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Virgin America Elevate Program Review

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Virgin America Elevate Program Review

Virgin America Elevate program: The basics

Virgin America has only been in the airline industry since 2007, but its frequent flyer program has a lot to offer to loyal members. Unlike many other airline rewards programs, Elevate has no blackout dates or restrictions. Members can redeem points for flights starting at 2,500 points.

Elevate has three membership tiers:

Elevate Red: Virgin America has no requirements to join its general membership tier. As a member, you earn 5 points per dollar spent on Virgin America flights — instead of points based on distance traveled — and earn points on flights with select partner airlines.

Elevate Silver: Achieve Silver status with 20,000 status points in a calendar year. Perks include:

  • 25% bonus on points earned on Virgin America flights
  • Complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select starting 12 hours before the flight
  • Priority check-in, baggage handling, security line access and boarding
  • Two free passes and discounted passes to Virgin America Loft lounge at Los Angeles International Airport
  • 25% off one non-refundable Main Cabin ticket per year
  • One free checked bag
  • Exclusive deals and seasonal promotions from Elevate partners

Elevate Gold: Reach this tier by earning 50,000 status points in a calendar year. As a Gold member, you receive:

  • All standard Silver benefits
  • 100% bonus on points earned on Virgin America flights
  • Complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select starting 24 hours before the flight
  • Three free passes and discounted passes to Virgin America Loft at LAX.
  • 25% off two non-refundable Main Cabin tickets per year
  • Three free checked bags
  • Waived redeposit fee
  • Priority check-in, baggage handling, security line access and boarding on Virgin America’s international airline partners

Cards that earn Elevate points

Virgin America Visa Signature® Card

  • Get 10,000 bonus reward points after you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days as a cardholder; that's up to $200 toward no-blackout reward flights on Virgin America.
  • 3 points per $1 spent with Virgin America. (Combined with the 5 points per $1 for Elevate members, that’s a total of 8 points per $1 spent with the airline.)
  • 1 point $1 spent on all other card purchases.

Virgin America Premium Visa Signature® Card

  • Earn 15,000 bonus points after you make $1,000 in eligible purchases within your first 90 days as a cardholder; that’s up to $300 toward no-blackout reward flights on Virgin America.
  • 3 points per $1 spent with Virgin America (for a total of 8 points per $1 for Elevate members).
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other card purchases.

How to get more Elevate points

Beyond booking flights with Virgin America, you can rack up Elevate points in a few other ways. First, Virgin America has a slew of partners in different categories, including airlines, hotels, car rentals, shopping and lifestyle. In most cases, you’re rewarded per dollar spent. But in some instances, you can also receive a one-time bonus for making a purchase.

If you have an American Express Membership Rewards account, you can transfer your Membership Rewards points to your Elevate account at a 2-to-1 ratio. You can also purchase up to 20,000 points per calendar year at 5.2 cents per point. However, since we estimate the value of Elevate points at 2.2 cents apiece, buying them probably isn’t worth the cost. Citi ThankYou Points can also be transferred at a 2-to-1 ratio.

Status points help you reach different membership tiers, but they are not the same as rewards points. You earn 5 status points for every dollar you spend on Virgin America flights. You can also earn 5,000 bonus status points for every $10,000 spent on eligible purchases — up to 15,000 status points per calendar year — on your Virgin America Premium Visa Signature® Card. Lastly, you can score status points based on the number of miles and class of service when you fly with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.

How to redeem Elevate points

Flight redemption options

When flying Virgin America domestically, the Nerds value Elevate points at 2.2 cents each. You’ll get a slightly better value flying economy, where points average 2.4 cents apiece and can be worth up to 2.6 cents, depending on the flight. If you’re flying business or first class, we estimate a value of 2.2 cents per point.

Other redemption options

In true Virgin fashion, the Elevate program offers Virgin Limited Edition for those who like to live luxuriously. Depending on your preference and point balance, you can stay at an elegant chalet in the Swiss Alps, embark on a safari in East Africa or even earn a getaway on Sir Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island.

Transfer partners

Although Virgin America doesn’t operate outside  the United States, you may still use your Elevate points to travel internationally via one of Virgin America’s airline partners: Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Emirates, Hawaiian Airlines and Singapore Airlines. However, the point values vary depending on departure and destination.

Fine print

Elevate points expire if you don’t earn or redeem points at least once every 18 months. At the discretion of Virgin America, some travel is not eligible to earn status points.

Top cards that earn Elevate points

Virgin America Visa Signature® Card

The Virgin America Visa Signature® Card is a good choice for any Virgin America fan. Let’s start with the sign-up bonus: Get 10,000 bonus reward points after you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days as a cardholder; that's up to $200 toward no-blackout reward flights on Virgin America. On an ongoing basis, you can earn 3 points per dollar spent with Virgin America — in addition to the 5 points you earn as an Elevate member — and 1 point for every dollar spent on all other card purchases.

If you rarely fly alone, the Virgin America Visa Signature® Card also gives you $150 off a companion ticket once a year and offers a free checked bag for you and a friend on Virgin America flights. Plus, you save 20% on all in-flight purchases, including meals, snacks, cocktails and on-demand entertainment.

The card’s $49 annual fee isn’t waived for the first year, as with some other airline cards. It also charges a 3% foreign transaction fee, which can be costly if you travel overseas often. Overall, the Virgin America Visa Signature® Card is a good option if you fly frequently on Virgin America. But it may not provide enough value if you’re not loyal to the brand. Click here to apply for the Virgin America Visa Signature® Card.

›› MORE: Reviews of major rewards programs

Methodology

The calculated value of these points is based on an estimated redemption rate, not a credit card rewards earn rate. Therefore, you may notice that these numbers don’t match the rewards rates on our credit card finder tool. Read on for how we estimated these points values.

For our calculations, we sampled 5 popular domestic airline routes for both economy and business or first class flights. These are the routes we used:

  • DAL to AUS
  • SFO to LAX
  • ORD to LAS
  • LAX to JFK
  • SEA to JFK

The miles value ranged from 2.3 to 2.6 cents each for economy and 2.2 to 2.3 cents each for business or first class.

To determine the value of your miles for specific flights, divide the cash value of the ticket (less any applicable taxes and fees if you redeem miles) by the number of miles required for the flight. So if the ticket would cost either $100, or 15,000 miles + $10 in taxes and fees, the math would be as follows:

($100 – $10) / 15,000 = 0.006, or 0.6 cents per mile

Last updated on October 8, 2015

Ben Luthi is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow him on Twitter @benluthi and on Google+.


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