Virgin America announced big changes to its Elevate frequent flier program yesterday when it rolled out an elite program that may seem very similar to what you’ll find from traditional legacy airlines. But there are some twists. The two tiers, Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold, are meant to provide extra benefits for people who fly more often with the airline.
To get the base level elite status, Silver, travelers have to earn 20,000 status points in a year. How does that happen? Members will earn 5 points per dollar Spent on Virgin America. They can also get one point per mile flown with Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic. Lastly, the Virgin America credit card earns up to 10,000 points per year.
These levels mean qualification can be a challenge. On a traditional legacy airline, 10 one way flights between New York and San Francisco will earn elite status even on the cheapest fares. On Virgin America, however, it would take 16 one way flights at $250 each to qualify. Of course, the more travelers spend, the fewer flights they need. To get Gold status, Elevate members will need 50,000 points in a year.
Let’s say travelers do qualify. What do they get in return for the loyalty? Many of the benefits will seem familiar to those who have had status in other programs. Travelers will get priority check-in, security, and boarding. They’ll also be able to reserve seats in a priority seating section toward the front of the coach cabin. Upgrades into Main Cabin Select are available within 24 hours of the flight for Gold and 12 hours for Silver. They’ll also have a free baggage allowance and earn bonus points when they fly.
So what’s different than existing programs? First of all, there are no first class upgrades. Instead, elite members will get first crack at paying for an upgrade before the rest of the regular passengers can. In addition, each year, members will be entitled to at least one 25 percent-off coupon for travel. And while it’s no surprise that there’s a dedicated phone line for elites, there is also a dedicated live chat and email address for members.
Earning will occur during the calendar year, and it’s retroactive. In other words, those who have already earned 20,000 points since the beginning of this year will be given status even though the program just launched.