The top UK loyalty credit card sign-up deals by £ value

(EDIT:  This article was updated in August 2014, the numbers are current as of 1 August)

Our ‘Credit Cards Update’ tab lists all of the card deals currently available. What I thought might be interesting, though, would be to rank the sign-up bonuses in terms of cold hard cash. Put simply, if I get this card and cancel it quickly, how much value can I get?

This experiment is, of course, subjective. I have considered various factors:

The value of the sign-up bonus – see below for my methodology

The annual fee, if any

For Amex Platinum, BA Premium Plus Amex and SPG Amex, the fee refund if you cancel after a typical 4 months

Notes on valuation

The biggest question mark is over the value of the sign-up bonus. For hotel cards, I have valued points based on the number required for a top-end redemption which I value at £250 per night. The exception is Starwood, which makes high category awards disproportionately expensive.

For airline miles, I assume they are worth 1p each. I know that I generally use a 0.75p value for Avios, but you can get 1p easily with, for example, Reward Flight Saver short-haul redemptions.

(Of course, for airlines like Lufthansa where short-haul redemptions are bad value, a small amount of miles can be effectively worthless. In some programmes, you would need to already have a decent balance to get full value from the bonus miles.)

I have valued Amex Membership Rewards points at 1p, since they transfer 1:1 into airline miles and I am valuing those at 1p.

The ‘free money’ £ value I quote is therefore calculated as:

‘value of sign-up bonus’ minus ‘annual fee’ (for an Amex, I assume you cancel within 4 months for a 2/3rd fee rebate)

Bring on the winners!

OK … here we go! Remember that application links and full details on all the cards can be found on the ‘Credit Cards Update’ page.

This analysis does not include cards with no sign-up bonus, which is the why the Lloyds and TSB Avios cards do not appear.

GOLD!  £250 ‘free money’ – Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa

Sign-up bonus of 1 free night in any Waldorf, Conrad, Hilton etc hotel (easily worth £250 if used well), no fee. £750 spend in 90 days required.

Hilton Visa

SILVER!  £200 ‘free money’ – American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

20,000 Membership Rewards points (worth £200 if turned into 20,000 Avios or other airline miles) and £0 fee for the first year.  £2,000 spend in 3 months required.

BRONZE (but effectively GOLD – see notes!)  £150 ‘free money’ – American Express Platinum

30,000 Membership Rewards points (worth £300 as gets you 30,000 airline miles), £450 fee but £300 fee refund if cancelled after 4 months.

Most importantly, though, you will retain your Starwood Preferred Guest Gold card, Club Carlson Gold card and Le Club Accorhotels Platinum card for a full 12 months, even if you cancel.  This adds substantial extra value to the package.

Amex Platinum

£130 ‘free money’ – British Airways American Express Premium Plus

18,000 Avios (£180), £150 fee but £100 fee refund if cancelled after four months (although this may invalidate your 241 voucher if you have triggered it but not redeemed it).  £2,000 spend in 3 months required.

£100 ‘free money’ – IHG Rewards Club Black Visa  (unavailable until mid August 2014)

40,000 points (80% of a top end £250 night), £99 fee. (This link is a special one which is better than the usual 20,000 points offer.) Bonus triggers on first purchase.

£75 ‘free money’ – Starwood Preferred Guest Amex

10,000 points (valued at £100 as good for 10,000 air miles), £75 fee but £50 fee refund if cancelled after 4 months. £1,000 spend in 3 months required.

£75 ‘free money’ – IHG Rewards Club Visa  (unavailable until August 2014)

15,000 points (30% of a top end £250 night), no fee. Bonus triggers on first purchase.

£55 ‘free money’ – Marriott Rewards MasterCard

10,000 points (22% of a top end £250 night), no fee. £200 spend within 6 months required.

£50 ‘free money’ - Etihad Guest American Express and Visa

5,000 miles (£50) bonus when you spend £250 in 90 days.  No fee.  However, it is impossible to get this value from the miles unless adding them to an existing balance.

£50 ‘free money’ – American Airlines AAdvantage Amex and Visa

5,000 miles (£50) bonus, no fee. £1,000 spend required within 90 days.

