After disappearing for a time in late 2013, the Virgin America Visa card came back in early 2014 and has become a very popular option well into 2015 among the flying public. There are now two to different cards to choose from: a basic version with a $49 annual fee and a Premium card with a $149 fee.
Our in-depth review will help you understand the changes to the program – and whether either of Virgin America’s offerings is right for you.
It was gone for a while, but now it’s back – with a premium option
First, let’s talk about the Virgin America card’s disappearing act in 2013. In October and November 2013, cardholders received a letter informing them that Virgin America’s partnership with Barclaycard (its former issuer) had ended and that the Virgin America Visa card program would end along with it at the end of 2013. Cardholders could expect their cards to be replaced with a Barclaycard product (which ended up being the Barclaycard Arrival).
In January 2014, Virgin America announced that its credit card rewards program was back (with a cool-looking vertical card redesign) and that it had partnered with a new issuer – Comenity. What’s more, Virgin is now offering two credit card options: The Virgin America Visa Signature card (which should look pretty familiar to anyone who had the old card) and the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature card.
The program’s details will definitely require some explaining. But, first, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the new cards:
How much are Virgin America Elevate points worth?
That’s the real question that matters and unfortunately, the credit card application fails to shed any light on this.
The value of the points stays pretty steady for a sampling of flights I priced out:
Round-trip flight from LA to Chicago
2 months out = $0.0234 per point (pictured)
1 month out = $0.0234 per point ($268 or 11,441 points)
2 days out = $0.0220 per point ($844 or 38,234 points)
Unlike legacy carriers (like United, American and Delta), Virgin doesn’t do rewards redemption in set mileage amounts (ie, 25,000 for a round trip). The number of points you need for a reward flight fluctuates with the price of the ticket — it’s like Southwest in that regard. As you see in all the above flights, the point value is just a tad over 2 cents each, which seems pretty decent.
Can you earn Virgin Elevate points on Virgin Atlantic flights?
Through your Virgin America credit card purchases the answer is “no.” As far as earning frequent flier points through your Elevate account, believe it or not up until 2010 you couldn’t! They finally created a system that allowed you to, but unfortunately, the earnings rate is pretty low …
As you see, if you were to fly from New York to London using the lowest tier, you would earn points equaling only 10 percent of the distance, which is 6,916 miles. Those 692 points would be worth only $15 (assuming a 2.2 cent point value). Let’s put that another way: To book a $350 flight using Elevate points, you would need to have about 23 roundtrip flights from New York to London.
What’s with those waived change/cancellation fees?
One of the most annoying aspects of flying these days is what happens if your plans change after you already bought the tickets. Need to fly out a day later than you planned? You have to pay at least $100 (depending on the airline) to change your itinerary. Need to cancel your trip? Sure, you’ll be able to use your fare toward a future trip … but you have to pay the change fee first.
The Premium version of the Virgin America waives those fees – you just pay the fare difference between your old and new itinerary. Just keep these fine-print details in mind:
- The perk doesn’t apply to reward flights; you’ll still have to pay to have your points re-deposited if you make a change to a reward itinerary.
- You have to go through Virgin’s customer service line and make all changes by phone in order to have the fee waived.
- The flight must also have been booked with your Premium card, and the reservation must include your Elevate account number.
Status point rollover
Again, this perk is available only on the Premium version of the card. If you earn more than enough points to reach Gold or Silver status in a year, you get to keep those extra points and use them toward the next year’s status requirements.
If you’re trying to decide between the two cards (which have a $100 difference in the annual fee), the extra perks on the Premium card could be worth it – but only if you’re reaching for status and if you frequently change your travel plans. Otherwise, you’re better off saving $100 per year with the basic card while still enjoying a companion ticket discount and free checked bags. Both cards give you the Visa Signature suite of benefits as well.
Trying to decide whether you should go for either of these cards in the first place? For the airline’s frequent fliers, the Virgin America credit cards can make sense. But remember the Elevate program without the credit card still earns 5 points per dollar spent on flights, so the card is adding only an additional 3 points per dollar. It probably boils down to whether you like the combination of the rewards, the vertical card design and have affinity for the Virgin America brand, which many people do since it’s a cool airline run by a really talented guy. It seems that everything that Sir Richard Branson starts becomes a valuable and fun enterprise and Virgin America (along with its co-branded credit card) shows every sign of continuing that trend.
Updated May 20, 2015