Hyatt takes suite upgrade awards seriously. Be sure to use them!

On my recent trip to Lexington, Kentucky, I stayed at my favorite downtown hotel, the Hyatt Regency Lexington. It's got a great central location and a decent restaurant downstairs where Hyatt Globalists can take their free breakfast, either from the buffet or off the menu.

Since award stays are now eligible for suite upgrade awards, I called Hyatt as soon as mine posted on March 1 to upgrade my room to a "Junior Suite." The upgrade was confirmed and the suite upgrade award was deducted from my account.

Now, I wasn't traveling with my extended family — I wasn't traveling with my family at all! But I was pretty excited about finally being able to stay in a suite at this property which I've stayed at umpteen times before, so I was naturally disappointed when I checked into my room and discovered it was...a standard room.

Round 1: Hyatt Twitter customer service

My friend and I were anxious to go out that evening so I sent a direct message to Hyatt's Twitter account explaining the situation. Their first reply was:

"I'm very sorry to hear that you did not get the suite that we confirmed with the front desk prior to your arrival. I attempted to call the front desk to assist with the situation, and was told that there is not a manager on duty to assist with the situation, and was unable to garner assistance from the front desk associate. I am emailing the hotel's executive management team to have them assist with the situation directly, and they should reach out to you tomorrow to assist with the situation."

I asked if they could refund the suite upgrade award, and they replied:

"At this time, we are unable to return the suite upgrade to your account, as we sincerely hope the hotel will be able to rectify the situation, and get you into your suite as soon as possible. If, in the course of correcting the situation, the hotel feels that it is best to return the award to your account, they will contact us directly, and we will return the award to your account."

Round 2: Hotel customer service

The next day at brunch I received a call from the Hyatt Regency's general manager. He apologized profusely, explaining that I hadn't received a suite because my reservation "had a lot of touches" from Hyatt central booking. He offered me two options:

  1. he could move me to a suite for the remaining 3 nights of my reservation;
  2. or he could refund me the entire points cost of my reservation (32,000 points) and give me a $50 credit in the hotel's restaurant.

After about 2 seconds of deliberation I chose the second option. For your future reference, I only used about $46 of the $50 credit and the remaining $4 was refunded to the credit card I had provided on check-in.

Round 3: Hotel follow-up

After checking out, I watchfully waited to see if the promised 32,000-point refund would post automatically. Once I saw it still hadn't after a few days, I called the hotel, and the evening manager transferred me to the general manager's voicemail. I briefly summarized the situation and asked him to let me know the status of the refund. The next day he e-mailed me that he had requested the refund of the points and the suite upgrade. A few days later, all 32,000 points had posted back into my Hyatt account.

Round 4: Hyatt follow-up

The points posted back to my account, but my account still showed 1 of my suite upgrade awards as having been redeemed and no longer available. I placed another call to Hyatt and explained the situation, and was told they would look into it and get back to me. The next day I received the strangest e-mail:

"Thank you for your message regarding your stay at Hyatt Regency Lexington.

I am sorry to hear that your suite upgrade award was redeemed by the hotel although you did not stay in a suite. I contacted the executive management team at Hyatt Regency Lexington on your behalf. By sharing your experience, you have a direct positive impact on future stays, which allows us to maintain the level of service that Hyatt is known for.

In an effort to make things right, I would like to upgrade your room accommodations for your next stay at a full service Hyatt Hotel to a suite based on availability. We ask that you make your reservations for a standard room and then call Hyatt Guest Relations at (800) 323-7249/(402) 592 6465. Provide us the reservation confirmation number, refer to case number CASxxxxxxx, and we will work with the hotel to provide an upgraded room for the duration of your stay. This offer is valid for one year and is based on availability."

In other words, instead of simply changing the "available" counter in the suite upgrade award database from "3" to "4," they decided the best method would be create and annotate a case number which I have to hope a future customer service representative will be able to locate and handle correctly.

Strange way to run a railroad.


The reason I have laid out this situation in such detail is not to complain about Hyatt or the Hyatt Regency Lexington. While their methods certainly seem odd, I have no complaints about either: I got a free four-night stay at a downtown Lexington property. I hope every hotel I stay at treats me so "poorly!"

The reason this story may be relevant to you is that it appears that when Hyatt confirms a suite upgrade award, they mean it, and they expect properties to do absolutely everything in their power to honor the upgrade or make it right with the customer, all the way up to refunding the entire cost of the stay during an extremely busy weekend (it was a race weekend in Lexington).

So use your suite upgrade awards! They'll either be honored and you'll get a nice suite upgrade, or they won't and you'll walk away with a free stay or a points windfall.

Use Korean Air SKYPASS to piece together low-level Delta award availability

In April I wrote a post trying to figure out what kind of award space Delta makes available to their partners, since the space they make to their own members is priced so inconsistently, not to say erratically. In the comments to that post, Frequent Miler asked:

"Sometimes Delta has saver award space for married segments but not for the individual segments. I've seen this frequently with gso-dtw-buf. I'm curious whether Skypass sees the individual segments. I'll try it, but curious if you came across this already?"

A year ago I wrote about being able to piece together low-level Alaska redemptions on Delta by entering segments individually in a multi-city search, so I knew that it used to be possible, at least with that one partner. The question is whether it's still possible in general and still possible with Korean Air in particular.

