When it looked as if Virgin Atlantic miles could be used to book Delta awards online, I decided that it was time to take a closer look at the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard issued by BankAmericard. At the time of this writing, BOA is offering a “90K” signup bonus which is really a 75K signup bonus. But this post is not about that. If you’re interested in my take on the signup bonus, please see: An analysis of the Virgin Atlantic 90K offer. In this post, I’ll take a look at the card itself. The card offers excellent earnings on spend, and even makes it possible to earn elite status through spend alone.
Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard at Glance
Here are the basic card features you need to know about:
- Issued by Bank of America as a World MasterCard
- $90 annual fee not waived first year
- Earning rate: Earn 3 miles per dollar with Virgin Atlantic purchases, 1.5 miles per dollar everywhere else
- No foreign transaction fees
- Earn 25 Tier Points towards elite status per $2,500 in purchases (maximum 50 per month)
- Earn 7,500 bonus miles with $15K cardmember year spend
- Earn 7,500 additional bonus miles with $25K cardmember year spend
Maximizing Mile Earnings
Thanks to the card’s annual spend bonuses, you can maximize point earnings by spending exactly $25,000 per cardmember year:
- Base earnings on $25,000 = 25,000 x 1.5 = 37,500
- Big Spend Bonus = 15,000
- Total miles earned: 52,500
- Miles per $: 52,500 / $25,000 = 2.1
By spending exactly $25,000 per membership year, the card averages a whopping 2.1 miles per dollar spent. Please note that you may be able to do better with cards that earn points that are transferable to Virgin Atlantic especially if you wait for a transfer bonus. For example, the Amex Blue Business Plus card has no annual fee and earns 2 points per dollar for the first $50K annual spend. If you then wait for Amex to offer a 30% or so transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic (which they tend to do about once per year), you’ll average an amazing 2.6 miles per dollar.
Virgin Atlantic Elite Status
Virgin Atlantic offers two tiers of elite status: Silver and Gold. Silver requires earning 400 Tier Points in 12 months. Silver offers a few perks for those who fly Virgin Atlantic (details here). Gold status requires 1,000 Tier Points in 12 months. Gold offers more perks than Silver (details here) and gives you status benefits when flying Delta, Singapore, Air New Zealand, or Virgin Australia (details here). It used to be easy to earn Virgin Atlantic status by flying Delta and crediting to Virgin Atlantic, but as of September 1 2017, Tier Point earnings when flying Delta are pretty dismal:
Fortunately, the Virgin Atlantic credit card makes it possible to earn status through spend alone. You can earn up to 50 Tier Points per month with $5K monthly spend. So, with one credit card it’s possible to earn up to 600 Tier Points per year. That’s more than enough for Silver (which requires 400 Tier Points) and more than half way to Gold (which requires 1,000 Tier Points).
Maximizing Elite Earnings
Each Virgin Atlantic card can earn at most 50 Tier Points per month with $5K spend. If you’re interested in earning status, you can maximize value by spending exactly $2,500 or exactly $5,000 each month. If you have a second Virgin Atlantic card, you can earn even more Tier Points by spending $2,500 or $5,000 per month on that card as well.
With one card it is possible to earn at most 50 Tier Points X 12 Months = 600 Tier Points per year. That would cost you $5K x 12 = $60K spend per year. 600 Tier Points gets you more than enough for Silver (which requires 400 points) and over half way to Gold (which requires 1,000 points). With a second card you could spend your way to Gold status with a total of $100K spend split across the two cards. For example, spend $5K per month on one card and $2,500 per month on the second card, and for two months add $2,500 more to the second card.
Maximizing Miles + Status
Above, I showed that $25K annual spend maximizes mile earnings, and $2,500 or $5,000 monthly spend maximizes Tier Point (elite status) earnings. So, what’s the optimal strategy for both?
If you spend exactly $2,500 per month for 10 months, you’ll maximize point earnings with exactly $25K annual spend. Plus, you’ll earn 25 Tier Points each month for a total of 250 Tier Points. Unfortunately, if you insist on maximizing mile earnings in this way, you won’t earn enough Tier Points for Silver status.
Capitalizing on the difference between cardmember year and elite year
With Virgin Atlantic, elite status is earned on a rolling 12 month basis. From their website:
Your Upgrade Cycle is calculated from the current date of the month, to the 1st day of the same month in the previous year (i.e. any rolling minimum 12 month’s to a maximum of 13 months).
