As it prepares for its integration with JetBlue, Virgin America has “elevated” its elite status program. The benefits will not only be in terms of what you earn but also how you pick up elite status. Elevate has generally been one of the weaker elite programs, so today’s announcement is quite welcome.
Better Elevate Bonuses
Elevate has always been a dollar-based program, with the points you earn being based on the amount you spend. Redemptions are based on the price of the underlying ticket that you are buying, so your payment will move around a bit, but it’s safe to estimate the number at about $.02 per point. Previously, Silver members had earned a 25% bonus and Gold got you a 100% bonus. Both of those numbers have been raised. The Silver bonus has been raised to 50%, generating 7.5 points per dollar, while the Gold bonus goes up 140% to 12 points per dollar. That’s a pretty hefty earnings rate at the top if you use your points well.
Easier Elite Status
Previously, status had been based on the number of points (or status credits) you earned, at the rate of five per dollar spent. You hit Silver at 20,000 credits (i.e., $4,000 in spend) and Gold at 50,000 credits ($10,000). Those are not easy targets to hurdle.
Now, you can earn based on either spend or your number of flights, which presents a simpler opportunity to do so. A measly 15 flights will get you Silver and 30 will get you Gold. Those are much more favorable for consumers, although they could end up swelling the ranks of VA elite members. But the best part about the deal is that reward flights will count toward your total. As far as I know, that is a first for airlines, which have traditionally had policies that can make a frequent flyer feel like a second-class citizen for using their miles.
Because of its small size, Virgin America has always had trouble competing with the network carriers and has traditionally matched the statuses of its competitors. Now, JetBlue has been added to the list. Per the terms of their press release, you will receive Gold Status for three months, with the opportunity to retain it for 2017. My assumption is that, when the merger is consummated, you will need to have Gold Elevate status to go the other way (i.e., match to Mosaic). The requirements are as follows:
- To retain Gold status, you must earn 12,000 points during the 3-month challenge period.
- If you match to Silver through another airline, you must earn 5,000 points during your three months.
- If you have a Virgin America credit card, the targets are slightly lower, at 8,000 and 3,000 points, respectively. In other words, if you are going to do it, it might make sense to get the credit card, first.
As is the case with many status challenges, certain aspects of the program may not be matched. In particular:
- You won’t earn the pair of 25% discount codes that would traditionally go to a status member.
- Your ability to use lounges will be severely limited. You’ll receive one complimentary pass to the Loft at LAX, instead of everyday access.
- Certain benefits on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia will not be matched.
What Won’t Change
Unfortunately, free upgrades to First Class still won’t be happening. Silver and Gold will still get free upgrades to Main Cabin Select at 12/24 hours, while advance purchase for First remains at six hours for base Red, as well as 12 and 24-hours, respectively, for Silver and Gold. Virgin America was founded on the basis of providing a superior product and the company does not want to dilute it by giving it away for free.
The Bottom Line
You’ll likely get a status match only once, so make sure to take advantage of it at a time when you know you will use it and/or have a chance of renewing it for the following year.