Credit Card Showdown: British Airways Vs. Virgin Atlantic

Filed Under: Bank of America, British Airways
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Airline co-brand credit cards are big business for both airlines and banks. Nowadays we’re seeing more robust features introduced on these cards, and we’re also increasingly seeing cards issued by non-US airlines.

In this post I wanted to look at two of the all around best foreign airline credit cards issued in the US — the British Airways Visa Signature® Card (review) and the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard® (review).

Which of these two cards should you apply for, and which offers the best spending bonuses, rewards, and perks? Let’s take a look at the two cards across a variety of factors:

Comparing Welcome Bonuses

The British Airways Card offers a welcome bonus of up to 100,000 Avios, structured as follows:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $3,000 within the first three months
  • Earn an additional 50,000 bonus Avios after spending a total of $20,000 within the first year of account opening

British Airways’ new business class

The Virgin Atlantic Card offers a welcome bonus of up to 80,000 Flying Club miles, structured as follows:

  • Earn 60,000 bonus Flying Club miles after spending $2,000 within the first three months
  • Earn 2,500 Flying Club bonus miles for each of the first two authorized users you add to your card
  • Earn 15,000 Flying Club bonus miles on your account anniversary every year for spending a total of $25,000


Virgin Atlantic’s new business class

There’s not a clear winner here. The initial bonus is better and easier to earn with the Virgin Atlantic Card, while for a big spender the British Airways Card has the slight edge, for the ability to earn 100,000 bonus Avios.

Comparing Approval Odds

All card issuers have different rules when it comes to approving people for cards:

  • The British Airways Visa is issued by Chase:
    • Chase has the 5/24 rule, where they typically won’t approve you if you’ve opened five or more accounts in the past 24 months
    • You’re not eligible for the card if you currently have it or have received a bonus on the card in the past 24 months; that means if you’ve had the card in the past you’re potentially eligible for it again
  • The Virgin Atlantic Mastercard is issued by Bank of America:
    • Bank of America has the 2/3/4 rule, where you can typically only be approved for at most two Bank of America cards in a rolling two month period, and at most three cards in rolling 12 month period, and at most four cards in a rolling 24 month period

Comparing Annual Fees

Annual fees are one of the biggest considerations that people have when considering a credit card. There is only a small difference between the fees on these two cards:

  • The British Airways Visa has a $95 annual fee
  • The Virgin Atlantic Mastercard has a $90 annual fee

So the Virgin Atlantic Mastercard has a minor advantage here, as the fee is $5 lower. But that’s not a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.

Comparing Points Earning Structures

Before talking about the spending bonuses offered on these cards, let’s look at the points earning rates for basic purchases:

  • The Virgin Atlantic Card offers 3x miles on Virgin Atlantic purchases, and 1.5x miles on all other purchases
  • The British Airways Card offers 3x Avios on British Airways purchases, 2x Avios on hotel bookings, and 1x Avios on all other purchases

Based on that I’d definitely say the Virgin Atlantic Card has the edge, as I’d rather earn 1.5x miles on all purchases than have one bonus category for 2x Avios on hotel bookings. But that’s only half of the equation here…

Comparing Spending Bonuses

The points earning rates shown above don’t alone explain the value proposition of putting spending on these cards, as both cards offer considerable spending bonuses.

The British Airways Card offers a Travel Together Ticket when you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. This allows you to take a companion with you on an award flight without paying the Avios, as they just have to pay the taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges:

  • This can be hugely valuable in the sense that you could use it for a premium cabin British Airways award ticket from the US to virtually anywhere (either one-way or roundtrip)
  • The catch is that British Airways has hefty carrier imposed surcharges, which is why many people are put off by this

This companion certificate is pretty polarizing — some people find it to be well worth it, while others would get no value out of it.

Use the companion ticket for a British Airways first class ticket

The Virgin Atlantic Card offers several spending bonuses, including:

  • 7,500 bonus miles on your account anniversary when you spend $15,000 on the card in a year, and an additional 7,500 bonus miles if you spend a total of $25,000
  • A fast track towards status — earn 25 Tier Points for every $2,500 you spend on the card in net purchases; you can earn a maximum of 50 Tier Points per month, and a maximum of 600 Tier Points per year
  • If you spend $25,000 on the card per year you get your choice of an annual benefit — either a one-cabin upgrade benefit or a companion award fare, though there are restrictions with these; you can read more about them here

You can potentially get value out of the upgrade certificates or companion ticket

It’s hard to say which card has the better spending bonuses. I will say that in general if you’re spending $25,000 per year on the Virgin Atlantic Card then you’re earning over two miles per dollar on average, which is good (factoring in 1.5x miles per dollar spent, plus the 15,000 mile bonus). The other benefits are just the icing on the cake.

Meanwhile on the British Airways Card the companion certificate will either be extremely valuable, or will offer virtually no value, depending on the type of traveler you are.

Comparing Card Benefits

Beyond the spending threshold bonuses, the cards offer some other potentially valuable perks.

The British Airways Card offers:

  • A 10% discount on British Airways revenue flights originating in the US when you book by March 31, 2020 (this could very well be extended, and has been in the past)
  • A reward flight statement credit of up to $600 annually; earn a $100 statement credit for an economy or premium economy booking, or a $200 statement credit for a business or first class booking

Save on British Airways carrier imposed surcharges

Meanwhile the Virgin Atlantic Card doesn’t offer any other “obvious” perks. However, it offers so many spending bonuses, and a solid 1.5x miles per dollar spent.

So in that regard, the British Airways Card wins.

Bottom Line

Both the British Airways Visa and the Virgin Atlantic Mastercard are compelling co-branded airline cards.

They compete with one another in the sense that they’re both for British airlines and are both US credit cards. In that sense, I really think the cards are neck-in-neck when comparing the overall value proposition.

I have to give both cards credit for coming up with a rewards structure that not only encourages people to get the cards, but also encourages them to hold onto the cards.

Which card is better depends on which airline you generally travel with more, and also which benefits you’d take advantage of.

Or ideally, you could pick up both cards, earn the huge bonuses, put some spending on them, and then you can see how they work out for you. After a year you can always decide to renew both, one, or none, depending on how they’re working out.

If you’re interested in either of these cards:

Which card do you prefer — the British Airways Visa or Virgin Atlantic Mastercard?

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