One of the most common questions I get from people just starting to collect miles and points is: “Which is better – Avios or Virgin miles?”
It’s an interesting question and the answer isn’t all that straightforward.
I thought it was worth looking at various factors* that will influence your decision over where to focus your collecting efforts.
As a quick reminder: Avios is the currency used by British Airways in their frequent flyer program – British Airways Executive Club. You find more info on the program and Avios in this article here.
Virgin Atlantic’s frequent flyer program is known as Flying Club. For simplicity, I’ll just refer to those miles as ‘Virgin miles’. I wrote a detailed guide to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles which you can find here.
Earning miles via non-flying methods
- Converting American Express Membership Rewards points
- Online shopping portals – BA’s eStore and Virgin’s Shops Away
- Hotel partners (bookings) – including Kaligo & Rocketmiles
- Hotel partners (stays) – earn miles when staying at a partner hotel including Hyatt, Marriott, Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La hotels.
- Heathrow Rewards – including a 3,000 Avios/Virgin miles bonus
- Shopping at Chic Outlet villages (Bicester Village etc)
- Transferring Tesco Clubcard points
- Car rentals
- Converting Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points
Winner = Draw
Earning miles via credit cards
I’ve given credit cards a section of their own because they are likely to play a big part in the armoury of any serious miles collector.
Both BA and Virgin feature a free and a premium credit card product:
- BA offer the British Airways Premium Plus Card (reviewed here) and the British Airways Credit Card (reviewed here).
- Virgin have the recently-launched Virgin Reward Credit Card and Virgin Reward+ Credit Card (both reviewed here).
BA Credit Card = 5,000 Avios
Virgin Reward Card = 5,000 Virgin miles
BA Premium Plus Card = 26,000 Avios
Virgin Rewards+ Card = 15,000 Virgin miles
It’s worth bearing in mind that the bonus on the Premium Plus card requires spending £3,000 in the first 3 months of holding the card to receive the welcome bonus. The bonus on the Reward+ card, however, is awarded after making your first purchase.
In the battle of the free cards, the BA card earns a generous 1 Avios per £1 while the Virgin Reward card earns 0.75 miles per £1 – an excellent rate for a Mastercard.
The two premium cards earn 1.5 Avios per £1 and 1.5 Virgin miles per £1 respectively.
The BA cards offer a genuine 2-4-1 voucher – redeemable for travel in any class – after £20,000 of spend in a year (free card) or £10,000 of spend in a year (Premium Plus card).
Full details of the BA 2-4-1 voucher can be found in this guide.
The Virgin cards offer a choice of rewards, including a 2-4-1 voucher, after £20,000 of spend in a year (Reward card) or £10,000 of spend in a year (Reward+ card). Disappointingly though, only top-tier Virgin Gold members can use the 2-4-1 in Upper Class.
You can find more information on the choice of rewards available via this article.
BA Credit Card = Free
Virgin Reward Card = Free
BA Premium Plus Card = £195
Virgin Rewards+ Card = £160
This is quite a big one. The two Virgin cards are Mastercards, whereas both of the BA products are American Express cards.
There are undoubtedly many more places that will accept Mastercards rather than Amex.
Winner = British Airways
Simply because of the ability for anyone to use their 2-4-1 companion voucher for an aspirational business/first class trip. As I’ve said before, Virgin killed their chances by restricting the best use of the Virgin 2-4-1 voucher to top-tier status members.
(Lap) Infants policy on redemptions
The BA policy when adding an infant to a redemption booking is to charge 10% of the miles and 10% of the taxes required for an adult ticket.
Virgin’s current policy, per their website, is as follows:
An infant under two at the time of travel, and not requiring a seat, will be charged at the following one-way levels:
- 1,000 miles in Economy
- 2,000 miles in Premium
- 5,000 miles in Upper Class
Winner = Virgin
Flight redemption options
BA has an extensive short-haul network and these can be some of the best-value Avios redemptions, considering taxes are capped under the Reward Flight Saver scheme.
Virgin on the other hand, currently have no European/short-haul network whatsoever. That should change over the next 12 months or so, as the Air France/KLM partnership is crystallized.
Virgin have a predominantly US-focused route network. This has become even more pronounced in the last 3/4 years as flights to Sydney, Tokyo and Cape Town have all been culled.
BA has an impressive global route network and there is no shortage of long-haul destinations to fly to using Avios.
As a member of the Oneworld alliance, members of the BA Executive Club are able to use their Avios to travel in some of the best premium cabin products.
You can use your Avios to fly on Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, American Airlines and Qantas among others.
Virgin has a few great partner redemption options e.g. ANA First to Japan for 120,000 miles return, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines, but most of them are notoriously tricky to book. Apart from those, it has a close partnership with Delta but isn’t a member of any of the three global alliances.
It’s difficult to say with any certainty whether BA or Virgin are better at opening up seats for redemption close to departure. What I would say is that Virgin does allow you to use your miles at the airport to upgrade. BA doesn’t do airport upgrades using miles – if you want to do so you’ll have to ring the call centre.
As an aside, my very first business class flight came about via a last-minute airport upgrade using Virgin miles. I was en route to Hong Kong and used miles to go from Premium Economy to Upper Class which, considering it was a 12 hour overnight flight, was a pretty good result!
Winner = British Airways
Seat selection when redeeming miles
Virgin offer free seat selection to Premium and Upper Class passengers at the time of booking. This is a huge improvement over BA who still insist on charging business class passengers (without elite status) up to £90 to pre-select a seat.
Only BA passengers travelling in First are given the option of selecting their seats free of charge at the time of booking.
Winner = Virgin
Taxes/surcharges/fees on redemptions
For the most part, BA and Virgin are quite similar in terms of the
extortionate taxes payable on premium cabin redemptions (i.e. business/first).
Here’s an example of a roundtrip business class ticket to New York in November:
(Click to enlarge)
As you can see, there’s only a couple of pounds difference between them.
Interestingly, when it came to using miles in economy, the difference in taxes was far greater. On the same New York route, BA charge £373 while Virgin wanted just £216.
Winner = Draw
I’m calling this a draw because generally speaking, redeeming miles for long-haul economy travel to/from the UK isn’t a good deal given the high taxes and the ever-increasing availability of cheap cash tickets.
On paper, there isn’t a huge amount to choose between the two programs. Running through this analysis, I surprised myself at just how close this was.
Why then is my Avios balance more than twenty times the size of my Virgin account?
For me, it comes down to two main factors. The first is versatility. I can use my Avios to fly to a much wider range of destinations than with Virgin + the ability to use them to experience business or first class on the likes of Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways.
The second key reason is first class. And Virgin doesn’t offer a first class cabin. Yes, BA’s first class is considered by some to be ‘the world’s best business class’. Yet, on its day, it’s still a very good product and if we’re talking aspirational redemptions, I’d pick BA First over Virgin Upper Class any day.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments – do you focus on collecting Avios or Virgin miles (or both)?
*Any decision to collect Avios or Virgin miles may also be influenced by which airline you generally choose to fly when booking cash tickets. That choice will take into account aircraft type, seats, catering, lounges or even the price on your typical route. I deliberately haven’t covered any of those here.
I’ve also ignored any considerations of status, tier points etc. This article purely focuses on the two different currencies and their uses/value.
Header image credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com