How good is the Virgin Atlantic credit card?

When researching my recent posts about using credit cards to pay taxes (here and here) I learned that the Virgin Atlantic American Express card offers promising potential for non-bonus spend.  Here are the details:

  • Earn 1.5 miles per dollar on all purchases
  • 7,500 anniversary Flying Club miles will be posted to your Flying Club account when you spend a minimum of $15,000 in net purchases within the anniversary year with your Virgin Atlantic Card.
  • An additional 7,500 anniversary Flying Club miles will be awarded when you spend $25,000 in net purchases within the anniversary year with your Virgin Atlantic Card.
  • Half price (in miles) companion economy award ticket will be awarded when you spend $25,000 in net purchases within the anniversary year with your Virgin Atlantic Card.

In addition to the standard award structure shown above, the Virgin Atlantic card offers 50,000 sign-up bonus miles:

  • 20,000 Flying Club bonus miles after your first retail purchase
  • 25,000 additional Flying Club bonus miles after you spend at least $2,500 in qualifying purchases
  • Earn up to 5,000 Flying Club bonus miles when you add additional authorized users to your Card

 

Adding it up

You can maximize point earnings by spending exactly $25K per year on this card.  Points would add up as follows:

  • Base earnings: $25K x 1.5 miles per dollar = 37,500 miles.
  • Anniversary miles: 7,500 miles for $15K spend + another 7,500 miles for $25K spend = 15,000 miles.
  • Sign-up bonus: 20K for first purchase + 25K for $2,500 spend + 5K for adding an authorized user = 50,000 miles.

The above calculations result in the following totals for $25K annual spend:

  • First year: 102,500 miles
  • Ongoing years: 52,500 miles

That means that, in addition to the 50K sign-up bonus, you will earn 2.1 miles per dollar on all card spend as long as you end your anniversary year with exactly $25K spend.

If you compare this card to a 2% cash back card, the 2.1X earning rate means that the opportunity cost of using this card to earn miles is less than 1 cent per mile.  That’s quite a bit better than any other mile earning card that I’m aware of.

2.1 miles per dollar for non-category spend is a terrific earning rate, but it is only worth it if the miles earned are valuable to you.  Are they?  Let’s take a quick look at using Virgin Atlantic miles…

Virgin Atlantic flight awards

Virgin Atlantic’s award chart, upon first glance, looks amazingly generous.  Here is a part of the chart (you can find the full chart here):

image

The mile requirements shown above are round-trip prices.  So, for example, it costs only 35,000 miles to fly economy round trip from Chicago to London!  Given that most airlines charge 60,000 miles round trip for the same journey, that’s excellent!  Reality sets in when you examine the next column titled “Taxes & Carrier Imposed Fees”.  Fees such as $500 for economy, and $1300 for upper class are a bit steep for “free” flights!

In reality, the taxes & fees are not exactly the same as the amounts shown above.  For example, I ran an economy award search from Chicago to London and I was shown the following fees:

  • Chicago to London, round trip: 35,000 miles + $441.80 fees.
  • Chicago to London, one-way: 17,500 miles + $131.50 fees.
  • London to Chicago, one-way: 17,500 miles + $272.21 fees.

Two things are evident from these results: 1) Fees for flights to London are much cheaper than fees from London (you’ll find this pattern with virtually all carriers due to UK imposed departure taxes); and 2) Total fees for booking two one-way flights are slightly cheaper than booking a single round-trip.  Two one-way flights come to $403.71 in fees vs. $441.80 for the round-trip.

image

The trick to maximizing the value of Virgin Atlantic miles on economy Virgin Atlantic flights seems to be to use the miles to fly to London, but find another way to return.  A great option is to use other airline miles for the return trip, preferably from a different European city (in order to avoid UK imposed departure taxes).  Miles that can be used for one-way return flights with low fees include American Airlines, United, or even British Airways Avios via one of their partners that charge lower fees.

Let’s look at the same flights in Upper Class:

  • Chicago to London, round trip: The system was unable to process my request even after multiple tries.
  • Chicago to London, one-way: 45,000 miles + $416.50 fees.
  • London to Chicago, one-way: 45,000 miles + $524.64 fees.

As you can see above, taxes and fees for Upper Class flights are quite steep regardless of whether you are flying to or from London.  Is it worth it?  To fly the same route on a Star Alliance flight in business class using United miles at the Saver level would cost 50,000 miles each way and $2.50 in fees for flights to London, and $284.10 in fees for the return.  So, with United miles you would spend an additional 5,000 miles each way, but you would save hundreds of dollars. 

