Virgin Atlantic is offering a sign-up bonus of 45,000 miles for their American Express co-branded credit card. You earn 2o,000 miles after your first purchase, and another 25,000 miles after $750 in purchases, plus 1.5 miles per dollar spent for all purchases. There’s a $90 annual fee. In theory this sounds tempting, since 45,000 miles is a pretty big sign-up bonus, not to mention earning 1.5 miles per dollar is great.
However, these are Flying Club miles, which I consider to be more of a liability than an asset. Actually, I consider them to be less valuable than Delta miles. A lot of people want to redeem for Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic, which seems to be a pretty good business class product. Redeeming through Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club, an award from New York to London roundtrip will cost you 90,000 miles and about $611 in taxes and fuel surcharges. You could book that same exact award through ANA (they’re partners with Membership Rewards and SPG) in Upper Class for 63,000 miles and about $400 less in fuel surcharges.
Yes, Virgin Atlantic has some decent partners with reasonable redemption rates, though at the end of the day you’re going to be paying fuel surcharges and higher redemption rates than elsewhere for just about every type of award. Furthermore, the fact that they have individual partners and aren’t part of an alliance is a negative, since you can’t mix airlines on a single award.
Ultimately I don’t think it’s worth collecting miles in a program that doesn’t have the best “deal” for at least some kind of redemption. For example, Delta has the best redemption rates on V Australia. British Airways has the best redemption rates for travel on LAN (and allows unlimited stopovers, meaning you can hit Lima, Santiago, and Easter Island all on a single award for 80,000 miles roundtrip in business class).
And for Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club I’m drawing a blank. I can’t think of a single type of award where they would be the most reasonably priced.