How to Book a First-Class Transcon Flight for $11
MAY 2 2017
You need to diversify your bonds.
This wasn’t a helpful recommendation offered up by my broker. Nah. This nugget of advice came from the firm that promised financial security and the protection of your family’s well-being as they invited you to step into its 36 Chambers: Wu-Tang Financial. One of the GOAT sketches from the GOAT sketch comedy show, featuring two members of the GOAT rap collective.
Chappelle’s Show barely lasted three seasons, but his celebrity caricatures and guest cameos spawned immediately quotable one-liners still ubiquitously dropped a decade later. That aforementioned sketch even inspired this Twitter account, promoting sound, fiscal principles derived straight from the slums of Shaolin. My personal favorite: Cash Rules Everything Around Me, Except When Other Asset Classes Provide Higher Risk Adjusted Yields. C.R.E.A.M.E.W.O.A.C.P.H.R.A.Y.
But I digress. What does "you need to diversify your bonds," up there in the pantheon of “F* yo couch,” Dylan x5, and “in your face, Charlie Murphy,” have to do with landing a transcontinental First-Class seat for the price of two gallons of gas and a stupid unicorn frapp? It's simple: a diversified portfolio of frequent flyer miles and points is necessary in realizing your own travel goals.
What follows next is a visual guide on how I booked a flight from LAX to JFK. I thought this would be an appropriate first post aimed at the beginners who stumbled across this site and now want to be about that life. I had some Alaska Airlines miles stashed away, and figured this would be a great opportunity to finally fly Virgin America’s First-Class product before it gets axed, in light of the recent Alaska acquisition. From now until when the Virgin brand gets retired in 2019, all VX flights are bookable via the AS website and using AS points, with, as you’ll see, incredible value and sweet-spot redemptions.
My starting point was at a little over 45K Alaska miles, w/ 30K of those earned via this BofA card and the rest from utilizing Alaska’s shopping portal. Seriously, always use portals when possible (future post coming soon). I entered my travel dates, and here’s what Alaska’s award chart spat out:
A lot of takeaways here. Some First seats cost 60K, but more than a few will only set you back less than HALF of that at 25K. Even more perplexing, peep the departing 07:35, 10:55, and 13:45 flights. They’re asking 30K for an Economy seat, but cozying out in First on the same exact flight will cost you 5K LESS.
Same deal with the return flight options:
No. Brainer. 50,000 points for a RT ticket in First across the country is excellent value. One problem: I was still 5K short. Enter American Express.
Redeeming Amex’s Membership Rewards points for airfare and hotels via their own travel portal can have downright horrendous value at times, but where it really shines is in transfers. You can flip your Amex MR points into Delta, jetBlue, and Virgin miles instantly. Notably M.I.A. though from this list of domestic carriers is Alaska. But with the recent buyout, Virgin miles can now be turned into Alaska miles instantly online as well (albeit via its own portal). Despite Alaska not being a direct transfer partner with Amex, we’re essentially using Virgin as the middleman to get around this and finesse our way to the 5,000 points needed.
From my account, I transferred 7,800 Amex MR points to my Virgin America Elevate account. Why 7,800? Amex MR to VX Elevate transfers at a 2:1 ratio, and the subsequent Virgin to Alaska conversion we’ll do after that is done at a 1:1.3 ratio. Because math.
I know what you’re thinking, a 2:1 transfer doesn't sound slick. But the value here is in flexibility, and being able to get topped off (pause) to get your almost-there set of points to your redemption goal. With the fresh addition of Elevate points in tow, I headed over to the Alaska conversion site and completed the transfer:
$11.20. As you can see, maintaining a diverse collection of points and arming yourself with knowledge of the various transfer partners for each loyalty program will lighten the financial burden of travel while keeping your pockets heavy. For curiosity’s sake, just how much would this same exact seat on this same exact flight 8 weeks prior to departure have been had we booked directly with Virgin America?