The good news is, it is.

Use SKYPASS multi-city search to piece together low-level Delta legs

On October 6, the best connection between Greensboro and Buffalo costs 20,000 SkyMiles:

The first leg, between Greensboro and Detroit, is just 12,5000 SkyMiles:

As is the second leg, between Detroit and Buffalo:

Using Korean Air SKYPASS's multi-city search function, I am able to input the first leg, second leg, and then a return flight (SkyPass doesn't offer one-way partner redemptions), and select each leg individually. Such an itinerary prices out correctly at 25,000 SKYPASS miles:

As was the case in my post last May about using Alaska's multi-city search tool, you do have to use the Korean Air multi-city search tool — a simple roundtrip search did not return the desired routing.

Amazingly, you can do this in both directions

If the route you're flying is one targeted by Delta for price gouging, you'll naturally want to know if you can piece together segments in both directions in order to secure low-level space and your preferred routing on the entire trip.

The answer is, yes, you can. Here is a Korean Air SKYPASS routing I constructed using the multi-search function to specify each flight I wanted:

As hoped, the entire itinerary priced out at 25,000 SKYPASS miles:

Korean Air's award routing rules seem to be written in machine-translated Korean, so I don't have a firm grasp of whether a stopover is allowed in each direction and the manually selected segments use up that stopover, or whether the connections are so short that they don't count as stopovers, meaning you could also add one or two stopovers. This would be extremely valuable if you lived in Detroit or another Delta hub, since it would mean you could get up to 4 unrelated one-way flights to and from your home airport for the price of one roundtrip.

Again, I just don't know if that's the case or not, but if you have experience piecing together such itineraries, be sure to let me and other readers know in the comments!

My good Delta companion certificate redemption proves how bad companion certificates are

I rarely pretend that my posts are supposed to be "timely," but since the new Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, with its $0 base fare companion ticket, instead of the $99 base fare companion ticket the card has traditionally offered, has occupied the blogosphere for the last few weeks, and since I just received and redeemed my American Express Delta Platinum Business credit card companion certificate, this seems as timely a moment as any to revisit the issue.

The problem with Delta companion certificates

There are two conflicting issues when redeeming the Delta companion certificates offered by the American Express personal and business Delta Platinum and Reserve credit cards:

  • Certificates can only be redeemed for flights in fare classes L, U, T, X, and V. Those are, naturally, the cheapest 5 fare classes (plus E), which sell out first as people book their tickets and the departure date approaches.
  • Flights in those fare classes are, as you'd expect, cheaper than flights in the more expensive fare buckets.

In other words, Delta and American Express have contrived to "cap" the cost of offering free companion tickets by allowing their redemption only on flights that are far enough in the future, and empty enough, that they're unlikely to cost very much.

To maximize the value of a Delta companion ticket redemption, therefore, you'd want to find a flight sufficiently far in the future that "cheap" fare buckets are still available, but to an expensive destination in the continental United States.

My Delta companion certificate redemption was close to ideal

Fortunately, I grew up in Montana and while my hometown is served by several airlines, including Delta, tickets there are unspeakably expensive. I've been watching tickets home for the Western Montana Fair for the last month or so, until my companion fare certificate finally posted last week to my Delta account (the last two years, my companion certificate has posted on May 4, while my anniversary statement closes on May 20; do with this information what you will).

On May 4 the two tickets I needed were retailing for $774, which meant I could redeem my companion certificate and get $1,548 in airfare for $824 (after taxes and fees are applied to the second ticket).

Of course, I'm also due to pay a $195 annual fee for the credit card, bringing my total out-of-pocket expense to $1,019, roughly a 34% discount off the retail price of both tickets.

Not bad! Unless you're a travel hacker.

I overpaid by $219

The key insight travel hacking provides is that two $774 tickets are not worth $1,548. They're worth $800. That's because I can redeem 40,000 US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards Flexpoints for each ticket, or I can redeem those points for 1 cent each, i.e., $800 in total. In other words, I paid $1,019 for $800 in airfare.

What companion certificates are and aren't good for

I stand by my decision to redeem this particular companion certificate for this particular flight, primarily because Delta companion certificates are so difficult to use, given the fare class restrictions, that there's no certainty of being able to redeem them at all (I have tried, unsuccessfully, to pawn off my certificates to family members in the past).

There's a sort of core logic to redeeming your most restrictive travel instruments (free night certificates, companion certificates) where possible before redeeming more flexible instruments (miles, points, and fixed-value award currencies).

And indeed, by securing a "mere" 34% discount on this pair of flights, I'm left with the same 80,000 Flexpoints, worth up to $1,600 in airfare, that I would have otherwise redeemed. I haven't "lost" anything by redeeming the companion certificate instead.

However. This game of rolling forward "more valuable" points currencies while redeeming "less valuable" travel instruments is just another way of keeping large, unredeemed (and therefore worthless) points balances and reducing your total return on your travel hacking practice. Your travel hacking objective should not be to get the most value possible from your least valuable rewards, but to identify and get the most value possible from your most valuable rewards!


The point of this post isn't to say that "companion tickets are worthless." Companion tickets aren't worthless, but they're valuable only to the extent they can be integrated into a coherent travel hacking practice.

