Virgin America loyalists have been vocal in expressing their fears that what makes Virgin a perennial traveler favorite will be lost in the merger with Alaska Airlines. For its part, fearing the loss of that loyalty, Alaska has been especially thoughtful and deliberate in planning and executing the merger of the two airlines’ operations, and has taken pains to communicate the consolidation’s progress and next steps. While many of the remaining details of the merger were revealed late last month, a key element of the transition remained unknown: the timeline for discontinuing Virgin America’s Elevate program and converting members to Alaska’s Mileage Plan.
Now, however, we know. And Elevate members can plan accordingly.
Here are the milestones in the two programs’ consolidation:
- For the time being – Elevate members earn a 30 percent bonus when converting their points to Mileage Plan miles
- Through “Fall 2017” – Elevate members may continue to earn and redeem points on most Elevate partners. In other words, partner earning and awards will be discontinued sometime before the program is terminated
- January 1, 2018 – Elevate program ceases to exist
- Early-2018 – Outstanding Elevate points automatically converted to Mileage Plan miles
The most important take-away from the timeline is the limited time to earn and redeem on Elevate partners. As it happens, the Elevate partner roster is rather limited, especially compared with the industry-leading network of Mileage Plan. Elevate members can only redeem points for award travel on Virgin Australia, Emirates (also a Mileage Plan partner), Hawaiian, and Singapore. If they plan to do so, they’d best do it sooner rather than later.
Overall, Mileage Plan is a vastly superior program to Elevate, so the conversion will amount to a significant upgrade for most Elevate members. The same cannot be said of the transition of the feisty-hipster Virgin into the plain-vanilla Alaska Air. Whether that will be a downright downgrade remains to be seen.
Reader Reality Check
Will the merger be a downgrade or an upgrade for Virgin America flyers?
After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.