An analysis of the Virgin Atlantic 90K offer

Note: This is a slightly updated re-publish of a post from August, titled “Will the real Virgin Atlantic offer please stand up?

Bank of America recently re-introduced a 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?

VirginAtlantic90Koffer12_2014

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 “earn up to 65K” offer is actually better than the “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. 

    I believe that only the “up to 90K” offer is currently available, but the other offer is likely to return soon.  Current offers can be found here.

    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.  Some of these options will deliver poor value, but some partner flights seem pretty good.  Some have reported good luck with using Virgin Atlantic miles to book awards on Virgin America or even on Delta (see, for example, “Bet You Didn’t Know: Tricks to using Virgin Atlantic miles to fly Delta”).  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.

    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 »

    Pingbacks

    1. […] Today I applied for four identical Virgin Atlantic credit cards.  The cards are advertised as if they have a 90,000 mile signup bonus, but I think that’s misleading.  15,000 of the 90,000 miles are from the annual anniversary bonus for spending $25,000 in one year on the card.  And, this bonus is available to all cardholders – it is not tied to this signup offer.  I prefer to think of this offer as a 75,000 miles signup bonus with a very high spend requirement ($12K).  You can find my full analysis of this offer here. […]

    Comments

    1. Thanks for the analysis. Was planning on getting BoA Alaska card anyway on next churn, so do you think it’s worth applying for this as well? I read they combine them into one pull. What has been your experience with applying for multiple BoA cards in one day?

    2. Great analysis FM! I prefer the 65k offer as well. I normally wait for the Flying Club promos to europe when an economy seat one-way from USA to LHR is only 13000 miles (plus fuel surcharges.)

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.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