That means, for the most part, that they're best redeemed for cheaper, rather than more expensive flights. The logic should be obvious: more expensive flights are more target rich environments, where airline miles and fixed-value currencies like US Bank Flexpoints are likely to shine.

Cheaper flights pose a real problem: you can redeem fixed-value currencies like Chase Ultimate Rewards for 1.25 cents each, or Membership Rewards points for 2 cents each (for certain American Express Business Platinum customers), but those are also currencies with more potential upside on more expensive tickets and other kinds of travel redemptions.

Paying $200 for two $200 tickets won't save you much cash, because it's hard to save much cash on tickets that cheap. However, it's likely to be a better use of a companion certificate than a 34% discount on an $800 ticket, for the simple reason that on an $800 ticket you can do better.

Points For Trips award strategy tool review

A while ago the founder of the website Points For Trips reached out to me to advertise on this blog (you can see their ad in the righthand sidebar). I told him I'd not only sell him ad space, I'd review his site, too. Lest my beloved readers doubt my impartiality, I did make him pay me first:

It is challenging to structure information in a useful way

As travel hackers gain experience, they invariably start to build mental models of the travel hacking universe that help them organize everything they've learned. These models can take a wide variety of forms. Some bloggers simply write a single post about every flight they take on every airline as a sort of encyclopedia of award redemptions they can Google later. Others focus on award programs individually, so they can refer to a single post to see all the sweet spots offered by a given airline or hotel loyalty program. You can see my own personal organization in the righthand sidebar, where I break down loyalty currencies into the various chapters of my ebook.

There's no right or wrong way to organize your knowledge of loyalty programs any more than there's a right or wrong way to organize your closet, as long as you know where everything is.

Points For Trips tries to build rewards strategies around specific itineraries

Websites like Points For Trips and AwardAce, which I've reviewed in the past, attempt to organize knowledge about the world of travel rewards programs by taking a user's desired trip and returning the loyalty programs that make it possible on points.

This is a promising approach! As I've been saying for years, the point of travel hacking is to pay as little as possible for the trips you want to take, so taking "the trips you want to take" as input is much better than the backwards logic of planning a trip because an affiliate blogger pitched you on some hotel where you can redeem Hyatt free night certificates.

How Points For Trips is supposed to work

The Points For Trips homepage looks like any travel booking engine, albeit one without any dates. After entering your origin and destination, you select an airline rewards program and hotel loyalty program, or a specific hotel. Points For Trips then spits out a list of credit cards that earn the required points, some or all of which I assume are affiliate links.

This works pretty well! I inputted my trip to Jamaica and Points For Trips accurately identified that Southwest offered nonstop flights and accurately listed both the standard and suite redemption rates at the Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Rose Hall. The list of suggested credit cards is also pretty good. These are more or less the same cards I would recommend to someone planning a Southwest flight and a stay at a Hyatt resort:

An expert is going to find things to quibble about

In a stroke of bad luck for Points For Trips, the very first search I did on the site was for First Class seats between the US and Europe, and since I've got Korean Air SKYPASS on the brain lately, I selected that program to redeem points:

100,000 miles is, indeed, the cost of a First Class redemption to Europe according to the Korean Air SKYPASS award chart.

The problem is, you cannot redeem 100,000 SKYPASS miles for First Class between the US and Europe. The only SkyTeam partner that offers First Class across the Atlantic is Flying Blue, and you can't book La Première with SKYPASS miles.

Accuracy matters

Is that a minor quibble? You betcha! But the point of these tools is supposed to be to make the experience and wisdom of experts accessible to beginners. If the tool returns a mistake that no expert would make, the tool isn't doing its job.

Likewise, I don't know how the credit card suggestions are sorted, but this is what Points For Trips returns for a trip with a Korean Air redemption and Starwood Preferred Guest stay:

Now, to be fair, it is technically true that Membership Rewards points can be transferred to Starwood Preferred Guest. Consulting my own flexible points page, I see that the transfer ratio is 1000 Membership Rewards points to 333 Starpoints. That means Points For Trips is ranking a $550 card with a 20,000-Starpoint signup bonus above a $95 card with a 25,000-Starpoint bonus.

The founder seems like a nice guy so I'm perfectly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that this is just an oversight. But, again, it's the kind of oversight no human travel hacker would make, which means the site's not doing its job in delivering high-quality advice to beginners.


Much like computer-assisted chess players perform better than both computer chess players and human chess players, I think Points For Trips could be a useful tool for knowledgable travel hackers to source ideas for strategic redemption opportunities. In its current form, however, I wouldn't rely on it to be the first or last word when planning a redemption or round of credit card applications.

Fun with Delta partner award space

Like anyone who does a fair amount of paid and award travel on Delta, I've been annoyed by their "flexible" award prices, which are generally calibrated to ensure you don't get too much value from your SkyMiles. On the other hand, if you keep a variety of points currencies around you always have the option of redeeming the one best suited for the flights you have in mind.

The real trouble comes about when trying to get value from one of Delta's partner award programs, like AeroMexico, Korean Air SKYPASS, or Air France/KLM Flying Blue. We used to say that airlines typically make "low-level" award space available to their partners. But with Delta's "what you see is what you get" pricing, that terminology doesn't make much sense. In fact, Delta awards at a variety of price points show in award searches as what used to be low-level "N" award seats.

