My strategy for tackling the amazing JetBlue points match deal

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Given the current and awesome JetBlue point match deal, I’ve been trying to figure out my personal strategy.  Should I transfer points from SPG to Virgin America?  Should my wife and son participate too?  I’ll lead you through my thinking which is specific to my situation (where I live, where I tend to fly, etc.).  Hopefully this thought process will be helpful to you too.

The conclusions in this post are purposely specific to me.  Everyone should decide for themselves whether this JetBlue offer is worth pursuing.  Hopefully the thought process described in this post will be useful to you even if my conclusions are not.

As a reminder, JetBlue is currently offering to match the number of points in your Virgin America Elevate account simply by registering and then flying a JetBlue roundtrip flight.  But, they’re actually offering to do more than a 1 to 1 match!  At the low end, 500 Virgin America points will result in 5,000 JetBlue points.  At the top end, 50,001 Virgin America points will result in 75,000 JetBlue points.  By all accounts, this is an amazing offer.

JetBlue points match

The JetBlue points match flight requirement cost: somewhere around $0

The obvious cost of this promotion is that, after successfully enrolling, you must book and fly JetBlue roundtrip by August 31.  My closest airport is Detroit Metro, which has two JetBlue nonstop routes: Boston and Fort Lauderdale.  While we tend to fly to Fort Lauderdale pretty often, we rarely do so in the summer.

Boston might be a better option.  It so happens that we have a Delta award flight booked to Connecticut in August.  Thanks to my Delta Platinum status, we could cancel and redeposit the miles for free.  Instead, we could fly JetBlue to Boston and drive the extra hour or so.  The cost per person for the JetBlue flight would be $272 or $292, depending upon which flight we select.

To me (and specifically to me), Delta miles are worth a minimum of 1.4 cents each.  If I cancel the Delta flights, we’ll get back 25,000 miles per person.  That works out to about $350 worth of miles per person that we would get back.

So, by switching to JetBlue, we actually come out slightly ahead financially (if we consider miles to be a currency), but we’ll have a much longer drive.  I’m OK with that, but I will most likely have to put up with significant grumbling from my teenage son.

Overall, I’d say that, for me, the cost of the roundtrip flight requirement is minimal.

The point cost: ~$904

To maximize points with this promotion, and if you’re starting with 0 Virgin America miles, the best option is to transfer 40,001 SPG points to Virgin America.  Since SPG offers 5,000 bonus points per 20K transfer, this will result in 50,001 Virgin America miles.  And, with the successful enrollment and completion of the promo, it will result in 75,000 JetBlue points as well.

In my case, I have 3,500 Virgin America points sitting around.  Still, I would transfer 40,000 SPG points in order to maximize the transfer bonus.

So, the point cost of the deal = 40,000 SPG points for me (40,001 for my wife and son if they participate).

For those without SPG points, up to 30,000 points can be purchased for about 2.45 cents each thanks to a current deal which ends July 1.

I have a hard time determining how much I personally value SPG points.  I love their flexibility in being able to transfer to a huge number of airlines with a better than 1 to 1 ratio (20K to 25K), and I love having the option of using points to book Starwood hotels, and even Nights & Flights.  That said, it would be silly to value the points higher than the current cost to buy them (2.45 cents each), otherwise I would buy them, but I haven’t done so.  So, instead, I’ll use the current Fair Trading Price of 2.26 cents per point.

At a 2.26 cents per point valuation, the 40,000 SPG points that I’m thinking of transferring are worth a hefty $904.  That’s a lot!

As an aside, if you don’t have SPG points, but want to transfer from Citi ThankYou or Amex Membership Rewards (MR) instead, keep in mind that the transfer ratio is 2 to 1.  You will have to transfer 100,000 ThankYou or MR points in order to get 50,000 Virgin America points.  If you value those transferable points at about 1.5 cents each, then your point cost would be $1,500 (plus an excise tax if you transfer MR points).

My personal valuation of 50K Virgin America Elevate points: More than $1,140

A critical piece of information for making this decision is to know the value of Virgin America and JetBlue points, not in the abstract, but for real.  How would I really use these points?  And, given that, how much value would I get from them?

Transferring points from a transferable points program is a one way process.  It means converting points that are incredibly flexible into program-specific points that have limited uses. Virgin America doesn’t fly out of my home airport (Detroit).  So, to fly Virgin America, I would have to separately position myself to an airport they do fly from.  After reviewing their route map (found here), I decided that it is very unlikely that I would use Virgin America miles to fly Virgin America.

I did check a number of flights, though, and I confirmed that points were worth about 2.1 cents each, give or take, towards Virgin America flights.  That assumes that you would pay the price to fly Virgin America anyway.  Otherwise, the value may be considerably less if you would have flown a cheaper airline.

