The Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard is easy to overlook. Most of us in the US rarely fly Virgin Atlantic, so the card seems like an odd choice for an American audience. And if we do fly Virgin Atlantic, the card doesn’t even offer any perks like free checked bags or priority boarding. That said, the card does offer very strong rewards, especially if you spend $25K per year with card. Further, Virgin Atlantic miles can be used to fly partner airlines such as Delta, South African Airways, ANA, etc., so you don’t have to fly Virgin Atlantic at all to benefit from this card. Overall, in my opinion, this card is definitely worth a look.
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
- Earn a companion award ticket (or 1 class upgrade) with $25K cardmember year spend.
Maximizing Mile Earnings
Thanks to the card’s annual spend bonuses, you can maximize point earnings (and get the new companion award ticket) 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) or Delta (details here). Gold status requires 1,000 Tier Points in 12 months. Gold offers more perks than Silver on Virgin Atlantic (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.
Flying Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic offers dirt cheap awards on their own flights, but award fees are often quite steep. The best deals are often for economy or premium economy flights. Alternatively, you can think of upper class (business class) awards as being more like heavy discounts off of paid prices.
You can find full coverage of Virgin Atlantic award prices here: Virgin Atlantic award chart (U.S.-centric).
Virgin Atlantic miles are often the best way to book nonstop Delta awards. Virgin Atlantic often charges far fewer miles than Delta does for the same Delta flights. See also: How to book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles.
- Flights within the US and Canada
- Economy: 12.5K
- First Class: 22.5K
- US mainland to/from Hawaii
- Economy: 20K
- First Class: 37.5K
- US to/from Mexico
- Economy: 17.5K
- First Class: 30K
- US to/from the UK
- US East Coast (BOS, JFK,PHL): 10K standard season; 20K peak
- US Central (ATL,DTW, MSP): 12.5K standard season; 22.5K peak
- US West Coast (PDX,SLC): 15K standard season; 25K peak
- Delta One:
- US East Coast (BOS, JFK,PHL): 45K standard season; 57.5K peak
- US Central (ATL,DTW, MSP): 47.5K standard season; 57.5K peak
- US West Coast (PDX,SLC): 67.5K standard season; 77.5K peak
- Peak season travel dates: 22 June – 6 September 2018, 13 December – 31 December 2018
- Note: Expect to pay high taxes and fuel surcharges on flights between the US and London
- US to/from Europe (other than UK)
- Economy: 30K
- Delta One: 50K
- Note: Expect to pay moderate to high taxes and fuel surcharges on flights to the US, but none to Europe
- US to/from Japan
- Economy: 40K
- Delta One: 60K
- US to/from Australia
- Economy: 50K
- Delta One: 75K
Flying Other Virgin Atlantic Partners
Virgin Atlantic has other great uses besides flying Virgin Atlantic or Delta. Some examples:
- Fly US to Japan on ANA First Class for only 110K to 120K miles round trip.
- Fly US to Sengal on South African Airways Business Class for only 50K miles round trip.
- Fly US to the South Pacific on Air New Zealand Business Class for only 90K miles round trip.
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. You’ll even get a companion award ticket after $25K annual spend. 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 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+.