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The End Begins for Virgin America’s Loyalty Program

With Alaska Airline’s acquisition of Virgin America, it was just a matter of time before Virgin’s loyalty program, Elevate, was terminated and its members folded into Alaska’s Mileage Plan program. In the meantime, the programs were somewhat integrated, allowing reciprocal mileage earning. And beginning on January 9, 2017, Elevate members will be able to convert their points at a 1:1.3 ratio to miles in Mileage Plan, and have their Virgin status matched in Alaska’s program.

But the two programs remain independent and fully functional, with no outward sign that Elevate is in final shutdown mode. The first such indication comes from Starwood, whose Preferred Guest program is linked to both the Alaska and the Virgin America programs. Here’s the official announcement, posted today in FlyerTalk:

SPG has a long-standing partnership with both Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, and was excited to hear the news about the official close of their merger. This presents a great opportunity for Elevate members to join and enjoy all the benefits of Alaska’s award-winning Mileage Plan starting January 9th. Instead, SPG has decided to focus its partnership on Alaska Mileage Plan and end its partnership with Virgin America’s Elevate program.

This means SPG members will no longer be able to earn Elevate points on hotel stays, or directly transfer Starpoints into Elevate accounts after January 6, 2017.

SPG members will be able to use Starpoints to travel on Virgin America by transferring Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan miles and redeeming them for Virgin America flights on starting January 9, 2017. Furthermore, SPG members can continue to transfer Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan at a 1:1 ratio – and earn a 5,000 bonus miles when they transfer 20,000 Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan.

So, no more earning Elevate points for Starwood stays, or transferring Starwood points into Elevate, after January 6.

Virgin’s Elevate program was always notably weak in terms of its earning and redemption partners, so the loss of even a single partner is a greater blow than it would be for a more robust program like Alaska’s.

Other Elevate partners may follow Starwood in disengaging from the program before it’s phased out. Or they may simply wait for the end, whenever that turns out to be. Either way, Elevate members should be cozying up to Alaska’s Mileage Plan, because that’s where their future lies.

Reader Reality Check

Will you miss Elevate, or will Mileage Plan work as well or better for you?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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