£50 ‘free money’ - Emirates Skywards American Express and Visa

5,000 miles (£50) bonus when you make your first purchase.  No fee.  However, it is impossible to get this value from the miles unless adding them to an existing balance.  If you redeem for easyJet flight credit you will receive just £20.

£45 ‘free money’ – Virgin Atlantic Black Amex and Visa

18,500 miles (£185) bonus, £140 fee, miles post with first purchase

£30 ‘free money’ – British Airways American Express

3,000 Avios (£30) bonus, no fee. £500 spend within 3 months required.

£30 ‘free money’ – Virgin Atlantic White Amex and Visa

3,000 miles (£30) bonus, no fee. £1,000 spend in 90 days required.

£25 ‘free money’ - Tesco Clubcard MasterCard

1,000 Clubcard points are available if I refer you, you otherwise you get nothing! These are worth 2,400 Avios or 2,500 Virgin Flying Club miles. No fee.  (The referral can also be backdated with the Tesco card.  If you have applied in the last 2-3 months, email me at raffles [at] headforpoints.co.uk and I will send you the relevant form.)

£15 ‘free money’Lufthansa Miles & More American Express and Visa

1,500 Miles & More miles with your first purchase.  No fee.  However, it is impossible to get this value from the miles unless adding them to an existing balance.

The sign-up bonus on the Emirates Skywards Elite cards does not cover the non-refundable annual fee, so there is no value to be gained in getting those cards and cancelling them quickly.

(I did not consider the Flybe or Ryanair cards in this analysis as the value of the ‘free’ flights offered by the cards are difficult to calculate.)

Summary

If there is anything to learn from this bit of fun, I suppose it is this:

If you and your partner only ‘churned’ the best 3 credit cards each, you could get over £1,250 of value between you. That is certainly nothing to be sniffed at!

Secondly, do not underestimate the value of the hotel cards, especially for churning. Whilst a small number of airline miles has little value, a small number of hotel points can get you one night somewhere, and one night is often all you need.  If you and your partner both applied for the Hilton card, you would get two free nights which would make a great long weekend.

(Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history.)

£15 of Hailo credit for London taxis from Amex - be quick, only 500 available!
What is the best hotel scheme? - Le Club Accorhotels - The Facts
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Comments

  1. What’s your favourite of the non Amex hotel cards for ongoing spend once the sign up bonus is but a distant memory…?

  2. Regarding the BA premium plus card:
    “25,000 Avios (£250), £150 fee but £100 fee refund if cancelled after four months (although this may invalidate your 241 voucher if you have triggered it but not redeemed it).”
    Does anyone have any experience or firm knowledge of whether the 241 is invalidated in this case? I should hit the target spend in a couple of months time, but can’t use the voucher until later in the year. I was planning to cancel the card, but is it safer just to downgrade it to the free one?

    • This is one of those odd ones. I honestly can’t remember anyone ever getting one cancelled (if you’ve already booked your 241, you are definitely OK) but it is quite a big risk and I don’t want to be responsible for advising otherwise.

      • I wrote to BA on 10th Feb and asked this exact question. I am still awaiting a reply.

        The T&Cs do imply that you have to book with your BA Amex but they aren’t abundantly clear.

        Downgrading to the free BA Amex appears an option but I would rather cancel (so I can get another sign up bonus at a later date) and hold the free Amex Gold Charge Card to meet the requirement for the 2-4-1 to be paid with Amex.

        • That is a different point. You do NOT need a BA Amex to pay the tax, just any old Amex.

          Whether or not your voucher may be taken away if unredeemed at the point of cancellation is another issue.

    • Raffles is justifiably cautious.

      If you have a 2-4-1 : Log in to your BA account. My evouchers. More voucher information. Terms and Conditions:

      Point 15:

      The Member is responsible for paying any Taxes, Fees & Charges relating to their Companion Voucher booking. All Taxes, Fees & Charges must be paid for using the Member’s British Airways American Express Credit Card.

      • Ah, that’s pretty clear then.
        Anyone have any experience of downgrading to the free card? The point above doesn’t seem to rule it out, but could be complicated if you get a different card number?

        • Forget the rule, any Amex works. It MUST be an Amex as all other payment options are greyed out.

        • Mark(09:29),

          I downgraded(by phone) to preserve the 2-4-1. However, I should have done this using the online contact facility on the account as there was a bit of a “Spanish Inquisition” -and I was told that I might not be able to upgrade at a future date.

