Skift Take

The move for Virgin's most loyal customers will be a hard one. But in return they get an airline that will take them so many more places.

Editor’s Note: Skift’s Business Traveler newsletter is now the Business of Loyalty newsletter.

In this weekly missive, we’ll bring you the same insight into what matters most to the people who travel for a living, but now with an added focus on how airlines, hotels, and credit card programs battle for their attention and their business — a points geek with a Ph.D. of sorts. 

While we are still looking at how these moves impact the consumer, the focus is on what the industry is doing to win their loyalty. The newsletter is being written by Grant Martin, who you’ve come to know as the author of our Business Traveler newsletter over the last three years. He’ll be able to take advantage of contributions from Skift editors including Brian Sumers (airlines) and Deanna Ting (hotels) in order to better explain what’s happening with loyalty right now. We hope you’ll stick with it, and we promise to never devalue your reading experience.

Amidst the slow wind-down of Virgin America’s marketing team over the last few months, facets of Elevate, the airline’s loyalty program, have been calving like icebergs breaking off the Antarctic ice sheet.

In April, the joint Alaska-Virgin America published a schedule for the closure of Elevate and its ultimate integration into Mileage Plan, Alaska’s loyalty program. Officially, the Elevate program will come to an end on January 1, 2018. Now, the group has also published dates in which the program’s mileage partnerships will come to a close.

According to a landing page posted on this past week, most of the program’s partnerships where Elevate members can earn points for assorted purchases and bookings wrap up at the end of September 2017. Primarily, that’s the car rental partnerships from the likes of Avis and National and the hotel deals from the likes of Hilton and Starwood. Elevate’s partnership with Airbnb is the only exception within the hotel space; that deal wraps up at the end of June.

The end of Virgin America’s airline partnerships will be slightly more complicated. While it will no longer be possible to earn or redeem points on Emirates, Singapore, or Virgin Australia on September 30th, it will still be possible to travel on booked (before September 30th) awards until January 15th, 2018. The ability to earn and book award miles on Alaska flights will obviously continue until the two loyalty programs fully merge.

Partnerships between Elevate and a few of its transfer partners will be extended beyond the airline, car rental, and hotel partners, likely as a means to allow members to move points out of the program before it closes. Until the end of October 2017 it’ll still be possible to use instruments at and American Express to move points through the Elevate program.

With each partnership coming to an end, Elevate will be left fairly handcuffed from the end of September to the end of the year. To pick up the slack, Alaska is aggressively trying to focus Virgin America’s customers on the benefits of Mileage Plan. When the airlines merged, Alaska unrolled a deep series of incentives for Elevate members to sign up for Mileage Plan accounts — including healthy bonus point offers. The campaign continued through this month with new incentives for Virgin America travelers connecting through west coast destinations onto international partner carriers.

And for most remaining Virgin America loyalty program members, the transition makes sense. Elevate was never among the top favorites for frequent-flying travelers. As a revenue-based program, it was never easy to earn a great deal of points on a grand scale and there were rarely good deals on which to redeem them. By switching to Mileage Plan, Elevate members end up getting a better program with better rates of mileage earning and better partnerships.

They just have to give up their favorite airline to get there.

Skift Stories and More Expert Insight

Consumers Are Facing a Glut of Loyalty Programs in Hospitality

Hotel loyalty programs have seen a lot of changes in recent times, particularly with Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood and AccorHotels’ FRHI acquisition, which brought Fairmont, Raffles, and Swissôtel.

American Airlines Reverses Plan to Shrink Legroom on Some Planes

Perhaps it was the complaints from customers. Or maybe it was the recent stories and blog posts attacking American Airlines, with many arguing the carrier had crossed a line with its new plan to reduce legroom on some narrowbody planes. But about a month after confirming plans to shrink seat pitch on its soon-to-be-delivered Boeing 737 Max aircraft, American Airlines said Tuesday it had altered the strategy to make it more passenger friendly.

Alaska Launches Promotions Just for Regional Loyalty Program Members
In a time where most airlines are making drastic cuts to loyalty programs, Alaska Airlines appears to be headed in the opposite direction once more with a new promotion aimed at travelers flying through the west coast.

The Points Guy: Delta’s First A350 Now Bookable With Cash or SkyMiles

The first U.S. carrier operating the brand-spanking new Airbus A350 just posted its inaugural flight for booking.

View from the Wing: United’s Plan to Squeeze More Money From Passengers While Making Them Less Comfortable

Andrew Levy, United Airlines Executive Vice President & CFO, spoke today at the Citi 2017 Industrials Conference.

One Mile at a Time: Priority Pass Now Gets You Access To The World’s Only Airport Distillery Tasting Room

Priority Pass, the world’s largest airport lounge network, has been getting creative the past year or so in terms of the “lounges” they’re adding to their network.

View from the Wing: Amex Platinum Ends Business Class 2-for-1 Deal, Relaunches as Premium Cabin Discount Program

For years American Express has had an ‘International Airline Program’ for Platinum and Centurion cardholders which amounted to 2-for-1 business class tickets provided you were buying full fare. Quietly it seems that American Express has revamped the International Airline Program.

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Tags: alaska airlines, loyalty, virgin america

Photo credit: The iOS app for Virgin America. Alaska Air is sharing more details about its winding down of the niche-yet-loved carrier. Virgin America / Virgin America

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