Tag: emirates

How to book a free flight to Hong Kong on the best airline in the world using your Virgin America Elevate points (or, all the cool things you can redeem Elevate points for besides Virgin America flights)

How to book a free flight to Hong Kong on the best airline in the world using your Virgin America Elevate points (or, all the cool things you can redeem Elevate points for besides Virgin America flights)

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:

virg 1
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.

A Guide to Airline Alliances and Partnerships

A Guide to Airline Alliances and Partnerships

For almost 40 years (give or take), airlines have been enticing passengers to stay loyal to their airlines offering them frequent flyer miles, in which they will earn a certain amount of “miles” (often equal to the amount of miles they flew), which can then be redeemed for award (read: free) flights based on a redemption chart.

When I tell people I book most of my flights using frequent flyer miles, they often wonder how many flights I had to take (pay for) to earn all those miles. And, with the exception of a few, the answer is often “none.” That’s because thanks to Americans’ awful financial management habits, American credit card companies have been able to offer outstanding signup bonuses on a wide variety of credit cards which has made it very easy to accrue frequent flyer miles without setting foot on an airplane.

But this and the subsequent post is going to stick to how to earn miles when you’re actually flying, which can be especially useful for business travelers whose flights are being paid for on the company dime, but also for those times when it just makes more sense to pay for a flight than redeem miles.


There are three main airline alliances in the world: Star Alliance, Oneworld (or oneworld), and SkyTeam. Conveniently, there are also three “legacy carriers” remaining in the US: United, American, and Delta. Each of these belongs to a different alliance: United to Star Alliance, American to Oneworld, and Delta to SkyTeam.

So, what is an alliance? Despite certain airlines’ attempts to seemingly do so (like Emirates), no one airline can fly you everywhere you need to go. This is a result of practicality, cost, legal obstacles, and a number of other factors. Rather than make it so you have to separately book each leg of a flight that is on a different carrier, airlines have formed alliances, meaning that if I want to book a ticket that involves flights on more than one airline, I can still book it as one ticket, provided that they are in the same alliance or partner with each other. And consequently, I can earn miles in one loyalty program from paid flights on another airline, provided that they are in the same alliance or partner with each other.

For example, if I wanted to fly from San Francisco to Tehran (a flight that US airlines legally currently can’t offer even if they wanted to), I could fly United from San Francisco to Frankfurt, then Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Tehran. I can still earn United miles for my flight on Lufthansa since they’re also part of Star Alliance. I can then use those United miles I earned to book a flight (or series of flights) on any Star Alliance airline.

The question of which alliance is the best is one of heated debate (which I’ll probably explore at a later point), though Star Alliance has the highest number of airlines and the most destinations. To be honest, it really depends where you want to travel, as some alliances are better in certain regions. For example, Star Alliance is very useful in Africa, given that it has three member airlines, whereas Oneworld has none. On the other hand, Oneworld is very useful in South America, with two member airlines as well as a plethora of flights from American Airlines’ hub in Miami.

This Wikipedia page provides a more concise overview than any travel blog I’ve seen.

Airline partners

The whole alliance thing sounds easy enough, right? Three US airlines, three global alliances. Well, it would be if every major airline fell into one of the three alliances. The problem is, many airlines do not belong to an alliance. This can happen for a number of reasons, sometimes airlines determine that they can be more profitable by staying independent of an alliance, other times, an alliance may determine an airline does not meet certain standards required for admission into an alliance.

Instead, they’ll form a partnership with airlines that they consider important to their flight destinations (often with airlines that serve the country they fly to). For example, Emirates and JetBlue have a partnership so that people flying into one of the major US cities from Dubai on Emirates can smoothly continue their flight to a smaller US city not served by Emirates (for example if I wanted to fly from Dubai to Charleston, South Carolina, I could fly Emirates from Dubai to Boston, then JetBlue from Boston to Charleston all on one itinerary). As a result, if I primarily fly domestic and don’t anticipate flying Emirates for a while, I could choose to earn JetBlue TrueBlue points for my Emirates flight (or earn Emirates Skywards for the JetBlue flight if I anticipate it being more important to fly Emirates again). Always check the individual airlines’ rules first before making any decisions however, as some may choose you to earn miles on partner flights but not redeem miles on partner flights (or vice versa). This is indeed the case with the Emirates-JetBlue partnership, as you can NOT use JetBlue miles to book Emirates award flights.

The Emirates-JetBlue partnership is an easier example however, because neither of those airlines are affiliated with an alliance. Where it can get complicated is when you have partnerships involving one airline in an alliance and one airline not in an alliance. A good example is Alaska Airlines. Alaska has partnerships with both American and Delta (among other airlines), even though they are in rival alliances. So, what does this mean?

Can you earn Alaska Airlines miles on American Airlines flights? Yes

Can you earn Alaska Airlines miles on Delta Airlines flights? Yes

Can you earn Delta Airlines SkyTeam miles on Alaska Airlines flights? Yes

Can you earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles on Alaska Airlines flights? Yes

Can you redeem Alaska Airlines miles for American Airlines award flights? Yes

Can you redeem Alaska Airlines miles for Delta Airlines award flights? Yes

Can you redeem Delta Airlines SkyTeam miles for Alaska Airlines award flights? Yes

Can you redeem American Airlines SkyTeam miles for Alaska Airlines award flights? Yes

Can you redeem Alaska Airlines miles for Oneworld award flights? NO. It doesn’t matter that Alaska Airlines partners with an airline (American) that is a member of the Oneworld alliance.

Can you redeem Alaska Airlines miles for Skyteam award flights? NO. It doesn’t matter that Alaska Airlines partners with an airline (Delta) that is a member of the Skyteam alliance.

Easy enough?

The bottom line: Whenever you have a paid flight, take time to learn about what frequent flyer programs you can earn miles for, and which will make the most sense for you given your future travel plans.