      • You can use any Amex, though. You don’t even have to use your own Amex as Amex does not do name verification. It still goes through if your name is in the payee box but it belongs to someone else.

        • Even if you require a BA Amex I dont see anywhere in the T&Cs that require you to hold the card in the period between earning and booking. With a two year expiration (on the premium card) this is not an insignificant period.

          • I just called the BA Amex number on the back of the card. I was told specifically that cancelling the card “definitely does not” cancel the voucher. They did however stipulate that the voucher has to be booked with a BA Amex as per the aforementioned T&Cs. As per Raffles, I am unsure how effectively this is monitored and it doesnt preclude an application nearer the time to generate a BA Amex if required.

            I checked and I actually wrote to BA on the 5th. Anyone with status want to try and get this question answered in writing? I am guessing that a lowly Blue doesn’t warrant a speedy response. Despite stong assurances over the phone I’d like to see this in writing before committing.

            • I’m gold, I’ll give it a shot…

            • All that happens when using your 241 is that all other payment options are greyed out apart from the Amex one. Any old Amex will do.

              If, by some hugely unlikely miracle, Amex changed the system, all you would need to do (given that Amex does not do name verification) is use someone elses BA Amex and then wire them the money. Sure you’ll get a taker given they earn 3 Avios per £1 on your taxes!

            • Just as a point of interest, as a gold cardholder I received an email reply from BA in just over 48 hours. Unfortunately the reply was completely useless and didn’t in any way answer my question!! I’ve bounced it back again…

            • OK, I’ve now received a more meaningful reply:
              “Please accept my apologies for the confusion. Your voucher will remain on your account but you will not be able to use it without an Amex card to pay for the taxes. I hope that this answer is clearer for you.”
              So it appears to be safe to cancel the card.

    • Hi,

      I got in touch with Amex about this a while back- I got the following reply.

      “If you Downgrade your BA Card to the fee free BA Credit Card after the Voucher is issued to you, then the Voucher would be valid for 24 months.

      If you downgrade the Card to the fee free BA Credit Card before the Voucher is issue to you, then you will need to spend £20,000 to earn the Voucher and the Voucher would be valid for 12 months.

      If you do not downgrade the Card to the fee free BA Credit Card, then the Voucher would be valid for 24 months.

      What you mentioned on the previous email was correct. I confirm that the below is states correctly.

      - downgrade prior to voucher issue- spend requirement increases to £20,000 voucher valid for 12 months only.
      - downgrade post voucher issue on premium account- voucher valid for 24 months
      - no downgrade- voucher valid for 24 months”

  3. Is this a new thing on annual fee refunds for Amex plat and gold?

    Or are you just assuming it takes 4 months to hit bonus spend ?

    Having just referred my wife for Plat she will hit the spend in week 2 given upcoming holiday and we were going to cancel immediately once MR points transferred to BA

    • I was making a conservative assumption. You can cancel as soon as the bonus points have hit and have been transferred elsewhere.

    • OH upgraded from Gold to Plat. £1k charged to earn upgrade bonus of 15k MR, paid off as soon as it hit card and MR points moved to BAEC – no Plat fee charged on first month statement so card cancelled.

  4. Did we ever find out if Hilton Honors Credit Card was ‘churnable’? The free voucher is now a distant memory, so wondering if getting another one is possible …

    • I intend to find out this year! However, as voucher is only good for 6 months, I am waiting a while to ensure I have it for the full Summer.

      • Yes, it’s churnable :-D I’m doing my second stay with a free night cert next week. I left it six months between closing and reopening. Remember this is a Barclaycard-run card though, so be prepared for things not going smoothly!

    • Nick Burch says:

      Semi-churnable. I left a year between closing and re-opening. I’ve earnt another weekend voucher, but I haven’t been credited with any of the “2,500 points for your first 4 Hilton stays” points. I’ve tried asking Barclays about it, they say to ask Hilton, who say ask Barclays. Can’t complain too much though, as the card is free, and it’s another free night!

      • I have the exact same problem. Still I am missing nearly 10K points and neither of them knows where they are.

