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 visited New York City for a total of $19 per day (including all transportation and meal costs)
- I earned a million points and miles in one month
- I ran up spend on credit cards to maintain Delta Platinum status for myself and to get my wife to top tier Diamond status
- I flew 30,000 miles to nowhere and earned top tier US Airways and AA status
- I will soon visit Beijing for a total of one full day as part of my quest to re-up top tier AA status for 2016
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.
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.
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
Considering 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…
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
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!
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.
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!
So, should I do it? What do you think? What about you? Are you thinking of doing it? Please comment below.