What we'd really like to know is what kind of partner award space Delta makes available to their SkyTeam partners. Fortunately, Korean Air SKYPASS now shows Delta award availability online. I've been fiddling around with a variety of search terms and have a few preliminary observations.

Partner award space generally corresponds to "low-level" space

Drew at Travel is Free put together a sort of brute force Delta award chart based on an algorithm running award searches. If you can find flights at those prices then they'll typically be bookable as partner awards.

If you're using Korean Air SKYPASS you can only book roundtrip awards (although open jaws and stopovers are allowed), and I believe you can only search single-cabin awards online, but if you can find roundtrip award availability in the same cabin, there are good values on Delta. For example, a roundtrip on one of Delta's transcontinental Delta One flights costs 80,000 SkyMiles, but just 45,000 SKYPASS miles. Likewise roundtrip flights from the continental United States to Alaska and Hawaii cost just 25,000 SKYPASS miles in economy and 45,000 miles in first class.

I stumbled over a few tricks to keep in mind when booking Delta flights with SKYPASS miles. When searching for SkyTeam awards on the Korean Air website, you have to select "Economy Class," "Prestige Class," or "First Class." For flights in Delta's domestic first class cabins, you select "First Class," but flights in Delta One are coded as business class partner awards, which corresponds to "Prestige Class." There's no difference in cost for flights within North America including Hawaii and Alaska.

Sample booking: JFK-LAX, 6/1 - 7/17, Delta One: 80,000 SkyMiles, 65,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles, 45,000 SKYPASS miles.

Partners generally have access to sub-low-level space

While Delta's flexible redemption rates generally punish SkyMiles members by charging them more for more expensive flights, they also sometimes show flights that are cheaper than the "low" award rate. In those instances I was able to find the same flights with Korean Air SKYPASS, although Korean Air naturally charged the higher, standard rate.

Sample booking: JFK-PDX, 6/2 - 6/8, Main Cabin: 24,000 SkyMiles, 25,000 Mileage Plan miles, 25,000 SKYPASS miles.

Partners have more creative routing rules

One big problem with "what you see is what you get" pricing is that even though you may have found Delta partner award space on an itinerary, Delta might not price it out at the low level through their multi-city pricing tool due to their own award routing rules. For example, this is a perfectly legal SKYPASS redemption for 25,000 miles:

While there should be low-level SkyMiles award seats available for the entire route, Delta prices it out at 38,000 SkyMiles, instead:

I presume this is because Delta treats the overnight stay in Las Angeles as a domestic stopover and so prices the itinerary out as 3 separate legs, but since "what you see is what you get," I can't say for sure.

What this means is that while you might start your search by looking for Delta low-level award space between your origin and destination, before giving up hope you should also experiment with Korean Air's search tool to identify routings that Delta won't show you by default or will charge more for. Unfortunately SKYPASS searches are both fairly cumbersome and will return an error message if there's no availability on any one of your search legs, which makes it difficult to diagnose exactly where the error is originating.

Now, naturally many of these irregular routings won't be especially convenient (like the overnight stay in LA above), but that's the point: more flexible routing rules increase the likelihood of finding some routing that will allow you to redeem miles instead of spending cash.

Sample booking: DCA-AMS, 8/29 - 9/5, Main Cabin. Outbound: 3 low-level SkyMiles routings found, 30 low-level SKYPASS routings found. Inbound: 20 low-level SkyMiles routings, 30 low-level SKYPASS routings found.

That sample booking has the added bonus of revealing that there is a ton of award space available between JFK and Glasgow and Edinburgh this summer and fall. It's enough to make you want to visit Scotland!


The ease of earning Delta SkyMiles through transfers from American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, or putting spend on an American Express Delta Platinum or Reserve card, and earning Korean Air SKYPASS miles through Chase Ultimate Rewards transfers, creates the following curious situation:

  • where SkyTeam partner award space is available, it's best booked using Delta SkyMiles since (with a few exceptions) they don't pass along fuel surcharges;
  • when Delta makes premium cabin award space available, it should be booked using SKYPASS miles, since Delta doesn't charge fuel surcharges for SKYPASS to pass along!

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards, #8: Conclusions

Reviewing the 7 foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by US banks that I covered in this series, the cards can be handily arranged into 3 groups:

  • Cards worth getting and keeping for manufactured spend;
  • Cards worth getting for the signup bonus and cancelling;
  • Cards that are probably not worth getting.

Manufactured spend powerhouses

When looking at a card's value for manufacturing spend, it's essential to look at both the earning and redemption rates the card offers. For example, a Marriott Rewards point is more valuable than a Hilton Honors point, but not 6 times more valuable — that makes a dollar spent in a bonus category with the Hilton Honors Surpass American Express more valuable than the same dollar spent with a Marriott Rewards credit card that earns just 1 point per dollar.

Similarly, the two co-branded credit cards in this series that are valuable for ongoing spend are the US Bank AeroMexico Visa cards and the Barclaycard Asiana Visa Signature card. The former earns 3.2 AeroMexico kilometers per dollar spent at gas stations and grocery stores, which can be redeemed on SkyTeam carriers (with fuel surcharges) and the latter earns 2 Asiana miles per dollar spent in the same categories, which can be redeemed on Star Alliance carriers and their non-alliance partners.

