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®
16.49% - 24.49% Variable APR
Recommended Credit Score
Pros & Cons
Companion ticket potential
High rewards rate
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.
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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 16.49% - 24.49% 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.
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 Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, with an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $99. 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. Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.. Earn 2 points per dollar on all purchases. 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 $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 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months - that's a $200 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 $550 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.
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