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.
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.
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.
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:
- Turn your frequent flyer points and status into a special weekend
- Five expert tips for buying miles and frequent flyer points
- Slash your hotel costs: flash your NRMA, RACV or RACQ card
- How codeshare flights could be costing you thousands...
- United Airlines exec: buying miles is good for business
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