San Francisco’s Own • Now in its seventh year, Virgin America is consistently awarded for its quality of service. In July 2013, Consumer Reports rated the airline as the best carrier in the U.S.: “Virgin America, a newcomer to our ratings, got a clear thumbs-up from readers in our latest survey.”
The airline offers a “mood- lit” cabin (12 shades that adapt to outside light), fleet-wide in-flight WiFi Internet, leather seats, power outlets and a video touch-screen on every seatback offering on-demand dining menus and varied entertainment options including a seat-to-seat chat option.
Headquartered near San Francisco International Airport, Virgin America currently serves 21 destinations in the U.S. and Mexico. The Elevate program recently launched new co-branded Visa Signature credit cards.
Virgin America Elevate is a revenue-based frequent flyer program in which members earn points based on the ticket price instead of miles based on distance flown. Elevate members earn five points per dollar spent on Virgin America flights. Elevate Gold and Elevate Silver status members earn more points per dollar spent based on their tier status. Points are credited on the base fare cost of the flight only; other fees and taxes associated with the flight are not eligible to earn points. Members may also earn points with airline partner flights as well as hotel, shopping, credit card and rental car program partners, among others.
The number of points required for an award flight corresponds to the cost of that particular flight and increases or decreases in direct proportion, which mirrors the way in which members earn points. As a flight fills up and availability becomes scarce, the dollar amount and point requirement increases. The Elevate program does not have blackout dates and capacity controls on Virgin America operated flights, so if there is a seat available for purchase, members can book it with points.
We searched for a roundtrip flight from San Francisco to New York, three months out for a week’s trip Saturday to Saturday. The cost to purchase the flight was $371.80 (including $21.80 in taxes in fees) in the Main Cabin. The redemption in points for the same trip was 16,279 points plus $5. A member would need to have spent around $3,256 to earn the 16,279 points, if earning only through Virgin America flights with the earning rate of five points per dollar spent.
Members cannot redeem points for an upgrade to Main Cabin Select or first class when buying an economy ticket but they can redeem for tickets.
A points plus cash award option is not offered but members may book two one-way tickets, paying one with cash and the other with points.
Elevate members can also redeem their points for award flights on Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, which gives members a great many international flight options when spending their Elevate points. These awards have fixed points amounts, but the taxes and fees vary. Our quick search for a roundtrip flight from San Francisco to London on Virgin Atlantic was quoted at 25,000 points in economy, plus $390 in taxes and fees. This equates to $5,000 spent on Virgin America flights to get the 25,000 points, plus the $390 payment for taxes and fees.
Premium economy for the same route was 30,000 points plus $650 and Upper Class was 50,000 points and $820. When we searched directly on the Virgin Atlantic site for a mid-week economy roundtrip four months out between San Francisco and London, the cost was $1,430.
For flights between San Francisco and Sydney, Australia the cost ranged from 40,000 points and $749 in taxes and fees and 80,000 points and $849 in taxes and fees for business class.
A roundtrip flight award from San Francisco to Hong Kong with Singapore Airlines in economy is 40,000 points, business is 95,000 points and first class is 130,000 points, with all awards costing only $37 in taxes and fees. A roundtrip flight between New York (JFK) and Hong Kong is $42 in taxes and fees plus 54,000 points for economy, 119,000 points for business and 169,000 points for first class.
New in January 2014, Elevate points can be redeemed with Virgin Limited Edition, Sir Richard Branson’s collection of world-class retreats—including his private Necker Island.
A charity program is not offered where members can donate their points.
Partner airlines include Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates and Singapore Airlines as earn and burn partners and Hawaiian Airlines as a redemption-only partner.
One to four points per dollar spent are offered with car rentals from Avis, Budget, Hertz, Carey, Embarque and Silvercar. Sixt rentals earn 300 points or 600 points for a chauffeur-driven car service. Members can earn 800 points for taking their first ride with Uber.
Hotel partners include Hilton (one point per $2 spent or up to 250 points per stay), Marriott (one point per $1 or $2 spent), Joie de Vivre (one point per $1 spent), Morgans Hotel Group (650 to 1,000 points per stay), One&Only Palmilla (in Los Cabo, Mexico; one point per $1 spent) and PlumpJack Resorts (in Lake Tahoe; 1,000 points per guest room or 1,500 points for suites). Elevate members can also earn points when booking hotels through PointsHound or Rocketmiles.
Elevate members can earn points when shopping at Gilt, The Red Store, Teleflora, Virgin America Swag Shop and Virgin Wines, by joining Crunch fitness gym, with dining partner MOGL, through local experiences with Peak.com or when going on a cruise, among other partners. Elevate also partners with e-Rewards and Points.com. American Express Membership Rewards members can transfer 200 Membership Rewards points for 100 Elevate points in 200-point increments.
Virgin America Elevate members can choose to earn Elevate points with the Virgin America Visa Signature Credit Cards, issued by Comenity Capital Bank. Cardholders earn three Elevate points for every dollar spent on Virgin America and one Elevate point for every dollar spent elsewhere. The new Virgin America Visa Signature Card with $49 annual fee also offers a free first checked bag for the cardholder and a travel companion on all Virgin America flights, $150 discount for one companion ticket every year and 20 percent savings on all in-flight purchases made on the airline’s touch-screen Red in-flight entertainment system. The Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card with $149 annual fee also allows cardholders to modify their travel plans without paying change or cancel fees on Virgin America flights, plus the opportunity to reach Elevate Gold or Elevate Silver Status faster with up to 15,000 bonus status points every year.
