Virgin America Elevate

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The Elevate program at Virgin America offers frequent flyers five points per dollar spent on a ticket as well as earning opportunities when flying with four partner airlines. Redemption rates start at a low 2,500 points and depend on the cost of the ticket. Redemption options are limited, as Virgin America doesn't fly to many destinations. Benefits accruing to members with elite status are decent, and some extend to flights on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.

In a review of the Virgin America Elevate frequent flyer program, we concluded that this points-based system is relatively limited due to the challenge of accumulating points and restrictive redemption rights.

Elevate awards members five points per dollar spent on base airfare (ticket price before taxes and fees), but Virgin America flies to only about two dozen destinations in the United States and Mexico. Frequent flyers can accumulate points with partner airlines as well, but the options include only Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, and Singapore Airlines. These points accrue based on the distance flown and the ticket class.

As with most other frequent flyer programs, Elevate points can be earned by using Virgin America's co-branded Visa Signature credit card -- in this case, three points per dollar spent. Earning opportunities also arise when lodging at a partner hotel, renting a car from a partner agency, buying goods online through Virgin America's shopping portal, and engaging in a variety of other activities. Additionally, Virgin America offers special promotions that earn frequent flyer points on select flights or vacation packages.

Points can be redeemed for a free flight, although the trade-in value isn't public. That said, redemption rates correspond to the ticket price and start at 2,500 points for a one-way flight. There are no blackout dates. Points can be redeemed with five of Virgin Atlantic's partners -- the four identified above plus Hawaiian Airlines. Award options are slender. Within the United States, Virgin America focuses on long-haul flights between major cities, such as New York, Dallas, and Washington, and its partners lack the reach of the major carriers. As a result, Elevate points are worthwhile only for travelers who limit their excursions to the destinations where Virgin America and its partners have landing rights.

Silver or Gold elite status with Virgin America Elevate is achieved by accumulating 20,000 and 50,000 status points, respectively. Most of Virgin America Elevate's elite benefits are standard, such as earning extra redemption points when booking flights and receiving priority security screening, check-in, and boarding, as well as getting access to a dedicated reservation line. Gold status extends many of these benefits to flights with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.

The rules for accumulating and redeeming points are simple enough with Virgin America Elevate. But the airline's comparatively small size and limited partnerships relegate it to the bottom of the middle tier of frequent flyer programs.

Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer who specializes in credit, debt, and practical money-saving tips. He loves stacking savings opportunities to get amazing deals, traveling for free using credit card rewards, and teaching others how to do the same. Connect with Louis by visiting louisdenicola.com.

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