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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. Virgin miles flights (other than New York) in upper are often very difficult to get eg Johannesburg near impossible and partner airlines eg Air New Zealand I was told never offer business seats using virgin Miles
    I have used both programs over past 19 years and B A Avios if by far the best option for availability

    • ANZ and Singapore are not bookable from the UK in practice but they can be booked for regional travel.

    • I’ve said this on other threads yesterday but this has not been my experience with all US and Hong Kong flights.

  2. I always fly economy but find that the taxes are too steep for longhaul so just focus on ba RFS in europe for redemptions. I have flown to the states various times for roughly the same amount you would pay in taxes so even with 100 pounds less in tax I dont see the real benefit.

  3. I do disagree that it’s harder to find availability in J on Virgin. We are flexible – not tied to the school hols and we live in London. I have never really not found availability with UC in Virgin, I’ve maybe had to change my search dates by a few days max. Compare this to looking for F in BA (I try to redeem only for F if I can) AND J – it is a completely different story. Frankly I’m fed up with BA’s lack of availability. Ever tried to find J to BKK?? The big difference is of course the size of the route network. I also admit to only really looking at US and HKG. It might be a different story for Dubai and Delhi

    • roberto says:

      There are 2 x J seats every flight , every day so I fail the see the logic in the “lac of availability” argument. If you plan ahead and book early you will pretty much be guaranteed ( with the odd exception for real busy routed ) to get the seats you want.

      If you want 2 x J the Maldives or Sidney over Xmas and look 90 days before its not going to be possible I grant you but the early bird has already caught that worm. There were seats on those flights , you just started looking after they had gone.

      • I mean that’s a bit ridiculous, especially on shorthaul flights. Some European routes have weekend flights available only for 6 months from now, but it’s crazy to pretend that people should book so much in advance for such a close trip. There should be for seats available, that’s all.

        I’m personally fed up with BA and plan to move to Virgin Miles hoping that the merger with AF/Delta programs happens as soon as possible.

    • Intentionally Blank says:

      I’ve also never had problems getting seats in UC. I never book outright with miles but tend to upgrade using them, which may swing things a little

      • That makes no difference to UC seat availability, it’s still classed as redeeming with miles, unless of course we are talking on the day airport upgrades, then VS can be very accommodating 🙂

    • FlyingChris says:

      Flew J to BKK and F back from HKG last year in school holidays, booking at T-355. The seats are there if you’re willing to plan ahead.

    • @ Leo. I would point out UC to BKK is even harder on VS! 😉

  4. Don’t have status with Virgin but husband and I put £50000 a year each through Curve re Inland Revenue payments so extra 50000 miles a year on this card. Also will gain from many purchases from small suppliers do not take Amex and am forced to use Visa. Works for us !!

    • Thomas Howard says:

      Can Curve be used to pay another credit card bill? For instance, can I pay my Amex bill with a Curve linked to a Lloyds Avios card?

      • They are clamping down, it was possible but they are blocking such sites as they come up.

        • So I imagine as well that we cannot use the Virgin MasterCard to pay the Amex bill?

    • Aceman says:

      Is there a reason to use this card via curve and not directly for the Hmrc payments?

  5. Craig Strickland says:

    A few people are talking about BA following suit with status, so Blue for Economy, Bronze for PE, Silver CW and Gold for First. The savvy amongst us would do one Business Qatar Ex EU and a couple of Economy BA flights. BA would be shooting themselves in the foot if they followed.

    • This makes no real sense. BA WANTS you to redeem in F. Take Atlanta – as someone raised on Flyertalk this week, there is a 14-seat F cabin going out to Atlanta every day, to a city with no real premium employers. Making it harder to ‘sell’ those seats for 150,000 Avios by restricting access to stupid. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it is stupid.

      Those carriers that DO restrict F access actually make it a marketing benefit – ‘our cabin is SO exclusive you can’t even redeem for it [unless you are top tier, use our programme and not a partner etc]’. Air France, Swiss, Lufty can get away with that. People would laugh if BA started talking about F like this.

      • generally what most airlines usually do around miles is stupid. well, at least from the customer point of view!

  6. Brian W says:

    Love four article Friday’s ????

