Should You Transfer Your Starwood Points to Virgin America or Alaska Airlines Now That They’re Merging?

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Million Mile Secrets reader, Roger, emailed:

I have the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express card and I want to transfer my points to airline miles.  Does it make a difference if I transfer my Starwood points to Virgin America or Alaska Airlines since they’ll be merging in 2017?

Thanks for the email, Roger!

Should You Transfer Your Starwood Points To Virgin America Or Alaska Airlines Now That They're Merging
Consider Things Like Transfer Ratios, Partner Airlines, and Fees, When Deciding Which Frequent Flyer Program Is Best for You

I’ll explain what the merger means and where Roger should transfer his Starwood points.

Where Should Roger Transfer His Starwood Points?

Roger, it sounds like you don’t have concrete travel plans yet.  So I suggest NOT transferring your Starwood points until you know for sure you’ll be using either Alaska Airlines miles or Virgin America points for your trip.  Because keeping points in a transferable program gives you options.

The merger between Alaska Airlines and Virgin America should be complete by January 1, 2017.  And they’ll keep the Alaska Airlines loyalty program moving forward.

BUT, the rewards programs will stay separate until the merger officially closes.  And it’ll likely take longer for them to figure out all the details and share what the new, combined program will look like.

Keep in mind it can take up to 4 weeks for Starwood points to transfer.  But in my experience, it’s usually 2 to 12 days. 

What’s the Difference Between These Frequent Flyer Programs?

Virgin America has a revenue-based frequent flyer program, meaning the number of points required for an award ticket depends on the ticket’s cash pricePrices for partner awards are fixed and not based on the paid ticket price.

Virgin America points are usually worth ~2.15 cents each.  Read my series about how to earn and use Virgin America points.

Alaska Airlines has a zone-based frequent flyer program, meaning the number of miles you’ll need for an award ticket depends on which zones you’re flying between. 

When you use your Alaska Airlines miles for award tickets, your points can be worth ~2 cents each or more, depending on which route you book.

Here’s my post about how to use Alaska Airlines miles.

Which Program Should You Transfer Your Starwood Points To?

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

You can transfer Starwood points to Virgin America and Alaska Airlines at a 1:1 ratio.  And you get a 5,000 mile bonus when you transfer Starwood points in increments of 20,000 to airlines that have a 1:1 transfer ratio.

Alaska Airlines miles are more flexible than Virgin America points.  Because they have a much bigger network and several great airline partners, like Cathay Pacific, Delta, and Emirates.

Virgin America has airline partners too, including Singapore Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, but they add high fees to some award tickets, so it’s not always a good deal.
Should You Transfer Your Starwood Points To Virgin America Or Alaska Airlines Now That They're Merging
Virgin America Charges High Taxes, Surcharges, and Fees on Certain Partner Award Tickets, So the Value of Your Points Disappears!

If Roger doesn’t live on the West Coast, he might also have a difficult time using Virgin America points.  Because that’s where most of their flights are.

Ultimately, Roger should consider his travel plans and whether he wants to transfer his Starwood points right now.  Because there are lots of ways to use Starwood points!

Bottom Line

If Roger has a specific trip in mind, he should determine which mileage program offers the best deal for that particular route.

If he doesn’t already have plans, I’d suggest he consider leaving his Starwood points alone until then.  Because keeping points in a transferable program gives you options.

The merger between Alaska Airlines and Virgin America is scheduled to be complete on January 1, 2017.  And their frequent flyer programs will remain separate until then.

Alaska Airlines WILL honor any unused Virgin America points after the programs are combined.  But they haven’t shared the details yet.

While Virgin America has decent point values, they fly a limited number of routes.  And they charge high fees on certain partner award tickets.

Alaska Airlines’ larger network and great airline partners means Roger would have more ways to use his miles & points!  So that’s a better option if he wants to transfer his Starwood points right away.

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