Virgin America Gives New Life to Elevate Frequent Flyer Miles

It was just last month that Virgin America made a significant improvement to its Elevate program, adding a mileage mall, dubbed The Red Store, that affords members an opportunity to earn points at more than 150 online retailers.

This week, Virgin takes another major step in the right direction, amending a policy that I have criticized since the program's inception. From the airline's press release:

Elevate points will not expire as long as a member has at least one qualifying activity every 18 months. Qualifying activities include: purchasing Virgin America flights; completing Virgin America reward travel; earning Elevate points with partners like Avis/Budget and Hilton Honors; and accruing points via the Virgin America credit card or the Red store.

Under the previous rule, points expired after 18 months and could not be extended—a particularly nasty policy that all but guaranteed infrequent flyers would never qualify for an award.

The new policy puts Virgin in the mainstream of major airlines, which have mostly adopted the 18-month-extendable policy for their programs. That's a good place to be, given the situation with other low-cost carrier programs.

Southwest, which pioneered the use-it-or-lose-it approach for discount airlines, still expires credits after 24 months.

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JetBlue's current policy: To keep points alive, TrueBlue members must either buy a JetBlue ticket or use their TrueBlue credit card every 12 months.

And Spirit only extends the life of Free Spirit miles in accounts where more than 2,000 miles were earned over the past six months, or where a Free Spirit credit card is used at least once a month.

Virgin America's program remains small in comparison to those of American, Delta, and other mainline carriers. But among discount airlines, with its expanding partner roster and improved expiration policy, Elevate is rising to the top of the heap.

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