This review was updated on 15th April 2016 and all the information is correct as of that date
This is my review of the Virgin Flying Club White credit cards.
It is part of my series of articles looking at the major UK loyalty credit cards and discussing whether or not they are worth applying for. These articles will be linked to the relevant sections of the ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page. My other UK airline and hotel credit card reviews can be found here.
Key facts: No annual fee
The representative APR is 22.9% variable.
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 model may not continue into the future as Amex fees on co-brand cards to UK retailers are now capped at the same level as MasterCard / Visa at 0.3%.
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, although if you are refused MBNA is often willing to reconsider if you reduce your credit limit on another card.
What is the sign-up bonus?
The current sign-up bonus is 10,000 miles. You will receive 3,000 miles with your first purchase and a further 7,000 miles after spending £1,000 within 90 days.
This is a special offer which runs until 31st May and is a major improvement on the usual 3,000 miles.
It is important to note that MBNA treats the Virgin White and Virgin Black credit cards as separate products. You can apply for both and receive a sign-up bonus on both. You can even hold both at the same time, which is not the case with the British Airways American Express cards.
MBNA does not allow you to churn its cards. If you cancel this card and later reapply, you will not receive another bonus. In reality, if you wait a few years then your odds improve and you may get lucky.
Any other benefits?
Yes. The Virgin White credit card comes 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. You only receive your voucher at the end of each card year, irrespective of when you pass the spend target.
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 (booking class Y, B, R, L, U, M, E, Q, X, W, S, H and J) cash flight. This voucher is issued as soon as you have passed the spend threshold.
These offers are less interesting than you think. The Premium Economy upgrade is OK, but only covers one person per voucher. The way the voucher works is that you need to see Premium Economy redemption space available but you are only charged the miles of the equivalent Economy redemption. Having to wait until the end of your card year before you receive it decreases its value.
The free companion ticket has got easier to use recently. In early 2016, Virgin extended it to some of the cheaper – but still not cheapest – ticket categories. However, for many it remains fundamentally useless since very few people buy flexible or semi-flexible cash tickets.
I know that some people can get this to work in certain circumstances. You will have most success in Premium Economy where an ‘H’ class fare may only be a hundred pounds or so more than the cheapest cash ticket, but this requires some knowledge of the Virgin ticketing system and good timing. In any event, your second ticket will still not be ‘free’ because the ticket you buy will cost more than the cheapest available one, and the taxes element must still be paid.
Note 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 when you remember that you can’t get better than 0.3 Avios per £1 on an Avios card these days – even a paid one – unless you meet the strict HSBC Premier qualifications.
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. 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 6,000 free Virgin Flying Club miles for opening a Virgin Money ISA.
As with BA, long haul economy redemptions are often poor value due to the taxes and fuel surcharges. However, Virgin 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 taxes but generally require fewer miles after the Avios devaluation of April 2015.
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 Virgin Flying Club American Express is therefore OK, albeit more marginal on the Visa card.
How else can you earn Virgin miles from a credit or charge card?
There are three other options worth considering, one of which is initially free:
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.
A sign-up incentive of 10,000 miles is a good result for a free credit card. This offer runs until 31st May after which it will return to the usual 3,000 miles.
The on-going earning rate is not bad. 1 mile per £1 on the Amex is OK and equivalent to the free British Airways American Express. 0.5 miles per £1 on the Visa is very good for a free card but you need to question whether this rate is sustainable given the new EU caps on credit card fees charged to retailers by Visa and MasterCard.
The application form for the Virgin Flying Club White credit cards can be found here.
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. By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker. Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.