Considering the 1.2 million mile Necker Island challenge… Who’s with me?

I’m usually pretty good at talking myself into crazy ideas.  To me, this hobby is a game where winning means traveling in luxury, for free.  Well… even with points & miles, travel is rarely 100% free, but it can certainly be cheap.  And, the hobby has let me experience things I would have never experienced otherwise: private chauffer service to and from the plane in Munich when flying Lufthansa first class; over-the-top first class service (including a full massage) at the Bangkok airport when flying Thai first class; free room service breakfast in our suite at both the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris and the Park Hyatt Zurich; a fully enclosed suite on a plane when I flew Singapore Suites; etc.

Um… where was I?  Oh yeah, talking myself into crazy ideas.  I’ve done my share in the past:

I enjoy taking on challenges like these.  Ideal challenges are those that sound crazy and/or impossible but are somehow achievable and worthwhile.  So, when Travel is Free recently pointed out that a couple could stay on Richard Branson’s private island, Necker Island, for a mere 1.2 million Virgin Atlantic miles I was intrigued.  Could I do it?  Should I do it?  For those curious, here is the Necker Island brochure.

Necker Island

I first learned about this all-inclusive award from View from the Wing over two years ago.  At that time, I was busily preparing for my Million Mile Madness adventure (where I earned a million points in one month) and didn’t otherwise give the island redemption much thought.  Also, at that time, there were fewer ways to earn Virgin Atlantic points.  Since then, both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards have added Virgin Atlantic as a transfer partner.  Plus, in the past year or two, a 90K-ish Virgin Atlantic credit card offer has surfaced every now and then.  Both developments have made it significantly easier to earn Virgin Atlantic miles.

Necker Island

One barrier is the fact that Virgin Atlantic miles cannot be pooled together for a single award.  So, if two people work together to earn 1.2 million miles, they would hit a roadblock if the earned miles were divided across two Virgin Atlantic accounts.  I called to ask whether this island redemption would be an exception, but was told no.  One could pay to transfer miles from one account to another, but that is prohibitively expensive, and is limited to 100,000 miles per year anyway.

Fortunately, each of the transferable points programs offer a way to share points with a spouse or significant other (details here), so it can be done.

How it could be done

Setting aside, for the moment, the question of whether it makes any sense at all to pursue this (hint: if you’re going to be rational, then no, it does not make sense), here is how a couple could earn enough miles for a week on Necker Island:

  • Each sign up for Chase Ink Plus and Sapphire Preferred cards (add add each other as authorized users).  After meeting spend requirements, couple would have approximately 208,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
  • Each sign up for the Amex Business Platinum 100K offer and the Premier Rewards Gold 50K offer.  After meeting spend requirements, couple would have approximately 322,000 Membership Rewards points.
  • Each sign up for the Amex SPG business and personal 25K offers.  After meeting spend requirements, couple would have approximately 120,000 SPG points.
  • Each sign up for Citi Prestige 60K offer, Premier 50K offer, and Preferred 30K offer.  After meeting spend requirements, couple would have approximately 324,000 ThankYou points.
  • Since Virgin Atlantic miles aren’t easily (or cheaply) pooled, only one person should sign up for the Virgin Atlantic offer (when it comes around again).  After spending $15K (and waiting for the annual spend bonus), this person would have approximately 105,000 Virgin Atlantic miles.

Assuming that SPG points are transferred in 20K increments (and no more than 60K per day) to Virgin Atlantic to get the SPG 25% transfer bonus; and assuming that the couple would wait for Amex Membership Rewards to offer a 30% to 35% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic; they would have:

  • 208,000 Ultimate Rewards points = 208,000 Virgin Atlantic miles
  • 322,000 Membership Rewards points, with 30% transfer bonus = 418,600 Virgin Atlantic miles
  • 120,000 SPG points = 150,000 Virgin Atlantic miles
  • 324,000 Citi ThankYou points = 324,000 Virgin Atlantic miles
  • 105,000 Virgin Atlantic miles = 105,000 Virgin Atlantic miles

Total = 1,205,600 Virgin Atlantic miles

How I would do it

Necker IslandConsidering that I value Virgin Atlantic miles significantly less than most other mile currencies, I wouldn’t want to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards, SPG points, or Citi ThankYou points to Virgin Atlantic.  If, however, Amex Membership Rewards brings back a 30% to 35% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic, I’d be willing to consider it.  Between my wife and I, we currently have about 350,000 Membership Rewards points.  If we each accrue 100,000 more, then we would have 550,000 points.  With a 30% transfer bonus, those 550K points would become 715,000 Virgin Atlantic miles.