        I also asked to extend my certificate from June to July, Hilton told me now, but Barclays said if i let it expire then they will be able to ask Hilton for extension and that they have never been rejected. I am considering giving it a go, but wouldn’t like to be the first case of rejection and loosing the certificate.

  5. Hi Raffles,
    Should you transfer the bonus points( for example to BAEC) before cancelling the card?
    I

    • You have to, your MR account will be closed on cancellation unless you have another MR earning card.

      (Technically, if you have another non-MR Amex, you are meant to get a grace period. Not sure I would risk them realising this though.)

  6. Thanks Raffles,

    If you get the bonus points on the Amex plat and then apply for a gold Amex, could you theoretically close the plat account to save the annual fee, and wait for a MR bonus for transferring( whilst holding the gold card)? This process maybe overly optimistic!

  7. The amex plat card also gets you into virgin Australia lounges! Not sure the uk issued card should but it works. It is a great benefit as you can get into all domestic lounges in oz with the cx and plat card.

  8. Raffles, if you are involved in the IHG big win promotion, is the correct assumption that if you apply for the PV Visa Black via your link then your application won’t trigger the big win bonus? The big win application is a 30k sign up bonus plus whatever your big win bonus is for using it at a stay (mines 20k).

    • I reckon you’d be OK whatever link you use – the rules do not say you need to use their link. There is 10,000 points at stake.

      • But in your big win dashboard it gives you an “apply here” link, the assumption is that would be tracked from there though?

        • They can’t track it that well I think. If your IHG account is work address, work email and you apply for a card at home address, home email then it wouldn’t work.

          That said, you definitely shouldn’t take my word as gospel on this.

          Next time I do an IHG stay for cash (none planned, admittedly) I intend to pay with my wifes Black card and see if that triggers the relevant Big Win criteria for me. If it did, then all that matters is that you pay for a stay using one, however you got it.

          • I can’t see any issue using the 40k link – that’s certainly what I’ve done. The T&Cs don’t say anything about having to use that particular sign up link, you just need to use the PCR Black VISA to pay for a stay. I made sure when booking what I hope to be my qualifying stay that I selected ‘IHG Rewards VISA’ (or similar), rather than just plain ‘VISA’, when selecting payment method. If it doesn’t track then I’ll be having strong words with them!!

          • My partner paid for a stay with a companion PCR Black Visa linked to my account (which I applied for via the Big Win link). That hasn’t activated that particular Big Win offer (and the other others did activate so the stay has updated). I did however only select VISA as the payment card. I have another stay this weekend where I chose IHG REWARDS CLUB VISA as the payment card – so lets see if that makes any difference.

            • Hmm – thanks for the update, will be interesting to see if selecting that different drop-down makes a difference or not – given the state of IHG IT it may be it can’t work it out based on the card number alone and needs one to select that option! It’s also handy that you applied via their link as it takes that out the equation.

  9. Does anyone know if with the SPG account, anytime you transfer 20,000 points to Avios ou Virgin you’d get the additional bonus 5000 miles or is just once?

  10. That’s fantastic (: Raffles. Thanks! So if I have the Gold, I should transfer from the Amex Rewards to SPG and then to a miles programme? Is this the way to go?

    • NO.

      Unless, of course, it is a programme not supported by Amex MR directly.

      Amex to SPG is 2:1, so 20,000 Amex = 10,000 SPG = 10,000 airline.

      Amex to airlines directly is 1:1.

      If you want AA, Lufthansa etc then you need to go via SPG and take the hit. For airlines that are direct Amex partners, you should transfer direct.

      • Sorry to jump in but do you need to call Amex or SPG to transfer starwood points from the Amex card to SPG.com? can’t seem to find anywhere on my Amex account…

        • avidsaver says:

          No. I don’t think so. My Starwood points transferred automatically from my Amex SPG CC account to my Starwood account approx 6 days before my monthly statement was due.

      • avidsaver says:

        Hi Rob slightly OT – I recently got an SPG Amex CC and have qualified for the sign up bonus which transferred automatically to my Starwood Account. I now hold the “Preferred Guest Plus” Tier status which seems to fit in between the basic “Preferred Guest” and “Gold Preferred”. I believe this is a perk of having the SPG Amex CC. The benefits (similar to Gold) include – 4pm checkout, room upgrade etc. Do you know: 1. If I cancel the card will I loose this enhanced status? 2. What would I need to do to hold onto this enhanced status and how long is it usually valid for? As ever, many thanks.

