Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Which Virgin Atlantic card should replace your Lloyds Avios Rewards Mastercard?

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As we covered on Wednesday, Lloyds Bank has announced that the Lloyds Avios Rewards Mastercard credit card will close at the end of May.

This card was OK for a non-American Express product. It earned 0.4 Avios per £1 for UK spending and 0.8 Avios per £1 on overseas spend.

If you are looking for a non-Amex replacement, there are only two real options for travel rewards. The first is the free IHG Rewards credit card, which earns a relatively weak 1 IHG Rewards point per £1.

The second option is one of the two Virgin Atlantic credit cards.

These are FAR more generous. In fact, they are THE most generous non-American Express credit cards available in the UK, whether you look at cashback or travel rewards.

If you want to maximise your non-Amex rewards, these are the cards for you. Full details are on the card website here.

In this article I want to run through the key benefits of both Virgin Atlantic credit cards side by side to help you decide which is most suitable.

A generous free card or an even more generous paid card

  • You can choose between a free Virgin Atlantic Mastercard (no sign-up bonus) and a paid Mastercard (15,000 points sign-up bonus)
  • The earning rates are EXCELLENT.  0.75 points per £1 on the free card and 1.5 points per £1 on the fee card.
  • The Virgin credit cards come with a 2-4-1 voucher.  It is substantially more powerful than the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher because the Virgin 2-4-1 can also be used on cash tickets.
  • Solo travellers can choose, instead, to upgrade a flight by one class.  This applies to BOTH cash and points flights.  You can go from Premium to Upper Class (the best deal) or from Economy Classic / Economy Delight to Premium.
  • The vouchers are valid for two years
  • All Virgin Atlantic cardholders get free access to Virgin Money lounges around the UK

Before I go into the details, let’s state the obvious. For the first year, you might as well pay the £160 fee for the Reward+ card and bank the 15,000 bonus points. You will also benefit from earning 1.5 points per £1 on your spending.

After the first year, you can rethink.

Virgin Atlantic Rewards credit card

Let’s look at the two cards in detail.

The FREE card – Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card

I am legally obliged to tell you that the representative APR is 22.9% variable.

As you can see from the picture above, the free Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card is pretty cool, as credit cards go.  There is NO information on the front.  No card number, no personal name (these are on the back) although there is the usual chip.  The card is coloured red on the edge which makes it stand out when you look into your wallet or card holder.

This is what you get (full details are on the Virgin Money website here)

  • No annual fee
  • No sign-up bonus
  • 0.75 Virgin Points per £1 spent
  • Double points on online or call centre bookings with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays
  • Unlimited free access to Virgin Money lounges across the UK
  • No foreign exchange fees on in-person transactions in Euro
  • 0% interest for six months on balance transfers (3% fee)
  • Spend £20,000 in a card year and select a 241 voucher, upgrade voucher or another reward – more on those below

You can apply for the FREE Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card here.

HFP Virgin Atlantic Rewards Plus Credit Card

The fee card – Virgin Atlantic Reward+ credit card

This 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%.

This card is even cooler to look at, in my view, than the free card.  Again, your name and your card number are printed on the back, giving an impressive looking piece of plastic.  The card is also coloured red on the edges.

This is what you get (full details are on the Virgin Money website here):

  • £160 annual fee
  • 15,000 Virgin Points as a sign-up bonus, triggered with your first purchase
  • 1.5 Virgin Points per £1 spent
  • Double points on online or call centre bookings with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays
  • Unlimited free access to Virgin Money lounges across the UK
  • Free global wi-fi access via Boingo
  • No foreign exchange fees on in-person transactions in Euro
  • 0% interest for six months on balance transfers (3% fee)
  • Spend £10,000 in a card year and select a 241 voucher, upgrade voucher or another reward – more on those below

You can apply for the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ credit card here.

Virgin Atlantic credit card

What can you do with your annual voucher?

Your reward is triggered IMMEDIATELY upon hitting the spending target.  The target is £20,000 in a card year for the free Virgin Atlantic Reward Credit card and £10,000 in a card year for the £160 Virgin Atlantic Reward+ credit card.