It's especially worth noting that the recent increases in Delta redemption rates on SkyTeam partners make it even more likely that redeeming other SkyTeam partner miles, even ones that pass along fuel surcharges, will be more valuable than earning and redeeming Delta SkyMiles.

Valuable signup bonuses

Three of the cards I covered in this series have signup bonuses you might find valuable, depending on your situation:

  • The British Airways Visa Signature card earns 100,000 total bonus Avios after spending $20,000 on the card within one year. Those Avios can be extremely valuable if redeemed on US flights without fuel surcharges or on certain off-peak sweet spots.
  • The Miles & More World Elite MasterCard offers 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 within 90 days, which can be extremely valuable for domestic first class redemptions, including to Hawaii.
  • The "Black" Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard offers 75,000 Flying Club miles after spending $12,000 within 6 months and adding two authorized users. If nothing else, those miles can be moved to Hilton Honors points at a 1:1.5 ratio, earning you 9.4 Honors points per dollar on unbonused spend.

Cards that are worthless, or at least worth less

Finally, the LANPASS Visa Signature Card and SKYPASS Visa Signature Card, both from US Bank, offer minimal signup bonuses and weak earning rates, so even in the case of SKYPASS, where points can be valuable on certain routes, their co-branded credit card is unlikely to be the most efficient way to earn them. However, it's worth being aware of the cards and their potential redemption opportunities in case the signup bonuses on either card are temporarily or permanently increased.

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by American banks, #7: Asiana by Bank of America

Here we are, number 7, the final foreign airline co-branded credit card in this series. Today we tackle what might be the best foreign airline co-branded credit card of all: the Asiana Visa Signature Credit Card issued by Bank of America.

Asiana by Bank of America

Bank of America issues one co-branded credit card that earns Asiana Miles:

  • the Asiana Visa Signature Credit Card has a $99 annual fee (not waived the first year) and a signup bonus of 30,000 Asiana Miles after spending $3,000 within 90 days. It earns 3 Asiana Miles per dollar spent on Asiana Airlines purchases, 2 Asiana Miles per dollar spent at gas stations and grocery stores, and 1 Asiana Mile per dollar spent everywhere else. It also offers a 10,000-Asiana Mile anniversary bonus and 2 Asiana Airlines lounge passes.

Earning Asiana Miles

Like the AeroMexico Visa Signature card by US Bank, the Asiana Visa Signature card earns 2 miles per dollar spent at gas stations and grocery stores. If you have access to gas station or grocery store manufactured spend, that creates an opportunity to earn Asiana Miles at an accelerated pace.

Asiana Miles are also a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, but since Starpoints transfer at a 1:1.25 ratio (when you transfer them in blocks of 20,000 Starpoints) you'd generally be better off earning 2 Asian Miles per dollar than 1 Starpoint per dollar (depending on your specific situation).

Whether it's worth doing so depends on the opportunities for...

Redeeming Asiana Miles

Asiana is a Star Alliance carrier, and should have access to Star Alliance partner award space, which you can generally search for on the websites of United or Air Canada. Compared to United MileagePlus, there are a few sweets spots for flights originating in the United States:

  • Business and first class flights on Star Alliance partners from the United States to Europe cost 70,000 and 110,000 MileagePlus miles each way, respectively, while Asiana charges just 40,000 and 50,000 Asiana Miles each way.
  • to Southern South America, United charges 55,000 miles for business class and 70,000 for first, while Asiana charges 35,000 and 45,000 miles, respectively.

The same pattern repeats elsewhere, and it's relatively easy to compare Asiana's award chart with United's.

On the flip side, Asiana passes along fuel surcharges on most partner award flights, while United generally doesn't. That means the very best Asiana redemptions will be on Star Alliance carriers with low or no fuel surcharges, like United itself, but also Copa, Avianca, and TACA, according to MileValue.

Stopovers on partner award tickets are allowed, but cost additional Asiana Miles, and open jaws are allowed.

Partner awards have to be booked over the phone, as Scott at MileValue describes here. The process seems to have improved considerably since Lucky documented his frustration in 2012.

Is it worth it?

Over the course of this series I've attempted to be scrupulously neutral, explaining the pros and cons of each credit card and loyalty program. So it's my pleasure to be a little more decisive about the Asiana Visa Signature card: if you have access to plentiful gas station or grocery store manufactured spend, and travel on Star Alliance carriers with some frequency, this card is very likely to offer considerable value.

There are two ways to anchor the value of this card: the next cheapest method of earning Asiana Miles, and the next cheapest method of earning Star Alliance miles.

As indicated above, it's possible to earn Asiana Miles with a Starwood Preferred Guest card earning 1.25 Asiana Miles per dollar spent on otherwise unbonused spend. If your unbonused spend costs roughly 33% less than your grocery store spend and earns you 38% fewer Asiana Miles (1.25 versus 2 Asiana Miles per dollar), then you're facially better off earning the Asiana Miles directly. But in reality, a travel hacking practice that includes both unbonused spend and bonus spend would allow you to deploy your bonused spend towards cards like the Asiana Visa Signature, which earn bonus miles, and your cheaper unbonused spend towards flexible currencies like Starpoints. Doing so gives you access to Asiana's cheap Star Alliance awards and Starpoints that can be redeemed for hotel stays or transferred to other partners.

