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Bank of America’s Virgin Atlantic Black Credit Card is a popular airline credit card that doesn’t quite make our list of the best travel rewards credit cards – though not for lack of trying.
It comes in two flavors: White and Black. They’re similar, but the Black Credit Card is the more generous of the two. This review is about the Black Card.
When you open your credit card account, you’re automatically enrolled in Flying Club, Virgin Atlantic’s free loyalty program. Simply for signing up, making your first purchase, and adding your first two authorized users, Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard (Black) gives you enough Flying Club miles to pay for a round-trip transatlantic flight between the U.K. and any Virgin Atlantic terminal in the eastern United States.
Going forward, you earn 3 Flying Club miles for every $1 spent on Virgin Atlantic purchases, plus unlimited 1.5 miles for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Needless to say, the Black Credit Card is a great way to save on international travel.
But wait – there’s more. The Virgin Atlantic Black Card has a nice annual bonus for big spenders – worth up to 15,000 Flying Club miles – and offers a clear path for heavy-spending frequent flyers to move up Flying Club’s membership tiers with everyday purchases. And there’s a nice companion airfare benefit in store for those who can swing $25,000 in annual spending.
This card does have an important drawback that’s worth mentioning up top: extremely high taxes and fees on award travel. Regardless of the underlying cost of the fare, the tax-and-fee load starts at $470 per round-trip flight. It can go even higher. Virtually all award tickets come with taxes and fees that must be paid out of pocket, but the hit is usually much lower – typically less than $50 for domestic flights.
Still interested in the Virgin Atlantic Black Credit Card? Read on for a closer look at its features, advantages, drawbacks, and overall suitability.
Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard (Black) has a generous, two-part sign-up bonus.
First, you get 20,000 bonus Flying Club miles when you make your first purchase. Second, you get 2,500 bonus Flying Club miles for each of your first 2 authorized users, for a total potential bonus of 25,000 miles.
All told, that’s enough for a round-trip flight from anywhere in the eastern United States to the U.K., or vice versa.
Earning Flying Club Miles
Virgin Atlantic purchases earn unlimited 3 Flying Club miles per $1 spent. All other purchases earn unlimited 1.5 Flying Club miles per $1 spent.
Annual Flying Club Miles Bonus
When you spend at least $15,000 in any cardmember year (the twelve-month period between your anniversary dates), you get 7,500 bonus Flying Club miles. You get a second 7,500-mile bonus when you spend an additional $10,000, for a total bonus of 15,000 miles on $25,000 in annual spending.
Redeeming Flying Club Miles
The most cost-effective way to redeem your Flying Club miles is for Virgin Atlantic airfare.
Round-trip economy flights from the U.S. East Coast to the U.K. start at 20,000 Flying Club miles (up to 40,000 at peak times). Round-trip economy flights from West Coast cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles start at 25,000 miles. Longer-haul flights to destinations in Asia, Australia, and elsewhere require 40,000 miles or more. Remember that you’ll need to spend at least $470 out of pocket per reward fare for taxes and fees.
If you don’t have enough miles to redeem for a full round-trip fare, you can use Virgin Atlantic’s Miles Plus Money feature to redeem miles and cash simultaneously. You need at least 3,000 miles to execute a Miles Plus Money redemption. Redemptions are always made in multiples of 3,000 miles, with each step knocking another £18 off the total fare. This values miles at roughly $0.01 apiece, depending on exchange rates.
Half-Off Companion Economy Award Fare
When you spend at least $25,000 in any year, you get a bonus companion economy award certificate for half the regular number of miles. To redeem, you need to book an award fare for yourself at full price, then book the half-off award fare for your companion on the same flight. You can redeem this award on any flight, so it pays to wait until you’ve saved up enough miles to cover a longer trip.
Tier Points Bonus
For every $2,500 in purchases spent with your card, you get 25 tier points toward higher Flying Club status levels. You need to earn 400 points in a calendar year to move from Red (entry level) to Silver status, and 600 points in a calendar year to move from Silver to Gold status.
Silver benefits include a 30% bonus on base Flying Club miles earned on airfare spending, and priority boarding. Gold benefits include a 60% mileage bonus, complimentary seat upgrades, two complimentary airport lounge passes with ticketed travel, one complimentary airport lounge spa treatment, and much more.
The Black Credit Card’s tier points bonus is capped at 50 points ($5,000 spend) per month and 600 points ($60,000 spend) per year. You earn additional tier points when you purchase Virgin Atlantic airfare, even if you don’t have this credit card.
Free FICO Score
You get a free FICO score every month with your statement and in your online or mobile account dashboard.
Overdraft Protection Transfer Program for Bank of America Deposit Customers
If you have a Bank of America deposit account, you can take advantage of the bank’s optional overdraft protection transfer program. When you opt in, checking account transactions that would normally result in overdrafts are offset with automatic draws on your Black Card’s cash advance credit line. This allows them to go through as intended. This service costs $12 per transfer. Draws do begin accruing interest at the cash advance rate right away, so it’s in your best interest to pay them off as soon as possible.
This card has some additional benefits for all cardholders:
- Extended Warranties: This card’s benefit package doubles existing manufacturers’ warranties of 1 year or less, subject to certain restrictions.
- Retail Protection: This card includes damage and theft protection for eligible purchased items, up to 90 days and $1,000 per item.
