Buying Elevate points for low-cost Virgin Australia business class

By Chris Chamberlin , March 17 2015
Buying Elevate points for low-cost Virgin Australia business class

Fancy flying in Virgin Australia business class from Sydney to Melbourne for around $450 round-trip? How about from Brisbane to Melbourne for less than $700 return, or all the way to Perth and back again for just over $1,100?

Those are just some of the incredible deals you can squeeze from Virgin America’s latest promotion for buying frequent flyer points, currently on the block with bonuses of up to 80%.

Elevate is Virgin America’s own frequent flyer scheme and completely separate to Virgin Australia and Velocity Frequent Flyer, although the partnership between the two Branson-backed airlines lets you collect points with one airline and redeem them with another.

To be in with a shot you’ll need to snap up those points before the promotion winds down on April 5 2015 at 5pm in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane (AEST), remembering that daylight savings time concludes at 3am that morning when clocks are wound back by one hour.

Here’s what you need to know about Virgin America Elevate and how to parlay your cheaply-acquired points for seats at the pointy end.

Buying Virgin America Elevate points: the basics

For starters, every Elevate member can buy themselves up to 20,000 Elevate points in one calendar year, and bonus points pocketed during promotions such as this one fortunately aren’t included in that tally.

If you’re not already an Elevate member, it also takes just minutes and costs nothing to sign-up online via the Virgin America website, so make that your first step.

Through this deal, buying 500 to 2,000 Elevate points comes with a 30% bonus; 2,500 to 5,000 points are joined by an impressive 50% boost and anything over 5,500 points nets the full scoop of 80% more points.

On the downside, Virgin America points can only be redeemed for Virgin Australia flights over the phone, not online, and you’ll need to dial up their USA call centre (+1 877 359 8474) to lock them in.

(Unless you have international minutes included as part of your landline or mobile phone plan, it may prove more cost-effective to make that call via Skype.)

Business class between Sydney and Melbourne

Just 10,000 Elevate points gets you from Sydney to Melbourne and back in Virgin Australia business class, so why not stock up and buy 30,600 points (17,000 plus a bonus of 13,600) for US$884 – enough for an impressive three round trips?

Added on the side are taxes and surcharges of US$30 per return booking and three Virgin America call centre fees at US$20 each and you're looking at A$1,359 using today's exchange rate: A$453 per return trip or only A$226.50 per business class flight.

Just over $200 to fly up the front in Virgin Australia business class. Nice one!
Just over $200 to fly up the front in Virgin Australia business class. Nice one!

Compare that to a typical Virgin Australia economy Flexi fare of $349 each way and you’re paying 35% less than economy to sit in business class!

And if you normally fly up the front – parting with around $1350 return for the privilege – that’s $897 saved per trip or $2,691 over the three.

Business class between Melbourne and Brisbane

If your travels are taking you from Melbourne to Brisbane, buying 34,200 Elevate points (19,000 plus a 15,200-mile bonus) is just the ticket for two very affordable return trips in business class at 17,000 points a pop.

With a price tag of US$988, taxes and surcharges of US$32 per booking and the US$20 call centre charge each time you redeem, those flights are yours for all of A$1,429.

Crunching the numbers, that’s roughly $714 per trip or $357 each way, and $32 cheaper than a typical economy Flexi fare on the same routes.

That’s also a significant saving of $1,049 per trip over the published business class fare or $2,098 over the two return journeys.

Read our review: Virgin Australia business class: Brisbane-Melbourne

Business class flights to Perth, Auckland

Not forgotten are the longer flights to Auckland and across to Perth from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane: each of which can be booked for 27,000 Elevate points for a round-trip in business class.

The program’s yearly ceiling lets you fly one of these routes only once per calendar year on the cheap, which is best achieved with 15,000 points and the 80% bonus for that perfect balance of 27,000 points: yours for US$780.

What you’ll save against the ticket price depends on where you’re heading – to Perth, you’re looking at US$852 (A$1,114) return including taxes and the call centre fee, while to Auckland it’s a higher US$980 (A$1,281) all up with those pesky international ‘passenger movement charges’.

