How Frequent Fliers Can Take Advantage of the Alaska and Virgin America Merger
While many details about the operations of the merged Alaska Airlines and Virgin America still haven’t been announced (for example: Will the Virgin America brand completely disappear? Will Virgin America planes with fancy first class be deployed on longer Alaska transcontinental routes?), one thing is clear: the combined company has chosen the Alaska Mileage Plan to continue as its loyalty program. The airline has begun encouraging Virgin Elevate members to create an Alaska account to begin transferring miles — and at a pretty lucrative ratio. Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of your miles.
Know When to Transfer Points from Virgin to Alaska
You can transfer Virgin Elevate to Alaska miles at a generous 1 to 1.3 ratio, but you can’t transfer Alaska miles into Elevate points. In general, Alaska miles are more valuable than Elevate points because they’re not pegged to the value of a ticket and you can redeem them with a number of partners.
Unlike Virgin America, whose partner redemptions required an onerous process of calling and hoping to get a phone representative that knew how to book partner awards, member can do it by using the Alaska Air app.
However, unlike Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest, you can’t transfer in both directions, so only transfer Virgin to Alaska when you absolutely know that’s the route you want to go. Unlike Virgin Elevate, Alaska’s award redemption is based on availability, so it might make sense to book a flight using your Virgin Elevate points if Alaska doesn’t have any availability, or if the flight is cheap, since you can book any flight with Elevate, though the amount of points needed rises with the cost of a ticket.
In my experience, booking transcontinental first class Virgin America flights is much cheaper via Alaska than Virgin Elevate, but since both sites will tell you the amount of points needed, only transfer to Alaska if the amount of miles needed is less than Virgin Elevate (factoring in the 30 percent bonus you get when transferring).
Claim Your 10,000 Free Miles or $100 Credit
To encourage Virgin Elevate members to open an Alaska Mileage Plan account, the airline is offering either 10,000 free Alaska miles or $100 redeemable towards airfare. I value Alaska miles at 1.8 cents each, so I’d choose the miles, but if you’re booking a flight in the near future and want to save $100 easily, it might make sense to go with the mileage credit.
This offer expires February 28, 2017, so sign up for an account and then link it with your Elevate account to get the free gift. Even if you already have an Alaska Airlines account, you might have already been gifted with 10,000 free miles. If not, link your accounts and the company should give you the free miles as a courtesy, like it did for many others who have accounts in both programs.
Take Advantage of Reciprocal Elite Status Perks
If you are Virgin Elevate Silver or Gold, your elite status will carry over to Alaska MVP or MVP Gold. MVP Gold members receive unlimited complimentary upgrades for themselves and a companion on eligible flights, a 100 percent bonus on miles flown, and priority check-in and security lines. For now, Alaska elite members will not be given equal status on Virgin America, so once again this is a one-way road meant to move Virgin America flyers over to the Alaska Mileage Plan.
Though it is still unclear whether the Virgin America brand and its service standards will survive, Alaska is being generous with the transfer ratio, free miles, and elite status match, which is refreshing since so many airlines are cutting back on their loyalty benefits and devaluing mileage redemption. Time will tell if Alaska follows that trend and moves towards a revenue-based frequent flyer program like its bigger legacy rivals, but for now the airline seems to be focused on a smooth acquisition.