One flight that is at least possible for me to fly at some time is Los Angeles to Hawaii.  I could imagine separately flying to LA and then going onward via Virgin America.  I picked a one-way flight and compared dollar and point prices:

Price in dollars:

VX LAX OGG dollars

Price in points:

VX LAX OGG points

Point values Los Angeles to Maui, Hawaii

After accounting for the $5.60 TSA fee on the point prices, I calculated the following point values:

  • Main Cabin: 2.11 cents per point
  • Main Cabin Select: 2.09 cents per point
  • First Class: 2.06 cents per point

This valuation does not count the fact that you do not earn points when redeeming points.  Therefore, the true valuation should be slightly less.

Virgin Atlantic Detroit to London

Virgin America lets you use their points to fly various partner airlines (Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Emirates, Hawaiian Airlines, and Singapore Airlines).  Of those, the only flight that originates in Detroit is the Virgin Atlantic flight to London.  We do fly to London often, though, so this is probably my most likely use of Virgin America miles.

Here’s their award chart for the Detroit to London flight:

VX Detroit to London

Thanks to this miles & points hobby, I’m spoiled and will always fly business or first class when I can.  So my eyes are immediately drawn to the “Upper Class” (really business class) row: 35,000 points plus $910 in taxes and fees.  $910 is an insanely high price to pay in cash for a supposed free flight award.  On the other hand, 35,000 points is a crazy low number of points for round trip business class to Europe.

So, is it a good deal or not?  Let’s consider that I would be willing to pay 125,000 Delta miles + $300 for the exact same flight:

Delta biz award DTW LHR VS

I regularly get a minimum of 1.4 cents per mile value from Delta miles (and usually much more).  So, if we say that the Virgin America award saves me 125,000 miles valued conservatively (for me) at 1.4 cents each, we can calculate the per point value of the Virgin America points:

  • Delta miles: 125,000 miles at 1.4 cents each = $1,750
  • Total “cost” to use Delta miles to book Virgin Atlantic award: $1,750 + $300 in taxes & fees = $2,050
  • Total savings when using 35,000 Virgin America Elevate points: $2,050 Value – $910 Fees = $1,140
  • Virgin America point value: $1,140 / 35,000 = 3.26 cents per point

Reasonableness check: the above analysis assumes that I value a non-stop round trip business class flight to London at $2,050.  That sounds about right.

Virgin Australia Los Angeles to Sydney

This is the award that everyone talks about.  Who wouldn’t want to fly round trip business class from the US to Australia for only 80,000 points and $130?  Or, fly one way to Australia for 45,000 points and $40.

VX LAX SYD Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia is known to have an amazing business class which is only getting better with the introduction of brand new all aisle access lie flat seats suites.

811x260_va-new-business-class

Sign me up!  The problem?  With Virgin Australia’s new cabin configuration, they have far fewer business seats.  This translates to far fewer award seats available.  Plus, I’ll have to separately book a positioning flight to Los Angeles.  Fortunately, flights to LAX from Detroit tend to be cheap.

Using the same Delta methodology as above, I can calculate the value of Virgin Elevate miles (to me) for this award.  For the same round trip flight, Delta would charge 180,000 miles plus $108.66 in taxes and fees.

  • Delta miles: 180,000 miles at 1.4 cents each = $2,520
  • Total “cost” to use Delta miles to book Virgin Atlantic award: $2,520+ $109 in taxes & fees = $2,629
  • Total savings when using 80,000 Virgin America Elevate points: $2,629 – $130 = $2,499
  • Virgin America point value: $2,499 / 80,000 = 3.12 cents per point

Reasonableness check: the above analysis assumes that I value a round trip business class flight from LAX to Sydney at $2,629.  That’s a bit lower than I would have thought, so the point valuation of 3.12 may actually be conservatively low.

The Alaska factor

Given the fact that Alaska is acquiring Virgin America, there are many unanswered questions about what will happen to the Virgin Elevate program.  Will they continue it as a separate program?  Or, will they fold it into the Alaska MileagePlan program?  My guess is the latter.  And, if they do fold it in, how will they convert Virgin Elevate points to Alaska miles?  Will they convert 1 to 1?  2 to 3?  1 to 2?

For a thorough overview of this question, please see: How to play the Alaska / Virgin America deal.  Personally, even if the conversion is 1 to 1, I would be pretty confident of getting good value from those miles.  Alaska does have a flight out of Detroit (to Seattle) and onward flights to Hawaii.  Both are destinations that we are likely to return to fairly frequently.  Alaska also has a number of great partners in which their miles can be used.  I have yet to fly Cathay Pacific first class, for example, and Alaska miles would be a great option for doing so.