In short, transcontinental travellers can pay just A$557 each way for a lie-flat bed in business class on Virgin Australia’s A330s, which is again lower than a one-way economy Flexi fare ($575) and also less than a ‘real’ business class ticket: normally $1,879 each way or $3,758 return.

Sleep in the clouds in Virgin Australia's Airbus A330 business class
Sleep in the clouds in Virgin Australia's Airbus A330 business class

With return Flexi fares of $901 in economy and $1,740 in business class between Sydney and Auckland, you’re paying only $106.50 more over a regular ticket for a business class seat, or could save $626 on your next trans-Tasman business class trip.

Read our review: Virgin Australia trans-Tasman business class

So, what’s the catch?

While all completely above board and even promoted by Virgin America on its own website, there are a few drawbacks side-step before diving in and maxing out your Elevate account.

First, your Elevate points can only be traded in for business class tickets where flights have seats available to frequent flyers. Simply spotting a flight that still has (revenue) business class seats for sale isn’t a guarantee you’ll be able to use points for the same.

As a guide, use the Virgin Australia Velocity website to search for ‘reward seats’ on Virgin Australia flights – when you find one, there’s a good chance it can also be booked with Virgin America points, but again, it’s not a sure thing unless confirmed directly with Virgin America’s call centre.

You also won’t earn any points or status credits when travelling on flights booked using Elevate points, even if you attach your Virgin Australia Velocity number to the reservation.

However, you’d still be entitled to use the priority queues at check-in, security and at the boarding gate with all other business class customers, and would also enjoy lounge access before your flight where available.

Cool your heels in the Virgin Australia lounges – included with your VA ticket
Cool your heels in the Virgin Australia lounges – included with your VA ticket

Jetting on Virgin Australia's longer services to Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles is also off the cards as these flights require more points than can be purchased in one calendar year via Elevate.

One final tip: Velocity Gold or Platinum members wanting to also visit the Virgin Australia lounge on arrival at their destination can simply link their Velocity number to the booking or show their card when entering the lounge, as this perk isn't offered to passengers without Velocity status.

More ways to save on business and luxury travel:

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Anything is better than paying the crazy J fare pricing to Perth that Qantas/Virgin Australia charge - you can fly First to Auckland return for less.

30 Aug 2013

Total posts 448

But does anyone actually pay the full price J fare though? Would you really pay $3700 for an angled flat domestic J return ticket when you could get to most places in Asia on a fully-flat J return ticket for that price?

Things are worth what people are actually willing to pay for them, not some random figure an airline pulls out of the sky.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Not if they can help it lol :-)

Airlines charge what they think the market will absorb sufficiently, they have an informed guess and test and adjust to reach an optimal to them outcome. Fares are rarely static, they are regularly being tinkered with. PER fares were competitive not that long ago, when Qantas and Virgin Australia were duelling, but that's now reverted to a comfortable J duopoly and fares have adjusted upwards as a result. Fares reflect what the airlines norm about, rather than what people bid (we are price takers, not price setters - do we care less about travelling to Auckland than Perth, for example).

QF Platinum

24 Jan 2013

Total posts 141

It probably isn't good value paying for full price J fare domestically (seeing that it's roughly $500/hr of flight), but I do it occasionally - usually for work-related trips that my employer pays for; however, sometimes I pay for it out of my pocket for pleasure (and I have the $$$ to spend). It's mainly to keep my platinum status with VA, as there's not much of an international route to fly with them, VA code-shares are not good value, and I am not keen to fly Adelaide-Sydney in economy 40x to maintain my status.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

On bang for buck, domestic J is marginal value (I still pay for it regardless, because I put much value on in-flight comfort), although Virgin Australia do cushion the blow by giving me 10 points per dollar spent (and triple base points with that lately due to a Dec promotion).  Qantas, on the other hand, tot up the Lifetime Gold balance (not as generous but still counts for something) - so close!

Earning elite status through economy flying could count as cruel and unusual punishment :-)

I do keep my Platinum Upgrades for PER though, given the fares set, it's a no-brainer to save them for that route.