On the other hand, a Chase Ink Plus card would earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at gas stations, which could be transferred to United MileagePlus. In this case, putting the same spend on a Asiana Visa Signature card would cannibalize your access to United MileagePlus miles: you can't put the same gas station dollar on two different credit cards!

But for many Star Alliance partner awards, even taking into account the fuel surcharges that Asiana passes along, it will take far less gas station spend to break even compared to a MileagePlus award: just $50,000 for a first class roundtrip flight to Europe, compared to $110,000 to earn the required number of United MileagePlus miles. Under most circumstances that $60,000 difference more than makes up for any fuel surcharges paid on the Asiana award.

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by American banks, #6: Virgin Atlantic by Bank of America

[edit 4/12/17: thanks to reader secstate for pointing out the existence of a second Virgin Atlantic Flying Club credit card issued by Bank of America. This post has been updated accordingly.]

With just two foreign airline co-branded credit cards to go in the series, today's edition covers the Virgin Atlantic co-branded credit cards issued by Bank of America.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club by Bank of America

Bank of America issues two co-branded credit cards that earns Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles:

  • the "Black" Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard has a $90 annual fee and a signup bonus of 20,000 Flying Club miles after your first purchase, 50,000 Flying Club miles after spending $12,000 within 6 months, and 5,000 Flying Club miles after adding two authorized users (2,500 miles per user). It earns 1.5 Flying Club miles for purchases everywhere and 3 Flying Club miles for purchases on Virgin Atlantic. Finally, you can earn 7,500 Flying Club miles for spending $15,000 total each cardmember (not calendar) year and another 7,5000 Flying Club miles for spending $25,000 total each cardmember year.
  • the "White" Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard has a $49 annual fee and a signup bonus of 12,500 Flying Club miles after your first purchase and 2,500 Flying Club miles after adding an authorized user. It earns 1.5 Flying Club miles for purchases everywhere and 3 Flying Club miles for purchases from Virgin Atlantic. You can also earn 2,500 Flying Club miles for spending $5,000 total each cardmember year, and another 5,000 Flying Club miles for spending $15,000 total each cardmember year.

As Frequent Miler helpfully explained, with the "Black" card all this nets out to:

"assuming no Virgin Atlantic purchases, the total earning rate (base earning + bonus miles) becomes:

  • First $12K spend: 5.67 miles per dollar

  • Next $3K spend: 4 miles per dollar

  • Next $10K spend: 7,500 bonus miles = 2.25 miles per dollar"

Finally, if you spend $25,000 on the card during a cardmembership year on either the "White" or "Black" card you also earn an "Economy Companion Reward Ticket."

Economy Companion Reward Ticket

It's extremely difficult to find any datapoints of anyone successfully redeeming an Economy Companion Reward Ticket, but the rules seem simple enough:

"If you spend at least $25,000 in Purchases using your card within a year (beginning on the date you open your account and continuing for every 12 month period thereafter), the primary cardholder will also qualify for an Economy companion reward ticket for half the standard miles of a reward economy seat, maximum one reward companion ticket per year. You must pay flight related taxes, fees and charges relating to the complimentary reward flight."

In essence, the benefit seems just as restrictive as the British Airways Travel Together Ticket, but less valuable since instead of eliminating the mileage cost of the second ticket entirely, the Economy Companion Reward Ticket merely halves the mileage cost of the second ticket, while leaving you paying the substantial taxes, fees and charges for both tickets. Also, it can only be redeemed for economy tickets, while the British Airways Travel Together Ticket can be redeemed for any class of service on British Airways mainline flights.

I've done some light scouring of the internet and I cannot find any reports of anyone successfully redeeming one of these tickets. If you or anyone you know has redeemed an Economy Companion Reward Ticket, let me know in the comments or by e-mail.

Earning Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles

After the complicated earning structure of the first year, Bank of America's "Black" credit card earns 1.5 Flying Club miles per dollar spent everywhere up to $15,000, 2 Flying Club miles per dollar if you spend exactly $15,000, and 2.1 Flying Club miles per dollar if you spend exactly $25,000.

You can also transfer flexible American Express Membership Rewards points and Citi ThankYou points to Flying Club on a 1000:1000 basis, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints to Flying Club with a 25% bonus when you transfer in increments of 20,000 Starpoints.

Redeeming Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles

Let me be clear up front: redeeming Flying Club miles for flights on Virgin Atlantic will never get you a free or cheap flight, simply because of the taxes, fees and surcharges they pass along on award tickets. On the other hand, just as I said about the Chase British Airways credit card, if you're in a situation where you need to fly to the United Kingdom on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club award seats are available, you'll certainly save money compared to a paid ticket.

Another choice for redeeming Flying Club miles is swapping them for Hilton Honors points at a 10,000:15,000 ratio. At that ratio, $25,000 in unbonused spend on a new "Black" Bank of America Virgin Atlantic credit card would earn 191,250 Honors points, or 7.65 Honors points per dollar of unbonused spend. That's better, and cheaper, than earning 6 Honors points per dollar spent in bonused categories on an American Express Hilton Honors Surpass card.

There's also a special award chart for award flights on Delta, as long as there's low-level availability. If you ever manage to find low-level award availability with Delta, you could make a killing redeeming cheaply-earned Virgin Atlantic miles for that award, though I certainly wouldn't hold my breath.

