UPDATE: These cards were withdrawn from the MBNA website without warning in November 2017. Existing cards continue to work but they are currently not available to new applicants.
I’ve taken a fair bit of friendly banter from some regular TOTT readers over the last few months over the time it has been taking me to review the ‘official’ Virgin credit cards. Having pushed it off over the summer period while many people were away, I decided to procrastinate no longer!
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be taking a closer look at the two official Virgin Atlantic credit card products. This week’s focus is on the premium Black card, with a review of the free White card to follow next week.
The Virgin Black Credit card issued by MBNA allows you to earn Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles on all of your everyday purchases. Much like the Lloyds Avios Rewards cards that I wrote about in August, this card actually comes as a double pack, with both an American Express and a Visa card (for clarity, I will still simply refer to them as the Virgin Black card).
It is, if you like, Virgin’s answer to the British Airways American Express Premium Plus (BAPP) card.
But does it provide solid competition?
The sign-up bonus on this card is currently 18,500 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles when you make a purchase on the card in your first 90 days of card membership.
Having the miles awarded without any major spending requirements is a big plus in my books. It then becomes a simple question of weighing up the annual fee v sign-up bonus, at least in Year 1.
What can I do with Virgin Atlantic miles?
Plenty. They have a strong US route network, though their lack of European short-haul flights means there are no Reward Flight Saver-esque cheap redemptions.
Nevertheless, reward flights start at just 10,000 miles one-way to the likes of New York, Delhi or Dubai – that is some serious value!
In fact, in many examples, you would require fewer Virgin miles than if you were booking the same trip with British Airways using Avios.
For more info, this everything you need to know about Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles guide provides an in-depth analysis of the Flying Club program as a whole. I also looked at when you should be using Virgin miles instead of Avios points which is useful to bear in mind when trying to evaluate the two programs.
The annual fee on this card is £140.
Unlike (directly issued) American Express cards, this fee is not refundable pro-rata should you choose to cancel at some point during your card membership year.
Representative 57.4% APR variable and 22.9% p.a (variable) for purchases, based on an annual fee of £140 and an assumed credit limit of £1,200.
Day-to-day earnings rate
As explained earlier, this card comes as a double pack. How many miles you earn from your spend varies according to the card you use and where you use it:
American Express card:
- 4 miles for every £1 you spend directly with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays on this card.
- 2 miles per £1 spent on the card on all other purchases.
- 2 miles for every £1 spent directly with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays on this card.
- 1 mile per £1 spent on the card.
On paper, the earnings rates are very impressive. Currently, there is no UK credit card that pays out 2 Avios per £1 on all everyday spend for example.
The Visa earnings rate is similarly outstanding. Only the HSBC Premier World Elite MasterCard (which I reviewed here) can match the ability to earn 1 airline mile per £1 on all spend, and that has tough eligibility criteria.
1.) Premium Economy reward upgrade voucher
This is earned when you spend £5,000 on the Virgin Atlantic Black American Express®Credit Card in one year. It allows you to book a Premium Economy seat for the price of an Economy redemption.
- This is essentially just saving you the difference in terms of miles required between an Economy and Premium Economy redemption. While a nice bonus, this is only really relevant if you would be looking to book a Premium Economy redemption and/or would perhaps struggle to accumulate the necessary mileage otherwise.
- NOTE: These upgrades come in the form of vouchers added to your Virgin account, but are only added at the end of your card membership year! By contrast, the American Express 2-4-1 voucher (that accompanies the BA Premium Plus card – reviewed here and the free BA card – reviewed here) is added within a couple of weeks of hitting the spending target.
- Max of 2 upgrades possible per (card membership)year. One after £5,000 spent, a second after reaching £10,000.
- Upgrade vouchers valid for 12 months from issue date.
2.) Complimentary companion reward flight
Spend £7,500 on the Virgin Atlantic Black American Express® Credit Card and receive a free* companion ticket when you purchase a full fare qualifying flight.
- So this sounds good, the MBNA answer to the British Airways/Amex 2-4-1 voucher. On closer inspection, it’s clear this is the poor man’s version, although admittedly it has improved slightly in recent years.
This is because unlike the BA 2-4-1 you need to purchase a ‘full’ cash ticket in order to receive the free companion ticket! About 18 months ago, Virgin widened the types of cash tickets that are eligible to be used in conjunction with the voucher. However, you still cannot combine the voucher with the cheapest Economy/Premium Economy tickets, which decreases its value considerably.
- Max of one voucher can be earned per (card membership year).
- Voucher is valid for 12 months from the date of issue.
*Taxes and charges still applicable
NOTE: Spend made on the Visa card does NOT contribute towards the spend thresholds required to earn either of the above vouchers.
I get a better sign-up bonus?
The short answer to that question is, probably yes. But it may not be worth waiting for. Currently, the bonus on this card is at its ‘standard level’. MBNA have run raised bonus periods in the last couple of years offering 25,000 Virgin miles for taking out this card.
So, in theory, you should wait for a (25k) promotion to come along. Well, not necessarily. During promotional periods, the sign-up bonus has traditionally been staggered as follows:
- 18,500 miles when you make your first purchase.
- A further 6,500 miles when you spend £3,000 within the first three months of card membership
In which case you have to weigh up whether you would be able/would want to channel £3,000 of spending onto this card for ‘just’ 6,500 Virgin miles.
The BAPP card, for example, is currently offering 25,000 Avios for taking out the card. The spend required to unlock that bonus is also £3,000 within your first 90 days of card membership.
On balance, most people would choose 25,000 Avios rather than 6,500 Virgin miles when putting £3,000 of spend on a card. If that is the case, there is no reason to wait for a larger sign-up bonus to come along.
I like this card. In fact, I currently have one myself – which I opened to use as an alternative where Amex is not accepted. I enjoy the balance of collecting Avios/other miles from my Amex spend and racking up Virgin miles at places which only accept Visa or MasterCard. Getting one mile per £1 on all of that non-Amex spend is ultimately an excellent return.
Then again, I signed up with a big bonus and given that the upgrade vouchers hold little appeal for me, I just can’t see myself keeping the card for the second year. So for me, it definitely loses out to the BAPP card which I tend to keep year on year.
However, if you are looking for a way to jumpstart your Virgin miles balance, this card’s superb earnings rate are an excellent way to go about it.
Disclaimer: The above information is intended solely as a helpful guide to the relevant products on the market and their various features. You should always conduct your own research as the recommendations provided within may not be suitable for your personal financial requirements.