For the first time since Head for Points started, there is a good offer available on the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club credit cards.
Frankly, there has been a very noticeable weaking of credit card sign-up bonuses in recent months. Where to start? Amex Platinum cut from 50,000 to nothing (unless you’re referred). BA Premium Plus Amex cut from 40,000 to 6,000. The United card cut from 15,000 to nothing. It was all very disheartening!
It is good to be able to report something positive. MBNA has launched what it describes as the ‘best ever’ offer for the two sets of Virgin Atlantic cards.
If you are familiar with the BMI credit cards, you will be familiar with the ‘2 cards x 2 options’ model.
The basic offer is the Virgin Atlantic White Credit Card.
This comes as an Amex and a Visa. There is NO annual fee, and the sign up bonus is 7,000 Virgin miles. You will receive 3,000 miles immediately (this is the standard offer) and a further 4,000 miles when you spend just £1,000 in the first 90 days. Should you decide to keep the card, you will earn 1 mile per £1 spent on the Amex and 0.5 miles per £1 spent on the Visa.
The advanced offer is the Virgin Atlantic Black Credit Card.
Again, this comes as an Amex and a Visa on the same account. There is an annual fee of £140, with a sign-up bonus of 20,000 Virgin miles. You will receive 6,000 immediately (again, this is the standard offer) and a further 14,000 when you spend £3,000 in the first 90 days.
£3,000 in 90 days could be tricky, so if you have no major spending planned you may need to be creative eg booking a refundable flight. If you keep the card, you will earn 2 miles per £1 on the Amex and 1 mile per £1 on the Visa.
There are also two long-term incentives available with the Virgin cards. The White card offers an upgrade voucher (from Economy to Premium Economy only) for a miles redemption when you spend £10,000, and a second at £20,000. The Black card offers the same vouchers at £5,000 and £10,000.
Both cards also offer what I consider a worthless incentive – a voucher at £15,000 (White) or £7,500 (Black) for a free companion seat (excluding heavy taxes) when you buy a full fare ticket in any class. Who buys full fare tickets, except corporates?
Using your bonus miles
To be honest, this offer is unlikely to convert anyone new to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, although it is a great offer for existing members.
As Virgin does not have a short-haul network yet, realistically (unless redeeming on an overseas partner airline) you will be redeeming long haul.
The lowest mileage redemption is somewhere like New York or Dubai, where a one-way redemption is 17,500 in Economy, 27,500 in Premium Economy or 40,000 in Upper Class – all plus hefty BA-style taxes. The free card gets you nowhere near this, the Black card gets you close. And remember that you can use American Express Membership Rewards points or Tesco Clubcard points to top up your Virgin balance.
My favourite Virgin redemption for small quantities, though is to Hilton HHonors points. As you can see here, you can convert Virgin miles to Hilton HHonors points at a 1:2 ratio, in multiples of 10,000. Your 20,000 bonus Black card miles are therefore worth 40,000 Hilton points, which I would value at £200. If you spent £5,000 on the Amex instead of the £3,000 required for the bonus, you would have earned a further 10,000 Virgin miles which would be another 20,000 Hilton, worth £100. Going forward, you would be effectively earning 4 Hilton points per £1 spent on the Amex …. double the earnings rate on Hilton’s own credit card!
(You can also convert Virgin miles to Priority Club, but at a very poor 1 to 1 ratio. Ignore this!)
Unfortunately, unlike American Express-issued cards, I do not believe that MBNA offers a pro-rata refund of your fee if you choose to cancel your card after triggering the bonus. This devalues the 20,000 miles promotion somewhat, since the £140 fee wipes out much of the £200 value of the sign-up bonus. The main beneficiary of this promotion will therefore be someone who already has a few Virgin miles they are keen to add to.
If you are a solo traveller, though, this does give you a nice route to trying Virgin’s Upper Class product especially the fantastic lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3. You’d need 40,000 miles for a one-way (come back using Avios!).
You would earn 26,000 from the Black card once you’d done the £3,000 minimum spend on the Amex, and you could make up the remaining 14,000 via Tesco Clubcard or Amex Membership Rewards points. If you’ve been targetted by Amex for their current transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic (you would have received a brochure in the mail …. I didn’t!) it is even more interesting.
(To see our complete list of all current credit card bonuses, click here to visit our ‘Credit Cards Update’ page or use the link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)