Finally, it is apparently legal to redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for flights on Virgin Australia, although no one has ever done so.

Is it worth it?

If you live in a community well-served by low-level Delta award availability, then earning a slew of cheap Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles is an easy way to supplement your existing Delta SkyMiles award balances.

Likewise, if you're frequently required to pay for your own Virgin Atlantic tickets between the US and the UK, you may save money by redeeming Flying Club miles against the fare portion of your ticket's cost, thanks to their quite good award availability.

And finally, if you're moving heaven and earth to earn as many Hilton Honors points as possible for a big upcoming aspirational redemption, then earning a bunch of them through unbonused spend may offer an advantage over grinding out bonused spend on a Hilton Honors Surpass American Express.

But other than that, it's more difficult than I expected to find somebody who's willing to say, "I love Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and here's why."

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by American banks, #5: Lufthansa Miles & More by Barclaycard

The Barclaycard Miles & More World Elite MasterCard is today's entry in my analysis of foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by US banks.

Lufthansa Miles & More by Barclaycard

Barclaycard issues one co-branded credit card that earns Lufthansa Miles & More miles:

  • the Miles & More World Elite MasterCard has an $89 annual fee (not waived the first year) and a signup bonus of 20,000 Miles & More miles after your first purchase and 30,000 additional miles after spending $5,000 within 90 days of account opening. It earns one mile per dollar spent everywhere and 2 miles per dollar spent at "integrated airline partners:" Adria Airways, AirDolomiti, Austrian Airlines Group, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Lufthansa Regional, Lufthansa Private Jet, Luxair and SWISS. The card also earns an annual Economy Class Companion Ticket, including one after your first purchase with the card, and gives you the option of converting 25,000 award miles into 5,000 status miles each calendar year.

Economy Class Companion Ticket

Unfortunately, unless you're booking at the last minute and have no choice but to fly on Lufthansa, the Economy Class Companion Ticket is unlikely to be of any value at all. That's for two reasons: it can only be redeemed for tickets in Lufthansa's most expensive economy fare classes (H, M, Y, and B), and it requires you to pay all the taxes and fees associated with a paid ticket.

Under most circumstances, the additional cost of booking into a higher fare class will exceed the fare savings provided by the Companion Ticket. However, on last-minute bookings where only H, M, Y, and B fare classes are available, and when Lufthansa is your only option, it's certainly possible that the Companion Ticket could provide quite substantial savings.

Status Miles Conversion

Another benefit of holding the Barclaycard credit card is the ability to convert up to 25,000 award miles into elite-qualifying miles at a 5:1 ratio. There do not seem to me to be any clear advantages to doing so, since the opportunity isn't scalable in order to actually achieve Miles & More elite status, which requires 35,000 elite-qualifying miles. Converted status miles also don't count towards Lufthansa's top-tier HON Circle status.

Earning Miles & More Miles

Besides integrated airline partners the Barclaycard credit card doesn't earn bonus miles for any categories of spend, so unless you're topping up a Miles & More account towards a redemption it's unlikely to be worth putting any purchases on the card after you've triggered the signup bonus.

If you need to top up your account, you'll get a better earning ratio transferring Starpoints in 20,000-Starpoint increments and earning 5,000 bonus Miles & More miles than you will putting additional unbonused spend on their Barclaycard credit card.

Redeeming Miles & More Miles

Lufthansa belongs to the Star Alliance and offers a few popular redemption opportunities:

  • domestic first class awards within any one country, including the United States, cost 17,000 miles one-way. If you can find award availability (good luck!) you can redeem the same 17,000 Miles & More miles for United's transcontinental premium service;
  • Lufthansa first class awards from Europe for 85,000 miles. Miles & More passes along fuel surcharges on award tickets, but those surcharges are significantly lower on flights from Europe to the United States than in the opposite direction. For flights from Frankfurt to San Francisco, fuel surcharges run about $224, while in the opposite direction they're about $478. The key advantage of booking such flights with Miles & More miles is expanded award available compared to booking with partner miles.

Germany is a rich, populous country and Lufthansa is a big global airline, so as you'd expect there's a fair amount of material out there if you want to research additional routes that offer particularly good values. Drew at Travel is Free has documented some great routes without fuel surcharges, and this apparently-abandoned English-language German blog has some additional and some overlapping suggestions.

Is it worth it?

The current 50,000-mile signup bonus is the highest I've see it go, and after spending $5,000 on the card the resulting 55,000 miles would be enough for 3 one-way domestic first class flights. Another 30,000 miles (25,000 transferred Starpoints) would get you a one-way flight from Europe in Lufthansa first class, with increased access to award seats compared to redemptions of partner award miles.

On the other hand, since Miles & More passes along fuel surcharges, it's a relatively poor currency to accumulate speculatively. Before signing up for this card take a look at some of the best Miles & More redemptions linked to above and see if any of them fit into your near-term travel plans. If not, this is unlikely to be the right card for you.

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by American banks, #4: British Airways by Chase

Continuing last week's series on the co-branded credit cards of foreign airlines issued by American banks, today's edition is the British Airways credit card issued by Chase.

