How to play the Alaska / Virgin America deal

It’s official.  Alaska Airlines is buying Virgin America.  And, the question on my mind, of course, is how can we make the most of this?

Virgin America points are arguably worth roughly two times Alaska’s Mileage Plan miles.  How do I get that number?  Look at my Transfer Partner Master List.  There you’ll see that the transferable points programs that transfer to Alaska Mileage Plan (SPG and Diner’s Club) do so 1 to 1, whereas the programs that transfer to Virgin America (Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards) do so at a 2 to 1 ratio (2 bank points become 1 Virgin America Elevate point).  [UPDATE: SPG is now a 1 to 1 transfer partner with Virgin America, so this argument is weaker than before]

Marriott agrees.  Marriott will let you transfer 70,000 Marriott Rewards points into either 25,000 Alaska miles or 12,500 Virgin America points.

Even Virgin America and Alaska Airlines agree with this multiplier.  Virgin America sells their points for 5.2 cents each whereas Alaska sells their miles for 2.75 cents each.  That pegs Virgin Elevate points at 1.9 times Alaska miles.  Pretty darn close to 2X.

Alaska Virgin America

Will Alaska preserve the 2 to 1 ratio?

At some point in the future, Alaska will most likely merge the two loyalty programs.  At that point, if not sooner, we can expect that they’ll convert Virgin America Elevate points into Alaska MileagePlan miles.  If/when that happens, we can hope that they’ll offer 2 Mileage Plan miles for every 1 Elevate point.  I think they would be hard pressed not to offer that ratio without seriously pissing off previously loyal Virgin America fans.  So, yes, I’m willing to bet that Alaska will convert every Virgin America Elevate point to two Mileage Plan Miles.

Transfer Amex Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards to Alaska Mileage Plan 1 to 1

We now have a unique opportunity to convert Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards points to Alaska Mileage Plan miles 1 to 1.  Normally, neither program supports transfers to Alaska, so this is likely a one time opportunity.  It would work like this:

  1. Transfer from Membership Rewards or ThankYou Rewards to Virgin America Elevate 2 to 1.   Every two transferable points become 1 Virgin America point.
  2. Wait for Alaska to convert Virgin Elevate points to Alaska Mileage Plan miles 1 to 2.

Should we wait for a transfer bonus?

Amex has been known to offer a transfer bonus to Virgin America.  Recently, they offered a 50% bonus that was available until March 10th.  If this were repeated, the above process would mean the ability to convert Membership Rewards to Alaska miles at a fantastic 2 to 3 ratio.

Citi has offered transfer bonuses several times to Virgin Atlantic, but not to Virgin America (as far as I can remember).  Still, a transfer bonus to Virgin America is possible.

One danger in waiting is that we have no way of knowing how long these programs will support transfers to Virgin America.  As the airline merger progresses, there will almost certainly come a time when both programs drop Virgin America as a transfer partner.  Most likely they’ll offer some advanced notice, but there’s always a chance that the functionality will disappear overnight without notice.

Should we do it at all?

Just because it looks like there will be an opportunity to transfer points from Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards to Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t mean that we should.  Just last week Alaska took away one of their best redemption options overnight and without warning by nearly doubling award prices on Emirates Airlines.  While they still offer some great values (Cathay Pacific awards, for example), we can’t be sure that those opportunities will remain.  In fact, the steady devaluation of airline miles over time has taught us that those opportunities most likely will go away.  Keeping points in transferable points programs until you’re ready to use them is generally the best way to protect yourself from these devaluations.

My recommendation

Wait it out.  While it might be a great bet to transfer points to Virgin America in advance, it is also risky.  Alaska miles may devalue to the point where it simply isn’t worth it.

If a transfer bonus comes along, then it may be worth the risk.  If/when that happens I’ll publish a new analysis of that opportunity.

I think that chances are good that there will be a time where transfers from Citi and Amex are still possible and Alaska will allow conversion of Elevate points to Mileage Plan miles (or that we’ll have a known date or when that will happen automatically).  At that point, if you have a definitive use for Alaska miles and a big stash of Membership Rewards or ThankYou points, then go for it.

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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  1. Probably best not to do this at home, folks, unless you’re willing to risk a header taking a flier, what I think the gist of it is. I’ve been playing this game based at DTW just shy of two years, but this take-over is the first time I really looked in using Alaska miles. I booked a few dummy itineraries. I was pleasantly surprised how useful, easy-to-make and cheap-in-points Alaska redemptions seem to be flying economy in places where I now plan to travel. Searching Alaska’s website several times turned up more desirable routings at better hours on American Airlines airplanes than AA itself offers me using AA miles for the same departure-destination-dates

  2. Given the merger announcement – Is it worthwhile to sign up for one of the Virgin America credit cards before Virgin America is absorbed into AS? I have avoided doing so until now because I rarely fly Virgin America and Comenity Bank receives frequent negative reviews for its lackluster customer service (I already have the personal and business Alaska BofA cards).

    • It’s not a bad deal, 10k bonus and 1x mile per $ spending, which hopefully will translate into 2x AS miles. Might be worth getting this card soon and wait until the conversion announcement, then hit it with MS.

    • I think it makes the Comenity Bank Virgin America cards more interesting especially if they increase the signup bonuses (which I think is likely given the deal). Currently, you can get 10K points for the $49 card or 15K points for the $149 card.

      And, for spend, you could gamble on the ongoing value of Alaska miles and use a Virgin America card for spend. They earn 1 point per dollar, so that will likely translate to 2X Alaska down the road. That’s pretty good!

  3. Help: Alaska Miles Member here–I’m preparing to buy a flight from DC to London. I have two issues though: 1) Virgin Airlines is cheapest, but Alaska hasn’t finished buying Virgin, so my miles won’t go to Alaska just yet unless something changes in the next few months or year and how they’ll figure out mileage. I think I would need to make a Virgin Airlines account.. to see then transfer, correct? 2) British Airways is a current Alaska partner and is 2nd cheapest, but they don’t have any wifi inflight. I need to be connected. Virgin does have WiFi…but I need to get my miles most!

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