Virgin America Improves Elite Bonuses, Starts Counting Award Flights Towards Status, and Expands Status Match

Virgin America has increased elite bonus points-earning.

  • Silvers will now earn a 50% bonus (up from 25%) on points earned through spending on tickets.
  • Golds will now earn a 140% bonus (up from 100%) on points earned through spending on tickets

Most interesting to me is that award redemption flights will now count towards elite status.

[T]ravelers will now be able to earn status based on either the number of flights they take or the amount they spend purchasing flights – with all flight activity since 1/1/2016 included. Reward flights will also be counted towards achieving status.

Virgin America has a formal status match campaign for folks with status with a competing airline. Starting today they’re proactively matching JetBlue elites. JetBlue wasn’t included previously. But since Alaska and JetBlue went mano-a-mano over the acquisition of Virgin America they’ve seen a rivalry escalate.

You need 5000 points within 90 days to keep silver or 12,000 to keep Gold. However if you’re a Virgin America co-brand credit card holder you only need 3000 points to keep silver or 8000 for Gold. Completed status challenges provide benefits through the end of the 2017 membership year. You just need to email statusmatch -at- virginamerica.com with your membership number and proof of existing status.

There are a few restrictions.

  • Matched members don’t receive 25% off discount codes
  • Matched members get one day pass to the Virgin America airport lounge at LAX.
  • They also “may not have access to all reciprocal benefits on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia that require the member to present their physical membership card.” In other words, you don’t get a card until you complete the match so your benefits with partner airlines may vary.
  • Finally, if you did a match in 2015 you cannot do a new one this year.

These are Virgin America Gold benefits:

  • Golds earn 140% bonus on paid travel
  • Golds receive complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select 24 hours out, and can purchase first class upgrades within that window as well.
  • Golds get complimentary access to the Virgin America Loft lounge at LAX
  • Naturally there’s priority check-in, boarding, baggage, and security
  • Twice a year Golds get 25% off an economy ticket
  • Free checked bags, free award redeposit, and waived telephone booking fees
  • Partner benefits: priority check-in, boarding and security with Virgin Atlantic and those benefits plus priority luggage and lounge access in Australia with Virgin Australia.

Note that top tier Virgin America members do not get complimentary upgrades!

My rule of thumb is that Virgin America’s points are deflated, that one Virgin America point is worth about 2 points in a European airline frequent flyer program.

You can use the points for about 2.2 cents apiece towards travel on Virgin America, or for fixed-point redemptions on their partners. Their points are reasonably good for redeeming on partners (with fuel surcharges). Transferring to Virgin America to redeem on Virgin America doesn’t get great value.

Where this does get a little bit interesting is partner redemptions. They do have partners, none of which offer out of this world value but some of which can be strategically useful, for instance:

  • Emirates. New York – Dubai roundtrip on Emirates is 100,000 points plus ~ $1410 in taxes/fees. New York-Milan roundtrip on Emirates is 55,000 points and ~ $1090 in taxes/fees. One-way awards are permitted.
  • Virgin Atlantic. JFK-London in Virgin Upper Class is 35,000 points roundtrip plus ~ $1150 in taxes/fees.
  • Virgin Australia. Los Angeles – Sydney is 80,000 points roundtrip in business class plus ~ $130 in taxes/fees (compare to 190,000 Delta miles). Short-haul business class within Australia is quite reasonable.
  • Singapore Airlines. Short-haul regional business class on Singapore can be quite attractive, eg. Singapore – Bangkok roundtrip is 13,000 points and ~ $51 in taxes/fees
  • Hawaiian. Hawaiian Airlines West Coast – Hawaii is 20,000 points roundtrip in coach. First class is 50,000 points. And no fuel surcharges apply.

These prices are at first blush too cheap, until you realize that 1 Virgin America point is normally like 2 airline miles.

American Express Membership Rewards transfer at 2:1 into Virgin America. They regularly run transfer bonuses and occasionally up to 50%. Those are moderately tempting. Starwood’s new 1:1 transfers are even more tempting.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Kudos — that’s why they’re the best airline in the USA.

    Having award redemption flights count towards elite status is massive, and they learned something from hotel. One of the most aggravating aspects of airline programs is that sometimes I am in the position of having to buy a cheap economy class ticket to meet elite requalification when I had enough, and would much rather have burned, miles to fly business class.

    I hope that this becomes the standard with airlines, just as it has become with hotel programs. It will do wonders for the airlines in lowering their liability as frequent flyers will finally be able to burn their miles without being dinged with not requalifying for elite!

    MASSIVE change in my book. Once again Virgin comes ahead of the pack.

  2. As a Jetblue Mosaic, I will definitely status match. I like this competition for my business!

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