Annoyingly, vouchers do not show anywhere online.  The only sign that your voucher is available for use is a one-line entry in your Flying Club account statement along the lines of ‘Reward voucher – 0 points’.

You can choose one of the following options:

  • A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Flying Club points redemption OR a Virgin Atlantic cash ticket, in Upper Class, Premium or Economy
  • A return upgrade – on either a cash or points ticket – from Premium to Upper Class, or from Economy Delight/Classic to Premium.  You can either upgrade 1 x return flight if travelling alone or 2 x one-way legs of two return flights if travelling with someone else.
  • A Virgin Clubhouse lounge pass (requires a same-day Virgin Atlantic, Delta, KLM or Air France flight)

There is small print:

  • If you are a Red (no status) member, you need to pay 50% of the points for your 2nd ticket if you redeem your 2-4-1 voucher in Upper Class.  This means that, for Upper Class redemptions for Red members, it is effectively a ‘2 for 1.5’ voucher. For Economy or Premium redemptions, it is a genuine ‘2 for 1’.
  • If you are a Gold member, you would receive two Clubhouse lounge passes instead on one if you chose that option
  • Taxes and charges need to be paid on the ‘free’ ticket as part of your 2-4-1 booking
  • Vouchers are valid for two years and you must fly the outbound leg of your trip before the expiry date

Reward seat availability is required to use the voucher.  This means:

  • you can only upgrade a flight if there is a reward seat in the higher class (irrespective of whether you are upgrading a cash or a points ticket)
  • you can only apply a 2-4-1 voucher to a cash booking if there is a reward seat available for the 2nd ‘free’ seat

The voucher benefits are substantially better now than they were before changes in August 2020.  You can now upgrade to Upper Class, you can now use the upgrade voucher on either cash or points tickets, and Red (base level) members can now redeem the 2-4-1 voucher in Upper Class.

If you usually travel on your own, the upgrade voucher is likely to suit you best. This can also be used by a couple to upgrade one leg per person on a return cash or reward flight.

Which Virgin Atlantic credit card is best for you?

As usual, there is no easy answer to this question.  In the short term, I would get the paid card to benefit from the 15,000 bonus points and higher earning rate of 1.5 points per £1.

After that, it really depends on how much you spend and how easy you find it to trigger the annual voucher.

The free Reward credit card has an excellent earnings rate of 0.75 Virgin Points per £1.  You won’t get better value from a free travel rewards card.

However, the Reward+ credit card is definitely worth considering long term, especially for higher spenders. Lower spenders may also find it worthwhile paying the fee in order to reduce the voucher target from £20,000 spend to £10,000.

There is one bit of small print to note. The number of points you can earn per month is capped by your credit limit. If your credit limit is £5,000 and you choose to spend £4,000, pay it off mid-month and then charge another £3,000 before month-end, you will only earn points on the first £5,000.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Reward credit card

There are now lots more ways to spend small amounts of Virgin Points

The recent launch of the Virgin Red app has brought a lot of new ways to spend Virgin Points, especially if you don’t have a huge amount.

This article on Virgin Red has a few examples. If you want, you can now use Virgin Points for food and drink at Greggs! Higher up the scale, Virgin Red has a private suite at the AO Arena in Manchester where you can redeem for tickets to top concerts.

If travel remains your goal, Virgin Flying Club has added Air France and KLM flights for redemption.  This has added short haul options in Europe as well as the excellent Air France / KLM long-haul network.

You can read about how to redeem Virgin Flying Club points on Air France and KLM in this article.

If you need to top up your Virgin Points from the credit card, the good news is that you can also earn Virgin Flying Club points through transfers from other partners:

  • American Express Membership Rewards from Amex Gold or The Platinum Card (1:1)
  • Tesco Clubcard (1 point is 2.5 points)
  • Heathrow Rewards (1:1)
  • Transfers from hotel loyalty schemes

There are also lots of partner promotions which we write about on Head for Points.  You CAN build up a decent stock of points relatively easily – the ‘free for a year’ American Express Preferred Rewards Gold has a 20,000 point sign-up bonus which will convert into 20,000 Virgin Points.

