Following the launch of the new Virgin Atlantic credit cards this week, I thought I would take a broader look at Virgin Flying Club. Is there an opportunity, even for someone without a Virgin Flying Club account at the moment, to build up a pile of miles from scratch very quickly? And should you?
(This is the last article on the new Virgin cards for a while, promise!)
It is not up to me to tell you if this is a good idea FOR YOU or not. However, this article sets out a few reasons why you might want to consider it.
As a reminder:
You CAN apply for these cards – and get a sign-up bonus – if you already have the MBNA Virgin Atlantic credit cards
The free Reward card has a 5000 miles sign-up bonus, earns 0.75 miles per £1 and comes with a 241 or upgrade voucher for spending £20,000 per year
The £160 Reward+ card has a 15000 miles sign-up bonus, earns 1.5 miles per £1 and comes with a 241 or upgrade voucher for spending £10,000 per year
The cards are issued by Virgin Money so it is very unlikely that you will be conflicted due to having any other cards from the same bank
I need to tell you that the free Reward card has a representative APR of 22.9% variable. The Reward+ card has a representative APR of 63.9% based on a notional £1200 credit limit and the annual fee. The representative APR on purchases is 22.9%.
Reason 1: 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. You may want to expand into Star Alliance and redeem on, say, Lufthansa if you want a better chance of seats at – say – UK half-term. The good news is that Virgin Atlantic will soon be offering redemptions from Air France and KLM after the airlines bought a shareholding.
Reason 2: Lower taxes in Economy
Virgin Atlantic generally has lower taxes in Economy than British Airways when redeeming. Whilst most Head for Points readers like to focus on premium redemptions, there are times when Economy may do, or when you are redeeming for teenage kids! If we’re honest, a day flight to, say, New York is also manageable in Economy if necessary.
The new Virgin Atlantic Mastercard credit cards come with a 2-4-1 voucher for an Economy redemption. (A Silver member can also redeem in Premium, a Gold member can also redeem in Upper Class.)
Here is a comparison of Economy taxes and charges on a redemption:
New York £264 (British Airways: £371) – you save £107
Barbados £245 (British Airways: £278) – you save £33
Las Vegas £233 (British Airways: £366) – you save £133
Hong Kong £282 (British Airways: £341) – you save £59
Dubai £247 (British Airways: £260) – you save £13
Virgin Atlantic is often noticeably cheaper. A couple would save £266 if you used a Virgin 2-4-1 voucher to visit Las Vegas compared to using a BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher. Whilst Economy redemptions are generally poor value with Avios because of the taxes, they are clearly a slightly (just slightly) better deal with Virgin.
Reason 3: Availability
I rarely 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.
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.
Reason 4: The new credit cards also have the option of an upgrade voucher
If you don’t want to take the 2-4-1 voucher, you can get a voucher to upgrade Economy redemptions to Premium for no extra miles.
Extra taxes would be due, unfortunately, as Premium incurs the higher rate of Air Passenger Duty.
The spending criteria for earning the 2-4-1 voucher or the Premium Economy upgrade voucher is:
- £10,000 in a card year on the £160 Reward+ Mastercard (sign-up bonus 15,000 miles)
- £20,000 in a card year on the free Reward Mastercard (sign-up bonus 5,000 miles)
Reason 5: If Virgin doesn’t work out, you can transfer to Hilton Honors or IHG Rewards Club
If you found yourself struggling to use your Virgin miles, you could also move them across.
As an extra benefit, transfers into IHG Rewards Club count are treated as status points. I earned Spire Elite this way for 2016 as I wrote here.
Of course, if your main aim is to earn IHG Rewards Club points then you are better off with one of the two IHG Mastercard credit cards. The Hilton Honors Platinum Visa is no longer available to new applicants so the new Virgin credit cards are an – admittedly poor – way of accumulating Hilton Honors points from a Visa / Mastercard. For places that take American Express, you would be better off earning Hilton Honors points via the (free in Year 1) Amex Gold which earns 2 Hilton points per £1 spent.
Reason 6: 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. It is well worth trying once in your life. Here is a review of my last visit to the Virgin Clubhouse in Heathrow and there will be another review on the site soon.
Note that, whilst full fare cash tickets in Upper Class also get a free chauffeur to and from the airport, reward tickets and cheap revenue tickets do NOT get this.
Reason 7: It is easy to collect additional miles
It is now almost as as easy to collect Flying Club miles as it is Avios. The new credit cards offer 5,000 miles for getting the free Reward card and 15,000 miles for getting the £160 Reward+ card. There is no spending target, you simply need to make one purchase within 90 days.
You can also transfer from:
Tesco Clubcard (with regular 20% transfer bonuses, making it 300 miles per £1 voucher)
Heathrow Rewards (a 3,000 point sign-up bonus is available)
….. as well as all the major hotel schemes. As I wrote here, some major hotel chains do not give Avios but do offer Flying Club miles.
Other partners include:
Hertz (1,000 miles per rental)
Red Carnation Hotels (2,000 miles per night)
Virgin Money ISA (8,000 miles for opening a stocks and shares ISA)
Virgin Money International Money Transfers (3,000 miles with your first transaction)
So, a few things to think about.
One of the emerging features is that Flying Club has a bit more than Avios to offer to the person who redeems in Economy. You pay lower taxes and have 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 and Glasgow, 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 the taxes and miles required tend to mirror British Airways.
In general, there is never any harm in spreading your bets especially if negative changes are coming to Avios in the next 12 months.
The application pages are here for the free Virgin Atlantic Reward and here for £160 Reward+ credit cards. My two articles from Wednesday describing the package of benefits are here and here. The main card website is 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.