Will the real Virgin Atlantic offer please stand up?

Bank of America recently introduced a new signup offer for their Virgin Atlantic credit card.  The bank describes it as chance to earn up to 90,000 miles.  Some blogs have described it as a 75K offer.  Some have said that you can earn up to 127,500 miles with this offer.  What’s going on?

VirginAtlantic90Koffer

Virgin Atlantic’s offer can be broken down into three separate parts: points earned for signing up; one-time bonus points for spend; and annual bonus points for spend…

Points for signing up:

  • 20,000 miles after first purchase
  • 5,000 miles when you add two authorized users (or 2,500 miles for one)

One-time bonus points for spend:

  • 50,000 miles after you spend $12K within six months of account opening

Annual bonus points for spend:

  • 7,500 miles with $15K annual spend
  • An additional 7,500 miles with $25K annual spend

 

Miles per dollar

To understand this offer, I think it is important to look at miles per dollar earned at each threshold.  You get 25,000 miles off the bat after signing up two authorized users.  That’s a given.  After that, bonus miles are earned as follows:

  • First $12K spend: 50,000 bonus miles = 4.17 bonus miles per dollar
  • Next $3K spend: 7,500 bonus miles = 2.5 bonus miles per dollar
  • Next $10K spend: 7,500 bonus miles = .75 bonus miles per dollar

Keep in mind that this card has a base earning rate of 1.5 miles per dollar, and 3 miles per dollar for Virgin Atlantic purchases.  So, assuming no Virgin Atlantic purchases, the total earning rate (base earning + bonus miles) becomes:

  • First $12K spend: 5.67 miles per dollar
  • Next $3K spend: 4 miles per dollar
  • Next $10K spend: 7,500 bonus miles = 2.25 miles per dollar

Aside from the questionable value of Virgin Atlantic miles (more on that later), 5.67 miles per dollar and 4 miles per dollar are excellent earning rates, but not necessarily “signup bonus” size rates (see “Measuring signup and retention offers with an X”).  2.25 miles per dollar is only attractive if you value these miles significantly more than 1 cent each since you can get very close to that earning rate with cash back or quasi cash back cards (e.g. Fidelity Amex 2% cash back; BarclayCard Arrival Plus 2X on all purchases = 2.2% towards travel; etc.).

The old 65K / 50K offer

Another commonly available offer for the same card is usually described as either a 65K or 50K offer.  The details are:

Points for signing up:

  • 20,000 miles after first purchase
  • 5,000 miles when you add two authorized users (or 2,500 miles for one)

One-time bonus points for spend:

  • 25,000 miles after you spend $2.5K within six months of account opening

Annual bonus points for spend:

  • 7,500 miles with $15K annual spend
  • An additional 7,500 miles with $25K annual spend

Here is how the miles per dollar works out:

  • First $2.5K spend: 25,000 bonus miles = 10 bonus miles per dollar
  • Next $12.5K spend: 7,500 bonus miles = .6 bonus miles per dollar
  • Next $10K spend: 7,500 bonus miles = .75 bonus miles per dollar

And, as before, we can add in the base 1.5 miles per dollar earnings:

  • First $2.5K spend: 11.5 miles per dollar
  • Next $12.5K spend: 2.1 miles per dollar
  • Next $10K spend: 2.25 miles per dollar

 

Accurately describing the offers

There’s no hard and fast rule about what constitutes a signup bonus, but based on the above analyses I see the offers as follows:

Offer 1 (earn up to 90K): 25K signup bonus (with no spend required) + one-time offer to earn more than 4 miles per dollar for $12K or $15K spend.

Offer 2 (earn up to 65K): 50K signup bonus with $2,500 required spend.

So, to me, the original “earn up to 65K” offer is actually better than the new “earn up to 90K” offer unless you have a real need for the extra 25,000 points that can be earned with the latter offer.  Another way to think about it: if you plan to spend at least $12K on the card anyway, then the “up to 90K” offer is better.  If you want cheap miles, the “up to 65K” offer is better.  Both offers can be found here (neither is an affiliate offer).

What are points worth?

One of the cool things about Virgin Atlantic is that many award prices are shockingly low (such as Chicago to the UK for 35K miles round-trip).  A very not-cool thing, though, are the high fees charged for awards.  That 35K round trip award to the UK will cost you almost $500 in fees.  And, a 90K round-trip upper-class (business) award will cost almost $1200 in taxes and fees!

Fees for awards going to the UK are much lower than fees for the return.  A common approach to reducing fees is to fly Virgin Atlantic to the United Kingdom, but then fly another airline for the return (ideally from another country so as to avoid UK imposed departure taxes). 

Without considering the above tricks, I ran a very quick analysis to get a glimpse of the value of Virgin Atlantic miles.  Taking a somewhat random set of dates for round trip travel between Chicago and London, I looked at the best fares available across airlines and compared that to the award prices and fees from Virgin Atlantic:

  Cash price Award miles Award fees Award Cash savings Cash savings per mile
economy $1,110 35000 $472 $638 $0.0182
prem economy $2,059 60000 $788 $1,271 $0.0212
business $4,356 90000 $1,158 $3,198 $0.0355
business nonstop $5,650 90000 $1,158 $4,492 $0.0499

 

As you can see above, using Virgin Atlantic miles resulted in real cash savings for all cabins even when considering the hefty award fees.  When calculated on a cash saved per mile basis, we can see that a Virgin Atlantic award, in this example, would save between 1.8 and 5 cents per mile.  Much greater value is obtained at higher levels of service.  It’s worth noting, too, that award availability between Chicago and London for fall travel was excellent.