        • Don’t know but gut feeling is that you will retain it until the expiry date printed on the card.

          • avidsaver says:

            Ha Ha. Have a virtual card with no date! In fact there seems to no general information on the SPG website about “Preferred Guest Plus” it’s as if this tier does not exist. They only itemise the three tiers – Preferred, Gold and Platinum – strange! Should I be looking somewhere on the Amex site for more info?

  11. Any tips for readers (like me) who took out the American Airlines (35K miles), card and the SPG card (25K miles), to accrue American Advantage miles?

    I on about 70K ish but looking to get to the 100K mark.

    Unfortunately Amex Membership Rewards cannot be converted into American Advantage miles otherwise I would have gone for that.

    • Moving MR points to SPG would be your best option.

    • You can transfer Amex MR to Starwood Preferred Guest (2:1) and then on to AA. If you transfer 40,000 Amex then you would have 20,000 SPG which triggers the 5,000 bonus, so 25,000 AA in total. You could get 40,000 Amex via the Amex Plat sign-up (35,000 for signing up via a referral and then spending £5,000).

    • You could do worse than just buying 30k AA miles for £470. Those miles would “cost” you 50000 MR points which you might well value at more than £470.
      Alternatively do you have a partner you can recommend for the Starwood Amex: you’ll get 17k SPG between you for that (shame the 20k has gone); top-up with 6k MR -> 3k SPG, and your 20k SPG = 25k AA. (You can transfer your partner’s SPG to yourself for free, with the same address.)
      What do you need 100k AA for – you might be better off mixing programmes?

      • I’m actually after 105K miles for LHR to HKG in business class. I’ll check out the MR to SPG option, I didn’t think it would be that economical but I think it’s my best choice at the moment.

        • 52.5k AA to HKG is only marginally better than BA or VS at 60k, albeit you’ll have lower taxes too. I think I would suggest you consider booking one or both ways on BA/VS and saving your AA miles for something with a more significant arbitrage.

    • If you have a One World flight coming up with someone else like BA you can credit the miles to your American Airlines account. I never knew something like this was possible early on in my collecting days and ended up with small amounts of useless miles in some schemes.

  12. John Tickner says:

    I was about to cancel SPG having got the bonus and now working to Amex Gold Bonus….but if I can transfer MR to SPG then on to BAEC for an extra 5000 it may be worth hanging onto for a while.

    Can this be done ?

  13. As soon as you have the points in your SPG account (not on the Amex SPG card account) you can cancel anytime and I guess the transfer bonus to any miles program would still work. Someone correct me if I’m wrong..

  14. What happens to your two lounge passes when you upgrade from Gold to Platinum Amex. Would you still have them if you cancelled your Plat card (assuming you didn’t use the lounge in the meantime)?

    • Yes. However, it doesn’t matter, because all of the Lounge Club lounges (plus a lot more) are part of Priority Pass, and you get 2 x Priority Pass cards as Platinum. These are good for unlimited lounge visits.

  15. Hello Raffles,

    Great site, I’m thinking of booking a round the world ticket what do you suggest for best value for money cheapest with most destinations ?
    It be great to get a In depth blog post as I can imagine there’s thousands of backpackers not sure on the best tickets.

    Thanks Alex

    • This is REALLY not my speciality Alex, and there are plenty of sites out there who do this sort of thing far better than me. I do know that American Airlines does very cheap round the world rewards using their own miles, but that is as far as my knowledge goes.

  16. Can you refer yourself from the Amex Platinum to the Gold to gain the free card and bonus miles?

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      People have managed to do this in the past and it might still work, but it’s not supposed to be possible. Trick is not declaring your existing MR Amex on the app form I believe.

    • Keep in mind Raffles’ view.

      Top of page: ABOUT.

      …….This is a hobby that can sustain you in luxury travel and / or cheap travel for the rest of your life, if you work it properly. Don’t exploit loopholes too far, don’t push promotions too hard, don’t cancel too many credit cards after banking the sign-up bonuses, don’t wind up Tesco too much! If you keep all of the key players on side, you will get more out of your Avios than you could ever imagine……..

