Virgin America has rolled out a number of changes to its Elevate frequent flyer programme, offering members greater flexibility to earn and redeem points for travel with the airline. This article is copyright 2010 The Best Customer Guide.

With immediate effect, Virgin's frequent flyers can retain their Elevate points indefinitely, as long as they either earn or redeem points at least once every 18 months. (Previously, points expired 18 months from their date of earning.) Members can also now earn more points toward free flights by shopping at the Red store.

Since the programme's launch in 2007, it has acquired some 1.24 million members, and attracted positive feedback for its no-black-out reward structure. According to Porter Gale, vice president of marketing for Virgin America, "As a new airline, we're trying to improve customer experiences and we are pleased to deliver one of our members' most frequent requests: points that don't expire."

To keep their points from expiring, members need to complete at least one qualifying activity every 18 months, such as:

  • Purchasing Virgin America flights;
  • Completing Virgin America reward travel;
  • Earning Elevate points with partners (e.g. Avis/Budget or Hilton Honors);
  • Earning points via the Virgin America credit card;
  • Earning points by shopping online at the Red store (which features 150 retailers including Banana Republic, the Apple Online Store, BarnesAndNoble.com, Macys.com, Target.com and others).

Elevate offers members the ability to redeem points at the time of booking, whether online or via the airline's call centre.

Among the updated programme's other main features:

  • There are no black-out dates, allowing members to redeem points for any available seat on any flight with the airline;
  • There is a simple 'points per dollar' system, instead of counting up miles or segments flown;
  • Members earn 5 points for every US$1 spent on base fares, and they can book a free flight for as few as 2,500 points;
  • The online booking facility also shows 'price in points' for each flight, although the points price varies with class of service and seat availability;
  • Members can use points to book one-way travel, in any class of travel;
  • Customised member profiles and preferences help speed up online bookings;
  • Members are also offered access to unique Virgin America events (which have previously included opportunities to fly with the Victoria's Secret supermodels, tickets to the in-flight premiere of 'Entourage', and a chance to earn a seat on a Virgin Galactic sub-orbital space flight).

The airline also confirmed plans to roll out additional Elevate partnerships and rewards later in the year.