Elevate Members can also buy or gift Elevate points in increments of 500 points for $26, up to 20,000 points per calendar year and transfer points up to 30,000 per calendar year from your account to another Elevate member’s account at 500 points for $10.
The elite status program is divided into two membership levels: Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold, access to which is determined by earning status points. Status points are earned like base reward points when flying Virgin America—five points per dollar spent on Virgin America travel. Status points are also earned for flights on Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic based on the mileage flown and fare class. Once earned, the status membership benefit year runs from the time the member earns status to February following a full calendar membership year.
Members who earn 20,000 status points in a calendar year are welcomed into Elevate Silver status. Elevate Silver offers a 25 percent bonus on reward points earned for Virgin America flight purchases, priority airport services, priority baggage handling and priority boarding. Silver members also receive complimentary space-available upgrades to Main Cabin Select (MCS) seating, two complimentary day passes and discounted pricing for additional passes to the Virgin America Loft at LAX, one free checked bag as well as a one- time 25-percent discount off any non- refundable Virgin America flight in Main Cabin each membership year. Elevate Silver Status members are also offered fee waivers when they need to contact Virgin America via a dedicated phone line. Silver members can select seats in Main Cabin Express seating toward the front of the cabin free of charge at time of booking and can purchase first class upgrades 12 hours prior to departure.
Elevate Gold members receive the benefits of Elevate Silver members except they receive a 100 percent reward points bonus on Virgin America flights, their complimentary MCS upgrades can be processed starting 24 hours before the flight and they get three Virgin America Loft at LAX day passes and a further discount on purchased passes. Gold members also get three free checked bags and two 25-percent discount codes per year among other benefits such as the ability to purchase first class upgrades 24 hours prior to departure. Elevate Gold members receive limited reciprocal status benefits when travelling with Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic.
All Elevate status members can receive a personalized digital card that can be saved to their Smartphone or tablet that identifies them as an elite member when checking in at the gate or to get access to invitation-only events. Silver and Gold members also have access to dedicated customer care phone lines and email addresses.
Rules and Conditions
Elevate points don’t expire so long as a member has any earning or redemption activity on their account at least once every 18 months. Elevate points don’t expire if you own a Virgin America Visa Signature Credit Card.
Points are credited based on the published, purchased base airfare paid on your individual eligible itinerary (excluding taxes and mandatory fees).
Awards may be redeemed for anyone the member chooses but points cannot be pooled between member accounts; only point transfers between accounts are available.
Missing points must be claimed within 12 months after the date of travel and retroactive credit is allowed 30 days before joining the program.
Award flights can be cancelled and points re-deposited to the member’s account for a redeposit fee of $100. This fee is waived for Elevate Gold Status members.
There is a $20 call center service fee per flyer when contacting phone support to book award tickets instead of using the self-service functions on the website. This fee is waived for Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold status members when using the dedicated numbers for status members.
Elevate members can be of any age. Like many other frequent flyer programs, flight award reservations cannot be placed on hold.
Phone support is available for Elevate members 24 hours a day. Members can ask questions through Virgin America’s website and the form automatically populates with your name and Elevate membership number when you choose Elevate as your topic and are logged in as a member. We emailed through the website on a Tuesday afternoon and we had an answer within three hours. There is also a chat feature avail- able online at virginamerica.com. Overall, we hear good things about the customer service the airline and Elevate provide.
Members can view their account balance, update their profile and search and redeem points for any Virgin America flights online. For partner airline flight awards, you must book over the phone. You can claim missing credit and buy, gift or transfer points online. As mentioned, members cannot book airline partner award flights online.
[+] Plus Features
As with most Virgin Airlines, one plus is the ability to fly Virgin America. With the fairly recently added airline partners, members now have more options for earning and burning and Virgin America continues to add new partners to the program.
[-] Minus Features
Like all revenue-based programs, there’s not an easy way to “game the system.” The more you spend, the more benefits you’ll receive.
Report Card from Readers
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Pros: Some awesome redemption options (ie NYC-Europe for 12,000 points). Great hard product.
Cons: Revenue-based earning (so frequent flyers who are looking for a good deal are not going to get much return if they don’t spend much). Revenue-based elite qualification (you have to spend a dollar amount to get status).
No current status match program (they ran a few promos early in the year, but I could not switch right now if I wanted to).
Upgrades only available to Main Cabin Select (program would attract many more frequent flyers if they expanded the first cabin and opened upgrades to first for their 50,000- point level).
Lack of ways to earn points (including only a few routes available to fly on—hard to be loyal even if you really wanted to).
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Overall Score: 7.5
Earning Ability: 7.5
Award Choices: 7.5
Elite Level: 7.0
Rules & Conditions: 7.5
Service Support: 8.0
Online Service: 7.5
Virgin America Guest Care
555 Airport Blvd.
Burlingame, CA 94010