Caveats:

  • This analysis does not consider the value of miles earned from a purchased flight, so you may want to factor in a 10% or so decrease in the value of the miles since award flights do not earn miles. 
  • Note that this is just one specific example.  Other flight examples will likely return different results. 
  • Keep in mind that I picked a city (Chicago) with direct Virgin Atlantic flights.  If you had to position yourself to such a city with cash or other miles, the value proposition would look much worse.
  • When viewed from the point of view of using miles to save money compared to cash fares, Virgin Atlantic miles look pretty good.  When compared to other airline programs, though, the relative value may be much worse – especially when compared to programs with limited award fees. 

For more on the value of Virgin Atlantic miles, please checkout this old post (which is so old that it describes the card as an American Express card): How good is the Virgin Atlantic credit card?

Other uses of miles

Besides using Virgin Atlantic miles for Virgin Atlantic flights, miles can be used on partner airlines, Eurostar trips, hotels, and more.  Most of these options will deliver poor value, but some partner flights seem pretty good (such as short distance flights on Virgin America in the rare case that you can find award availability).  Another option is to transfer to Hilton points at a ratio of 1 to 1.5.  I value Hilton points at only .4 cents each, though, so this gives you a mile value of just .6 cents per mile.

Bottom Line

Other than a few good partner redemptions, I think that Virgin Atlantic miles are best thought of as a great way to save money on Virgin Atlantic flights.  In other words, you’ll be unhappy if you’re looking for a free flight, but if you’re planning to pay money anyway, there are significant savings to be had.

So, if you’re still interested, which offer should you go for?  If you are eager to earn lots of miles for specific planned redemptions, and you know you can spend $12K to $15K on the card, go for the “up to 90K” offer.  If you’re merely hoarding points (as I’m known to do), go for the “up to 65K offer” and spend only the required $2,500 on the card.

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.

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Pingbacks

  1. […] Most credit card signup bonuses follow a simple pattern: Spend $X in Y months and get bonus Z.  For example, quite a few offers are: “Spend $3000 in 3 months and get 40,000 points.”  Some offers are more complicated, such as the Citi ThankYou Premier 50K offer which requires spending $2K in the first 3 months of card membership and then $3K in the first 3 months of year 2.  And some are much more complicated, such as the latest Virgin Atlantic offer (for details, see “Will the real Virgin Atlantic offer please stand up?”). […]

Comments

  1. I very much enjoy reading you. I know how we use points is not always rational but let me ask this question.
    Say you took this deal:
    Points for signing up:

    ◦20,000 miles after first purchase
    ◦5,000 miles when you add two authorized users (or 2,500 miles for one)
    One-time bonus points for spend:
    ◦50,000 miles after you spend $12K within six months of account opening
    That is 75k miles. The extra miles you would get for the 12k spend would get you an additional 18k bringing your total miles to 92k miles for first year, Say you canceled after that without paying another fee.

    92k can transfer to Hilton at 1-1.5 that gives you 138k. There are Hilton hotel in London (Hilton Trafalgra) that you can get for 50k points per night. The hotel is usally over $300 a night. If you did not want to pay the high takes to fly business class. You can get easy two night for only paying the $90 fee. I know everyone is down on Hilton. If you have a bunch of other cards and looking to keep applying. it does not seem like a bad deal. Now math is not my strong suit. So if I am thinking wrong and can do better just let me know.

    • I am thinking along the lines of the other John, that this is a great transfer opportunity to Hilton. I’m planning a trip to London in the Spring with my family and having an extra 138K of HHonors points would be great.

    • That’s not a bad way to go, but I think you’d do better going for the offer with the lower spend requirement, and then also sign up for the Citi Hilton 40K offer which only requires $1k spend.

      • FM, My problem is I am running out of Hilton Cards as I have them all or just got rid of some and have to wait to reapply. I know airline BC and FC international are always better way to go with miles/points but the wife loves Hilton and it is all over.

  2. Whoa. Good stuff. As always your posts are with in depth analysis that i need a pen&paper to jot down what I am reading. I love the unbiassed approach than many other posts where there is a lot of “You can get xxx with this card”. For someone like me, I will have to manufacture more or less all of the spending to cap the bonuses. Rather than a 10% factor, can you extend this post on What if you manufactured that spend on a different card like, Freedom, Sapphire, Arrival +, etc? TIA. Great post, I say again!

  3. I think one of the hidden gem uses of Virgin Atlantic miles is partner flights on Virgin America – especially from DFW/DAL.

    You can fly economy from DAL to SFO/LAX for 20k, first cabin select for 30k and first class for 40k.

    Virgin America is by far the best domestic first class experience in the domestic offerings – especially non cross country flights which have the occasional NYC-SFO nice offering.

    The best first class flight from DAL/SFO/LAX is 50k through United/AA.

    So if you can finagle 120k points – that’s 3 round trip flights in first class from DAL to SFO or LAX. That’s almost 6k of flight value or 5cpm.

    I dunno – to me, there’s value there. It may be way too niche – but still there. Heck of a deal for a business traveler.

    • I agree. There’s a lot of value with certain partner redemptions. I’ve heard that award availability can be scarce though when trying to redeem Virgin Atlantic miles on Virgin America. Do you have any experience with that?

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