As the primary credit card issuing banks in the US continue to tighten up their policies and practices around sign up bonuses and approvals, savvy consumers are finding other ways to augment their points and miles balances for redeeming targeted award flights.
Chase’s 5/24 rule and American Express’ one lifetime bonus per cardmember policies have thwarted many avid points and miles travelers from collecting bonuses on new credit cards.
Faced with many of these restrictions, cards issued by foreign airlines can be attractive, particularly given the devaluations that have become rampant at the big three U.S. carriers. Many of these cards offer generous introductory bonuses.
British Airways Visa Signature Card
The U.S. edition of British Airways Visa Signature Card is a Chase co-branded card, however it is not covered by the bank’s 5/24 policy, meaning this card will not affect nor be affected by your applications to other products like the Marriott Rewards Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve Card or United MileagePlus Explorer card.
British Airways also offers pretty good perks. Right now, cardholders earn 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in three months. Spend another $10,000 in the first year and BA will lop on another 25,000 Avios; $that bonus doubles after an additional $10,000 in spending, for a total potential bonus of 100,000 Avios. For more information or to access the British Airways Signature Visa card, click here.
British Airways Avios are extremely flexible and can be combined with both American Express Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points. British Airways Executive Club is one of the easiest ways to book Oneworld flights; almost all Oneworld airlines appear in award searches using a British Airways Executive Club account.
Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard
Bank of America issues the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard. The current best intro offer perks new cardmembers with 20,000 Flying Club miles after their first purchase, 50,000 miles after $12,000 in expenditures in the first six months, 7,500 bonus miles after $15,000 in annual expenditures and another 7,500 after reaching $25,000 in annual expenditures.
Because Flying Club partners with all of the aforementioned transferable programs, their miles are generally easier to come by compared with many other airline programs.
Combining Flying Club Credit Card Rewards With Transferable Currencies For Award Redemptions
Flying Club members can fly round-trip between multiple US East and West Coast locations and the UK for just 95,000 miles in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (business class). Although surcharges, taxes and fees exceed $1,000 on this award, Flying Club miles are easy to accrue, and seats are generally easy to find.
Members can also redeem miles – either partially or fully earned from the Virgin Atlantic Elite Mastercard – for unique expeditions requiring hundreds of thousands of miles. For instance, select Virgin Limited Edition properties such as Ulusaba, a South African safari lodge requiring 500,000 miles for a three-night stay starting at about $1600 per night for double occupancy, provide opportunities to pool Flying Club miles from multiple sources for an aspirational experience.
Miles can also be redeemed for properties in Kenya, Morocco and Switzerland as well as for a discount on a flight into space with Virgin Galactic or a hot air balloon excursion with Virgin Balloon Flights.
SKYPASS Visa Signature Card
US Bank issues the SKYPASS Visa Signature Card, which comes loaded with 30,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles after $3,000 in spending within the first three months, 2,000 bonus miles upon renewal and two miles per dollar spent on gas stations, hotels and Korean Air flights. The card costs $80 per year.
Although Korean Air SkyPass is unfortunately no longer a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Marriott Rewards members are able to transfer Marriott Rewards points into SkyPass at a three to one ratio (or a 2.4 to one ratio in multiples of 60,000).
Combining SkyPass Credit Card Rewards With Transferable Currencies For Award Redemptions
SkyPass members can fly Korean Air first class between the US and South Korea, Southeast Asia and Australia/New Zealand for 80,000, 95,000 and 120,000 miles respectively. Korean Air’s first class cabin is fairly easy to access using SkyPass miles.
Members may also find valuable redemptions to Hawaii on SkyPass partners Delta Air Lines and Hawaiian Airlines. As a SkyTeam partner, Delta flights to Hawaii cost 25,000 SkyPass miles in economy class and 45,000 SkyPass miles in first class, with lie-flat seats available from Atlanta as well as seasonally from Salt Lake City and Minneapolis.
SkyPass’ Hawaiian Airlines award chart calls for 30,000 miles in economy class and 60,000 miles in first class, which, while not quite as lucrative as Delta’s partner redemption rates, is a likelier option for securing lie flat beds between Hawaii and the US given both the increase in equipped planes as well as award inventory, which is mostly non-existent at the saver level in Delta’s first class.
Asiana Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card
Bank of America issues the Asiana Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card. Cardmembers earn 30,000 Asiana Club miles after $3,000 in expenditures within the first three months, three miles per dollar spent on Asiana purchases, two miles per dollar spent on gas and groceries and 10,000 bonus miles upon renewal, all for a $99 annual fee.
