SPG point owners win again thanks to the Alaska Virgin America merger

Yesterday, Virgin America spilled the conversion ratio beans.  Thanks to the upcoming Alaska merger, as of January 9th 2017, Virgin America customers will be able to convert Elevate points into Mileage Plan miles at a rate of 1 to 1.3.  So, 1,000 Virgin America Elevate points will convert to 1,300 Alaska Airline MileagePlan miles.

alaska-merger

Boy was I wrong.

In April, I had predicted that points would convert 1 to 2 (see: How to play the Alaska / Virgin America deal).  And, I think I made a pretty good argument.  That is, it was a good argument until SPG undermined it by releasing the ability to transfer points to Virgin America 1 to 1, which is the same ratio as transfers to Alaska.  In other words, SPG saw the two currencies as roughly equal.

Unfortunately, the powers that be at Alaska / Virgin America sided more closely with SPG’s view than with mine.  They recognized that Virgin America points were more valuable than Alaska miles, but only by 30%.

Still, a 30% bump is much better than none at all.  Thanks to JetBlue’s amazingly generous summer Points Match deal, my wife, son, and I are each sitting on slightly over 50,000 Virgin America points.  If we have a chance to use those points for Virgin Australia business class flights, we’ll take it.  Otherwise, we can each convert our points over to Alaska so that we’ll each have 65,000 more Alaska miles than we started with.  Considering that Alaska charges just 70,000 miles for a one-way first class flight to Asia on Japan Airlines, I’d say that’s a pretty good outcome.

Changes to Alaska Airlines MileagePlan program

Yesterday, Alaska Airlines announced several mostly positive changes to their program (details here):

  • Cheaper awards on Alaska flights: You can now book short distance flights for fewer miles.  One-way flights 700 miles or shorter will cost 5,000 miles; flights between 701 and 1400 miles will cost 7,500 miles; flights between 1401 and 2,100 miles will cost 10,000 miles; and longer flights will cost 12,500 miles (as before).
  • Alaska Airlines award flights are now eligible for complimentary elite upgrades.
  • You can now opt to earn Alaska miles on Virgin America flights.  Mileage earning will be distance based, so you may do better earning Virgin America miles on short expensive flights.
  • Earn more miles with partner flights, especially business or first class.
  • Delta will no longer be a partner as of April 30th, 2017.  After that date, you won’t be able to earn Alaska miles on Delta flights, and you won’t be able to spend Alaska miles to book Delta flight awards.

The loss of the Delta partnership will be a big negative for many.  The rest of the changes seem pretty good to me.

New options for getting Alaska Airlines miles

Citi ThankYou Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards

Both Citi ThankYou Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards offer point transfers to Virgin America, but not to Alaska Airlines.  With the ability to transfer points from Virgin America to Alaska 1 to 1.3, we will now be able to convert ThankYou points and Membership Rewards points to Alaska miles.

Unfortunately, both Citi and Amex transfer to Virgin at a paltry 2 to 1 ratio.  So, the transfer ratio to Alaska will be 2 to 1.3.  2,000 Citi or Amex points will transfer to 1,000 Virgin America points and then to 1,300 Alaska miles.

SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest)

A much better approach is to convert SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) points indirectly to Alaska.  Already, you can transfer 20,000 SPG points to 25,000 Alaska miles.  But, now you will be able to do better.  You will be able to transfer 20,000 SPG points into 25,000 Virgin America miles, which will then transfer into 32,500 Alaska miles!  That’s a transfer ratio from SPG to Alaska of 1 to 1.625!

Suppose you want to book a first class Japan Airlines (JAL) flight from the US to Asia.  Alaska charges 70,000 miles one-way.  40,000 SPG points would get you most of the way there:  40,000 SPG = 50,000 Virgin America =  65,000 Alaska miles!

Marriott Travel Packages (nope)

I’ve argued before that Marriott Travel Packages are the best options for transferring SPG and Marriott points to miles, even if you foolishly throw away the hotel portion of the package.  Astute readers may be wondering whether they should use those packages to get Virgin America miles.  The answer is no.  Marriott Travel Packages already offer Alaska miles at a very good rate, but they offer only half as many Virgin America miles for the same number of points.

