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Virgin Atlantic launches new air mile credit cards – how do they compare with Avios?

Which? looks at whether Virgin's new Flying Club Miles boosters are worth going for

Virgin Money has launched two new Virgin Atlantic air mile credit cards that you can use to earn points for free flights, cabin upgrades and companion tickets (after taxes and charges) – injecting new life into the market.

The cards allow you to quickly rack up Flying Club Miles, the point currency used for the Virgin Atlantic frequent flyers programme, with your everyday spending.

Here, we take a look at how the cards can boost your points balance, how easy it is to unlock the rewards and how the cards compare with the popular British Airways Avios reward credit cards.


What the Virgin Atlantic cards offer

The fee-free Virgin Atlantic Reward Credit Card (representative 22.9% APR) offers 5,000 bonus Flying Club Miles with the first purchase you make within 90 days of opening the account.

You’ll also earn 0.75 miles for every £1 spent on the card or 1.5 miles when you make a direct booking with Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays.

The Virgin Atlantic Reward + Credit Card (representative 63.9% APR) comes with a £160 annual fee, but offers 15,000 bonus Flying Club Miles on your first transaction within 90 days.

It also offers double the points on spending. So you can earn 1.5 miles for every £1 you put on the card or 3 miles for every £1 spent on Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays.

If you manage to spend £20,000 on the Virgin Atlantic Reward Credit Card or £10,000 on the Virgin Atlantic Reward + Credit Card in a year, you will get an upgrade, companion ticket or clubhouse voucher (silver and gold tier members only) valid for two years.

Both cards also offer six months’ 0% on balance transfers (3% fee) and money transfers (3% fee). You also get access to Virgin Money lounges and exclusive offers from the Virgin Group.

How easy is it to unlock rewards?

You can use the Flying Club Miles you rack up on Virgin Atlantic reward flights, upgrades and companion tickets, but you’ll need to pay the taxes and charges.

The amount of points you need for a reward ticket varies according to when you want to travel and the cabin class you want to fly in.

The table below shows how many points you need to fly on Virgin Atlantic’s main routes in economy class during peak and off-peak seasons.

Route Economy Classic return – points needed (off peak)* Economy Classic return – points needed (peak)*
India and UAE 20,000 40,000
US – Northeast (Boston, Newark, New York JFK, Washington DC) 20,000 40,000
Caribbean 20,000 40,000
US – Midwest and South (Atlanta, Miami, Orlando) 25,000 45,000
Mexico 25,000 45,000
Africa, China and Hong Kong 25,000 45,000
US – West (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle) 30,000 50,000

*Points needed for free reward flight before taxes and charges

Source: Virgin Atlantic

If you don’t have quite enough points you can still unlock rewards by using your miles, plus cash, to pay for your trip. You need to have at least 3,000 miles, which Virgin Atlantic says gives you a discount of £18. So the 15,000 bonus miles offered by the Virgin Atlantic Reward + Credit Card could save you £90 on a trip. 

How do the Virgin Atlantic cards compare with Avios?

The Virgin Atlantic Credit Cards can help you build up Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles to use for cheaper or free Virgin Atlantic flights, but there are other schemes you can use to save on your next trip and you might find that you will be able to unlock rewards sooner with competitor schemes.

The closest rivals are the British Airways American Express credit cards, which allow you to earn air miles in the Avios currency, which are fed into the BA Executive Club reward scheme.

The British Airways American Express Credit Card (representative 22.9% APR) is fee-free and offers 5,000 bonus Avios points when you spend £1,000 in your first three months. You’ll also collect one Avios for every £1 spent and when you spend £20,000 you’ll get a companion ticket voucher valid for two years.

Or there’s the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card (representative 76% APR), which has an annual fee of £195, but offers 25,000 Avios (enough for a free return trip to Rome, plus taxes and fees) when you spend £3,000 within your first three months. You can earn 1.5 Avios for every £1 you spend and when you spend £10,000 within a year you will earn a companion voucher that’s valid for 24 months.

The table below summarises the benefits of the Virgin Atlantic credit cards versus the British Airways credit cards.

Introductory offer Ongoing points Spend needed to unlock extra reward Annual fee APR
Virgin Atlantic Reward Credit Card 5,000 miles on first purchase within 90 days 0.75 miles per £1 £20,000 to get a companion ticket, upgrade or clubhouse voucher £0 22.9%
Virgin Atlantic Reward + Credit Card 15,000 miles on first purchase within 90 days 1.5 miles per £1 £10,000 to get a companion ticket, upgrade or clubhouse voucher £160 63.9%
British Airways American Express Credit Card 5,000 Avios on £1,000 spend within three months 1 Avios per £1 £20,000 to get a companion ticket voucher £0 22.9%
British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card 25,000 Avios on £3,000 spend within three months 1.5 Avios per £1 £10,000 to get a companion ticket voucher £195 76%

You can compare more of the top travel and air mile reward credit cards on Which? Money Compare.

Are the Virgin Atlantic cards worth going for?

If you like flying with Virgin Atlantic and collect Flying Club Miles anyway, the new Virgin Atlantic Reward Credit Cards can help you boost your points balance relatively quickly.

Unlike the British Airways cards, you don’t have to spend a minimum to get the bonus points, so you’ll unlock 5,000 miles on the fee-free Virgin Atlantic Reward Credit Card no matter how big or small your first purchase is.

However, you should consider how long you’ll have to wait and how many other points you’ll need to collect in order to actually benefit from a free flight.

With the British Airways credit cards, you can unlock a lot of short-haul destinations from just 9,000 Avios. Virgin Atlantic is better if you want to travel further afield, but you’ll need at least 20,000 miles to benefit from the cheapest routes.

That said, the Virgin Atlantic credit cards are issued by Mastercard, which means you can easily use them around the world. The British Airways deals are issued by American Express, which is accepted by fewer retailers, so it may be harder to use for everyday spending.

Using air miles cards effectively

To get the most out of an air mile credit card, you should only use it to spend money you have and pay off your balance in full each month to avoid interest.

Which? Limited is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Which? Financial Services Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 527029). Which? Mortgage Advisers and Which? Money Compare are trading names of Which? Financial Services Limited.

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