About Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card
The Virgin America Premium Visa Signature credit card is the Virgin America fan’s ultimate credit card because of its 15,000-point sign-up bonus and the chance to upgrade to Silver status in the airline’s Elevate frequent-flyer program.
These glitzy up-front rewards are fitting; Virgin America’s stylish planes, top-notch amenities and overall image are a unicorn in the domestic air-travel world.
However, we’re firm believers that smart consumers look beyond a credit card’s razzle-dazzle and study its travel and non-travel perks, understand its fees and penalties, and reads up on what other consumers are saying.
We also think airline cards should be compared against each other to get an idea of what kind of value you’re getting with your rewards points/miles.
Our review is going to cover each one of these areas. We’ll use our own research and the opinions of other travel experts to provide you with the information you need to make a wise choice about this card.
But before we start our review, we need to point out something super important.
Not All Virgin America Visa Cards Are the Same
There are actually two different Virgin America credit cards: the Premium Visa Signature and the Visa Signature. We’re covering the Premium card in this review, but we wanted to mention the other card for a very specific reason.
There’s a chance that you could apply for the Premium Signature card and get the Signature card; it’s all based on your credit scores and credit history and you won’t know which one you get until you receive an approval notice.
The non-Premium card has a lower annual fee ($49 instead of $149) and a lower sign-up bonus (10K instead of 15K), two aspects of the Premium card that we’ll cover in a few minutes.
The Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card’s Benefits
Every credit card has a set of benefits for the short- and long-term, but airline credit cards are a bit different because customers sign-up for them with traveling in mind. So, we’ve divided up the Virgin America card’s benefits into two sections: travel and non-travel.
If you sign up for the Virgin America Premium card, you’ll get several travel benefits we think you’ll really enjoy if you love this airline: free sign-up miles, high points-to-dollar ratios on Virgin America purchases, chances to earn your way to higher frequent flyer tiers, baggage perks and a yearly discount on a companion pass.
The Free Sign-Up Miles
Remember how we said in the introduction that you’ll get 15,000 rewards points for signing up for this card? That bonus comes with one rule: you have to spend at least $1,000 on your card in the first three months you own it.
Once you hit that mark, Virgin America will take about 6-8 weeks to deposit those points in your Elevated account.
Elevate is the name of Virgin America’s frequent flyer program – it takes a few minutes to sign up for it and it will be the place you make reservations with your rewards points.
Their Elevate program is divided into three tiers: Red, Silver and Gold. As a new member of the program, you’ll start out at Red (we’ll talk more about the tiers in a second).
A common trait of airline and travel credit cards is something known as points- or miles-per-dollar, which is another way of saying that you get a certain amount of points or miles for every dollar you spend on your card.
Here are the Virgin America Premium rewards ratios:
- 8 Elevate points for every $1 spent on Virgin America (5 points for being an Elevate member, 3 points for being a cardholder)
- 1 point per dollar spent on everything else
The card’s fine print includes some exceptions to the 8-to-1 bonus, though. You have to purchase Virgin America flights through Virgin America, and only fees associated with the flight (fare, taxes, etc.) will get the 8-to-1 bonus. All other purchases you make on your card are 1:1.
You can also get Elevate points by transferring points you have in your American Express Membership Rewards, but those points are exchanged 2:1, not 1:1. For example, 2,000 AmEx points are worth 1,000 Elevate points.
The Value of Your Elevate Points
The points you get from purchases (not from your sign-up bonus) show up in your account each month. When the time comes for that vacation you’ve been dreaming about, log into your Elevate account and click “Book New Flight”.
After you enter your flight dates and destination, the search results will show you how many dollars or points your flight will cost.
For example, we did a search for one-way flights from San Francisco to Orlando and from Los Angeles to San Francisco:
- SFO-MCO: 5,812 points or $142
- LAX-SFO: 2,149 points or $59
These points totals are on the lower end of the frequent-flyer world. Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards program has similar points totals for fares, while United and Delta’s frequent flyer programs charge considerably more.
Now, before you leave this page and sign up for your Virgin America credit card, you’ve got to realize that you only get 15,000 Elevate points when you sign up, which is basically a third of what you get when you sign up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card.
You might want to think about that as you figure out how many points Virgin America flights will cost you. The Southwest credit gives you more points, but what Virgin America lacks in sign up points they make up for in the quality of their flight experience.
Their planes feature premium entertainment, cool lighting and an ultra-modern vibe you don’t get with any other carrier in the United States.
We’ll talk a little more near the end of this article about how the Virgin America card compares to other airline cards, but, for now, let’s move on to tier upgrades.
Let’s get back to the idea of earning points with your purchases. You already know that you get Elevate points you can use for flights, right?
Well, your Virgin America credit card also gives you 5,000 Status points for every $10,000 you spend, and you also get 5 Status points for any Virgin America ticket purchases made in cash (not points). You get Status points when you pay for Alaska Airlines flights, too.
What are Status points? Great question.
Unlike Elevate points, which you can use to book flights, Status points are used to move from Red status to Silver and Gold, the other two tiers in the Elevate program. Think of them like experience points you use to level up in a video game.
To get to the Silver level, you need 20,000 points and to get gold you need 50,000 points. You can also achieve these levels by paying for 15 flights (Silver) or 30 flights (Gold) in one year.
Why should you try for these upgraded levels? For the perks, of course. Both levels offer you bonuses on Virgin America fare purchases (25% bonus for Silver, 140% Gold), priority check-in and boarding, complimentary upgrades to first class when available, a 25% discount on one flight a year for Silver and two flights a year for Gold, as well as baggage perks (1 free bag for Silver, 3 for Gold).
Pro tip: the 5,000 points-per-$10,000 spent promotion has a cap of 15,000 points, so you’ll have to pay for Virgin America flights to make up for the 5,000 points you’ll need to hit Silver status.
