What if you could fly from Sydney to Melbourne in Virgin Australia business class for only $221 – head over to Perth in Virgin Australia’s ‘The Business’ for just over $500 – or take a business class trans-Tasman trip to Auckland for less than $600?
That's all on the menu right now, thanks to a quirky ‘love triangle’ of partnerships between Virgin Australia, Virgin America and the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) hotel loyalty program.
This three-step 'travel hack tango' isn't a dance for everybody, but here's the deal:
- Purchase SPG Starpoints directly from Starwood, which are currently on the block for up to 25% less than the usual asking price
- Convert those Starpoints into the Elevate miles of Virgin America's frequent flyer scheme (you need to be an Elevate member, but it's free to join)
- Use those Elevate miles to book flights with Virgin Australia under the Virgin Australia / Virgin American partnership
Note that Virgin America Elevate is an entirely separate frequent flyer program to Virgin Australia Velocity, and allows you book flights with Virgin Australia for significantly fewer points in number than you’d normally need through the Velocity program.
For example, just 6,000 Elevate miles is enough for a one-way Sydney-Melbourne hop in Virgin Australia business class, while 16,000 Elevate miles gets you cross-country from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Perth, or over to Auckland (with a small payment of taxes and fees when booking).
Here’s how to set this up and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on business class airfares.
Step 1: Buying discounted Starpoints from Starwood
First up, if you’re not already a Starwood Preferred Guest member, create a free account on the Starwood website and note the membership number you’re given.
New members can’t buy Starpoints until their account has been open for at least 14 days, so if that’s you, create your account ASAP: signing up today would see April 29 as the 14-day mark, and Starwood’s discount deal runs until April 30, or ‘Day 15’, on which you’d be safe to stock up.
Established SPG members who aren’t bound by these restrictions, or those new who’ve signed up and waited patiently, can then return to the Starwood website to buy those Starpoints.
We’d suggest buying the maximum of 30,000 Starpoints – yours for US$787.50 (A$1,021) including the 25% discount – but lower amounts can also be purchased if your budget is limited or you have a specific trip in mind.
These points will usually appear in your Starwood account within 48 hours, after which you’re ready to complete the next step.
Step 2: Converting Starpoints to Elevate miles
With Starpoints in your account, you’ll then want to create an Elevate frequent flyer account – also free and easily done via the Virgin America website. Again, make a note of your Elevate membership number – you’ll need it for this step.
Proceed then to the Starwood website (SPG.com), login to your SPG account, scroll to Starpoints & Awards, then select Redeem Starpoints:
Further, click the Travel icon, scroll down to the Transfer Air Miles heading and then click ‘Transfer Starpoints to air miles’.
A dialogue box will appear – choose Virgin America Elevate from the list, not Velocity Frequent Flyer – and then enter your Virgin America Elevate number in the space provided:
In the next box, enter the number of Starpoints you’d like to convert into Elevate miles. These transfer across on a 1:1 basis, so 30,000 Starpoints equals 30,000 Elevate miles, and for every 20,000 Starpoints you convert, you’ll also pick up a further 5,000 Elevate miles as a bonus.
Simply put, your starting balance of 30,000 Starpoints becomes 35,000 Virgin America Elevate miles if you convert all of them across at the same time.
Members transferring lower amounts can convert a minimum of 2,500 Starpoints at a time, with lower limits applying to SPG Gold and Platinum members.
Once you’ve finalised the transfer, expect to wait 4-6 business days for the points to appear in your Elevate account.
Step 3: booking your discounted flights
Booking Virgin Australia flights using Virgin America Elevate miles can only be done over the phone – you’ll need to dial +1 877 359 8474 (an international number), say ‘Elevate’, then ‘reward travel’, then ‘yes’ to confirm you’re using miles, and then ‘partner’ to get through to the right team.
(If your phone plan doesn’t include free international calls, you might save some cash by dialling the number through Skype instead.)
The exact number of Elevate miles needed varies from route to route. To recap, Sydney-Melbourne commands 6,000 Elevate miles and both Sydney-Perth and Sydney-Auckland require 16,000 Elevate miles in business class.
Mileage required for other routes can be calculated here on the Virgin America website, but you’ll still need to call to book.
Crunching the numbers: costs per flight
Assuming you’re buying the maximum of 30,000 Starpoints and will convert them into 35,000 Elevate miles via the process above, the actual cost to your hip pocket per flight is staggeringly low.
On the Sydney-Melbourne route, you’ll pair 6,000 Elevate miles – obtained via Starwood at a cost of A$175, or around 2.91 cents each – with a payment of US$16 (A$20.74) in taxes and fees and Virgin America’s US$20 (A$25.94) telephone booking fee, for an overall cost of $221.68.
That’s lower than the price of many economy fares on this popular route, but yet, you’re flying in business class and with full pre-flight lounge privileges to boot.
Trekking from Sydney to Perth takes 16,000 Elevate miles which cost A$466.67 to buy plus US$15 (A$19.45) in taxes and fees and the obligatory US$20 (A$25.95) Virgin America booking fee, totalling $512.07 for a flight that would usually sell around the $2,000 mark.
Across to Auckland, you’ll also need 16,000 Elevate miles (A$466.67 via Starwood), a payment of US$65 (A$84.25) for taxes and fees and a spare US$20 (A$25.95) to cover the booking fee, clocking in at an all-out total price of $576.87, some A$300 less than the business class fares commonly seen on this route.
Wherever you choose to fly, keep in mind that Starwood Preferred Guest members are limited to buying 30,000 Starpoints each year, which means you can’t buy enough Starpoints to cover a Virgin Australia business class flight to Los Angeles or Abu Dhabi, for example.
More ways to save on business and luxury travel:
- Five expert tips for buying miles and frequent flyer points
- Hot tip: trim your travel budget by booking flights separately
- Bulk-buy United miles for huge savings on business class flights
- Turn your frequent flyer points and status into a special weekend
- 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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