(EDIT: This review was updated in October 2014 to reflect the current bonus offer)
This is the 25th of my series of posts looking at the major UK loyalty credit cards and discussing whether of not they are worth applying for. These posts will be linked to the relevant sections of the ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page. My other UK airline and hotel credit card overviews can be found here.
About the card
The Virgin Atlantic White credit cards – issued by MBNA (Bank of America) – come as a double-pack of an American Express and a Visa card. This has become a trend in recent years, with card issuers wanting to benefit from Amex’s higher merchant fees whilst at the same time not wanting to put off anyone who is concerned about limited Amex acceptance.
MBNA also issues the United, American Airlines, Emirates and Etihad and Lufthansa credit cards, amongst others. This may impact your ability to get the Virgin card if you already hold an existing MBNA product.
The representative APR is 17.9% variable.
What is the sign-up bonus?
The current sign-up bonus is 10,000 Virgin Flying Club miles. This is a special offer which runs until 31st October 2014. The standard offer is 3,000 miles.
You will receive 3,000 miles after your first purchase and the additional 7,000 miles after spending £1000 within 90 days.
Any other benefits?
Yes. The Virgin credit cards, both free and paid, come with two interesting bonuses:
When you spend £10,000 on the free American Express card, you will receive an upgrade to Premium Economy (for one person) when you redeem your Flying Club miles for an Economy class redemption. A 2nd voucher is available when you spend £20,000.
Spend £15,000 on the free American Express card and you will receive a free ticket for a companion (taxes apply) when you purchase a full fare cash flight.
These offers are less interesting than you think. The Premium Economy upgrade is OK, but only covers one person per voucher. The free companion ticket is fundamentally useless, since very few people buy full fare cash tickets.
Note, too, that Visa spend does not count towards the vouchers.
Is there an annual fee?
No, there is no fee.
What do I earn per £1 spent on the card?
You earn 1 mile per £1 spent on the Amex card and 0.5 miles on the Visa. This is not a bad return on the Visa. (The Lloyds Avios Duo MasterCard offers 0.2 miles per £1, for example.) The Amex could be a little bit better, though.
Bookings with Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays earn double miles. However, the Virgin website charges a whopping 1.5% fee with no cap for using credit cards and this is NOT waived when using the Virgin card.
What is a Virgin Flying Club mile worth?
This is clearly a ‘finger in the air’ exercise. I would, however, flag some key pointers.
Virgin has a lot of partners now. You can earn miles by converting Tesco Clubcard points as well as Heathrow Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards points. Even if you never fly with Virgin, you could easily top up your credit miles with Tesco points to reach enough for an award. They also have particularly good earning rates with Hertz. There is also this on-going deal for 5,000 miles for opening a Virgin Money ISA.
The launch of Little Red domestic services has also made small quantities of miles more useful. A return flight to London from Manchester, Aberdeen or Edinburgh is just 7,500 miles plus £34 of taxes.
As with BA, long haul economy redemptions are often poor value due to the taxes and fuel surcharges. However, Virgin has recently reduced its taxes on economy redemptions and they are now up to £120 per person lower than BA would charge. Long-haul premium cabin redemptions are in line with BA in terms of mileage and taxes.
You can transfer Virgin miles to Hilton HHonors at a 1 : 1.5 ratio, which puts a floor under their value. You can also transfer to IHG Rewards Club at 1 : 1.
I would therefore be happy to value Virgin miles at 0.75p – 1p each, in line with Avios.
How does this compare to a cashback credit card?
The best cashback card on the market which offers a) a MasterCard or Visa, b) no annual fee and c) unlimited cashback is the Asda card, which pays 0.5%. The best ‘pseudo cashback’ card is the House of Fraser MasterCard, which offers 1% of your spend in House of Fraser gift vouchers.
The Flying Club American Express is therefore an OK deal, but the Visa card looks less compelling at 0.5 miles per £1.
How else can you earn Virgin miles from a credit card?
There are three other options worth considering, one of which is initially free:
The American Express Preferred Rewards Gold charge card offers 20,000 Membership Rewards points for signing up and is free for the first year. These convert to 20,000 Virgin miles.
The American Express Platinum charge card offers 30,000 Membership Rewards points for signing up. These convert to 30,000 Virgin miles. It has a £450 fee, refunded pro-rata if you cancel.
The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card offers 10,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points for signing up. These convert to 10,000 Virgin miles. It has a £75 fee, refunded pro-rata if you cancel.
The Head for Points Verdict:
Score for the sign-up bonus – 9/10. 10,000 miles is a good deal for a free card.
Score for on-going earning – 5/10 on the Amex, 3/10 on the Visa. 1 mile per £1 on the Amex is OK. 0.5 miles per £1 on the Visa is better than some competing cards, but I would still rather use the Amazon MasterCard and take the 1% cashback.
(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.)