I got back last night from New York, the final leg of a ridiculously circuitous trip through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Bavaria, and Berlin.
It was fun!
After managing to go all last week without a blog post (subscribers did get a newsletter out of me) this week I'll be easing back into the old blogging routine with some reflections on what I've learned. I mostly can't stand trip reports, so don't expect one! But it's an ironclad rule that travel hacking involves a lot of things that aren't immediately obvious, or spelled out in terms and conditions, and I've always sought to help readers understand how those things really work.
But first! Let's talk about JetBlue.
JetBlue is running a generous points match from Virgin America
You've certainly seen a rundown of this deal other blogs, but to refresh your memory, JetBlue is offering a tiered points match to Virgin America Elevate members with points in their Elevate account who book a new roundtrip JetBlue ticket after registering and before August 31, 2016.
To break that down even more clearly, the terms state:
- you will receive bonus TrueBlue points up to 300% of your current Virgin America Elevate balance (30,000 TrueBlue points for a balance of 10,001 Elevate points);
- if you submit a screenshot of your Virgin America Elevate dashboard and your TrueBlue account number by July 4, 2016;
- and book and fly a new roundtrip JetBlue reservation after having your request approved but before August 31, 2016.
Should you go for it?
If you are planning to book a roundtrip JetBlue flight between now and August 31, 2016, and have a screenshot of your Virgin America account dashboard with more than 500 miles in it, you should definitely register for this promotion!
There's nothing glamorous about picking up nickels in front of steamrollers, but there's always a nickel in it for you.
Should you hack it?
On the other hand, a lot of bloggers are recommending "maximizing" the value of the promotion by transferring 40,001 Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints to Virgin America (yielding 50,001 total Elevate points), then requesting the match, and then flying the cheapest JetBlue roundtrip flight they can find out of nearby airports.
As you might have guessed, I have a couple of problems with this.
First, a transfer of 40,001 Starpoints does not maximize the value of the promotion; a transfer of 10,001 Starpoints does. That's because at the 10,001-Elevate-point level JetBlue adds 30,000 TrueBlue points to your account, while at the 50,001-point level they add just 75,000 TrueBlue points. If 45,000 TrueBlue points are worth $630, you'll get just 2.1 cents per Starpoints for the additional 30,000 Starpoints transferred, which is below their imputed redemption value of 2.105 cents! That is, in short, not a promotion at all.
Second, even at the most valuable 10,001-point level, you're required to make and fly a new roundtrip JetBlue reservation by August 31, 2016. Maybe you have access to cheap JetBlue flights. Maybe you don't place a high value on your time. But you need to have access to cheap JetBlue flights and not place a high value on your time to justify booking a mileage run in order to trigger the promotion.
Finally, let me gently remind my readers that the point of travel hacking is not to accumulate as many points as possible in as many programs as possible, but rather to pay for the trips you actually want to take, while spending as little money as possible. If you are able to successfully redeem 30,000 TrueBlue points for $450 worth of travel, and you're able to successfully redeem 10,000 Virgin America Elevate points for $220 worth of travel, and you manage to trigger the roundtrip flight requirement on a trip you were planning to take anyway, then congratulations: you'll have earned $670 worth of travel for $210 worth of imputed redemption value (assuming you manufactured all 10,000 Starpoints at an otherwise-unbonused merchant). That's a pretty good discount of 68.7%.
But to secure that pretty good discount, you have to build your redemptions around maximizing the value of your TrueBlue and Elevate points, even if another points currency would have offered you better connections, availability, or out-of-pocket cost.
There are a lot of people served by JetBlue and/or Virgin America, and a disproportionate number of travel hackers no doubt live in the large urban centers those airlines serve. If the stars align such that this promotion scores you huge, valuable points balances at little or no out of pocket cost, rest assured that I'm here cheering you on.
But if you've never flown either JetBlue or Virgin America and you find a credit card huckster is trying to get you excited about JetBlue because they've temporarily raised affiliate payouts to accompany this promotion, feel free to come back and re-read this post for a slightly different perspective.