    • Unfortunately it currently looks like ‘no article’ Sat / Sun / Mon unless I pull my finger out! Anika is on a mini-Euro tour (3 countries in 3 days this week) and then off to Johannesburg at the weekend to do some stuff for SAA so we have been a bit understaffed on the writing front. Wife gets annoyed if the weekend and Monday are not put to bed by the time I pitch up on Friday night 🙂

  7. Fraser says:

    I currently have the MBNA Black and White cards. I used to earn 2 x PE Upgrade vouchers per year but now just one as I switched some spend to the Lloyds Avios card.

    Having to spend £10k instead of £5k for the PE voucher is a real stretch when £7k on Lloyd’s can get me a CW voucher.

    I haven’t had Gold with Virgin since the Little Red bonus point runs. Even doing several Virgin flights getting status seems unlikely, as with the vouchers at least one or two will be reward flights eg no tier points. Given you can sometimes pay in to the Clubhouse for £60, a voucher for ONE for that as a choice versus a 20k mileage savings seems poor.

    So all in all, I’ll probably dump the Virgin cards, although a one off sign up bonus is tempting.

    Seems no one has mentioned the “best value redemption” yet,which is of course First Class from Heathrow to Beijing with Air China for just 37,500 miles each way. The IFE is dire but it is leaps and bounds above BA Business seating, and a great positioning flight for Asia then a return one way from HK.

    • Rob mentioned the Beijing option in response to one of my queries on another of the Virgin cards articles.

      But definitely no harm in raising it again.

  8. I was hopeful for these cards but the restriction to higher redemptions has made it a non-starter for us.
    We’ve spent over a million avios over the last decade since we began collecting, always in J and F to Asia, and I was bronze maybe once in that time from a work trip.
    I’ve been collecting Virgin miles as a backup for BA and did a solo PE and upper class to NYC which I really enjoyed.
    I have about 70k Virgin miles left I was hoping to pair with a 241 to take the OH in Upper class but will have to make other plans for them .
    I have the free MBNA cards and will probably get the new free cards but unlikely to target the vouchers.

  9. Wivus says:

    Do we know when ”soon” is for earning and using points on KLM/Air France?

    • I have been told stuff I can’t tell you ….

      • Wivus says:

        Ah ok. We shall wait with baited breath then 🙂
        It will be a deciding factor for me as using those airlines I will be able to accumulate tier points relatively quickly then making their 2-4-1 interesting.

  10. You forgot Virgin Trains East Coast as a way to earn Flying Club miles. I’ve built up quite a few via this means and earning Flying Club points on trains is needlessly complicated due to the fact Virgin Trains is NOT Virgin Trains East Coast and their rules and earning rate differ.

    Here’s more info on earning Flying Club miles on Virgin branded trains: https://saveecrewards.co.uk/blog/flying-club-points

  11. Devin says:

    It continues to surprise me that airlines continue to prioritize benefits for business travelers, particularly given the growing competition from Norwegian or similar. As has been pointed out on here by Rob the majority of cash biz travelers, I believe, are due to corporate travel where the flyer has little to no input over the airline used… and when they do will likely prioritize flight times above all else.

    I fly several times a year to the US east coast in economy. Pricing is typically BA>VS>Norwegian. Before the reduction in economy earning, I would always choose virgin as the lowest economy class would earn 100%. A return to Boston would earn 6500 points (roughly 20% of the then miles required for the same trip paid for in miles). Ignoring the value for points, this meant that for every 5 trips I would earn a “free” one, which I could use in the summer months when a cash ticket was very expensive. This sense that I was actually benefiting from flying Virgin over other airlines would lead me to buy their tickets even when others were cheaper. Contrast this to BA which in the lowest economy bucket will earn 1600 avios return to Boston. You would need to fly this route 25 times in order to earn enough for a “free” summer flight.

    Anyway, the point is I now am booking a flight to the US in August. BA is out because it is more expensive by £150 and the avios earned are pitiful. Virgin likely now out as also costs more and would have to pay for luggage with new tickets. Norwegian it is!

    If the BAs and Virgins of the world cannot compete on price, then they might consider rewarding the people who have a choice. While most readers of this site will save for J/UC redemption, the majority of the population would probably be happy to get a “free” economy ticket.

    • vlcnc says:

      All of this! 🙂

    • But you get luggage included witth VS if you choose the Economy “Classic” ticket rather than Economy “light”

    • Lumma says:

      Agree with all of this other than BA being more expensive than Virgin. I’ve always found it the other way (hence why I’ve never actually flown on Virgin Atlantic)

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