Marriott Rewards members may transfer points into Asiana Club miles at a three to one ratio (or a 2.4 to one ratio in multiples of 60,000). For prospective cardholders in compliance with Bank of America’s “2/3/4 rule,” which excludes from eligibility those applicants who have opened two Bank of America cards within two months, three Bank of America cards within three months or four Bank of America cards within 12 months, lucrative opportunities to leverage the Asiana Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card with the airlines’ award chart are plentiful.
Combining Asiana Club Credit Card Rewards With Transferable Currencies For Award Redemptions
Asiana Club members can fly between its North American destinations – Chicago O’hare International Airport (ORD), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), New York Kennedy International Airport (JFK), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) – and Seoul’s Incheon International Airport (ICN) for 60,000 miles each way in business class. First class awards between North America’s LAX and JFK and Seoul’s ICN cost 80,000 miles each way.
Star Alliance partner awards between North America and Europe are available for a bargain 40,000 miles each way in business class and 50,000 miles each way in first class, including in Lufthansa’s first class cabins, which are often made available to partners within one week of departure.
Avianca Vuela Visa Card
Banco Popular de Puerto Rico issues the Avianca Vuela Visa Card, which offers 40,000 Avianca LifeMiles after first use, three miles per dollar spend on Avianca purchases, two miles per dollar spend on gas and groceries and a 15% discount on purchased miles, for a $149 annual fee. A cheaper $59 annual fee card, which retains the 15% discount on purchased miles, is also available and should be considered as a downgrade option after the first year of holding the Avianca Vuela Visa Card.
Although Banco Popular offers American AAdvantage co-branded cards in its Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands markets, basic cash back cards are its only US-based products other than this Avianca card..
Avianca LifeMiles is a transfer partner of both Marriott Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
Combining Avianca LifeMiles Credit Card Rewards With Transferable Currencies For Award redemptions
With the exception of United Airlines, Copa Airlines and Avianca Airlines, Star Alliance airlines pass along fuel surcharges on partner flight awards. On occasions where Avianca LifeMiles’ partner award chart is more rewarding than United MileagePlus’, travelers are better off redeeming LifeMiles.
For example, within US zones (LifeMiles breaks up the US into three zones), one-way economy class award redemptions on United cost 7,500 LifeMiles as opposed to 12,500 MileagePlus miles for the same flight. Chicago O’Hare and Miami International Airport (MIA), for instance, are assigned to the same zone, and thus, United saver level award flights between the two cities would require 5,000 less LifeMiles than MileagePlus miles.
Flight awards to Europe are also ripe with LifeMiles redemptions sweet spots. Star Alliance partner awards between North America and Europe are available for 63,000 miles each way in business class and 87,000 miles each way in first class, including in Lufthansa’s first class cabins. While these redemptions levels are less than flyers will find with MileagePlus, they are quite a bit more than with Asiana Club, and so it’s important for consumers to calculate both the number of miles needed and the additional fare taxes and fees imposed to determine which program offers the most desirable option.
Cathay Pacific Visa Signature Card
Synchrony Bank issues the Cathay Pacific Visa Signature Card. New cardmembers earn 40,000 Asia Miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months. The card comes with a $95 annual fee. Cardholders earn and also earns two miles per dollar spent on Cathay Pacific, 1.5 miles per dollar spent on U.S. dining and 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases outside of the U.S.
Though Synchrony Bank has a large U.S. footprint, the vast majority of its cobrand relationships are with retailers as opposed to travel providers. Given both that and the bonus earning categories, the Cathay Pacific Visa Signature Card should be in the conversation for consumers who spend quite a bit of money overseas and/or are looking for foreign airline card opportunities.
Asia Miles is a transfer partner of Marriott Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and also American Express Membership Rewards.
Combining Asia Miles Credit Card Rewards With Transferable Currencies for Award Redemptions
Asia Miles members enjoy a number of sweet spot redemptions on Cathay Pacific Oneworld partner airlines. Between the U.S. and Europe for instance, economy class, business class and first class redemptions cost just 25,000, 50,000 and 75,000 miles respectively each way on carriers such as American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia.
Additionally, between the US and Australia on Qantas, business class redemptions are available for 75,000 miles and first class redemptions are available for 120,000 miles if fortunate enough to find award availability.
Savvy frequent flyers should always be on the lookout to add secondary cards to their wallets that minimize opportunity cost, provide flexibility and offer superior value. Chase’s 5/24 rule aside, foreign airline credit cards issued by ancillary banks often fit these parameters, particularly when the airline’s loyalty program also partners with a common transferable currency offered by programs such as Citi ThankYou Rewards, Marriott Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards.
By combining miles earned from airline co-branded credit cards with those earned via transferable currency credit cards, cardholders have increasing flexibility to minimize the opportunity cost of using valuable proprietary bank currencies and maximize redemption value through leveraging the sweet spots within foreign airline award charts.