Free Baggage and Booking Perks
If this perk sounds familiar to you, you’re right – Silver members get one free checked bag. But they aren’t the only ones.
Cardholders get one free checked bag per flight, but this perk is only available to them and not authorized card users (people you authorize to have a card with your number in their name).
In addition to the free bag, you also won’t pay any fees for changing or canceling flights, you’ll get preferred seating at the front of the plane and a yearly $150 discount you can use to buy a ticket for someone else.
The Fees and Penalties of the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card
Credit cards are a great tool for smart consumers, but only if you pay off your entire balance each month and you don’t make late payments. If you do either of those, expect to pay interest (APR) on your unpaid balance or fork over fees.
Here are the main interest rates and fees for the Virgin America card:
- APR for purchases - 16.48%, 20.49% or 25.49%, depending on your credit scores and credit history
- APR for balance transfers - 27.49%
- Annual fee - $149
- Late payment fee - Up to $37
- Foreign transaction fee - None
The card’s terms and conditions say that your monthly minimum payment will be at least $30, and that you’ll be expected to pay your entire balance if it’s less than $30.
Pro tip: Your first late fee will be $27. If you make another late payment within six months, your fee will go up to $37.
The Virgin America Premium’s Annual Fee
Now, there’s probably one number in that list of fees that jumps out at you: the $149 annual fee. In our opinion, this fee is high when compared to other airline cards.
For example, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card has an annual fee of $99, while the United MileagePlus Explorer card has an annual fee of $95.
What should you do about this high fee? It’s pretty simple, in our opinion.
Think about how committed you are to flying Virgin America and how often you fly with them. If you’re a regular customer, it’s probably worth the annual fee.
You’ll most likely get enough points for Silver status, and the perks in that program are worth the extra $149 a year for this card.
If you aren’t a big Virgin America fan and you’re just looking for the best airline credit card, you might want to check out the Rapid Rewards or MileagePlus cards.
What Other People Are Saying About the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card
The reviews on this card are very critical of the customer service received from Comenity Bank, the financial institution who issues Virgin America’s credit cards.
Reviewers on sites like NerdWallet and WalletHub lamented over numerous, inexplicable card freezes due to “fraudulent activity.”
When consumers contacted Comenity about these freezes, the situation didn’t get any better. They complained about super-long wait times and unhelpful customer service representatives.
Forum participants on CreditCardForum.com bemoaned how long it took for them to get their card, with several saying that Comenity told them their card was “lost in the mail”.
Still others on two different sites said their account was hacked on multiple occasions, with the following CreditCardForum.com review summing up the various complaints quite nicely:
“I have had this Virgin America Comenity card for about a year now and my account has been compromised twice. Each time Comenity has been the worst to deal with, it takes forever for them to get you a new card and their accounting is so archaic it takes them forever to remove disputed charges from the account. There’s something seriously wrong with this card issuer.”
In our opinion, there is sufficient evidence here to believe that you may very well face frustrating situations, and those situations could be made worse by Comenity Bank’s customer service.
These situations aren’t a guarantee, but the number of bad reviews we’ve read suggest they are a possibility, more so than what you’d encounter with an airline card issued by Chase or American Express.
How the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card Compares to Other Airline Cards
In our rankings of the Best Airline Rewards Card of 2017, the Virgin America Premium card finished last. While it may be a great card for people who fly Virgin America all the time, it doesn’t have much appeal to travelers who don’t have an airline preference.
If you’re looking for the absolute best airline card on the market, we suggest you check out the United MileagePlus Explorer, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select (American Airlines), Gold Delta SkyMiles or the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards.
Each card offers their own unique strengths. The MileagePlus card gives new cardmembers enough intro points for at least one free flight, as well as two free United Club airport lounge passes and priority boarding on all United flights.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card, on the other hand, gives you 50,000 points if you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Those points go a long way.
In our review of the Rapid Rewards Premier, we showed that 50K points can get you three round-trip flights from Los Angeles to New York, or 11 round-trips from Fort Lauderdale to Nassau, Bahamas.
Our Final Thoughts About the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card
By now, you’ve probably guessed that Virgin America’s credit card has some clear strengths and weaknesses.
Like we said a few times before, we think this is a suitable card for someone who loves flying with Virgin America.
The 15,000 points aren’t the best in the airline rewards universe, but they do get you at least one round-trip flight, and possibly one or two more depending on where you fly.
Also, it’s relatively easy to get Silver status if you know you’re going to spend $30,000 a year with your card.
Since you get a 5:1 points bonus on Virgin America fares, you’ll only need to spend $1,000 on airfare to get the remaining 5,000 points you need for Silver.
When you add in the 25% discount on one ticket a year, the possibility of upgrades to first class and the $150 credit for a companion ticket, we think the Virgin America Premium is well worth its $149 fee.
Remember, though, you’ll have to hit 20,000 Status points every year in order to maintain your Silver status.
If you aren’t really partial to one airline, we think you may want to take a look at the United MileagePlus or Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier cards.
Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but, based on our research, we think the cards offer more value to the average person than the Virgin America card does.
You may also want to consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. It has a 50,000-point sign-up bonus and a $95 annual fee.
The points you earn can be transferred 1:1 to frequent flyer programs at British Airways, Air France, KLM, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, United and Virgin Atlantic.
With all the options the Sapphire Preferred card gives, you might be wondering why you should choose an airline card. Not a bad observation, actually.
The main benefit to picking an airline card is that you’ll often get airline-specific perks you won’t get with the Sapphire Preferred.
Virgin America’s $150 credit for a companion ticket, preferred boarding and seating, the yearly 25% discount on one ticket as well as the possibility of 15,000 Status points are good examples of this.
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