SPG Wins Again

SPG points have always been valuable, but it’s interesting to see that two new mergers have made them much more valuable than before.  First, the Marriott SPG merger opened the way to 1 to 3 transfers from SPG to Marriott.  Next, the Alaska Virgin America merger is opening the way to 1 to 1.625 transfers from SPG to Alaska.

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. […] Alaska Airlines is aggressively moving forward with their acquisition of Virgin America.  This month, Alaska made it possible for Mileage Plan and Virgin America Elevate members to earn miles on each others flights.  Plus, you can now buy Virgin America flights directly from Alaska Airlines.  Long term, the Elevate program will go away in favor of Alaska’s Mileage Plan program.  Beginning January 9th, Elevate members will be able to convert their points to Alaska miles at a rate of 1 to 1.3.  This has led to a short term arbitrage opportunity.  It is now possible to convert SPG points to Alaska, indirectly, at a fantastic rate.  20,000 SPG points currently transfer to 25,000 Virgin Elevate points.  If you then transfer those 25,000 Elevate points to Alaska, you’ll end up with 32,500 Alaska miles!  Click here for details. […]

Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I find SPG points to be much more valuable (wish I had more) after the merger with Marriott. 3X to Marriott hotels which are everywhere translates into free hotels wherever I need them at far better value per point than I was getting from SPG at Starwood properties. With the Alaska merger, Marriott vs Alaska will be a tough call for the remainder of my SPG points. Disappointed about the end of the Delta-Alaska partnership though.

  2. Greg, nice summary, but I wanted to add on to this comment “Astute readers may be wondering whether they should use those packages to get Virgin America miles. The answer is no. Marriott Travel Packages already offer Alaska miles at a very good rate, but they offer only half as many Virgin America miles for the same number of points.”

    I think Nights and Flights with Marriott with Alaska may still be a better deal than transferring SPG points directly to VA/Alaska assuming you have the 80-90K SPG. It all hinges on if that free night certificate is useful. Simple math:

    80,000 SPG is 100,000 Virgin America which is 130,000 Alaskan

    90,000 SPG (270k Marriott) is 120,000 Alaskan plus 7 night stay

    78,500 SPG (235k) is 120,000 Alaskan plus 5 night stay

    But in the end, if you have 80,000 plus SPG, you can hold on to them knowing the Night and Flights package can be booked for great value instead of transferring SPG to Virgin America/Alaskan prospectively.

    And as pointed out on the blogs, if you don’t use the 5-7 night certificate, Marriott will give you some points back.

    Thanks again for all your hard work, testing and sharing.

    • I agree. As I saw worded elsewhere:
      “It’s good if one wants to transfer 20k, 40k, or 60k SPG points to VA to Alaska. If anyone needs to transfer 90k, and need to book hotel stay, it might be better to consider Marriott’s Hotel + Air Package 1.
      90k SPG to VA, then it should come out to be 143k Alaska Miles.
      90k SPG/270k Marriott points=7 Nights + 120k Alaska Miles
      The difference of 23k miles for a 7 Night stay is not a bad deal, even at a Category 1 Marriott “

    • I agree, but read what I wrote more carefully. I said that it doesn’t make sense to use the Travel Packages to transfer miles to Virgin America. Transferring to Alaska can still make sense as before.

      Note that I no longer write about 5 night packages because most people have not been able to get them in the past 8 or 9 months. You’re supposed to be a vacation club owner to get 5 night packages, and they’ve started enforcing that in most cases.

  3. Man, this would have been absolutely killer before the Emirates devaluation. 115k SPG would have gotten you 2 first class seats to the Middle East zone with 2k miles left over in your Mileage Plan account.

  4. I’m thinking transfer 20K SPG points to AK through Virgin now equals 32.5K points to use on American, an AK transfer partnership that will hopefully continue.

  5. Is American a partner with Alaska, and if so, can I use MileagePlan miles to book short-haul flights on American, much like using BA Avios to book flights on American? If so, then this is a no-brainer. Even better than using Avios!

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