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Are the new Virgin credit cards a good reason to start collecting Flying Club miles?

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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

You can apply for the free Reward card here and the £160 Reward+ card here.   You can compare the cards side-by-side here.

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.

Should you collect Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles?

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

Rare among airline schemes, Virgin lets you transfer miles out into Hilton Honors (1:1.5) 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.

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+ cardThere 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)

Amex Membership Rewards (so the Amex Gold bonus is worth 20,000 miles, the Amex Platinum bonus 30,000 miles and the Starwood Amex bonus 10,000 miles)

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 Wines (3,000 miles with your first case)

Virgin Trains 

Virgin Money International Money Transfers (3,000 miles with your first transaction)

Texaco Star Rewards 

Conclusion

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.

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Comments

  1. Good to see another airline credit card with additional benefits to elite members only. Cathay Pacific AMEX cards in Hong Kong waive annual fees for Silver members (or above). I hope BA will do something similar.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Availability in any class is not what it was say 2 years ago. Back then you could virtually get any seat you wanted on any flight at any time. Not sure if there are now less redemption seats or the Delta folk nab them quicker but availibilty is now definitely harder on popular routes.

  3. Simon says:

    The miles are very different from Hong Kong for example , which is where i use my VS redemption , OW Flight in August is 68,000 miles VS and 90,000 miles BA CW and similar for Shanghai but obviously the Tax is more from PVG

    Also good value redemptions on ANA and if you avoid the LHR-HND route decent availability

    As with the Diamond Club card , the MBNA card will close soon , so i would have this option purely for the decent earning rate on MC

  4. Do any readers use Virgin miles to fly long haul from MAN (especially in the school holidays?!) I would love to be able to fly direct from MAN but have no idea whether I would be able to collect enough miles or what redemption ability is. The New York route would suit us as there are numerous connections to our regular destination in the Caribbean, but I just don’t know whether it would be worth committing to Virgin. It would also be fantastic to be able to get redemptions to Orlando as opposed to paying £800+ in economy but again I have no idea how feasible this is.

    • Nick M says:

      I find their website really easy to use to check availability/taxes – it shows all 3 classes and you can toggle between miles/cash

      Note that school holidays are usually classed as peak (except Feb half term)

      Virgin fly to Antigua and then you can use Avios 5th freedom to get to a few other islands…. I haven’t made a redemption as yet, but this is one of my ideas at the moment!

      • Graham Walsh says:

        October half term is not peak either to say Dubai.

      • The old (pre Delta) website which showed all classes of availability on one screen was very usable, the new one, on Delta technology, less so, but workable. However their website does not show partner availability at all, and I have little hope of any change for AF-KLM

        • The_real_a says:

          This is odd and perhaps due to change as ive booked vietnam airlines and china southern on delta.com via delta miles. Functionality and data certainly exist… fyi you can redeem for delta flights on virgin website.

    • Mycity says:

      I find availability pretty poor in UC, and there’s no set time they release seats, as above two years ago there was many more seat than today.

      • Barnaby100 says:

        I agree. We never had any issues until the new website launched the when they just dried up

    • We flew to Orlando, from Manchester, in UC during October school holidays in 2014( 4 seats)
      Hadn’t flown UC for a while, and haven’t since, and flew back via New York in BA F using a 241, which isn’t supposed to be possible 🙂
      Lounge at Manchester was a no1 lounge which wasn’t great, and crew were poor. BA F was a lot better on that trip.

    • ThinkSquare says:

      We flew MAN-SFO in Upper Class at the end of May last year. No problem with availability for two.

  5. Ability to fly from the regions long haul without having to change at Heathrow an obvious benefit.

  6. Graeme says:

    Thanks Rob for the article detailing taxes for various destinations.

    Do VS include domestic connection (via Flybe) for redemptions? If I go ABZ-xxx for a paid ticket it routes via MAN or LHR with Flybe but not sure if this is possible with miles? I cant get it to work via the website anyway.

    • Grimz says:

      No you can’t but this may change when the KLM/Air France merge comes together.

      • AndyR says:

        But that doesn’t help if you want to fly with Virgin on the long haul segment.

  7. I hope this will make BA think about reversing the gradual decline of their Avios system. What I can see is devaluation, high taxes and ridiculous lack of availability which makes the whole system increasingly close to useless.

  8. Tariq says:

    Even if you don’t have CDC included in your ticket, if you are flying UC via LHR then you can still use drive through check in if you call VS in advance.

  9. Malibu Stacey says:

    Typo on the clubcard to FC rate. It is normally 625 miles per 250 clubcard points. Not sure what it is with a bonus.

  10. The article states that these cards could be used to collect Hilton points at a ‘poor rate’ and refers people to the better Amex deal at 2HH points per £.
    Surely with the virgin reward+ card you are earning 1.5 FC mile per £, which is then transferable to HH at 1:1.5. Thus this makes it effective 2.25 HH points per £ (1.5*1.5) if you used these cards for that purpose. That actually makes it better than the HH credit card which is/was 2 points per £.
    Clearly there are caveats such as a min transfer balance of 10k, and it is probably not an effective use of FC miles for most people in terms of pure value, but it does seem to me to be better value than the amex equivalent. Am I missing something Rob?

    Seriously considering getting one of these cards, just tying to decide which!

    • True but you would be paying £160/year for the ability to earn 2.25HH/£1 (the HH card was free and 2HH/£1).

      Assuming a value of 0.3p/HH you would need to spend £23,705/year on the paid card just to cover the £160 fee…

      • Well of course! I am not suggesting getting the reward+ card solely for HH earning purposes, so I think the argument re fee is irrelevant.
        Merely saying that if you happen to have both the virgin card reward+ card and the AMEX gold card (which has a similar fee after year 1 let’s not forget) or platinum card, and you needed odd HH points for a redemption, then makes more sense from a pure earning points perspective to spend on the virgin card not the AMEX.
        As I said there are other downsides in terms of a higher min transfer. Merely pointing out the option.

  11. thehornets says:

    Is anyone aware of a way to get the bonus flying club miles whilst booking a Hertz car via a corporate travel portal (in this case, Concur)?

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