It’s already possible to book Virgin America flights on the Alaska Airlines website and to earn miles with either loyalty program. Starting next year, you’ll be able to match your Virgin America Elevate status to Alaska’s Mileage Plan. But what about keeping all the Elevate points you’ve patiently accumulated?
Elevate points are among the more valuable currencies out there. As a revenue-based program, they have a pretty clear dollar value when redeemed for free Virgin America award flights. But Alaska’s miles are arguably more flexible. New, cheaper domestic awards and a much larger list of international parters have long made it one of my favorite loyalty programs.
You can now find on the merger website (update: it’s been shut down) information about the transfer ratio between the two programs. Starting January 9 you’ll be able to convert Elevate points to Alaska miles at a rate of 1 to 1.3. That means 10,000 Elevate points will become 13,000 Alaska miles.
This is a fair exchange, leaning toward generous. Elevate points are worth between 2.3 and 2.6 cents each. Alaska miles are worth about 2 cents each. I think anyone who already has Elevate points will see them keep their value even after the merger.
However, if you don’t have Elevate points this may be a good opportunity to try to accumulate them.
Transfer Options to Get More Elevate Points (and Alaska Miles)
Citi ThankYou Rewards points will transfer to Elevate at a rate of 2-to-1. That means 2 ThankYou points will get you 1.3 Alaska miles, which is an option but not a terribly good one. Be aware that Citi will no longer transfer points to Elevate as of January 22, 2017.
American Express Membership Rewards points will also transfer to Elevate at a rate of 2-to-1. Again, 2 Membership Rewards points will get you 1.3 Alaska miles. Again, it’s not a terribly great option, but Amex has a different set of transfer partners, so the opportunity costs of moving points to Elevate may be different.
There has been no announcement about halting Membership Rewards transfers to Elevate, but I expect one to come soon; Alaska historically does not allow transfers from any bank loyalty program.
Finally, you could transfer hotel points to Elevate, and in particular SPG Starpoints. This is probably the best option because a block of 20,000 Starpoints will get you 25,000 Elevate points, a ratio of 1-to-1.25. Each Starpoint will get you 1.625 Alaska miles, and this is a pretty good deal.
I think Starpoints are worth between 2 and 2.5 cents each, but Alaska miles are already worth 2 cents each. You can expect an increase in value by transferring points from SPG to Elevate to Alaska even if you value Starpoints on the high end of my range.
Timing Your Transfer from SPG to Elevate
While I expect this transfer option to remain available — Mileage Plan is also a Starwood transfer partner — you may want to take advantage of it sooner rather than later. It’s unclear exactly when the Elevate program will be terminated. January 22 seems as good a date as any if I have to throw out a guess, since that’s the date when Citi will halt transfers from ThankYou Rewards.
Whenever it happens, you won’t be able to move Starpoints into Elevate first as a go-between to increase their value. If you have to move Starpoints directly to Mileage Plan, you’ll only get a transfer rate of 1-to-1.25. Transferring to Elevate first gets you 30% more Alaska miles than you would otherwise.
Finally, if you were already concerned about the SPG-Marriott merger and are looking for a way to redeem or otherwise use up all your Starpoints, this presents a good alternative, and in my opinion it’s also better than transferring Starpoints to Marriott Rewards at a rate of 1-to-3.