- Emergency Travel Assistance: As a cardholder, you’re entitled to 24/7 emergency travel assistance during domestic or international trips.
- Common Carrier Travel Accident Insurance: This limited travel insurance policy provides up to $500,000 in protection if you’re killed or seriously injured during common carrier travel.
- Emergency Roadside Assistance: This benefit provides 24/7 roadside assistance for breakdowns, empty tanks, accidents, and other vehicle issues. Additional charges, such as towing and repair fees, may apply.
There is a $90 annual fee from the first year. There is no foreign transaction fee. Balance transfers and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 3%. Late and returned payments both cost up to $37.
This card requires excellent credit.
- Easy to Attain the Sign-Up Bonus. Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard’s sign-up bonus is easy to attain. You get 20,000 bonus Flying Club miles simply for making your first purchase, plus up to 5,000 additional miles for adding authorized users. There’s no minimum spend requirement – a welcome change from most other travel cards, which can require $1,000 or more in purchases to unlock bonus miles.
- Clear Path to Higher Status Through Spending. This card’s tier points spending bonus offers a clear path to higher Flying Club membership levels through everyday spending. You can earn up to 50 tier points per month and 600 per year, more than enough to move from Red to Silver status – and just enough to move from Silver to Gold.
- Above-Average Return on Spending. This card’s baseline earning rate is 1.5 Flying Club miles per $1 spent on all purchases, with no caps or restrictions. And that rate doubles on spending with Virgin Atlantic. Many competing airline credit cards earn just 2 miles per $1 spent on airfare and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. With lower redemption minimums (20,000 Flying Club miles for a round-trip transatlantic flight, compared with 40,000 miles or more on most other airlines), cardholders come out even further ahead.
- Solid Benefits for Heavy Spenders. The more you spend with this card, the better you’ll make out – and not just because you’ll be accumulating Flying Club miles with every dollar you spend. When you clear $15,000 in annual net purchases, you get 7,500 bonus miles. Another $10,000 in annual net purchases – for $25,000 total – earns you an additional 7,500 miles. The $25,000 threshold also unlocks your annual half-price companion fare. And every $2,500 in net purchases earns you 25 tier miles, bringing you even closer to Silver or Gold membership status.
- No Foreign Transaction Fee. Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard (Black) has no foreign transaction fee. Since it’s designed for international travelers, that’s probably the least Bank of America and Virgin Atlantic could do. But it’s a nice gesture nonetheless, considering that many other credit cards charge 3% on all foreign transactions.
- Overdraft Protection for Bank of America Deposit Account Holders. Bank of America deposit account holders can take advantage of Bank of America’s optional overdraft protection transfer program, which draws on your credit card’s cash advance credit line to cover transactions that would otherwise result in overdrafts. Though there’s a $12-per-transfer fee for this service, that may be worth the trouble – especially when you’re making an essential purchase or trying to avoid embarrassment.
- $90 Annual Fee. Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard (Black) has a $90 annual fee. This is a potential deal-breaker for light spenders and infrequent travelers, who likely won’t earn rewards quickly enough to offset the recurring charge. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has a lower annual fee ($59, waived in the first year) and a higher baseline rewards rate.
- High Taxes and Fees on Award Travel. This is the Black Credit Card’s Achilles’ heel. Taxes and fees on award travel start at $470 per round-trip ticket – more than many domestic economy flights within the U.S. That’s a tough ask for frugal travelers, who rightly expect award travel to be free (or mostly so). Most other airlines’ award travel taxes and fees are lower, even for transatlantic travel. You can expect to pay less than $100 in taxes and fees for the typical United award flight, for instance. If that sounds appealing, check out Chase’s United MileagePlus Explorer Card.
- Geographical Limitations. Virgin Atlantic’s wheelhouse is U.S.-to-U.K. travel. Within that category, it focuses on a handful of major East and West Coast cities. If you live in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., or Detroit, you’ll have no problem snagging direct Virgin Atlantic flights. However, if you live in a second- or third-tier city, or anywhere in the middle of the United States, other airlines (including Delta and United) offer more efficient routes to old England.
- Limited Airport and In-Flight Benefits for Regular Cardholders. Once you’ve scaled the heights of Flying Club membership – or at least moved into Silver status – you’ll enjoy a nice menu of perks and benefits, some of which (such as the Flying Club base miles bonus) are downright valuable. But simply holding on to this card confers little love. That’s a stark contrast with cards like Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard and Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, which offer benefits like priority boarding and in-flight discounts to all cardholders.
- No Introductory APR Promotion. This card doesn’t have a low- or no-APR introductory promotion for purchases or balance transfers. That’s bad news for new cardholders struggling with high-interest balances on existing credit card accounts, as well as those looking to finance big-ticket purchases (including, perhaps, transatlantic travel) without accruing interest. Look to popular alternatives, such as Citi Simplicity and Chase Slate instead.
The Virgin Atlantic Black Credit Card is a tough card to score.
On the one hand, it looks very generous on paper and boasts a ton of legitimate, potentially valuable benefits for high-spending Virgin Atlantic loyalists. On the other hand, it’s by nature a niche product for a relatively small group of well-off folks with the means, time, and business case to travel frequently between the United States and Europe.
If you’re a member of that group, I’m a little bit jealous – but fully confident that this card will take you where you need to go. If you’re a regular Joe whose idea of a special vacation is a weekend at the cabin or shore, set your sights on a general-purpose travel credit card instead.