American Express is bidding bon voyage to Continental and bonjour to Virgin.
The credit card issuer said Monday that Richard Branson's airline is joining AmEx's membership rewards program. Virgin America will fill the gap left by Continental Airlines, which leaves the program at the end of this month. Continental's breakup with American Express comes as the airline merges with United Airlines.
Starting Oct. 5, American Express cardholders enrolled in membership rewards will be able to transfer their points into Virgin America Elevate points and redeem a seat on any of the airline's flights. No time restrictions. No blackout dates.
Virgin will join 16 other airlines that are part of the membership rewards program with American Express, including Delta, JetBlue and Air Canada.
The airline, which boasts James Bond-styled commercials, has been taking top honors for its customer service. It won Travel+Leisure's Best Domestic Airline award four years in a row, including 2011. Virgin also has come out on top spot in Conde Nast Traveler's 2010 Readers' Choice Awards for best U.S. carrier.
"For us, we cater to savvy travelers and look for brands that do the same," says Elizabeth Crosta, director of public affairs for American Express. "The company is fun, sophisticated and innovative. For example, their planes have Wi-Fi at every seat. They have an interactive at the seat to order food. From a brand perspective, they really fit with us."
In an email, AmEx spokeswoman Desiree Fish also noted that some of Virgin's markets overlap ones served by Continental Airlines. For those AmEx cardholders still longing for Continental, take heart. Cardholders will still be able to use their membership points to buy a seat on any airline, including Continental, using Pay with Points.
Is Virgin America a big draw for you? Which airline credit card issuer partnerships do you like best?
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