removed the ability to redeem points for flights on Virgin Atlantic, a move that wasn’t publicized until someone called in and tried to book a ticket.
I am not sure who was responsible for this, but I have strong feeling that Alaska realized this might be an opportunity for some folks to generate Alaska miles on the cheap, and decided to intervene. Together with the overnight, unannounced devaluation of the Emirates award chart, this is at least strike 1.5 for Alaska.