Disclaimer: We’re dealing with a political situation that makes it borderline crass to talk about first world problems like which first class is best or how to avoid <GASP> flying in economy when there are people who would strap themselves to the wing of a plane just to find refuge in this country if they could. That being said, I also believe that people can think about more than one thing at once, and that me writing about luxury travel and capitalist trappings like credit card loyalty programs is not going to trade off with the volume of necessary journalism devoted to covering current events. However, I would encourage you to support organizations that help refugees, the ACLU, or independent journalism outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, or The Guardian, all of which need all the financial support they can get right now. Finally, if you didn’t come here to hear about my politics, then leave, because I’m not going to hold back just because “this is supposed to be a points and miles blog.”
I posted the other day that the Alaska/Virgin merger has opened up all kinds of first class transcon saver availability (25k Mileage Plan miles each way). Compared to booking the same flight with Virgin America points, that represents nearly a 50% reduction once you transfer those points to Alaska. Given that United and American are really stingy with transcon saver awards, this is a good back-pocket option to have.
After I wrote the post, I started wondering about other Virgin routes that might open up the same possibilities. Hawaii sprang to mind, because first class awards are a real pain in the ass and often very expensive. SFO-BOS is a longer flight than SFO-Hawaii, but you still pay 40,000 Mileage Plan miles for a saver award to Hawaii. I planned a trip to Hawaii last year and was at a loss for how to get there in first on miles, and my budget for the trip wouldn't allow for me to buy the seats outright. That left a number of sub-optimal mileage options, since 40k per leg was the best I could find. I ended up booking two round trips on Virgin using Virgin America points transferred from SPG for one ticket and then burning around 90,000 ThankYou points at 1.3 cents per point for the other one. It hurt pretty bad to burn that many of my hard-won Citi points, especially because they announced their fuckin 24-month restrictions soon afterward. (The saving grace, however, was that JetBlue did their insane points match promotion right around the same time, so those 50,000 Virgin points also generated 75,000 JetBlue points. That means that 40,000 SPG points became Virgin points worth $1100 and JetBlue points worth $975 - minus $125 for the flight I had to take to complete the promotion - for a total net value of $1950, or 4.9 cents per SPG point.)
Anyway, sorry to bury the lede, but Hawaii availability through Mileage Plan still sucks. Unfortunately, the transcon magic hasn't repeated here, as every Virgin flight to Hawaii is loaded into Mileage Plan at 80,000 points per leg. Ouch... depending on the fares, that's at least twice what you'd have to spend in Virgin points. Alaska is pretty good about opening up availability on their own flights at 40k a pop, but I still think that's high. Given the higher quality of Virgin's product, 40k is a little more reasonable, especially if the calendar was wide open for that amount, since it would be a lot easier to plan travel that way (as opposed to using Virgin points and having to adjust your travel dates to the days with the lowest fares).
Oh well... It would have been nice if the merger had opened up options to Hawaii, but no such luck.