The value of 50,000 Virgin America points… to me: more than $1,140

It is possible that I would use my points to fly Virgin America to Hawaii and get ~2.1 cents per point value.  Or, maybe I would fly to Australia and get ~3.1 cents value.  Most likely, I would fly to London and get 3.26 cents per point value.  But, that flight to London only costs 35,000 points (+ lots of cash).  So, in that likely scenario, I would have at least 15,000 Virgin America points left over.  Still, if I get 3.26 cents value per point, those 35,000 points will have netted $1140 in value.  In other words, the proposed 40K SPG transfer to 50,000 Virgin America points is likely to result in more value than I previously ascribed to those 40,000 SPG points!

As icing on the cake, I would have more than 15,000 Virgin America miles left over.  I could either use those for an unlikely Virgin America flight, or sit on them to see what happens with the Alaska merger.

Note the circular reasoning here. If it is likely that I’ll get 3.1 cents per point value from Virgin America points, then I should value SPG points even higher (thanks to the 20K to 25K transfer ratio).  On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to value SPG points higher than the current price to buy them…  Regardless, the point here is to see whether I’m likely to get “good value” (whatever that means) from the transferred points.  Given the above analysis, I’m pretty sure that I will get good value for at least the first 35,000 points.

My personal valuation of 75K JetBlue TrueBlue points: $840

This one is pretty easy.  I tend to fly with my family to southern Florida at least once per year.  I compared flight prices to point prices for a few dates in which we would likely fly and found that point values ranged from 1.2 cents per point to 1.4 cents per point.  Let’s arbitrarily decide that I’ll leave 5,000 of the 75,000 points stranded.  In that case, I’ll conservatively get 70,000 x 1.2 cents = $840 worth of flights.

Wrap Up

In the above analysis, I found that my personal cost for participating in this deal would be about $904 per person (in the form of SPG points) plus a couple of long-ish car rides.  Even if I bought the SPG points directly, with the 30% off deal going on now, the cost per person would be just $980 (note: you can’t really buy more than 30,000 points per person – $980 is the price that it would cost if you were allowed to buy 40,000).  In return, the expected per-person value, for me, will be about $1,980, not counting the extra points left stranded in both programs.  That’s a “travel profit” of over $1,000 per person.

Yesterday, after writing most of this, I transferred 40,000 SPG points to my Virgin America account.  But, what about my wife and son?  They each have some SPG points, but both are short of 20K, let alone 40K.  I could have topped them both off to 40K by moving my points to their accounts, but that would have left me considerably short on SPG points for a specific future redemption that I have in mind.  So, given the number of points I had available to allocate, I considered the following scenarios:

  1. Gift enough SPG points to wife and son to get each to 25,001 SPG points. They could then transfer those points to Virgin America to get to 30,001 points each. Then, with completion of the promo, they would get 50,000 JetBlue points each.
  2. Gift enough SPG points to wife to get to 40,001 and to son to get to 10,001.  After transfers, they would end up with 50,001 and 10,001 Virgin America points, respectively.  My wife would then get 75,000 JetBlue points and my son would get 30,000.
  3. I could either buy extra miles from SPG, or transfer points from Citi and Amex to get both my wife and son to 50,001 Virgin America points.  They would each then get 75,000 JetBlue points.

This was a tough decision!  Option 3 appears to be the best deal, considering the likely value we’ll get from all of those points.  But, I’m not at all sure that I want to invest extra in this deal.  I’m not excited enough about earning JetBlue points to want to invest cash, and I’m not too thrilled with the idea of the 2 to 1 transfer ratio with Citi or Amex.

Option 1 would get both my wife and son close to enough Virgin America points for our most likely use: 35K points business class to London.  We could easily top off their accounts when necessary for that redemption.

Option 2  has an advantage over option 1 if my wife and I travel together without our son (to Australia, perhaps?).  This option concentrates more Virgin America points in her account and fewer in my son’s.  Since Virgin America doesn’t have a family pooling option, it definitely may come in handy to have the points less spread out.  Luckily JetBlue does have a family pooling option, so it won’t be a problem to have those points spread out.

Ultimately, I decided to go with Option 2.  Yesterday, I initiated the transfer of enough of my SPG points to get my wife to just over 40,000 points and my son to just over 10,000.  Hopefully the transfer will happen quickly.  If the points haven’t appeared by Thursday morning, I’ll have to switch to Plan B… once I figure out what that is.

Questions?

If you have any questions about the JetBlue Points Match Deal, please see: The Ultimate Guide to JetBlue’s points match deal.

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