Will Amex’s offer for Virgin Gold translate to Alaska status?

It’s no secret that Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are set to merge. Back in April of this year, Alaska announced that it was going to pay an unbelievable $4 Billion for the primarily West Coast airline, and the rumors started to fly. There was a bit of a bidding war, even including JetBlue, who wanted to create a true coast to coast airline. Alaska, trying to nudge their way into SFO and LAX, wanted to make sure to secure their ability to grow in an ever changing market.

Slots at airports are becoming harder and harder to come by, and by buying Virgin, they could get slots not only on the west coast but in important East Coast airports like those in the NY Metro and DC metro.

It seems as if all is going to plan, as even Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines, said that he wanted to have the two airlines operating as one as of Q1 2018.

Virgin America Plane, from virginamerica.com

Virgin America Plane, from virginamerica.com

As Ben and I are both Frequent Fliers on Alaska and both hold 75k status, I was excited by the merger. It meant that we now had access to tons more options to head to the east coast, to Hawaii, and beyond. Also, hopefully, it meant that we might have had access to some of the Virgin partnerships with Virgin Australia and Atlantic, even though that’s up in the air for now. Virgin also partners with other unique partners including Air New Zealand, Asiana, El Al, Ethiopian, and more.

This brings me to the crux of this post. We got an email from a reader Andres who was curious about the merger. He said:

Hello, I was hoping to get your opinion on the current Amex to Virgin America transfer bonus. It’s 80k MR for 50k VX + Gold status until 2018. On it’s face it does not seem that compelling to me as I understand VX Gold is not particularly rewarding. However, if I parlay VX Gold into Alaska MVP Gold status match then it seems much more enticing. So, the question is: Are 80k MR points worth 50k VX + VX Gold + Alaska MVP Gold?

So that’s a lot of question all rolled into one. Lets dissect this bit by bit.

The most important bit to mention here is the AX offer. American Express is currently running a special on the transfer of miles. If you transfer 80,000 membership reward points into the Virgin Elevate program, you’ll get 50,000 points. Also, through October 31st, you’ll get Gold Status as an added bonus. This begs the question, are 80,000 Membership Reward points really worth 50,000 elevate points, and is Gold Status really worth it?

My short answer?  No.

The long answer? It might be.

For someone who hasn’t flown on Virgin planes before, having Gold Status doesn’t really seem like much of a fantastic thing. You get free checked bags, priority boarding, yada yada. Other than that, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. I recently received Virgin Gold status through a status match, and when I went to book a ticket, they still wanted to charge me $262 each way for an upgrade to an exit row. FROM SEATTLE TO LOS ANGELES. ON A 2 AND A HALF HOUR FLIGHT. Not feeling very gold, if I do say so myself.

Virgin America Seat Selection

At least on most airlines (except those !@#% at Delta) I can choose an exit row for free with my elite status. It seems very disingenuous to charge me an extra fee if I’m an elite member.

You can also use the Virgin lounge at LAX, but if you’re flying out of any other airports, it’s a no go. This perk to me is one that sounds great for those living in LAX, but otherwise not really.

The true question is if the 50,000 miles will equate to something over at Alaska Airlines once the merger happens. Recently with the Starwood/Marriott merger, we saw a linking of the accounts and the ability to transfer points between the two programs.

ritz-marriott-spg

3 Marriott points turned into 1 SPG point and vice versa. I see Alaska doing something very similar to this as well, but in reverse. Since Alaska is not revenue based, and they promise they won’t go revenue based, it’s much easier to earn miles on Alaska then it is on Virgin. A round trip flight between Seattle and Los Angeles on Alaska will net you 1,930 miles as a non elite and 4,343 as a 75K member. With Virgin, on an average $140 round trip fare, you’ll only earn 700 miles as a base member and 1,680 as an elite. This is roughly a 3:1 ratio of miles between the two programs.

Potentially, those 80,000 MR reward points, could become 150,000 Alaska miles if they adopt a similar 3:1 conversion once they merge. Maybe they convert at 2:1 and you get 100,000 miles from the switch. Either way, you’re getting a good deal out of it.

Also potentially, just like the Marriott and SPG merger, the points programs should align. I would imagine that Silver = MVP and Gold = MVP Gold. 75k, I feel, is going to be reserved for those who actually put in the miles flying with Alaska. They wouldn’t want to dilute the market with too many 75k members once the merger happens.

 

Waterfall makes it look like it's raining, even when it's not

Watering down the elite pool is never a good idea

So my advice would be no, don’t do the transfer if you don’t think you’re going to actually USE the benefits that Virgin offers. I’d hold on to those 80k Membership Reward points for something much more valuable, and see if you can swing a status match some other way.

Anyone else out there have any personal experience with Virgin Gold status, or have you taken advantage of this offer?

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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4 Comments

  1. If you’re an Elevate Gold member, you can upgrade to the Main Cabin Select (MCS a.k.a. Business class) seats for free from Economy. Yes, that means putting yourself on an Upgrade list w/ Elevate, but it’s a free upgrade to these MCS seats.

    It seems that you’d rather just buy the seats outright and not go through the steps of upgrading – I understand that. But the MCS seats a bit nicer than Economy and have their own perks as well.

    Regarding transferring Amex MR points to VX, I’m not sure I’d do that either. Not with the pending acquisition stalling and the opportunity cost of using MRs elsewhere.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for chiming in. I’m not big on “waiting” for an upgrade to an Exit Row. I’m a big dude, and the idea that I have to hope I get an upgrade to an exit row or a bulk head, OR pay $262 is not something I can subscribe to. I don’t fit well in regular seats, so if you’re more normal sized, maybe that’ll be OK

      Post a Reply
  2. Thanks for responding to my question! FWIW, I decided to do the transfer. I am banking on being able to status match to Alaska MVP Gold immediately, regardless of when the merger closes or what happens with the 2 programs. I think it will be worth it considering I have no status with Alaska now. Only one way to find out, ‘be the data point you want to see’, as they say.

    Thanks again for your analysis.

    Post a Reply
    • Well. Good luck. You should make sure to tstay tuned as I have a surprise post coming in the next couple days that I think you’ll enjoy!

      Post a Reply

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