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Is the new Virgin credit card bonus a reason to collect Flying Club miles?

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I wrote yesterday about the new Virgin credit card promotion, which offers 10,000 – 25,000 Virgin Flying Club miles for signing up.

As some people may be considering getting this card who do not already collect Virgin Flying Club miles, I wanted to run through some of the reasons why you might want to build up a small pile of them.  It is not up to me to tell you if this is a good idea FOR YOU or not. However, here are a few points to consider:

1.  No short-haul network

Let’s get the main problem out of the way first.  As Virgin does not have a short-haul network, apart from the Little Red flights connecting Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen with Heathrow, you will be redeeming for a long haul flight.

This means, obviously, that you need to collect a large number of miles before you can do anything useful with them.  With Avios, on the other hand, you only need 4,500 to book a one-way redemption to Europe.

2.  Diversification

British Airways can fly you to pretty much anywhere that Virgin Atlantic can. However, that doesn’t mean they can get you Avios seats when you want them. Having a balance in another programme gives you more chance of getting seats on the dates you want them.

Both BA and Virgin allow one-way redemptions, so with a Virgin balance you could mix and match a trip as availability allows. Virgin also partners with Delta in the US and a number of other airlines.  However, Virgin and BA are both UK-focussed airlines, so you are likely to face an identical squeeze around UK school holidays.

3. Fewer miles, cheaper taxes in Economy

In 2013, Virgin announced lower taxes on Economy redemptions. These are quite aggressive – New York is £115 cheaper than BA. Virgin also requires fewer miles – New York is 35,000 in Economy vs 40,000 with Avios. However, Upper Class flights generally match BA in the miles and taxes required.

(BA also lets you redeem on carriers such as airberlin and Aer Lingus who charge minimal taxes, far less than even Virgin does, so it is not a one-way street.)

Here is a sample of charges for Economy flights from London on Virgin Atlantic using miles, correct as of yesterday:

New York £241 (British Airways: £355) 35,000 miles (40,000 Avios)

Barbados £237 (British Airways: £329) 45,000 miles (50,000 Avios)

Las Vegas £213 (British Airways: £353) 42,500 miles (50,000 Avios)

Johannesburg £362 (British Airways: £397) 50,000 miles (50,000 Avios)

Dubai £243 (British Airways: £335) 38,500 miles (40,000 miles)

4. Availability

I do not redeem on Virgin, so cannot comment on how easy or hard it is to get availability. In general, though, Upper Class cabins have fewer seats than BA Club World cabins, with subsequent squeezes on availability. Is it easy to get 4 Upper Class seats on Virgin for a family? I don’t know. It isn’t a problem with BA on many routes.  A random test showed that I could get 4 Upper Class seats to Dubai on various dates.

You can check availability on the Virgin website without having enough miles in your account to do the redemption.  You should spend some time researching your favourite routes before deciding whether to commit miles to Flying Club.

If you are only looking to fly yourself somewhere, using the miles from the credit card topped up with a Tesco or Amex transfer, then this is not worth worrying about – you can always find 1 seat if you are flexible on dates.

5. No 2-4-1 Amex voucher, but an upgrade voucher

There is no equivalent of the BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher. The Virgin credit card does give a 2-4-1 voucher but ONLY ON FLEXIBLE CASH TICKETS. The most effective use of this appears to be buying ‘S’ class Premium Economy tickets, which cost around £200 more than a normal Premium Economy seat – this allows you to use the voucher for your partner as long as a Premium Economy redemption seat is available.

The credit cards also offer a voucher with the Virgin credit card to upgrade Economy redemptions to Premium Economy for no extra miles for hitting specific spend targets.

6. Fallback option of transferring to Hilton HHonors or IHG Rewards Club

Rare among airline schemes, Virgin lets you transfer miles out into Hilton HHonors (1:2) or IHG Rewards Club (the Holiday Inn etc scheme) at 1:1. If you found yourself struggling to use your Virgin miles, you could also move them across – although this feature could be discontinued at any time.

Since Hilton HHonors was aggressively devalued a year ago, the Hilton option has less value than it did.  I value Hilton points at around 0.3p and IHG Rewards Club points at 0.5p when used for luxury properties.  This would value your Virgin miles at 0.5p – 0.6p each when transferred to hotels.

(You can also redeem Virgin miles for Virgin Group vouchers.  12,500 miles gets you a £50 voucher, so under 0.5p per mile.)

7.  Virgin has CombiFares

I wrote about CombiFares here.  Basically, if you have enough miles for a one way redemption, Virgin will sell you a return ticket for the cheapest cash price currently available.

BA does not do this.  Try pricing up a one-way long-haul ticket on BA bought for cash and you will be shocked, as in most cases only fully flexible tickets are available.

8. Virgin has improved its cancellation policy

It used to be that if you had to cancel at 7+ days out, you lost 25% of your miles. If you cancelled within 7 days, you lost ALL your miles. BA, on the other hand, lets you cancel up to 24 hours before the flight with no penalty at all.

As I posted here, Virgin changed its rules in 2013. Whilst there has been no official announcement, the revised text is clearly on the website and is now very similar to BA. Thank goodness for that.

9. The Heathrow Clubhouse

The Virgin lounge at Heathrow, for Upper Class passengers, is widely regarded as one of the best airport lounges in the world. Get a haircut, have a massage, eat a proper meal, chill out in the audio or TV rooms or do one of many other (admittedly ‘boys toys’ type) activities. Well worth trying once in your life.

Note that, whilst full fare cash tickets in Upper Class also get a free chauffeur to and from the airport, reward tickets do NOT get this.


