Free checked bag. Holding a Virgin America card saves you on the first checked bag fee.
Annual companion ticket. There’s a nice $150 off a companion ticket every year without a lot of restrictions, so it’s not hard to earn your annual fee back.
Annual fee. No way around it – if you want full value Elevate miles, you need to pay an annual fee.
Not a familiar bank. Comenity Bank is the issuer of these cards, and they might not have the same payment and online banking interface you’re used to with the bigger banks.
Virgin America Premium Visa
Virgin America Visa
Virgin America is an airline based out of San Francisco, and while it’s in the process of being acquired by Alaska Airlines, it’s still offering its own credit cards.
There are two:
Each of these cards earn Virgin “Elevate Points” which can be redeemed for flights on Virgin America airlines, as well as a list of partner airlines. The value of the airline redemption’s come out to about 2 cents per point, which is pretty good, but they only have a few destinations within the U.S. and Mexico. You can see the flight destinations here.
Though the redemption values are decent, the annual fees may be burdensome. An alternative would be the American Express Everyday card, which can transfer points to Virgin America, but without any annual fee. You’ll find more details on this option later in the review.
Let’s look at both Virgin cards side-by-side to compare features, and see why the higher annual fee card may still be a better option.
|Virgin America Premium Visa Signature||Virgin America Visa Signature|
|Sign-up Bonus||15,000 Elevate Points after spending $1,000 in 90 days||10,000 Elevate Points after spending $1,000 in 90 days|
|Annual Fee||$149 (first year not waived)||$49 (first year not waived)|
|Earning Rates||8x points on Virgin Flights, 1x points on all other purchases||8x points on Virgin Flights, 1x points on all other purchases|
|Fees||No flight change/cancellation fees; first checked bag fee waived for you and one companion||First checked bag fee waived for you and one companion|
|Companion Tickets||$150 off one companion ticket each year||$150 off one companion ticket each year|
|Discounts||20% off ALL in-flight purchases||20% off ALL in-flight purchases|
|Status||5,000 status points for every $10,000 spent (up to 15,000 each year), status points roll over||None|
While both cards have similar benefits, the Premium card gives you an extra 5,000 bonus points after meeting the minimum spend, as well as NO foreign transaction fees, great for those looking to travel abroad. But the real difference is the great incentives on fees and status.
For example, the ability to change or cancel non-refundable flights at NO COST could save up to $150 per change/cancellation. Even one change could pay for the annual fee in total.
With the status earning ability and flight flexibility, the Premium card is great for frequent travelers of Virgin, and those near the Virgin hubs of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dallas Love Field airports. The lower-fee Visa Signature is great for those looking to earn Virgin America points at a lower cost, and take advantage of things like the free checked baggage and companion ticket discounts.
For those looking to qualify for status on Virgin America, the ability to earn status points is a HUGE draw for the Premium card. For every $10,000 spent, you earn 5,000 points toward the next status Tier, up to 15,000 status points per year. If you earn additional status points above 15,000, those points roll over the next year toward status.
Since “Silver Elite Status” is only 20,000 status points, you can earn yourself 75% of the way there, only needing $1,000 in additional Virgin America airline spending (at 5x points) to get there. Silver Elite offers a few incentives, including:
“Gold Elite Status” requires 50,000 status points (an additional $6,000 in Virgin America airline spending at 5x points), and offers a few additional incentives:
When redeeming your Elevate rewards, the amount of points needed to book a flight are based on the actual cost of the flight, similar to Southwest Airlines. The points end up being worth about 2.2 cents per point when booking domestic flights on Virgin America.
When you book on partner flights, the prices are fixed based on the flight and cabin booked. They are also limited to staying within the same airline per leg. For example, if booking a flight from San Diego to London via San Francisco, you cannot book one leg on Virgin America and the other on Virgin Atlantic for one price. These must be booked separately.
Let’s check out a few of the redemption options using Elevate Rewards points on both Virgin America and their partner airlines.
On Virgin flights
Los Angeles to New York City – $535 or 24,320 Elevate points
Chicago to San Francisco – $420 or 19,090 Elevate points
San Francisco to Maui – $770 or 35,000 Elevate points
Dallas to Maui- $992 or 45,090 Elevate points (flight must transfer thru San Francisco)
As you can see, the prices are on par with many airlines if you pay out of pocket. But using your Elevate points, with a redemption value of over 2 cents per point, you don’t have to use any many points to major destinations such as Maui and New York as you would with many other airlines. For example, the same ticket from San Francisco to Maui on American Airlines would cost you 45,000 AAdvantage miles.
On Virgin Atlantic
San Francisco to London (economy) – 25,000 Elevate points + $475 in Taxes/Fees
Chicago to San Francisco (economy) – 15,000 Elevate points + $475 in Taxes/Fees
These redemptions are great values on points, but note the high cost of fuel surcharge fees and taxes on these flights.
On Hawaiian Airlines
Los Angeles to Maui – 20,000 Elevate points + $11 in Taxes/Fees
New York to Maui – 35,000 Elevate points + $11 in Taxes/Fees
Compared to most Hawaii trips, these use VERY LITTLE points and are a great redemption value.
On Virgin Australia
Los Angeles to Sydney (economy) – 40,000 Elevate points + $40 in Taxes/Fees
A great value, considering how far this flight is. Though, for a 15-hour flight, economy might not do the trick for some. Business Class seats are 80,000 points if you have the points saved up.
On Singapore Airlines
Los Angeles to Tokyo (economy) – 40,000 Elevate points + $38 in Taxes/Fees
San Francisco to Hong Kong (economy) – 40,000 Elevate points + $40 in Taxes/Fees
If you’re looking to add to your Elevate account but don’t want to pay the annual fee for the Virgin branded cards, you also have the option of adding Elevate Points by using the American Express Everyday card. The card has no annual fee and a 10,000 Membership Rewards point bonus for signing up (after spending $1,000 in 90 days). These points can transfer to your Elevate account, but at a 2:1 ratio, meaning you get 1 Elevate point for every 2 Membership Rewards points transferred.
If you want to even it out, you do earn 2x points at supermarkets, effectively earning you 1 Elevate point per dollar spent at supermarkets. You also receive a 20% points bonus after making 20 purchases in a given billing cycle, so you can earn extra points that way as well.
With no annual fee and a few bonus earning options, this may be a great “no cost” alternative to build up your Virgin Elevate point stash.
There are a few other cards and programs that can help boost your Virgin Elevate points account.
Starwood hotel points transfer to Elevate at an even 1:1 rate. So the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express, with a $95 annual fee, is a good option to earn full value Elevate points. Even better, there’s a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer.
Like the American Express Everyday card, the ThankYou Premier has bonus earning categories, including 3x points on travel and gas and 2x points on dining out and entertainment. This can help offset the 2:1 transfer to you Elevate account.
And lastly, any credit card that earns American Express Membership Rewards would qualify for the 2:1 transfer. This includes the no annual fee Amex Everyday as well as the Premier Rewards Gold Card, Mercedes-Benz Platinum Card, The Platinum Card, The Gold Card, The Green Card, or any of the Business OPEN versions of these cards.
The Virgin America Visa Signature and Premium Visa Signature offer compelling value on an airline that has that “sophisticated” feel to it. With 2 card options, and many other ways to earn points, the Virgin America Elevate program can be a great way to rack up miles and fly to some of those vacation destinations you’ve been dreaming about.
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Foreign Transaction Fee Waived
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