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You may vaguely remember reading a little while ago that Alaska Airlines are taking over Virgin America. Not hugely fascinating to your average Brit perhaps, but some of us interested in ‘travel hacking’ have been watching closely – focusing not on the deal in general, but specifically on what happens with the loyalty programmes.
Both Virgin America Elevate and Alaska Mileage Plan offer some of the best ‘sweetspot’ Points/Miles redemptions around, and as people in the UK can transfer SPG Starpoints (and therefore Amex Membership Rewards Points, indirectly) to both, any changes to either programme can potentially create or kill cheap opportunities to fly in Business or First Class.
So far, things look pretty good.
The big news today is that Virgin America Elevate Points will transfer to Alaska Mileage Plan Miles at a rate of 1:1.3, as confirmed in a post by Ben over at US blog OMAAT.
You will be able to transfer from 9th January 2017.
Why does this matter?
I’m not hugely impressed by that transfer ratio to be honest (I value VA Elevate Points very highly), but Alaska Miles are also brilliant and this does present a good opportunity if you’re sitting on a pile of SPG Starpoints or Amex MR Points (or fancy buying some in the best ever Starpoint sale).
If you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan you get 25,000 Miles (thanks to the 5,000 bonus for transferring in blocks of 20,000). The exact same rate applies when transferring Starpoints to Virgin America Elevate.
If you’re willing to wait a bit for your Alaska Miles, you can therefore currently transfer to Virgin America Elevate, and then get an additional 30% when transferring those Elevate Points to Alaska Mileage Plan after 9th January
For example, 20,000 Starpoints would get you 25,000 Elevate Points, which you will be able to turn into 32,500 Alaska Mileage Plan Miles. In other words, 1 Starpoint can now get you 1.625 Alaska Mileage Plan Miles!
I imagine most readers are more likely to have American Express Membership Rewards Points than Starpoints, so it’s worth pointing out again that Amex MR Points transfer to SPG Starpoints at 2:1 ratio. This means that you can turn Amex MR Points into Alaska Mileage Plan Miles at a rate of 1:0.8125, which is, potentially, a very good deal.
You might be used to transferring Amex MR Points to BA Avios etc at a 1:1 rate and think this doesn’t seem like a good deal, but remember that for long-haul Business/First Class flying, Alaska Miles are usually much more valuable than Avios.
For example, you can fly Business Class to Hong Kong from London (or anywhere Cathay Pacific flies in Europe) for just 42,500 Alaska Miles, when BA charge 90,000 Avios for the exact same flights. Transferring your Amex MR Points as above would require 52,301 MR Points, rather than 90,000 if you transferred to BA Avios – saving you 37,699 Amex MR Points!
For big trips in First Class, the comparison is even starker. USA – Hong Kong – Johannesburg in Cathay First Class costs just 70,000 Alaska Miles, but a staggering 340,000 Avios.
Delhi – Tokyo – USA flying Japan Airlines First Class is also 70,000 Alaska Miles (and I don’t even want to think how many Avios!).
70,000 Alaska Miles would require a little over 86,100 Amex MR Points, rather than 340,000 if you transferred to Avios for the exact same flights – saving you almost 75%!!!
Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t charge any surcharges at all (just actual taxes) for award redemptions on either Cathay or JAL.
This certainly isn’t beginner stuff, but it’s not that complicated either. To get the very best deals you need to keep your eyes open and know how to leverage arbitrage opportunities. This is an absolutely textbook example of what can be achieved if you do!
As ever, if you have any questions whatsoever, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments or on the forums.