April 16, 2015 12:00 PM PT

Virgin America Credit Card Review

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With its eye-catching vertical design and the hip, modern reputation of the airline, the Virgin America Visa Signature can attract your attention if you're a frequent flier on Virgin America. But does it offer more value than just coolness?

We’ll get into that. First things first: Know that there are two versions of the card — a regular version and a premium version. The most obvious difference is the cost of owning the card; the premium card will cost you $100 more every year ($149 annual fee vs $49 annual fee).

© ERIC SALARD (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr


  • Rewards on Virgin America flights: For both cards, spending on everyday purchases earns 1 point per $1 spent, while spending with Virgin America earns 3 points per $1. In addition, members of Elevate, Virgin America’s frequent flier program, will earn 5 points per $1 on the base fare of a booked ticket, which means you can earn up to 8 points per $1 spent with Virgin America. That’s 4 times as many points as most airline credit cards offer on in-house purchases (typically 2 points per $1).

  • Annual companion fare discount: Every year on your cardholder anniversary, you’ll get $150 off a companion fare when you book through the Virgin America website.

  • Introductory offer: New cardholders can earn 10,000 points by putting $1,000 worth of eligible purchases on their card within their first 90 days as cardholders. Those bonus points can be worth up to $200 toward a Virgin America reward flight redemption. But if you get your hands on the premium card, you can earn 15,000 within that time frame (worth up to $300 for redemption on a Virgin America flight).

  • Travel perks: Cardholders get 1 free checked bag on Virgin America flights when they book their flight with their Virgin America credit card. You’ll also get 20% off purchases from RED, Virgin America’s in-flight entertainment system.

  • Easy redemption: Points don’t expire, there are no blackout dates or restrictions on redemption, and you can book reward flights with as few as 2,500 points.

  • No cancellation fees with the premium card: If you opt for the premium version, you’ll never be charged a fee to change or cancel non-refundable Virgin America flights. Regularly these fees would be around $100 each time, so this perk can easily add up to several hundred dollars over the course of a year.


  • Annual fee: The $49 annual fee on the regular version of this card is pretty reasonable as airline credit card fees go. The premium version, however, comes with a much heftier $149 annual fee that’s close to double the average annual fee charged by comparable airline credit cards.

  • The cards don’t add much value to the Elevate Program: Members of the Elevate program already earn 5 points per $1 spent on Virgin America flights, and those points can eventually be redeemed for Virgin America flights — a similar benefit attached to the Virgin America credit card but without the annual fee. If you are a big Virgin America user, this distinction may not matter to you and you may find the credit card worth it — or you may be able to find another type of card that gives you more flexibility as to where you redeem your points for travel purposes.

  • Foreign transaction fee: A foreign transaction fee of 3% applies to overseas purchases made with this card.

How It Compares

United / United Mileage Plus Explorer Visa: The $95 annual fee for this card falls in between the regular and premium annual fees for the Virgin America cards, but in addition to a free checked bag (which is offered by the Virgin America card), you’ll get 2 free one-time United lounge access passes per year and priority boarding. There are also no foreign transaction fees, so the United Mileage Plus Explorer Visa is good for using before and during your trip (whereas you may want to leave the Virgin America card at home when you go overseas).

Virgin Atlantic / Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard: This one is also available in two versions: the White version for a $49 annual fee and the Black version for a $90 annual fee. The main differences between the two cards are the rewards rate (1.5 points per $1 with the Black, 1 point per $1 with the White) and the opportunities to earn bonus miles (generally, you can earn more bonus miles with the Black than with the White). Travelers who stay mainly within U.S. borders are probably better suited for the Virgin America card, while those who travel frequently between the U.S. and the U.K. are better off with the Virgin Atlantic card.

Interest rates, rewards, benefits and fees from published web sites as of 4/13/2015.

Who It’s Best For

© ERIC SALARD (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

Virgin America’s credit cards have that tempting, sleek vertical design, but not much else separates it from the other airline credit cards available. The big draw is the $150 companion fare discount you get once a year, but the lack of other perks like priority boarding and the 3% foreign transaction fee may make other airline credit cards more appealing to frequent fliers.

If you’re someone who needs the flexibility of being able to change or cancel flights without being charged a hefty fee, the premium version of the card could save you quite a bit of money over time, but you need to be willing to pay the $149 annual fee each year for that safety net.

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