Revealed: The Date-Certain Death of Virgin America’s Elevate Program

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.

Comments

  1. Jason Brandt Lewis says

    @Tim —> In re your “Reader Reality Check: Will the merger be a downgrade or an upgrade for Virgin America flyers?”

    As with all things, the answer is neither black nor white. Certainly the transition from Elevate to Mileage Plan represents an increased opportunity for both earning and awards on partner airlines, and more than makes up for the loss of now ex-partner Virgin Atlantic (and, I would imagine, soon-to-be ex-partner Virgin Australia).

    OTOH, it will also mean a loss in elite status for many soon-to-be ex-Virgin America loyalists.

    Alaska already matched current Elevate status as follows for Virgin elites: Elevate Silver = MVP; Elevate Gold = MVP Gold. I presume they will do so again, based upon status gained in 2017. Silver and Gold status on VX could be earned on segments or miles, as can status on Alaska (MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75k). The requirements, however, are significantly greater on AS, and I cannot imagine why they would be lowered in future (and though I can certainly hope, I won’t be holding my breath).

    Virgin Elevate Silver requires 20,000 status points or 15 completed flight segments. Elevate Gold requires 50,000 status points or 30 segments. Silver receives a 50% bonus on points earned per flight and one free checked bag; Gold, 140%, and three free checked bags.

    Alaska MVP, however, requires 25k miles flown (20k if all on AS or VX metal) or 30 completed flight segments. MVP Gold requires 50k miles (25k if all AS/VX), or 60 segments. MVP Gold 75k requires 90k (75k if all AS/VX), or 90 segments. As an MVP, one gets a 50% bonus in miles and two free bags; MVP Gold, 100% (40% less than on VX), and “Two free checked bags for you and a companion.” (Is that two total, or two each?). MVP Gold 75k receives 125% bonus miles (still less than the “lower” level of VX Elevate Gold) and the same “two free checked bags for you and a companion.”

    There is NO WAY that I will EVER fly 60 segments a year . . . good-bye Gold!

    Another “downgrade” VX loyalists will face is the lack of IFE. While I *do* understand that getting rid of seat-back screens saves weight and therefore fuel, I’m not sure where airlines get the idea that everyone has an iPad (or equivalent). I’m 63. Do I now need to go out and buy an iPad just for flying? And as I’ve said elsewhere, every FA I’ve spoken to on VX has said they will miss the on demand food-and-drink ordering capability that was a part of VX’s “RED” IFE system. As a passenger, I know I’ll miss it too.

    The addition of a third row in First Class is a plus; it remains to be seen if the reduction in pitch from 55″ to 41″ will be significant. (I can’t picture it, so I’ll have to wait to try it for myself.)

    All in all, I’m more optimistic about the merger/take-over than I was when it was first announced, even though I *know* both my wife and I will be dropping down at least one level in status, but I’m not yet ready to abandon all caution and concern, and run out to wrap my arms around a Boeing 737 . . .

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