Virgin Atlantic Credit Card Review: US vs. UK

First of all I should point out that there are actually two different airlines sharing the Virgin name.

  • For flights within the US (i.e. Los Angeles to New York) then you are thinking of the Virgin America credit card. That airline operates flights only in the United States.
  • For flights between the US and UK (i.e. Los Angeles to London or vice-versa) then you want the Virgin Atlantic credit card, which this review is about. All international flights are operated by Virgin Atlantic airlines.

It’s important to differentiate between the two because even though they both share the Virgin name, they’re independent from one another – totally different frequent flyer mile programs.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to business…

Round 1: Virgin Atlantic credit cards for US residents

The Bank of America Virgin Atlantic credit card comes in two tiers – white and black.

Both have the American Express logo on them, but it’s important to not these are NOT managed by AmEx. Bank of America is the manager and issuer. The American Express logo is on them because that’s the payment network used to process these credit cards.

Virgin America White Card

Virgin Atlantic white cardFor a $49 annual fee, this card will net you 1 miles/dollar on regular spending and 3 miles/dollar on Virgin Atlantic purchases.

There’s an anniversary bonus each year too based on how much was spent. 2,500 bonus miles for $5,000 in annual spending, and another 5k miles for spending $15k or more (so the Virgin Atlantic White card can earn up to 7,500 bonus miles per year). For some reason this card is not shown on the BofA website.

Virgin Atlantic Black Card

Virgin Atlantic Black CardTouting a $90 annual fee, it gives 1.5 miles/dollar on regular spending and the same 3 miles/dollar on Virgin Atlantic spending.

The anniversary bonus on the Virgin Black Card is a bit more tantalizing at up to 15,000 miles per year. It gives 7,500 miles for spending $15k annually. An additional 7,500 is awarded if spending reaches $25k or more. Cardholders can also earn 1 tier point per $2,500 spent each month (max of 2 tier points per month).

Regardless of which Virgin Atlantic American Express card you fancy, both of them have the following benefits:

  • Might qualify to get 2nd reward ticket for half the miles: When at least $25,000 or more in purchases is made per year, one companion ticket will be given. It can only be used when you cash out miles for an Economy reward ticket. When you do so, the companion benefit will let you get a second ticket for half the number of miles as the first ticket. The credit card application on Virgin Atlantic’s site isn’t entirely clear but from what I can tell, you only get one companion perk per year (so spending $50k will NOT earn 2 of them).
  • The basic AmEx benefits: Even though these cards are issued by Bank of America, they still come with the basic AmEx benefits since that’s who processes them. These include retail protection, extended warranty, and common carrier travel accident insurance.

Round 2: Virgin Atlantic credit cards for UK residents

Virgin Atlantic UK credit cardsThese are issued/managed by MBNA Europe Bank. Like the US counterparts, these credit cards also come in a white and black level. You have the choice of Visa or American Express for each.

White Card (Visa)
This comes with a $0 annual fee but with the free price tag comes lower rewards: 1 mile per £2 spent normally and spending with Virgin Atlantic it’s 1 miles per £1.

White Card (American Express)
Same as the above except the AmEx version gives double the rewards: 1 mile per £1 normally and 2 miles per £1 on Virgin Atlantic.

Both of the white give you:

  • premium economy reward upgrade for spending £10,000+ per year (limit 2 per year)
  • free companion reward flight for spending £15,000+ per year (1 per year)

Black Card (Visa)
For a £140 annual fee you get 1 mile per £1. For purchases on Virgin it’s 2 miles per £1.

Black Card (American Express)
Same fee as above but double the rewards: 2 miles per £2 on regular purchases and 4 miles per £1 when buying from the airline.

Both of the black give you:

  • premium economy reward upgrade for spending £5,000+ per year (limit 2 per year)
  • free companion reward flight for spending £7,500+ per year (1 per year)

Round 3: How Much Are Virgin Atlantic Miles Worth?

The White Virgin Atlantic credit cards might be lackluster, but the black cards definitely pack some mileage power (on both sides of the pond). But how much are these miles truly worth?

Both the UK and USA Virgin Atlantic credit cards offer Flying Club miles… so the number of miles required for a flight will be the same for both US and UK credit cards.

For flights from the US to UK (and vice-versa) here’s the number of points it will cost you for a roundtrip flight between the following destinations:

Virgin Flying Club miles chart

The economy flights are slightly cheaper than the other guys (British Airways and many others charge 50,000 miles). However the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club has a major drawback, especially for those in the US…

The problem is outrageous redemption fees and taxes

taxes, fees, and surcharges

You might have to pay up to $500-800 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges for reward flights. This is the achilles heel of the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles.

Winner or Loser?

There’s no denying Virgin is one of the best airlines on the planet. However, their award redemption fees are among the worst. For this reason, I’m not a fan of the Virgin Atlantic American Express cards for US residents. But for those in the UK, the black version is one of the best credit cards you can get since it gives 2 miles per £1.

Here in the US it might make more sense to get the Venture card from Capital One and use the double miles it gives to buy flights on your own (each mile = $0.01 value towards travel).

Why buy tickets instead? Because with Virgin Atlantic the actual airfare is sometimes the cheapest part of the purchase.

LAX to LHR flight price

So to redeem 47,500 Flying Club miles (from a Virgin Atlantic card) on the above route from Los Angeles to London would be silly, considering there are still taxes and fees to pay. It just doesn’t make sense.

Last updated for 2013

 
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