Virgin America Finally Offers Redemption

Virgin America’s eleVAte program has been rather vexxing, you earn points but since the airline’s inception you couldn’t do anything with them. In fact, you didn’t even know what you would eventually be able to do with them (ok, flights were a good guess!) or at what price. My understanding is that the delay here was related to IT problems. I guess they’ve finally started getting those worked out, as they’ve just added redemption to their website.

It looks like you need to be logged into an account to see the details, but helpfully there is a Flyertalk thread laying them out. (Helpfully for me because I have yet to fly Virgin America and have no eleVAte account.)

What I’m seeing so far doesn’t really excite me. There are no confirmed upgrades to first class (only upgrades 24 hours before the flight if seats are available) and first class awards are crazy expensive. To wit:

  • Cross-country flights start at 6,930 points each way for coach and 48,558 points each way
  • Short hops start at 2,279 points each way for coach and 9,721 points each way for first class.

These point levels increase as the cost of a paid ticket increases. As the Flyertalk thread points out, the 6930 point one-way cost of a cross-country flight only applies to their $149 fare, but when the price goes up to $209 the points go up to 9,721.

Now, there are no capacity controls on these awards and that’s a big plus, but for me it’s not enough of a plus to make the program worthwhile either in terms of redemption value or reward options, great I get another flight up the West Coast to Seattle in return for butt-in-seat miles. Not exciting.

Apparently a co-branded credit card is coming but earnings will be unimpressive. Looks like a no annual fee Visa and one point per dollar spent except with Virgin America. Blah. First class roundtrip transcons will require spending $100,000 on the card, I’d rather do that with another card and redeem for a first class roundtrip to Asia with stopover on some of the world’s better carriers.

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, 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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  1. The redemption rates are really pretty bad. The yield on the spend is 10%, which doesn’t seem too bad, but when you’re looking at a transcon F seat you have to spend $10K on fares to redeem for a one way ride. Considering that a $10K spend can go a lot further on a legacy program, particularly if you manage to fly enough to be elite, the option starts to lose its appeal very, very quickly.

    The short-haul domestic redemptions are cheap points-wise, but only when they are cheap actual cost wise. In the same way that it would be foolish to redeem 25K points in a traditional program for a $200 trip, it would seem foolish to redeem 2K points from Virgin America for a $49 trip.

    The good news is that they are offering their customers something. The bad news is that it isn’t a very appealing something.

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