A case can be made that Upper Class redemptions are a good deal because miles can be acquired cheaply and one can think of the taxes and fees as a huge discount over a full fare Upper Class flight.  That’s true, but the fact is that there are better deals for flying Upper Class / Business Class to Europe using miles from other programs.

Partner flight awards

Now that Delta is a co-owner of Virgin Atlantic, it is possible to redeem Virgin Atlantic miles on Delta flights.  Here is the award chart:

image

The award chart is very similar to Delta’s own award chart, so you won’t get outsized value in using Virgin Atlantic miles when flying Delta but it can still be a good use of those miles in the off chance that you can find award availability.

A more interesting partnership may be the one with Virgin America.  Here is the award chart showing round-trip award prices.  Note how inexpensive some of the shorter flights are!

image 

One Mile at a Time details the use of Virgin Atlantic miles on Virgin America flights here.

Other options

I’ve looked briefly at using Virgin Atlantic miles for miscellaneous other redemptions such as Eurostar trips, hotels, “Virgin Vouchers“, and more, but none of these options appeared to be great values.  Have you found any good alternative redemptions?

Conclusion

Thanks to the generous Bank of America Virgin Atlantic credit card, it is possible to accumulate Flying Club miles very inexpensively.  And, there are some excellent high-value uses of these miles such as short flights on Virgin America or coach flights on Virgin Atlantic to London.  There are also competitive redemptions available through the Delta partnership.  If you are sure you can make use of those high value and/or competitive redemptions, then this credit card is probably worth its place in your wallet.  For others, Virgin Atlantic miles are worth having to round out your portfolio of miles, but you probably wouldn’t want to think of Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club as your primary go-to program.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Comments

    • rxgeek: I don’t know. I’ve never flown Virgin Atlantic.

      Andrew C: Thanks. I didn’t forget about Hilton. I just don’t think its a very good option since the big Hilton devaluation.

      Winston: No, when booking Delta I believe you have to book round trip even when using Virgin Atlantic miles

  1. I’m also considering the card because of Hilton transfers. I wouldn’t consider it if it were a Chase card because they have so many other cards I’d rather have, but it seems like a good Amex card to get 100,000 Hilton points if you haven’t given up on them since the devaluation. You also wouldn’t want to use it at places where other Hilton cards have bonuses.

    • Amy: Yes, for the signup bonus, 100K Hilton points is terrific. For everyday spend, you would get about 4.2 Hilton points per dollar which is better than the Hilton cards (for non-bonus spend), but not by much. And, I’d rather get 2% cash back than 4.2 Hilton points per dollar personally.

      Andrew: Yes, I believe you can use the miles for any Delta flight to Europe and it should price at 60K / 100K. The tough part will be finding Delta-metal award availability

  2. Can I use virgin miles on any delta flight to europe, the chart above seems to be very specific on US to UK and does not mention europe at all.

  3. You wrote:
    “Half price (in miles) economy award ticket will be awarded when you spend $25,000 in net purchases within the anniversary year with your Virgin Atlantic Card.”

    I believe this is for a companion ticket, right?

  4. I have had this card for 4 months, virgin had a sell in the early summer for two weeks, I was able to book 3 economy tickets orlando->london for 16500+$97 each. First this is amazing because its a nonstop(direct) from orlando(where I live) which is hard to find to europe. Second it was a really good value. I booked flights back out of amsterdam with american miles.

    Do not transfer to hilton, do some research this card is really good, if you can find the right redemption.

    I asked BOA about teh half miles after 25K and this is what they said:

    “Further review of our records I see that if you spend $25,000 in an anniversary year, you will also be eligible to redeem miles for one Virgin Atlantic Economy reward ticket, and get a 2nd reward ticket for half the miles.”

  5. Is it churnable? Canceled card in June 2013. Also, not good as B of A pulls from Experian which is also preferred by Chase and AMEX

  6. Great research Greg, I’ve been waiting for Virgin Atlantic to release space on their LAX to LHR route to London for next June. 21,250 miles each way and only $120 in taxes going to London.

    The LAX to Cancun route seems like a really good deal at 20,000 miles round trip.

  7. FM,

    Great post. I found this particularly helpful because I just got the Virgin Atlantic card and didn’t even realize the additional bonuses at the $15 and $25K spend levels!

    Any idea why the 14,000K one way from JFK-LHR popped up the beginning of the summer and disappeared? I’m wondering if this is an annual sale and if so, if I could redeem 14K miles next year and then book an additional ticket at “half price” as my companion ticket.