When the 715,000 new miles are combined with my current stash of just over 1,000 Virgin Atlantic miles (wow!), I would have a whopping 716,000 miles.  I would then be only 484,000 miles short.

My next step would be to wait for the next big Virgin Atlantic credit card offer.  Recently BOA offered 20,000 miles after first purchase, plus 50,000 miles after $12K spend, plus $5K after adding two authorized users, plus 15K anniversary miles after $25K spend, and another 7500 after $25K spend.  Combined with the fact that the Virgin Atlantic card ears 1.5 miles per dollar for all spend, a person could earn 105,000 miles after $15K spend with this offer; or 127,500 miles after $25K spend.  Assuming this deal comes around again, I could earn all of the miles needed by signing up for the same card four times.  Luckily, Bank of America is known to approve the same card for the same person multiple times and grant the signup bonus each time.

One problem with this idea is that I would have to spend $25,000 on each of four cards and wait a full year to get the anniversary bonus for each one.  Would BOA allow me to have four open cards at once?  Would I be willing to spend that much, and wait that long for the payout?  A better solution might be to mix and match this offer with a 50K offer that we’ve seen occasionally: 20K after first purchase, plus 25K after $2,500 spend, plus 5K for adding two authorized users. My analysis of both offers can be found here.  Assuming both offers show up now and then over the next 12 months or so, I could do the following:

  • Signup for 50K offer, spend $2,500, cancel card
  • Signup for 127.5K offer after $25K spend, keep card for annual bonus
  • Signup for 50K offer, spend $2,500, cancel card
  • Signup for 127.5K offer after $25K spend, keep card for annual bonus

With this more reasonable approach, I would still be 129,000 miles short of goal.  I could make up for this by earning more Membership Rewards points or by giving in and transferring some Citi ThankYou points.

Opportunity knocks… and it ain’t Richard Branson

The above plan, or something like it, is doable.  With a modest amount of effort, and maybe a year and a half elapsed time, I’m sure that I could earn the required 1.2 million miles for an all expense paid week on Necker Island.

That said, Virgin Atlantic allows points to be converted to Hilton at a ratio of 2 to 3.  That is, 2 Virgin Atlantic miles become 3 Hilton points.  That means that 1.2 million Virgin Atlantic miles could be transferred into 1.8 million Hilton points.  Considering that Hilton’s top tier in-season room rate is 95,000 points per night, 1.8 million points translate into at least 18 free nights (when standard rooms are available).  Now consider that Hilton offers elite members the fifth night free for award stays.  That means that a top tier in-season Hilton would cost 380,000 points for 5 nights.  You could do four 5 night stays at a top end resort such as the Conrad Maldives for 1.52 million points and still have a nice chunk of points leftover.  Unfortunately, if you want to eat too, you’ll pay an arm and a leg…

Conrad_Maldives

If all-inclusive resorts are more of your thing (free food!), Hilton has those too.  Running with Miles lists a number of options ranging from 20,000 to 70,000 points per night. At the low end (20K points per night), you could spend an entire season at a resort for less than 1.8 million points.  At the high end (70K per night, with 5th night free), you could spend an entire month in luxury.

Hilton Bodrum Turkbuku Resort & Spa

Lobby Bar Terrace: Unwind with a cocktail on the terrace admiring the sunset over the Aegean Sea.

Or, you could forget about luxury and simply ditch your rent or mortgage payments altogether.  Use your 1.8 million Hilton points to stay in a category 1 Hilton (find them here) for a full year (OK, to be honest, really just 360 days).  Free breakfast!  Free housekeeping (tip suggested)!  Easy highway access!

HamptonInnAndSuitesCleburne2

But… what about Richard?

Its clear that one can get far more value from 1.2 million Virgin Atlantic points, in a myriad of ways, than by blowing them all at once for a week on Richard Branson’s island.  That said, Necker Island is special partly because it costs so much.  Rates start at $28,805 per couple.  If you actually valued the week that highly, 1.2 million miles would give you a value of 2.4 cents per mile.  That’s pretty good.  But you would never (ever!) pay that much, right?  Well, that’s the point.  Virgin Atlantic miles give you a chance to stay on Richard Branson’s nearly-private island and experience a luxury you would never have considered for a moment otherwise.

Necker Island

And, it would be incredibly cool to hobnob with Richard, right?  Yeah, but that probably wouldn’t happen.  Miles can only be used to book “Celebration Weeks”.  If this year is any indication, Celebration Weeks take place mostly in August, September, and October – prime hurricane season.  My guess is that a Celebration Week is defined roughly as “a week in which we’re sure that Richard won’t be on the island.”

Still, you might get lucky.  I called the Virgin Limited Edition desk to ask about likely availability in 2016.  The woman I spoke with confirmed that Celebration weeks would likely be open August through October, along with a possible week in March.  She also mentioned, though, that we could call a few weeks before a desired arrival.  If a week isn’t privately booked, it may be opened at the last minute for a Celebration Week.  Maybe one could run into Richard after all.  Then, pitch him your favorite start-up idea and the 1.2 million points will have been well worth it (I’m kidding: leave the poor guy alone).

And, maybe… just maybe… if a group of crazy people like me were to get together to book the week at the same time… maybe they would let us choose a week ahead of time.  How does the week of February 26th 2017 sound?  Any takers?

Should I do it?

I have to admit, the opportunity costs involved in gathering 1.2 million miles for a single week of luxury are daunting.  After all, if I somehow used the same techniques to earn pennies instead of miles (at the same rate), I would then be $12,000 richer.  Better yet, if I were to spend the points and miles earned more wisely, I could fly first class around the world, many times, and stay in fantastic accommodations.

On the other hand, I already have enough points & miles to do pretty much anything travel related that I want to do.  This is one opportunity that’s completely different.  And… it would be a challenge.  I like challenges!

Necker Island

So, should I do it?  What do you think?  What about you?  Are you thinking of doing it?  Please comment below.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Pingbacks

  1. […] You would get back 100,193 points for a net cost of 100,193 Membership Rewards points. Greg has reported that starting today, you may additionally earn 4x points on the cost of the airfare. You can read more about why here. If correct, you would then earn approximately 8,000 points back from the paid airfare for a final net cost of about 92,193 Membership Rewards points. As these Z-class fares earn 150% mileage in a number of programs, you may earn about another 15,000 miles from the round trip flight (or about 21,000 miles if credited to Virgin Atlantic). It won’t get you to Necker Island by itself, but we all know you can get there with a little ingenuity. […]

Comments

  1. “Oh no,” I said, “Necker Island burned down!”

    We started to drive toward the real Necker Island, but it was getting late.

  2. I don’t know how much revenue a post (or series of posts) can generate, but the topic seems unique and interesting enough that you could probably offset some of that opportunity cost with real money! If you do it I promise to use all your links for my next app-o-Rama and click through every ad on your site! Go for it!

    • My thoughts exactly.
      What a unique challenge.
      It is so extreme you might even get some buy-in from VA themselves as it will no doubt be excellent publicity for them.

    • I disagree. I think clicks and duration might increase at first but over time this topic could wear on people. It’s outlandish and not attainable to most of us, and most of us have other travel goals for ourselves and our families.

      This is so outlandish it will rub me the wrong way over time, and I would think others too. I try hard to play our hobby well so I can travel. It takes time energy and patience. Doing this, particularly over a year and a half of blog entries, will ultimately feel like a slap in the face to all of us trying hard to travel realistically.

  3. I want to say yes, because I love crazy schemes like this… and tropical islands and delicious food. But I don’t have enough miles already to do the more reasonable things that I’d like my family and I to do. So, at the moment I’d have to say a reluctant “probably not” to whether I’d do the NIC.
    (Thom – loved the reference!)