QF Platinum

24 Jan 2013

Total posts 141

Yes, economy class - domestic or international - is indeed cruel and unusual punishment, esp on certain airlines! I mainly fly business and first class these days. I notice that VA business class is not as cheap as it used to be previously. For example, Adelaide-Sydney in J class is only $70 cheaper return. QF gives you access to the Domestic Business Lounge which are awesome and the Platinum perks with QFF (first class lounge and OW access) are valuable; VA on the other hand is better value domestically due to 10 pts per dollar earned as Platinum and the relative ease at booking domestic business class tickets when I need to fly. 

QF Platinum

24 Jan 2013

Total posts 141

$70 cheaper than QF domestic... 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

You must get more out of Qantas Domestic Business Lounge access than me - it's better than the standard Qantas Domestic Lounge but not by any huge measure to me and sometimes can be more crowded than the standard lounge. Qantas Platinum to me is basically just First Class lounge access, because I travel in First less than I do Business internationally. It's just so I can relax somewhere pleasant before boarding (some business lounges are just upscale cattle pens, way crowded).

Qantas and Virgin Australia have settled down into a fairly cosy duopoly now (back to the days of the Qantas - Ansett tacit pricing), the sharp fares were very nice while they lasted but I doubt we'll see such an active all fronts airfare war again for a while. Qantas and Virgin Australia will compete, but not so directly on fares.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Sep 2011

Total posts 7

Chris - after purchasing these points for yourself, would it be possible for someone to gift or transfer you another 20,000 points?

Hi qldtraveller, as a quirk not covered in the article I'll need to refer you to the T&Cs of the offer to make your own interpretation in this instance. For your convenience:

--

"The bonus point offer available when you buy or gift Elevate points between March 12 to April 4th 2015. Price includes all applicable charges. GST/HST will be charged to Canadian Residents. Members can purchase a maximum of 20,000 Elevate points before any bonus in their individual account per calendar year. Members can receive a maximum gift of 20,000 Elevate points before any bonus in their individual account per calendar year. Please allow 72 hours for points to appear in the Elevate account. Purchases (Buy, Gift or Transfer of Elevate points) are not eligible to earn status points. All purchases (Buy, Gift or Transfer of Elevate points) are non-refundable. Points required to redeem an Elevate travel reward on Virgin America will be publicly available on a seat and flight-specific basis and are subject to change. Domestic reward bookings are subject to a security fee of $2.50 per segment, payable by credit card or Virgin America credit file. The Passenger Facility Charge and Segment Fees are waived for domestic reward bookings. For international reward bookings, Virgin America guests are responsible for the taxes and fees incurred from international travel. These taxes and fees are subject to change at the discretion of each country’s government and also vary from country to country depending on the origin and destination. All Elevate Terms and Conditions apply.
Terms and Conditions apply. Please allow up to 72 hours for your points to post. Price includes all applicable charges. GST/HST will be charged to Canadian Residents. Members can purchase a maximum of 20,000 Elevate points in their individual account per calendar year."

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 714

The amount you save depends on the route but also the taxes you pay 

I think the points are best used in Premium Cabins with some examples below 

I can see EK J BNE - SIN (Saving around AU$200) Oneway

VA PE BNE - LAX (Saving around AU$500) Oneway

SQ First SIN-CGK (Saving $2800) for 2 people return

These are just a few examples of savings

Be aware - the call centre that handles booking for partner airlines seems to be open only from about 2am to 8am AEST. Call any other time and the call centre staff have no idea what Virgin Australia is and mention that they can only book Virgin America flights, or they mention that the correct department is closed.

Was directed to email the reservations team twice. Though apparently they try and call you to complete the reservation, which is not possible for an international number.

Okay third call with these guys - story this time is that the "burn" desk for partner airlines was in Denver but no longer operates as it was closed down recently. Was directed to fill out the form again, or call back during "normal business hours" (wouldn't tell me what those are).

If I had known it would be this much trouble, I wouldn't have bothered buying or transferring points.


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