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

Conclusion

From the perspective of day-to-day earning, the Virgin Atlantic credit cards are excellent.  They are the most valuable Visa or Mastercard travel cards on the market in terms of return.

The improvements to the credit card vouchers in 2020 make a SUBSTANTIAL difference to the value of the card.

Now that it isn’t just a 2-4-1 points voucher, the voucher is now a lot more relevant for:

  • solo travellers, who can now use the voucher to upgrade a return cash or mileage flight from Premium to flat bed Upper Class
  • ‘no status’ Red and mid tier Silver members of Virgin Flying Club, who can finally use the 2-4-1 voucher to redeem in Upper Class
  • anyone who has a low points balance and who can now use their voucher to get a 2-4-1 or upgrade on a cash ticket

If you are a casual Virgin Flying Club collector, 0.75 points per £1 spent on the free card will see your balance move along.  However, you would get better value from paying £160 for one year for the Reward+ card to get the 15,000 points bonus and the 1.5 points per £1 spent.

You can apply for the FREE Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card (no bonus) here and the paid-for Virgin Atlantic Reward+ credit card (15,000 points bonus) here.

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.

Comments (44)

  • Freddy says:

    Any improvement in virgin Atlantic’s financial position? I’m somewhat loathed to rack up points in a potentially defunct airline

  • Robert says:

    If you’ve never had status or Virgin points previously is it worth starting to collect now? They’ve never seemed to offer anything different to BA in terms of routes or service. Also, have a Hilton HHonors (powered by barclaycard) Visa card, should I revert to this after my Lloyds avios ends in June, I have no idea what it’s earning points wise.

    • Sean says:

      virgin points to Hilton = 2:3, so effectively get 1.125 HH per £ spent on the free card and 2.25HH per £ spent on the fee card

      • Robert says:

        Thanks Sean, I’ll have to find out what I’m getting on my Hilton Visa card and see how it compares

        • Genghis says:

          The Virgin + card is the highest earning HH card in the UK, but at a relatively steep fee, assuming no value placed on the Virgin voucher, the breakeven is huge vs Barclaycard HH.

          • Mr(s) Entitled says:

            I think I’ll get the paid for the first year to pocket the bonus and earn Hilton Points.

        • RussellH says:

          You get 2 points / £ on general purchases, 3 points / £ at Hilton hotels.
          Using Rob’s value estimates, Hilton Visa gives you 0.66p return, while the Virgin card gives you 0.75p.
          But the Hilton points are far easier to spend (or should be soon).

        • QFFlyer says:

          You’ll be getting 2xHH per £1 on the Barclaycard Hilton Visa.

    • Doug M says:

      I think VS service is quite different to BA, not better or worse, but different, obviously their route network is limited in comparison. Assuming some normality if you like lounges the Clubhouse is fabulous and a great experience, definitely worth a visit if you have an opportunity.

      • Robert says:

        Thanks for the further feedback. I might give Virgin a try next time I’m heading west over the pond so I can compare it with BA. Think I’ll stick to the Hilton card after reading comment about CS at Virgin, and I mostly use AmEx with no need to chase status. Another FX converter at 0% would be great. I’ll keep watching this space.

  • DAJ says:

    I currently have the standard Virgin Money credit card. Would I be able to request that this is converted to the Virgin Atlantic card or would I have to apply as normal and close my standard account?

    • Harry T says:

      You would have to apply as normal for the VS cards. No need to close your existing Virgin Money credit card though.

  • JohnT says:

    Is a 241 redemption always the best way to use of the voucher for a couple, red status, upper class return – eg to USA?

    • Sean says:

      depends on availability – sometimes only see 1 upper seat available.

    • Sprout says:

      This is a question I have been pondering and reached the conclusion that, for the flights I am considering, the upgrade voucher is more valuable. (I’d be grateful though for any comments / corrections before I pull the trigger! :-))
      I’m looking at London to HKG where the Prem economy cost 22,500 points and Bus costs 57,500 points (one way). So by my reckoning, it’s cheaper to upgrade from Prem Economy than use a 241. (particularly as I only have Red status)
      If I book the flights separately (outbound and return)the taxes also seem to be quite a lot lower than booking a return trip and using the 241.

      I get the feeling I’m missing something though!

      • Alex says:

        Yeah it all depends on the prices of the flights. It was cheaper for me to pay for 2x PE seats to New York and upgrade using 2 vouchers for me and my partner. This gave us Upper return. If I did a 2-4-1.5 as I’m a red member the amount i would have paid in taxes was almost the same as the PE seats.

        It’s all about doing the maths unfortunately and can vary by destination

  • 747_Brat says:

    1. Do Red members need to pay 50% in miles for the 2nd ticket, for a redemption in Upper Class on a cash ticket or is this requirement applicable only on tickets booked with miles?

    2. Also, can the 241 and the upgrade voucher be redeemed online or do I have to call to book?

    • Sprout says:

      1) As I understand it, you don’t need any miles at all to use on the cash ticket
      2) I believe you need to call

  • Sussex bantam says:

    I already told the free version of this card – can I apply for the paid one as well ? Or, if not, how do I upgrade ?

    • Doug M says:

      I think they’re strictly one card at a time, so you’d need to cancel and apply for other card. Worth a call first to see if you can do the process in one pass maintaining your credit limit. A frequent complaint of the Virgin cards is credit limit, which really means how many points per month you can earn.

  • ScienceTeacher says:

    I signed up to the Rewards+ with Virgin two weeks ago. Very simple and I was impressed with the IT when activating the card.

    Then, every time I tried to use it… nada. Can you get hold of them? Nope. “Due to COVID” “unprecedented demand on our call centres” etc… . Twitter were useless and said COVID affects payments (!?).

    After a week, I got through, and cancelled it. Agent said there would be no £160 fee and closed it.

    Today, final statement has arrived… with a £160.00 fee!

    • CarpalTravel says:

      I recently cancelled mine before the renewal. They App only interface would be great, if the app:
      a) Worked
      b) Wasn’t a rubbish, bedroom developer type effort

      I am a big fan of Virgin Atlantic but the quality of systems surrounding the card are extremely poor, including provision and usage of the companion voucher. One thiing I hadn’t noted when I took it out (and will absolutely have fallen foul of) is Rob’s warning of:

      “The number of points you can earn per month is capped by your credit limit.”

      Given the relatively low limits they seem to set for people (3k in my case), it is not a card I will be rushing back to.

    • RussellH says:

      Is this not what you expect from a virgin business? ie one with little knowledge and no experience? (Note the lower case ‘v’.) 🙂
      Seriously, I really do not get “Virgin” branding. What makes people fall for it?
      I have had no problems with my plain free Virgin Credit card, perhaps because it has spent most of its life in the drawer unused, once I got the 5 000 free points (which I could top up to 10 000 + convert to Hilton).
      Complained over a month ago about only getting 1000 points from the Tesco 2000 point offer, but no response to that beyond the initial acknowledgement.
      No points from the recent Morrison’s promo either.
      And now my Clydesdale Bank a/c is getting Virgin branding all over it too.
      Yuk!

  • Alex says:

    @Rob/Rhys – do you know why virgin has implemented this cap on points earning based on credit limit? Surly this drives people away from the card once they have spent enough, also seems odd as they are the only card which seem to do this.

    Is it just a case of controlling the supply of points perhaps?

    • Jonathan says:

      It’s got a very high earning rate for a non-Amex in the 0.3% interchange fee era. Someone must be subsiding this so presumably they have a limit on how much they’re happy to spend.

      I imagine they got stung in the early days when they were handing out big limits & allowing cycling.

    • Rob says:

      Too expensive, basically. Sinead had the numbers because she used to run marketing for the Virgin cards when she worked there. The change made a massive difference to profitability whilst only impacting a fraction of cardholders.

      Same will apply to the Lufthansa card. I earned 40,000 to 50,000 M&M in a good month from that card and it will have cost them a fortune. No wonder it was closed.

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