  4. I might be in. I’ve thought about doing this for a long time, and wondered why no one had ever brought it up before as a viable option. It really wouldn’t be that hard. Our family earned about 6M miles/points last year pretty easily, so it’s very doable. As I’m thinking about joining you, I’m looking forward to hearing in the next while more of your creative ways of hacking this trip. I’m in this game for the aspirational fun of it anyway, and there’s nothing more aspirational out there than Necker! But whether I’m in or out, do go for it–we’ll keep each other posted…

  5. It’s not crazy nor particularly difficult. I know several people who have done/are doing this.

    I transferred enough MRs during the last 35% promo late last year to get 1.2MM Virgin Atlantic miles – but am booking 8 days at several other properties that take a bit more effort to get to…was interested in Necker but the SO nixed it for being a bit too claustrophobic for her tastes.

  6. It’s interesting to think about, but No way. Burning 1.2 million miles on a single week that could be used for several incredible vacation trips is nuts. No amount of “I’ve stayed on Richard Branson’s island” stories is even close to worth it.

  7. I have given this some thought before. I can generate the miles with an Amex transfer easily and it is a good value redemption. The issue is the trip there with my kids.

    There was a BBC documentary on Necker recently. You need to be quite open minded, I think. The Finance Director was saying how she once stripped down and let guests eat sushi off her body. It also does not discourage relationships between staff and guests …

  8. You have already demonstrated that you can earn a million miles in a month. So, not a big “challenge” for you per se to get the miles. I would not even be able to think about booking something as extravagant as this, but if you do go I will excitedly read the post(s) reviewing the journey.

    Just how many people would get to do something like this? Not much I would think. If you “can” and “want to”, then go ahead.

  9. Gonna beat ya to it! A couple of us already have enough miles to do this (1.2mil VS+ in two accts thank you very much) and the only reason we didn’t go this year was to do with the scheduling of other trips around the same time. Oh but now we will get on it and go there quick before you ruin it with your “invite the masses, it wont change anything for the worse” mindset.

    • Yes I’m still going! I don’t know if AA will actually implement that clause, but even if they do they specifically say that EQPs would not be earned. I believe that EQMs will be fine and I was likely to earn status through EQMs anyway.

  10. So, interestingly enough, I coincidentally already have the points thanks in large part to another one of our crazy schemes from last year with Mile Madness when I racked up a bunch of ThankYou points. At the time, there weren’t any airline transfer partners so I never connected the two.

    Fyi, Diners Club points transfer to Virgin Atlantic at a 1:1 ratio so there’s an MS opportunity there too 🙂

  11. I’d only do it if I was one of those small businesses that shit MR points, like a car rental agency who fill up their gas on the owner’s biz gold. For someone who has to earn every last point? Worst. Idea. Ever.

  12. I have 3MM in Virgin but I dont think its a good deal at all. I have been to the island and think its not worth the points at all. Its not as badass as you think it is.
    I can MS those points in about a month by using various techniques and cycle Virgin points for about 1cpm. 1.2M would prolly cost me around $1200. And yes those techniques are not on FT, only private forums…

  13. Necker Island is amazing. I did a video shoot there years back, and did some snorkeling around it. Unfortunately it was just a day trip – no overnight stay.

  14. The first question to answer is would you pay $12,000 for the experience?

    If no, and the additional blog exposure isn’t worth the difference to what you’d actually pay, then no.

    If you would pay $12K, then maybe yes.

    I still like the “I got to $10k on my way to $12k and now want to walk away due to some other opportunity” freedom that going for the money buys you.

    I wouldn’t do it.

    This kind of reminds me of Ingy’s posts about business class being fine and not “wasting” the extra points for F.

  15. traded all my Virgin points into Hilton when they were still 2:1…then used HH points for Jamaica all inclusive, the linked article on HH AI’s fails to mention the point prices quoted are for limited times in low (hurricane) season…look at the award calendar for rose hall Jamaica and you can see most nights are 90K+, I am going next month and got nights for 70K and think it a great value….most point collectors are too value minded to go for Necker, but hey whatever floats your boat.

  16. You need something insane to do to keep you edgy………..I’m cautious considering……timing is everything………and who the hell still has a Diner’s card??

  17. Life is about challenges, so go for it! For me, I have too many other trips I want to do first but I would love to hear about your progress in pursuing this.

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