Update: this partnership has now been dissolved.
I’m sure most of you have heard about new transfer partnership between Virgin America and SPG. Why is it a big deal? Well, for one, points transfer on 1:1 basis, unlike in Membership Rewards and Citi Thank You programs that have an abysmal 2:1 ratio for this particular partner.
Virgin America has a program which is very similar to Southwest. Each point is worth approximately 2.2 cents towards Virgin America-operated flights. Don’t forget, you also get 5,000 mile bonus per each 20,000 points transfer from SPG program. That’s why this is an extremely attractive value proposition in its own right. Of course, Virgin America coverage in US isn’t anything to write home about. Well, unless you live in one of major cities:
But wait, there is more! Virgin America partners with several airlines, and you can redeem your Elevate points using fixed rate. How much? It will depend on the partner, route and whether you are flying one-way or roundtrip. Keep in mind, the calculator assumes that “low” (cheapest) award seats are available in the partner program itself. So, you are not guaranteed this rate because Virgin America serves as a middle-man of sorts. Check this link and plug in your city combination. It’s an extremely user-friendly page because it clearly displays the rate and taxes.
So, where is the beef? Here are some few “sweet post” redemptions you may want to consider for your next family vacation:
1) Flights to Hawaii from West coast cities, Las Vegas and Phoenix via Hawaiian Airlines
I’ve mentioned this redemption before, and honestly think it happens to be one of the best values on the chart. This is the cheapest way (miles-wise) to get to Hawaii from those particular airports. If you have a ton of Southwest Rapid Rewards points, you may want to consider flying there and adding a few nights of sightseeing. You can get from Phoenix to Honolulu for only 20,000 points roundtrip plus $10 in taxes. Even if you decide to fly one-way, the rate is still a reasonable 12,000 points per person.
Of course, the big question is whether you can find availability via Hawaiian program. Remember, you will only be able to book the flights if partner is offering them. First, you’ll have to join Hawaiian frequent flyer program (free and takes 3 minutes). Select “miles” option when searching for flights and pick “one way”. Now search availability:
I selected random dates in March and started looking for 4 seats on the same flight. Availability appears to be fairly decent for this particular route. Of course, I recommend you do your own research on Hawaiian website. As you can see, the seats cost 20,000 miles one-way, which is the lowest level in Hawaiian program. Ignore that number because we will be booking through Virgin America where the cost is merely 12,000 points for the same exact flight.
Now comes the scary part. You transfer you SPG points to Virgin America (hopefully getting a 5,000 mile bonus) and pray that seats are still there when miles post. It could take a week or even longer. That’s why I strongly recommend you have a Plan B in place. You will have to call 1.877.FLY.VIRGIN (877.359.8474) to book your Hawaiian flights or any other partner redemptions, for that matter.
2) Inter-island flights on Hawaiian
Another excellent option. Availability is usually outstanding unless you are booking close to departure date. The rate is only 3,000 points for one-way flights; 6,000 roundtrip. It appears, there is no penalty for redeeming points for one-way flights.
3) International destinations on Hawaiian Airlines
These are mostly of interest to those flush with SPG points. If that describes you, and you happen to live in Honolulu or want to combine trips, check out Hawaiian routes. The airline flies to Tokyo, Beijing, Auckland and a few other popular cities. Roundtrip award tickets will give you a discount of 5,000 points, but one-way redemptions are also worth considering. Check the calculator I’ve linked to and select Honolulu as a departure airport. Here is one-way price to Auckland, New Zealand:
4) Houston-Moscow and New York-Frankfurt redemptions on Singapore Airlines
These are very intersting, especially New York option. Here is the price for roundtrip ticket:
Yes, that’s right! You can fly roundtrip to Europe for 20,000 points plus a reasonable $147 in taxes.
And here is the price from Houston to Moscow, roundtrip in economy:
Not quite as spectacular, but the taxes are very low. You do have to pay more than half of the amount of miles for one-way flights, but it’s an option. Once again, you would have to do a search on Singapore website for availability. It doesn’t look like you have to join their frequent flyer program for that.
5) One-way flights from USA to Europe on Virgin Atlantic
First of all, forget roundtrip flights on Virgin Atlantic. Even though you get a discount on roundtrip redemption, taxes will kill the deal. It could be worth it to redeem miles on one-way flights from USA to Europe to places like London, Glasgow, Manchester and other airports served by Virgin Atlantic. Take a look at the price for one-way flight form Miami to London:
In spite of fuel surcharges, this is actually a pretty darn good deal. You may even consider splurging on premium economy, depending on how many SPG points you’ve got. You can search for award seats on Virgin Atlantic website. Availability is usually decent, a big plus for families.
6) USA-Australia on Virgin Australia
An excellent option for routes covered by that partner. Here is the cost of one-way flight from LAX-Sydney:
Roundtrip costs 40,000 points in economy, which is very reasonable for that particular route. Join their frequent flyer program and check availability here When you do a search, this is how it has to price out for one-way economy through Velocity (Virgin Australia) program in order to be eligible for redemption through Virgin America. Confused?
|Sydney||Los Angeles||From 47,000 Points + $138.99 AUD Taxes & Fees|
I’m sure there are many other “sweet spots,” but those are the ones I’ve found so far. Feel free to chime in.
What about SPG “nights+flights”?
Of course, if you have a ton of SPG points and want a hotel redemption, this is a viable option. Check this page for details For 60,000 SPG points, you can get 5 nights at Category 3 property, plus 50,000 miles. Or use 70,000 SPG points for a Category 4 property.
Remember, you can combine points with your spouse as long as you live at the same address. This is a very sweet option indeed, but only if you were planning on hotel redemption anyway.
- Save 18,000 Starpoints at Category 3 hotels
- Save 20,000 Starpoints at Category 4 hotels
- Good for 50,000 air miles
- Good for 5 Free Nights
- Valid on all airlines with 1:1 Starpoints to miles ratios
Those 50,000 miles in Virgin America program can potentially get you 4 one-way flights to Hawaii. Not too shabby! Transfer 25,000 more SPG points, and you will have enough for 4 roundtrip tickets.
Other ways to get Elevate points
As I’ve mentioned earlier, they do transfer from Citi Thank You program (with eligible cards like Citi Prestige or Premier) and Membership Rewards. Even though the transfer rate is bad, it could be worth it to top off the account.
Personally, I would hold off applying for Amex SPG card till the bonus is (hopefully) increased to 35,000 points. The offer on business and personal versions (25,000 points) does pay me referral right now, but I recommend you wait.
So, should you pull the trigger on this transfer? Only you can decide. I wouldn’t do it speculatively. That said, the transfer rate is very compelling. In fact, I’m surprised by just how good it is considering competitor programs offer only half the value per point. Will SPG come to its senses soon? Who knows? They have just announced this partnership and I imagine there will be some sort of notice if transfer rate changes.
It is a compelling option for those who need to stretch their points to go to Hawaii. Of course, there is always that looming threat of disappearing award availability while your points are in-transit. Let’s look at the worst case scenario. All award seats go poof by the time miles post to your Virgin America account. You are very upset.
But remember, eventually, these points will become Alaska miles, which are extremely valuable. You could also just redeem them for Virgin America flights and get 2.2 cents per point. Or wait and hope availability opens back up. So, it’s not as scary of a scenario as it appears at first glance.
If you’ve been sitting on your SPG points stash and looking for that golden opportunity to use it, this might be it.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.