    Here’s a data point: http://www.mightytravels.com/13232755/cheap_flights_to_europe_with_virgin_atlantic_just_13000_miles_and_98.php

  8. While it does appear as a good deal for those in Virgin America market, keep in mind that you have to call Virgin Atlantic to search for availability at least 7 days before your planned departure date.

    While I was in San Fran, I figured I would go ahead and try Virgin America since they don’t fly to Midwest destinations. First idea was to go San Fran – Vegas for the weekend. Called Virgin Atlantic. Navigated the menu. Spent some time on hold just to be told about “at least 7 days in advance for all partner bookings” rule.

    Later, had the idea of going to Alaska since Virgin America just started flying there. Called. Spent some time on hold. Spent another 20 minutes while the agent looked for availability every day a month out. No availability whatsoever.

    So, while I did think this card had some potential for racking up the miles, my experience so far is not very encouraging for the actual use of those miles…

    • Dima: Thanks for that data point. Its good to know about the hidden pitfalls!

      Arie: I would think that 2 Hilton points is the least the miles are worth. That is, if you can’t find a good use for them, then at least you can turn them into 2 Hilton points. For those who live near an airport served by Virgin Atlantic and want to travel to London, I think they’ll get far more value with the miles than with Hilton points. One thing I should have noted in the post: Award availability from Chicago to London was extremely good. From LA it was much more rare.

  9. Thanks for a great analysis of the VA credit card. What’s missing is an estimate of the value of a VA mile. While it may look attractive to get 2.1 miles per dollar, the value of a VA mile is far less than a mile of most other programs simply due to the lack of award availability and high fees on other awards. Yes, the charts seem to suggest you can use your VA miles on Delta or Virgin America, but the reality is that there are just no awards available if you try. What is the Fair Trading Value of a VA mile? Perhaps the best estimate is that a VA miles is worth 2 Hilton points at best which is 0.8 cents based on your fair trading chart.

  10. Thank you for a thorough analysis of a card I just applied on behalf of my wife 🙂
    In fact, we’d rather use these points towards transfer to her Hilton account, as we most likely will stay with United when it comes to international flights.
    Now, $25K spent will give us 52,500 Virgin points which after the transfer to Hilton will give us 105,000 Hilton points. The same $25K spent with either Citi or Amex Hilton cards would give us 75,000 points. 3x$1 spent for most of our daily transactions.
    Thus, maybe we should make some changes in our wallets 🙂

  11. i see some value but it seems not practical from SFO. I see United at 9.1 and Lufthansa at 9.0 on route happy and I don’t see Virgin at all on Route Happy or ITA on this route. And the BA card from Chase gives essentially 100k for the signup bonuses and the companion ticket for 30k spend. As I used one for this summer into Lyon and out of Nice I was mostly happy with that deal. Enough so that I got a card for my wife and she has a companion pass good for two years now. The Virgin fees actually look more than the BA fees but they are both a bit much. But for FC 1k in out of pocket is not bad. Unless of course you are paying $5 one way on United in FC……but no companion pass………so you paying 1.48 per mile the British companion versus earning more and longer on UA………..not sure I’ve solved that rubic cube.
    But going to have to stop commenting with these offensive popups………..

  12. @Sil
    Yes
    @JustSaying
    I took Upper Class from SFO and enjoyed it. Also took it to Shanghai. Better than BA biz but not BA First in my opinion).
    @rxgeek
    With 55K, you can go one way in Upper Class. Can book to Scotland or Manchester for no additional miles. I’m thinking of checking out a one-way Upper Class SFO-LHR-EDI and return to DUB-Boston on Aer Lingus. Have done Aer Lingus on Avios before and saves $$ over LHR taxes. It does preclude you from using the LHR Virgin Clubroom, which is great, but not worth the extra LHR taxes and fees.

    • I averted the big BA airport departure tax for next summer by booking one way flights on UA miles…….$5 FC to London……but then $27.50 fees on Avios points to fly to CDG…..then $142.50 United fees to fly CDG-SFO. So not sure how that compares with BA fees but it seems to be lower……………

  13. Back to Dima, and your suggestion to preferentially use the points US->LON. What’s the award availability (is it equal to what can be seen on Delta)? Is VS blocking awards?

  14. did you get the mail that the Virgin Atlantic amex is becoming the Virgin Atlantic world elite mastercard in November 2013? If so, just wondering what you thought of the change and if there is anything we should be aware about in terms of big changes. From reading the note, it looks pretty much the same; except it’s a Mastercard now instead of an Amex.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *