Virgin has boosted its credit card sign-up bonuses – but which card is best for you?

Last Tuesday, Virgin Atlantic launched a special limited-time sign-up bonus on its two new Virgin Flying Club credit cards, issued by Virgin Money.

Full details are on the airline website here.  In summary:

The bonus on the free card has been increased from 5,000 miles to 7,000 miles (£1000 spend in 90 days required)

The bonus on the £160 card has been increased from 15,000 miles to 25,000 miles (£3000 spend in 90 days required)

These offers run until 31st October.

With this in mind, I wanted to run through the two Virgin Atlantic credit cards again to help you decide which one is best for you.  I also wanted to focus more closely on the long-term spending bonuses which kick in when you spend £10,000 (£160 card) or £20,000 (free card) per year.

I ran a version of this article last time Virgin had a promotion on its cards, which is why long-term readers might find it familiar!

Here are the key features:

You can choose between a free Virgin Atlantic Mastercard and a paid Mastercard, with (until 31st October) a 7,000 mile and 25,000 mile sign-up bonus respectively

The earning rates are EXCELLENT.  0.75 miles per £1 on the free card and 1.5 miles per £1 on the fee card.

The new Virgin credit cards have a 2-4-1 voucher which works like the BA Amex voucher.  But … and this is a big ‘but’ … you need to be Flying Club Gold to use it in Upper Class.  You need to be Flying Club Silver to use it in Premium (Virgin’s new name for Premium Economy).  A base level ‘Red’ member can only use it in Economy. 

Solo travellers can choose, instead, to upgrade a return Economy redemption flight to Premium Economy.  This is available to everyone regardless of status.  As the upgrade voucher is valid for two years, a couple could also benefit if they earned two vouchers in consecutive years or each had their own credit card.

All Virgin Atlantic cardholders get free access to Virgin Money lounges around the UK

Let’s look at the two cards in detail.

Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card

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
  • 5,000 miles with your first purchase (within 90 days of card opening)
  • Apply before 31st October and you receive an additional 2,000 miles after spending £1,000 within 90 days
  • This takes the total sign-up bonus to 7,000 miles
  • Earn 0.75 Virgin Flying Club miles per £1 spent
  • Double miles on online or call centre bookings with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays
  • Unlimited free access to Virgin Money lounges across the UK
  • 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.

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ 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 miles with your first purchase (within 90 days of card opening)
  • Apply before 31st October and you receive an additional 10,000 miles after spending £3,000 within 90 days
  • This takes the total sign-up bonus to 25,000 miles
  • Earn 1.5 Virgin Flying Club miles per £1 spent
  • Double miles 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
  • 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

These are your rewards for hitting the spending target each year:

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.

(Frustratingly, Virgin Atlantic does not email you to tell you that you have hit the threshold.  However, a line item appears on your Virgin Flying Club statement indicating that the reward is available on your account if you ring the call centre.)

This is what you can pick from:

All Flying Club members:

A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Flying Club redemption in Economy, or

A return upgrade to Premium when you book an Economy reward flight (requires reward availability in Premium)

Flying Club members with Silver status can choose from:

A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Flying Club redemption in Premium or Economy, or

A Virgin Clubhouse lounge pass for Heathrow or Gatwick (requires a same-day Virgin Atlantic flight), or

A return upgrade to Premium when you book an Economy reward flight (requires reward availability in Premium)

Flying Club members with Gold status can choose from:

A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Flying Club redemption in Upper Class, Premium or Economy

TWO Virgin Clubhouse lounge passes for Heathrow or Gatwick (require same-day Virgin Atlantic flights)

A return upgrade to Premium when you book an Economy reward flight (requires reward availability in Premium)

Taxes and charges are due on ‘free’ 241 seats in the same way as the British Airways American Express 241 vouchers.  Vouchers are valid for two years and you must fly the outbound leg of your trip before the expiry date.

Which card is best for you?

As usual, there is no easy answer to this question.  Here are my thoughts.

The free Reward credit card is a very easy free 7,000 Virgin Atlantic miles.  Even if you are not a major Virgin Flying Club collector, 7,000 miles for spending just £1,000 is attractive.