So, there are a few things to think about here if you were considering picking up the Virgin credit card to kickstart a collection of Virgin Flying Club miles.

Flying Club has a lot to offer the person who redeems in Economy. Lower taxes, fewer miles required and the ability to upgrade to Premium Economy for free via the credit card voucher.

You even get the option of selected long haul departures from Manchester, which BA abandoned long ago.

For business class redemptions, it is less clear cut. Smaller cabins, a smaller route network and fewer daily flights may make it trickier to find seats, whilst taxes and miles required tend to mirror BA. And there is no Amex 241 voucher, which for a couple effectively makes a ‘once a year’ redeemer require twice the miles.

That said, if you are a solo traveller, 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 to the US (come back using Avios!)

HFP Virgin Atlantic Rewards credit card

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (November 2020)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Points

As well as the two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (see here, one has a bonus of 15,000 Points), you can also earn from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.

(Want to earn more Virgin Points?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

Comments (42)

  • Jermyn says:

    I have very mixed opinions about Virgin.

    The Clubhouse and Drive through check in are great for Upper Class. In terms of ground services VS provides a service at the level of Asian carriers in First class.

    The seat itself though is the consensus worst, flat bed in business class and has long been superseded by reverse herringbones found on US, AA, CX, BR etc. even new LH, AF, TG etc. business seats (with their foot cocoons) are considered better by most.

    Once all charges are factored in, as well as the cost of doing things like ‘Miles Booster’ to top your balance up, you end up only saving a couple of hundred quid off the retail price of the business class fare.

    The fact that you are effectively limited to only flying Virgin (almost zero availability on affiliated carriers) is a big negative. I would much rather have the flexibility of Avios, Amex MR or SPG points. At least when using these, you have the possibility of redeeming with LITTLE TO NO FUEL SURCHARGES.

    Finally, Virgin’s customer service is appalling, I routinely had FC miles disappear from my account without warning or explanation. Usually they would be re-instated or an explanation would be given, after a month or so. However, after more than 14,000 miles went missing and Virgin denied responsibility, despite being provided with time stamped, documented evidence; I decided to make my upcoming April trip to NRT my last with VS.


    Do not bother with Virgin. There are enormously more profitable options open to UK miles collectors, even taking into account the 25,000 mile bonus.

  • Howard says:

    Jermyn – I get the impression that you don’t like Virgin!!!

    Have to say from my personal experience that BA Club is superior to Virgin Upper Class apart from the lounge. I had a paid premium economy on Virgin before I got into “points” and have to say I prefer BA Premium Economy although have only travelled Club or First in past three years apart from Europe.

    I will get the free card for both of us to get some easy points but just to sit on I guess.

  • Jon says:

    I flew Virgin for about 15 years and never had any problems with Upper redemptions for two people. I never tried more seats. I switched to BA last year as I was starting to get a bit bored with Virgin destinations for holidays. Our first BA redemption flight is in February in First, so we ll see whether I made the right decision.

    It boggles my mind as to why anyone would prefer the foot cocoon to the Virgin Upper Class seats as the only seats I’ve found better so far are in First on Etihad. More travelled people will no doubt reel off a list of better seats for them, but Etihad business seats are quite uncomfortable for me even though I am only 5’7″. Horses for courses.

    One *advantage* of the Virgin vouchers is that you get 2 economy to premium upgrades per year for qualifying spend. I’ve often used these to redeem two economy seats one way and then got two Upper seats coming back. If your flying to the US, this works very well as you get the flat bed for the night flight and are away from the riff raff for the day flight when you don’t need the flat bed.

    I think that we’ve probably accrued more Avios this past year though than we did Virgin miles. I usually got an Upper holiday once every 18 months on Virgin, but we got enought Avios in a year with BA and a companion voucher.

  • littlefish says:

    A question on the Upgrade Voucher.
    Is it truly a free upgrade from Economy to PE, or do you get stung for extra taxes and extra fuel surcharge?
    (If there is an extra cash component I’d suspect it quite sizable given the relatively lower price of extras on VS Y redemptions)

    • Jon says:

      Hmmm, good question. I don’t recall. I just know we always seem to pay about a grand plus the miles for the two of us when we travel PE+Upper or Upper+Upper and that BA was about that too for First+Club. Give or take a couple of hundred quid that is, which is why I am a bit hazy on the detail.

      I will say that BA’s website is much better for searching for redemptions though.

    • Jermyn says:

      The free upgrade from Y to PE is actually very expensive. Sine economy surcharges were lowered by VS, the difference is now more apparent than ever. I recently flew to PVG with my girlfriend and flights for the two of us were over £1000 in surcharges etc for PE.

      Given the choice between an exit row in Y and a regular PE seat, for the same price, I’d take the exit row in Y. The F&B is almost identical and the extra room to stretch out is great. Ultimately you’re paying a few hundred quid extra for a different place setting and a slug of Amarula at the end of the meal.

      I haven’t flown other Y+ cabins before and would say this probably isn’t limited to VS. PE just isn’t a true premium product.

      As such the PE voucher has no value to me, I’m just not interested in redeeming for PE. Given that the other voucher is also unusable in UC, as it costs more than buying two discounted UC fares, the value proposition of the Virgin cards (to me) is poor.

      If you want a mileage card when Amex is not accepted, use the free AA card. You get 0.75 miles per £1 spent, for no yearly fee. You also are able to redeem across all of OW for lower surcharges than avios plus the option of redeeming on Etihad.

  • Charlie says:

    VA have an economy redemption seat sale now on to lots of destinations!

    Small print says that upgrade vouchers earnt with their credit cards can be used.
    (as usual you pay the increase in taxes and PE reward availability would be needed.