Editorial Review

Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard: Rich Rewards, If You Know How to Use Them

This card offers useful benefits if you fly where Virgin Atlantic and its partners can take you. Just be aware of award flights that come with hefty fees.

Gregory KarpOctober 1, 2019

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Our Take

The Bottom Line: The card can help you rack up miles quickly, but making the best use of those miles might require you to jump through some hoops.

Virgin Atlantic® World Elite Mastercard®

on Bank of America's website

Annual Fee

$90

Regular APR

16.74% - 24.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Annual Fee
$90
Annual Fee
$90
Intro APR
N/A

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Companion ticket potential

  • High rewards rate

  • Transfer partners

Cons
  • Complicated redemptions

  • Award flight surcharges

Alternate Pick: Greater flexibility

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Book directly or transfer points

This card earns 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. You can transfer points on a 1:1 basis to about a dozen airline and hotel programs or you can use them to book travel through Chase at 1.25 cents per point. However, you won't get any airline-specific perks. Annual fee: $95.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

Annual Fee

$90

Annual Fee

$0 for the first year, then $95

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

16.74% - 24.74% Variable APR

Regular APR

17.49% - 24.74% Variable APR

Regular APR

15.74% - 27.74% Variable APR

Rates & Fees

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

0% APR for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

Full Review

The Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®, issued by Bank of America®, can be a great fit for knowledgeable fans of the Virgin Atlantic frequent-flyer program, aka Flying Club. But typical U.S. flyers might find some negative surprises — not so much with the card, but with its rewards currency.

The card can quickly rack up valuable Flying Club miles with a highly regarded airline, thanks in large part to the 1.5 miles per dollar you earn on all non-airline spending, which is outstanding for a co-branded airline credit card. And your transfer partners are useful, including Delta Air Lines, which directly owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic. Plus, unlike a lot of airline cards, there's a way to earn a companion ticket each year if you spend enough.

But Americans accustomed to cashing in miles to earn free flights — or nearly free after nominal taxes and fees — might quickly sour on the card when they learn they have to shell out hundreds of dollars in fees to use their Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles on Virgin Atlantic flights. Those steep fees mean that transferring miles into other airline programs is often the best use of Virgin’s miles. But that’s an additional hoop to jump through.

And those companion tickets? Those are good only when you book an award flight with Virgin Atlantic, not with partners, like Delta. And you can't get a companion pass in a better cabin unless you have elevated frequent-flyer status.

In sum, the card is valuable for accumulating miles, but those miles are best used by travel-points fans who know what they’re doing or those who are willing to put in the time to learn.

Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®: Key features

  • Card type: Airline.

  • Annual fee: $90.

  • Sign-up bonus: For a limited time: Earn up to 80,000 bonus miles with the new Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®. The total bonus is divided up into a new cardholder bonus with required spending; anniversary miles with required spending; and adding authorized users.

  • Companion reward: Get a companion reward in the same cabin class when you redeem Flying Club miles for a Virgin Atlantic reward ticket. You must spend $25,000 or more in purchases annually to qualify.

  • Rewards rate: Earn 3 miles per $1 spent directly on Virgin Atlantic purchases and 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • Intro APR: The ongoing APR is 16.74% - 24.74% Variable APR.

  • Balance transfer fee: Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None.

  • Credit score required: Good.

Highlights of the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®

High rewards on everyday spending: The card offers 3 miles per $1 spent directly on Virgin Atlantic purchases, but its highlight is 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all other purchases. If you can use the miles strategically, that can be a great value for spending you were going to do anyway — on everything from gas and groceries to medical bills and meals out.

Companion ticket or upgrade: If you spend $25,000 or more in the same year, you qualify to receive a companion reward in the same cabin class when you redeem Flying Club miles for a Virgin Atlantic reward ticket. But earning the companion ticket “in the same cabin class” is restricted because it depends on your Virgin Atlantic frequent-flyer status at the time of booking.

If you have the lowest frequent-flyer status, Red Tier, you can only redeem miles for an Economy Classic primary award seat and Economy Classic cabin companion ticket. You’ll need Silver status for access to a companion ticket in the Premium cabin (or lower cabins) and Gold status for access to a companion fare in Upper Class (or lower cabins).

You’ll also be responsible for paying taxes, fees and surcharges for the companion fare.

In sum, a companion-fare feature is a nice perk, but on this card, it’s quite restricted.

A different option if you spend $25,000 on the card is to instead receive a cabin upgrade from Economy Classic to Premium for the primary cardholder when flying on an award flight. The perk is not valid for upgrades from Premium to Upper Class.

Progress toward elite status: With the card, you’ll earn 25 tier points per $2,500 in purchases for a maximum 50 per month.

Useful partners: Virgin's airline partners include Delta and Hawaiian Airlines in the U.S., as well as a number of international carriers.

Nerd tip: Nerd note: You can transfer miles into the Virgin American Flying Club from a number of credit card partner programs, including American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. Major hotel programs include those from Marriott, Hilton, IHG and Hyatt.

Miles for adding users: You get 2,500 miles for each of the first two authorized users added to the account.

Low-ish annual fee: The annual fee of $90 is a little lower than fees for other co-branded cards from large U.S. airlines, which typically charge $95 or $99.

Drawbacks and alternatives to consider

No checked-bag benefit: The Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard® does not include a baggage fee waiver. Most Virgin Atlantic tickets come with a checked bag benefit already. An exception are the cheapest fares, called Economy Light. If you buy that fare, you must pay for a checked bag. The credit card has no perk that gives you a free one.

Using miles can be complicated: When redeeming miles to book Virgin Atlantic flights, you’ll likely have to pay substantial surcharges in cash, making that usual type of redemption uninviting. Transferring miles to other programs, including Delta Air Lines, can be a good deal, but that will take additional knowledge and effort. If you’re mostly interested in mile transfers to Delta, you could consider a Delta co-branded credit card like the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, with an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95. Its ongoing rewards might not be as rich, but it allows for simpler redemptions on Delta and comes with perks — including a checked-bag benefit — that don't come with the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®.

Other travel cards offer more flexiblity: Consider the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel. Earn 2 points per dollar on all purchases, and through January 2020, earn 10 points per dollar spent on hotel stays booked at hotels.com/venture. With this card, you're not limited to redeeming points toward flights with a specific airline. Redeem for any travel expenses using the card's Purchase Eraser feature. The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95.

Some general travel rewards cards even come with no annual fee. The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card, for example, gives you 3 points per dollar spent on an array of categories important to travelers, including flights, hotels, car rentals, gas stations, transit, rideshares and restaurants, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. It also has a great sign-up bonus for a card with a $0 annual fee: Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months - that's a $300 cash redemption value.

Side perks are few: If you’re looking for a higher-end card with a wide range of travel perks and points that transfer to Virgin Atlantic, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, with an annual fee of $450 or The Platinum Card® from American Express, with an annual fee of $550.

Should you get the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®?

If you know you can use Flying Club miles strategically, the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard® can be a great choice for accumulating miles with a good sign-up bonus and everyday spending you would do anyway. But if simplicity matters, a general travel card might be the way to go.