Whether you should get the Reward+ credit card depends on your spending.  Purely from a bonus point of view, you are spending £160 to get 25,000 Flying Club miles.  This is a good deal in itself overall (just 0.64p per mile) but you need to compare that with the 0.00p cost for the 7,000 miles with the free card!  To get the full benefit you need to be spending on the cards too.

I like the upgrade voucher for hitting your annual spend target.  If you usually travel on your own, you don’t need a BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher.  The upgrade voucher lets you book a return Premium Economy reward flight on Virgin Atlantic for the same miles as an Economy reward flight.  As vouchers are valid for two years, it works for couples if you are prepared to wait two years to earn two vouchers.

I do not like the 2-4-1 voucher for hitting your annual spend target. I am 99% sure that Virgin Atlantic has missed a trick.  There is no good reason, in my view, to restrict Upper Class redemptions using the 241 voucher to Virgin Flying Club Gold members.  As we all know, or should know, long-haul redemptions in Economy are usually a waste of miles because of the taxes and charges.  For non-status members of Flying Club, this is likely to be a perk with little value outside peak periods and you would be better off taking the upgrade voucher.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Reward credit card

The on-going earning rate is EXCELLENT

Let’s not beat around the bush.  Looking first at the free Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card, 0.75 Virgin Flying Club miles per £1 spent makes this the most generous free Visa or Mastercard currently available.

What are your alternatives, looking only at cards still open to new applicants?

I would value 0.75 Virgin Flying Club miles at 0.75p

The free IHG Rewards Club card gives 1 point per £1, which I value at 0.4p

The free Tesco Clubcard Mastercard gives 0.125 Clubcard points per £1 (0.3 Avios) which I value at 0.3p

The free Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card is twice as valuable as the next best free travel Mastercard or Visa card.

Similarly, on the fee-based Reward+ credit card:

I would value 1.5 Virgin Flying Club miles per £1 at 1.5p

The £99 IHG Rewards Club Premium card gives 2 IHG points per £1, which I value at 0.8p

The £79 Lufthansa Miles & More charge card gives 1.25 Miles & More miles per £1, which I value at 1.25p

Again, the annual fee Virgin Atlantic Reward+ credit card has more valuable rewards than any other fee-paying travel Mastercard or Visa card.

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ credit card

But the snag …..

…. is using the miles.  Virgin Atlantic is a long-haul airline and so you don’t have any low value redemptions of note.

Virgin Flying Club will change massively in the next few months when Air France and KLM flights become available for redemption. This will add short haul options in Europe as well as the excellent Air France / KLM long-haul network.  It is also looking more likely that Virgin Atlantic will join the wider SkyTeam alliance soon.

You will need a decent stock of miles to take advantage of this.  The good news is that you can also earn Virgin Flying Club miles from other partners:

American Express Membership Rewards from Amex Gold or Amex Platinum (1:1)

Tesco Clubcard (1 point is 2.5 miles)

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 miles relatively easily – the free American Express Preferred Rewards Gold has a 10,000 point sign-up bonus which will convert into 10,000 Virgin miles.

Other offers we have looked at recently include:

Remember that you can redeem from the US to Europe in Business Class on Delta and pay just £4 of tax.

Virgin Atlantic Reward Plus credit card

Conclusion

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

If you have been thinking about getting one of them, you should do it ASAP whilst the higher bonus is available.

If you have a pot of Virgin miles which you can add to via these cards, you should think seriously about applying

If you are Virgin Gold and can access the 2-4-1 voucher in Upper Class, you should think seriously about applying

If you are Virgin Silver and are happy redeeming your 2-4-1 voucher for Premium Economy, you should think seriously about applying

If you are a solo traveller and will benefit from the Premium Economy upgrade voucher when booking an Economy ticket on miles, you should think seriously about applying

If you are a casual Virgin Flying Club collector, 7,000 miles for taking out the free card and 0.75 miles per £1 spent will see your balance move along, albeit slowly.  You may or may not get value from paying £160 for one year for the Reward+ card to get the 25,000 mile bonus – although the chance to earn so many miles so cheaply rarely comes along.

Access to the seven Virgin Money lounges around the UK (I reviewed the Piccadilly one here although it has now relocated) is a decent extra perk for everyone.  The full list of lounges is here.

You can apply for the FREE Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card (7,000 miles bonus) here and the paid-for Virgin Atlantic Reward+ credit card (25,000 miles 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.

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