What the Alaska Airlines-Virgin America merger means for your credit card game

virgin alaska mergerThe merger between Virgin America and Alaska Airlines became official Dec. 14, 2016. But the nitty-gritty of how those two airlines will become one (under the Alaska banner) and how their respective rewards and credit card programs will merge is still taking shape.

March 2017 update: Alaska has confirmed that the Virgin America brand will be retired by 2019. HOWEVER, any remaining Virgin Elevate points in your account will be automatically converted to Alaska Mileage Plan miles even sooner — early 2018. From that point on, Mileage Plan will be the sole frequent-flier program for both airlines.

If you have the Alaska Airlines or Virgin co-branded card – or have any cards that offer either of these airlines as transfer partners – here’s what we know (updated March 27, 2017).

If you have (or want) the Alaska Airlines card from Bank of America

So far, nothing about this card is changing. With Alaska Airlines being the one to absorb Virgin America, this card will likely remain stable.

If you have (or want) one of the Virgin America credit cards from Comenity

Although Virgin America will eventually disappear in the merger, its credit card is (for now) still open for applications.

It’s common for rewards-chasers to pick up a soon-to-be-defunct airline or hotel card, before it disappears for good, to take advantage of a sign-up bonus. If you’re looking to beef up your Alaska Airlines mile balance, you could get one of the Virgin Airlines credit cards, collect the sign-up bonus and then convert your Virgin Elevate points into Alaska Mileage Plan miles. The conversion rate is 1.3 Mileage Plan miles per Elevate point, according to Virgin America. And it’s not certain that the transfer ratio will remain this favorable after Elevate folds into Mileage Plan in early 2018.

Whether you should get a Virgin America credit card for that purpose, though, is up to you. Both cards carry annual fees and the bonuses (which have historically been rather small) may not be worth it. However, if you fly Virgin, there are some perks to consider. Read our Virgin America credit card review to learn more.

If you already have one of the Virgin America credit cards, you can keep it for now – no announcements have yet been made on its fate.

If you have a credit card that offers Virgin America as a transfer partner

Several rewards credit cards allow you to transfer your points directly into partner frequent-flier programs. With Virgin America’s days numbered, expect it to fall off some cards’ lists:

  • Citi ThankYou/Prestige: Virgin America is no longer a transfer partner as of Jan. 22, 2017.
  • American Express Membership Rewards cards (American Express is a CreditCardForum advertising partner): Virgin America is still a transfer partner, as of March 2017.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest: This isn’t a credit-card rewards program (you can transfer to airlines just by being a part of Starwood’s loyalty program). However, since Starwood’s robust list of airline transfer partners is a huge selling point for its credit card, it’s worth noting that Virgin America is no longer a transfer partner as of Jan. 6, 2017. Alaska airlines, however, remains a transfer partner.

Ways to use the merger to your advantage

Airline and hotel mergers are rife with opportunity for travel-rewards chasers because, before the merger is complete, portals open up between the rewards worlds. For example, you can now move your miles between Virgin America’s program and Alaska’s. Those programs partner with various credit-card transfer programs. Meanwhile, Starwood and Marriott are merging as well, opening up another portal.

The Points Guy has a guide to what you can do with all that fluidity. You now have a path from Marriott to Alaska airlines, for example.

We will continue to update this article as details become available.

Updated March 2017

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