Using American Express points on Virgin America

Good news for folks with big stashes of American Express Membership Rewards who like to fly Virgin America: You can now convert Membership Rewards points into Virgin Elevate points to redeem online for any unsold seat on any Virgin flight, without blackouts or restrictions. Bad news is the conversion rate: 200 Membership Rewards points convert to just 100 Elevate points. 

Virgin’s Elevate program is based on a “points per dollar” system, so the number of points needed to redeem for award travel vary based on price and seat availability. Virgin provided the following example in its news release:  “…a flyer booking a roundtrip ticket from New York to L.A. with Virgin America at a cost of about $320, could redeem that flight for 15,399 Elevate points, equivalent to 30,798 Membership Rewards points, which is comparable to other airline programs that would require up to 50,000 miles.”

To be fair, I should point out that most other airline programs offer domestic award roundtrips for as few as 25,000 miles– but it’s getting increasingly difficult to find awards at that level.

Nonetheless, the new partnership is getting panned by bloggers who cover the points and miles game:

The Points Guy posted:

“…unfortunately the ratio is 100 Elevate = 200 Amex, so a disappointing 2:1 ratio. This is not a great deal because Elevate is a fixed value loyalty program, which mean you can redeem points for any flight and they are worth between 1.6 and 2.1 cents each towards airfare. So if you transfer Amex to Virgin America, you are valuing your Amex points at .8 and 1.05 cents a piece, which is very low. I conservatively value mine at 2 cents a piece and you can purchase points directly from Amex for 2.5 cents.”

Wandering Aramean said:

“The only slightly reasonable explanation for why one would transfer AmEx points into Elevate at these rates is if you’ve got almost enough for a reasonably high-value award already and you just need to top off the account. Otherwise it is quite a bad deal.”

However, Virgin America’s Patricia Condon begs to differ:

“We actually think this is a very rich reward program – given that Elevate points provide a much higher value than miles on a typical legacy airline program.  You aren’t comparing apples to apples – as Elevate rewards apply in every cabin and fare class – with no blackout dates or restrictions.  The value of our points are consistently worth twice as much (and sometimes more) than many legacy frequent flyer programs, given the reality of legacy airline redemption restrictions.” She also provided the following chart to help explain:

So what do you think, folks? Would you convert your Amex points into Virgin Elevate points…or not?

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