Credit & Charge Card Reviews (22): Virgin Flying Club White American Express & Visa

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 link:  Virgin Flying Club White American Express and Visa application form

Key facts:  No annual fee

The representative APR is 22.9% variable.

If you want to check your credit record before applying for a new card, click here to get your free Equifax credit report and score.  Your first 30 days are free then it’s £14.95 per month.  You can cancel at anytime.

As with all rewards cards, this is not a suitable product for you if you do not clear your balance in full every month.  You should focus on a credit card with a low interest rate such as the AA Low Rate Card. This has a very attractive representative APR of 6.4% variable on purchases and balance transfers.

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 3,000 miles.  You will receive this when you make your first purchase within 90 days.

Occasional promotions can see this go up to 10,000 miles.  The last offer finished on 31st October.

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.

Virgin has recently relaxed its rules on ‘churning’ this card.  You will now be allowed to get another bonus if you cancel and re-apply at some point in the future.  It is not clear what sort of gap MBNA wants to see before awarding a repeat bonus.

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.

Virgin Flying Club White credit cards review

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.

Remember that the Virgin Atlantic cards have an FX fee of almost 3% for foreign currency transactions.  You may want to consider getting a separate card to use abroad which charges no foreign exchange fees.  I recommend the Lloyds Avios Rewards card which also earns Avios points – even on your 0% FX transactions!  It comes with a 4,500 Avios sign-up bonus if I refer you.  My review of the Lloyds Avios Rewards card is here.

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.

Virgin is changing the cost of Flying Club redemptions in January 2017.  Many economy redemptions are getting cheaper whilst Upper Class flights are getting more expensive.  Virgin is also introducing peak and off-peak pricing.  Full details of the Virgin Flying Club changes can be found in this article.

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?

My default comparison card is the AA FuelSave Credit Card.  This card is free in the first year and offers 0.5% cashback on all spending, 2%-4% cashback on fuel purchases and – in year one – free AA breakdown cover.  The representative APR is 22.4% variable.

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 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.

Conclusion

A sign-up incentive of 3,000 miles is OK, but not life-changing, for a free credit card.

The on-going earning rate IS pretty good in the current market.  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, although you need to question whether this rate is sustainable long term 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.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

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.

Credit & Charge Card Reviews (23): Virgin Flying Club Black American Express & Visa
Which airlines let you transfer miles INTO hotel loyalty programmes?
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.