Fly Virgin Australia business class for the price of economy

By Chris Chamberlin , April 15 2016
Fly Virgin Australia business class for the price of economy

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:

  1. Purchase SPG Starpoints directly from Starwood, which are currently on the block for up to 25% less than the usual asking price
  2. 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)
  3. 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.

Save 75% on flights in The Business with Virgin Australia...
Save 75% on flights in The Business with Virgin Australia...

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:

For the latest information for business travellers and frequent flyers, follow @AusBT on Twitter.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Mal
Mal

14 Jun 2013

Total posts 360

Chris, will these VA flights booked with Elevate miles also earn Velocity status credits?

No, you don't – and that's a good point to make, as tickets booked using frequent flyer points at standard award rates, even frequent flyer points that you've purchased or converted from one program to another, seldom earn status credits (or frequent flyer points, for that matter), and certainly don't via Velocity.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Mar 2014

Total posts 574

Hi Chris

Do the Starwood points expire? If not, say it's accumulated over a few years, how many points is required for SYD > LAX in J?

Starwood points don't expire provided you earn or redeem Starpoints at least once every 12 months, however, keep in mind that hotel and airline programs can and do change their conversion and redemption rates from time to time, and also that Virgin America Elevate will be absorbed into Alaska Airlines MileagePlan by 2018, so we'd look at this as more of an opportunity to 'buy and book', rather than 'buy and hoard'.

You can calculate the number of Elevate miles needed to book a flight using the link provided in the article. :)

Heard of SPG star points referred to quite a bit and suggestions to buy up but never looked at it that hard, do they have some good transfer opportunities to other airlines at decent rates or is Elevate at the moment the best option?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 254

Chris, last year a similar article came out... but it was for buying Starpoints and directly sending them to you VA account.. Does this no longer happen? Offer was to buy any amount, Max at 30,000 points per year and transfer.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 254

I've just checked my SPG account and you can still transfer the points you buy to VELOCITY.

VA

17 Dec 2013

Total posts 51

Very interesting article Chris.  What's not to love about deeply discounted bizzo fares.

But ...

VA's 737 J product is rubbish, "junk business class" as somebody on Ausbt rightly called it recently. Is bizzo SYD - MEL on a VA 737 even worth $221 ?

The 330's over to Perth are another matter entirely but you can trek over there for less than $600 using sale saver fares and upgrade me bids. I'm doing BNE - PER on the A330 in bizzo for a total of $570 early next week, much the same as the Starwood points process. A monthago I did SYD - PER for circa $600. Offering prices like this, whether "the business" product to Perth stays constant is an interesting point to consider.

And I have a theory Chris: One of the reasons (I believe) that the bog standard VA J product is junk is because they discount so much and do deals like this. Who the hell pays full fare on Virgin in J ? When the rack VA J fare between SYD and MEL is circa $700 and everybody in the cabin is cruising south for $200 or on $85 saver fares + points or whatever, things are inevitably going to slide.

Qantas domestic J on the other hand, doesn't discount. And it's product remains solid. There's a lesson in strategy in there somewhere.

20 Apr 2014

Total posts 94

hard to see much (if any) difference between J on VA and QF 737s

VA has the better food on short haul J, whilst QF will (sometimes) get you an IFE screen.

seats are much of a muchness (recliners...)

other than that can't really see any justification for the sledging - of course the product is inferior on longer domestic routes which wide body aircraft ply but that is not an apples with apples comp...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Dec 2014

Total posts 286

Could you do an article the same but with the QF and AA Partnership, similar prices on SYD-PER Routes... Details AA Have a sale on etc. etc. redeem miles on SYD-PER Routes works out to be around $500 OW on QF J.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 May 2013

Total posts 2

Can someone let me know if this still has similar benefits even outside of the promotional period on the SPG points?


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