That is, if you earn enough Tier Points in the most recent 12 months to get to the next level of status, then they’ll grant that status immediately. And, that status will be good for the rest of the month plus 12 more months:
Once you are a Silver member you’ll remain in Silver provided you earn a minimum of 400 tier points within our Upgraded Fixed Membership Period. This period is calculated from one day after the date on which you achieved Silver and continues for the remainder of that month plus a further 12 months.
Meanwhile, the credit card spend bonuses are based on your card membership year. For example, suppose you signed up for your card on February 1, 2017. In that case, you have until the end of January 2018 to earn the full 15K spend bonus. So, you could do this:
- Sep 2017: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- Oct 2017: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- Nov 2017: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- Dec 2017: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- Jan 2018: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
In this example, you have now spent $25K within your cardmember year in order to earn the full 15K spend bonus. Plus, you’ve earned 250 Tier Points in 5 months. Then you keep going:
- Feb 2018: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- Mar 2018: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- Apr 2018: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
Now you’ve spent $15K in your next cardmember year and you’ve earned 150 additional Tier Points.
Thanks to Virgin Atlantic’s rolling elite window, you should then be granted Silver status in May 2018 since you earned 400 Tier Points in the past 8 months. That status will then last until June 2019.
Let’s keep going. You still have to spend $10K more this cardmember year in order to maximize spend bonuses. So wait until the end of your membership year:
- Dec 2018: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- Jan 2019: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
Done. And we keep going into the next membership year:
- Feb 2019: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- Mar 2019: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- Apr 2019: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- May 2019: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
- June 2019: Spend $5K, Earn 50 Tier Points
You have now maximize spend in the new cardmember year and you’ve earned 350 Tier Points. At this point, hopefully you’ve earned 50 Tier Points through other means (flying, perhaps?) to keep Silver for yet another year. Or you can simply spend $5K more on the card to get those extra Tier Points.
Two Card Scenario
Another approach is to try to get a second Virgin Atlantic card. I don’t know whether Bank of America will allow that anymore, but if they do you can use a simpler strategy.
With two cards, simply spend $2,500 per month on each card for 10 months each year. This will maximize the spend bonuses and the Tier Points. By spending a total of $50,000 per year on these two cards, you’ll earn 105,000 miles and 500 Tier Points (more than enough for Silver status).
Alternatively you could do a variation of the staggered spend approach shown above, but with two cards. I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out how to get to Gold status this way.
The biggest downside to the two card approach (assuming you can get a second card at all) is that you’ll have to pay the $90 annual fee for each card if you decide to renew.
The one year scenario
If you sign up for Virgin Atlantic card with the current (and frequently recurring) 75K signup bonus, you’ll get 20,000 miles after first purchase plus 50,000 miles after $12K spend in 6 months, plus 5,000 miles for adding 2 authorized users.
Since this card gives you 6 months to meet minimum spend, you could optimize mile earning and Tier Point earning by spending exactly $2,500 per month for 10 months. After 5 months you’ll hit the minimum spend target and after 10 months you’ll have earned the full annual big spend bonus. And you’ll get 250 Tier Points.
Here’s the total haul with this approach:
- $90 annual fee is not waived the first year (and remember that the $90 does not count towards spend requirements)
- 20K miles from first purchase +
- 50K miles from $12K spend +
- 5K miles for adding 2 authorized users +
- 37.5K miles for spend +
- 7.5K miles for $15K annual spend +
- 7.5K miles for $25K annual spend
- = 127,500 miles
Thanks to the fact that the Virgin Atlantic World MasterCard offers 1.5 miles per dollar and it offers extra bonuses for high spend, it is possible to average 2.1 miles per dollar with this card. That’s excellent. Plus, this card makes it possible to earn Tier Points through spend in order to get elite status. The biggest downside of the card is its $90 annual fee.
Whether or not this card makes sense for you depends on a number of factors. Virgin Atlantic is a very specialized program that doesn’t always offer good value for its miles. There are sweet spots where the value is terrific, but there are also plenty of cases where Virgin Atlantic miles offer poor value. The best current use of Virgin Atlantic miles is undoubtedly to fly first class on ANA, but I expect that Virgin Atlantic will devalue that award soon. You can also get very good value using Virgin Atlantic miles to book Delta awards (rates effective 9/1/17 can be found here). Considering that Virgin Atlantic allows one-way awards and charges only $50 for award changes, this may be the best way to book Delta flights when award space is available. And if you can use some of the tricks presented above to get to Gold status with Virgin Atlantic, you can fly Delta with elite benefits such as free checked bags, priority boarding, free Sky Club access when flying to/from the UK, and free upgrades to Comfort+.