  17. For Amex Plat, I can see that the CX Gold, Accor Plat and SPG Gold remain for a further year but what about Priority Pass? Do the cards become invalid as soon as the Amex plat is cancelled?

    • Yes, they are cancelled within a couple of weeks and will be rejected when a lounge next swipes them.

      You keep access to Eurostar lounges until your card expiry date as long as you keep the card and don’t cut it up and send it back!

  18. Regarding churn of cards between partner and oneself, it’s worth asking whether any of the sign up bonuses are made against the household or the individual? For example having just recent cancelled my Amex plat, can my wife sign up for one without having to wait 6 months from my cancellation?

    And has anyone got recent experience of how long after sign up that the Cathay Gold was received?

    • Individual. Your wife is fine to apply herself.

      Cathay – you need to wait for your Plat to arrive then order Cathay Gold via an online form. My wifes then took 10 days to arrive but average seems to be nearer 20 as they come from Hong Kong.

  19. Hi Raffles,

    Great site and very recently religiously following your posts as I’m pretty new to airmiles.

    With regards to cancelling cards, what’s the minimum period recommended before cancelling so as not to negatively impact your credit score?

    I’ve read a tip on a US website which says 8/9 months is advisable before terminating but not sure what UK policy is.

    Thanks
    Ash

  20. Hi all,

    I find this website really helpful but I still have a bit of a newbie question which I would really appreciate some help with!

    I took out the SPG card in November and my bonus starpoints finally tracked about 2 weeks ago, however they have not transferred across to my SPG account which I set up before applying for the card and subsequently linked with my application.

    I really want to cancel the card to get the pro-rata refund, does anyone know firstly how I can transfer them across and secondly I’ve not made my mind up whether to spend the points on a room reception or transfer across again to virgin or Avios, does anyone know whether I need to transfer my points again before cancelling the card or whether they will be safely stashed in my SPG account despite cancelling the SPG Amex card?

    Thanks!

    • Just call up amex, ask them to transfer them to your SPG card, check no is correct, then once you have the confirmation email from SPG, you can cancel the amex SPG card. Then transfer them to whichever program you want.

    • Once they are in SPG you can cancel your Amex. No rush to move them out of SPG.

      They will transfer across to SPG six days before the end of your next statement period (if it is calendar months, it would be Feb 22) and they should arrive within 48 hours at SPG.

  21. My CX Gold period runs out end of April 2014.

    Have just re-applied with new Amex Plat to get Gold “renewed” for another twelve months. Does anyone know how I might see if this has been successful or not?

    Many thanks!

    Ed

  22. Lady London says:

    Great roundup of UK credit cards Raffles but it still made me very envious when I saw a 100,000 bonus for signing up to a British Airways credit card in the US last week….! :-(

    • You had to spend $50k or something crazy to unlock the full bonus though!

      The bigger issue is that ‘points printing’ by US credit cards causes inflation (see Carlson devaluation) but Brits cannot join in the card bonanza much of the time. We get the pain without the gain.

      • 100% agree, Ron. Hilton was particularly hit by this and it looks like to a lesser degree Club Carlson is having to follow suit – their US credit card holders get the second night free on their redemptions!

  23. I have r an amex platinum and would like to sign up for amex preferred reward gold is it possible to get the sign up bonus? if yes could i first cancel the platinum or i should wait till the gold goes through/

  24. Any ideas on a quick £750 to put through the hilton card? I was thinking amex sterling travellers cheques but wasn’t sure.

    • Refundable BA flight for a few months ahead? £15 fee to cancel it a couple of months down the line and you will need to settle your bill and then work through the refund later.

      FX wont work, will be treated as cash advance.

      Or just buy £750 of gift cards for your supermarket.

      However, note the free night voucher takes a while to appear. This isn’t Amex and the 241 which reliably appears in a couple of days. More likely to be a month or two.

  25. Looking at getting the White Amex for a quick 10k miles. To add a little extra to the mix I got my wife to “recommend” me via her Virgin flying club number. She gets 3k if I take up the card but it looks like I wont qualify to get the current full 10k sign up bonus just their standard 3k offering once I start using the card.

    Any thoughts or and I just trying too hard to get the extra 3000 virgin miles?