So far in my series of writing about booking award travel with the various domestic airlines, I’ve focused on “legacy carriers” that are part of broader airline alliances, and have set amounts of miles they charge for award flights based on the regions one is traveling between.
The next airline whose award bookings I’m going to explore however, is a bit different. They are not part of any alliance, and the amount of points directly correlates with the cost of the flight.
Chances are that if you live in San Francisco and take a few domestic flights a year, you’ve probably flown Virgin America at least once. Since being formed in 2008, they’ve done an amazing job at both prioritizing an amazing in-flight experience, while also being careful to not expand too quickly. Though I would give JetBlue a slight edge in amenities, I still overall prefer Virgin America given their amazing on-time record, not to mention the fact that their ample leg room, free TV, wifi, and ambient lighting go far beyond any other domestic carrier besides JetBlue.
So if you’ve taken a few Virgin America flights, you probably have a good-sized stash of Elevate points, their frequent flyer program. While it’s not exact, 10,000 Elevate points is worth roughly $200 in Virgin America flights.
And if you want to use these points for Virgin America flights, it’s pretty easy. Just select your flight like you would normally, through their slightly unusual booking system, first selecting the cities:
then the dates:
and then select Elevate points:
Just as the first flight costs almost twice as much as the second flight if one were booking in dollars, it costs almost twice as many Elevate points. After you select your flight, you can then continue to enter your information, and book an award flight. Easy enough, right?
Well, despite Virgin America making significant strides to expand their network, they still are primarily a domestic carrier (other than a few flights to Mexico), and there will probably be times when you want to fly internationally. Luckily, you can do this with your Virgin America Elevate points!
While they don’t publicize it very much, if you click “Redeem Points” from the Elevate homepage, like so:
and then scroll down, you’re then presented with a screen you may not have noticed before, showing you an opportunity to choose a route from two cities that a partner airline flies between:
In short, Virgin America partners with five other airlines, all of which are excellent: Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, Emirates Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines. (While Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, and Virgin America are all affiliated with Richard Branson’s Virgin brand, Virgin America, for legal reasons, still has to essentially be operated independently of the other Virgin airlines).
Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always a good idea to use your Elevate points on these airlines. As you can see in the above screenshot, Virgin Atlantic adds on huge fees for economy award redemptions, essentially rendering them useless for award redemptions, unless you’re booking a first class ticket, where $1,150 is trivial for a ticket that would normally cost $8,000. Emirates also adds on similar fees.
Luckily, the fees are minimal on Hawaiian and Singapore, and only a little bit higher on Virgin Australia, and can offer some great values, such as 40,000 Elevate points and $40 for a roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong on award-winning Singapore Airlines:
As you may notice, one-way trips cost a little more than half of the roundtrip price. Unfortunately, this page only serves as an award chart letting you know how many miles it costs and what the fees will be, it is not an award search engine where you can see which days have award flights available, or book award flights.
In order to check award availability, you’ll either have to search online through an award search engine that indexes that particular airline, or if you’d rather someone else do the work, you can call the Virgin America award booking center (which you’ll have to do anyway to book the award), and ask them about availability on different dates.
While this process is certainly more onerous than booking an award flight with United miles per se, it certainly is a great way to make your hard-earned Virgin America Elevate points go a lot further.
Have a question about something? Feel free to e-mail me, or post in the comments below.