Since I was just in the process of planning a transcon trip, I had a chance to look into saver availability across the major carriers for the next couple months. United and American didn’t have much – maybe a few days scattered here and there on United, and slightly better on American. Still, 32,500 AAnnoying miles for business and 50,000 for first class is kinda steep… although nowhere near as steep as Delta, which somehow believes its Delta One transcons should command 75,000+ miles each way. (In fairness, some of those flights are on 767s with all-aisle access, which the other carriers don’t normally offer in business. Still, Delta isn’t so great that its cheapest fares are worth 1.5x what United charges for standard awards.)
However, post-merger Virgin America awards are wiiiiiide open right now at 25,000 Alaska miles each way. I don’t know if this will stick around very long – I remember there was an availability bonanza on United right after they switched from JFK to EWR that I got in on, but it dried up pretty quick. There are clearly going to be some inventory headaches to sort out as Virgin figures out how to integrate a fixed-value loyalty program and a traditional distance-based one. In the short term, though, it’s open season.
It’s an especially good deal given that most of those seats are at least $700 on Virgin America, which means that they’re going for at least ~34,000 Elevate points. With the current transfer ratio factored in, you could instead transfer 19,000 points and some change to Alaksa and get the same exact flight. Here’s the calendar for four people in first class. You’ve got options.
I don’t want to bombard you with screen shots, so take my word for it that this isn’t limited to SFO-JFK. I looked at LAX/SFO to JFK/BOS each for 4 people, and availability was roughly the same, in either direction. SFO-BOS is almost as long as some transatlantic flights from the East Coast, so it’s a fantastic value however you slice it.
What leads me to believe this may not be permanent is that not every flight shows 25K availability, so some inventory is being loaded at saver level and some at standard. You’d think that Alaska will eventually tweak their inventory, especially since there are a lot of extra Alaska miles floating around right now. Consider: I just transferred 60,000 Elevate points over to Alaska, which generated 18,000 additional miles. Since I had both an Alaska and an Elevate account, I also got 10,000 bonus miles just for being an awesome dude. That right there is enough for a transcon in first class, and Alaska pretty much dropped it in my lap.
They probably know what they’re doing, but little wrinkles like this pop up from time to time during what I like to call “corporate irrops”… Or maybe they want Alaska members to get to experience Virgin’s first class in order to build loyalty to the combined carrier. Who knows. Either way, points and miles collectors win.
One last thing: I know Virgin isn’t as nice as other airlines’ transcon service. They have the best domestic first class except on transcon routes. However, let’s not all become such primadonnas that an oversized leather reclining seat with a leg and foot rest is somehow slumming it for 5-6 hours. Sure a flat bed would be better, but Virgin gets you pretty damn close. And the service and food are usually better too. The only reason I didn’t jump on this when putting my transcon together is that I really wanted to try some new products, so I burned most of my JetBlue miles on a Mint suite and then snagged a seat on United’s new 777 (a post about this is coming soon).