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One of the key benefits of the American Express Membership Rewards program has always been the ability to exchange points for miles in multiple airline programs.
That ability now extends to 16 programs, including Aeroplan, AirTran A+ Rewards, Continental OnePass, Delta SkyMiles, Frontier EarlyReturns, and JetBlue TrueBlue.
But the list of transfer partners will be one airline shorter on September 30, when Continental’s contract expires. (Rewards members will still be able to redeem points for Continental flights with the Pay with Points option.)
That will leave Membership Rewards without four key U.S. players: American, United Continental, Southwest, and US Airways.
Meanwhile, in another corner of the travel universe, Virgin America has been slowly, methodically building out its Elevate frequent flyer program to better compete with the robust programs that feature hundreds of opportunities for mile-earning and worldwide travel awards.
American Express, Meet Virgin America
On October 5, Virgin America will become the newest Membership Rewards transfer partner, allowing Rewards members to convert their points into Elevate points. (The transfer rate hasn’t yet been disclosed.)
Membership Rewards members will also be able to redeem points for Virgin America flights.
For American Express, the new tie-up does little to close the gap created by Continental’s departure from the program. Virgin America is a glitzy company with a sexy product. But coverage-wise, it’s a minor player.
It’s a bigger win for Virgin America, whose program remains on the bare-bones end of the spectrum, and sorely needs new partnerships.
Exactly how much of a win it turns out to be for Rewards members will depend on the transfer ratio.
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Big win? Little win?
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