British Airways by Chase

Chase issues one co-branded credit card that earns British Airways Executive Club Avios:

  • the British Airways Visa Signature card has a $95 annual fee (not waived the first year) and a tiered signup bonus: 50,000 Avios after spending $3,000 within 3 months, 25,000 additional Avios after spending $10,000 total within your first year and 25,000 additional Avios after spending $20,000 total with your first year. It earns one Avios per dollar spent everywhere except on British Airways purchases, where it earns 3 Avios per dollar. The card also earns a "Travel Together" ticket each calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases.

Travel Together Tickets

The Travel Together Ticket allows you to book two award tickets by paying the Avios cost of one ticket and the taxes and fees for both tickets. The only restrictions other than that are that travel must originate in and return to the United States, it must be exclusively on mainline British Airways flights, and there has to be award availability for both passengers. Other than that, you can fly anywhere British Airways flies.

Importantly, the Travel Together Ticket is earned on a calendar year basis, so it's possible to earn 2 Travel Together Tickets while paying a single annual fee (assuming you plan to cancel the card after the first year) by signing up for the card far enough into the year (for example, April) and putting $30,000 in purchases on the card in the first calendar year, then $30,000 more in the second calendar year. If you squint at this just right it seems like you're earning 2 Avios per dollar, since you can double the value of your Avios by redeeming them on a Travel Together Ticket.

Curiously, the terms and conditions of the offer include this language: "Once your Travel Together Ticket is issued, credits to your British Air credit card account will not cause forfeiture of your Travel Together Ticket" [emphasis mine].

The Travel Together Ticket has rightly earned a bad reputation due to British Airways' high taxes and fees ($250 in carrier surcharges in economy, $956 in business or first on a simple roundtrip between New York and London), and for simple, cheap trips you may find the Travel Together Ticket price and the cash price are nearly identical. Two paid economy New York-London roundtrip in May cost $1,130, while a Travel Together Ticket redemption would cost 26,000 Avios and $815, or just about 1.21 cents per Avios.

On the other hand, a business class Travel Together Ticket redemption between Seattle and London in August (the earliest I was able to find award space) would cost 150,000 Avios and $2,514, while two paid tickets would cost $8,093, giving you roughly 3.7 cents per Avios. If you earned 130,000 of those Avios by spending $30,000 on Chase's credit card, that's a $4,810, or 16%, rebate on your spend (this isn't the usual way I calculate these values — this is for illustration purposes only).

Ultimately, the value of the Travel Together Ticket comes down to your preferences and your alternatives. If you plan a special trip just because you've earned a Travel Together Ticket, then the ticket won't save you money, but instead will cost you many hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile if you are already planning a trip, especially in a premium cabin, that requires travel on British Airways anyway, then the carrier surcharges and UK Air Passenger Duty are simply a fact of life. The only question then is whether fares are high enough and award availability good enough to justify redeeming Avios. If an Avios redemption is a good deal without a Travel Together Ticket, then it's certain to be an even better deal with one.

Earning British Airways Avios

Due to the tiered signup bonus, the Chase British Airways credit card has the equivalent of 4 different earning rates during the first year:

  • 17.67 Avios per dollar for the first $3,000 you spend;
  • 4.5 Avios per dollar for the next $7,000 you spend;
  • 2.8 Avios per dollar for the next $10,000 you spend;
  • and 1 Avios for each dollar spent above $20,000 (and in all subsequent years).

Redeeming British Airways Avios

British Airways has a distance-based award chart, so award flights can price out radically higher or radically lower than awards booked with zone-based loyalty programs. This creates a few popular sweet spots:

  • short-haul redemptions on partner airlines like American Airlines and Alaska Airlines in the United States;
  • short-haul oneworld partner redemptions, like on LAN within South America or on partner airlines within Southeast Asia;
  • long-haul redemptions at the upper end of a distance band. Aer Lingus awards between Boston and Ireland were a popular choice until Boston was artificially moved 8 miles west. Off-peak awards on Aer Lingus can still offer good value, however.

A less well-known sweet spot is British Airways' "two or more oneworld airlines" award chart, which offers awards based on the total distance traveled instead of calculating the Avios required for each segment. That award chart is particularly valuable for premium cabin redemptions, since business class and first class awards cost 2 and 3 times the cost of economy, respectively, instead of the 3 and 4 times charged on the standard Executive Club award chart.

For example, the 5,488-mile flight between Los Angeles and Tokyo would cost 25,000 Avios each way if booked in economy on American Airlines. Meanwhile, the roundtrip flight, at 10,976 miles, would cost 90,000 Avios on the two-or-more chart. However, the roundtrip distance band goes all the way up to 14,000 miles, which means for no additional Avios you can add up to 3,024 additional flights miles on another oneworld carrier. For example, flying on JAL to Seoul would use 1,566 of those miles. In economy you'd still be better off booking the award separately, since the two 783-mile segments would cost just 15,000 Avios roundtrip.

However, in business class the same itinerary (Los Angeles to Tokyo, Tokyo to Seoul, and back again) would cost 195,000 Avios on the standard award chart, while costing just 180,000 Avios on the two-or-more chart. Basically, for roundtrips at the top of a distance band on the two-or-more chart, premium cabin, multiple-segment redemptions are often cheaper than on the standard Avios redemption chart.

Is it worth it?

This card is great for anyone who regularly transfers Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways in order to book expensive, short-haul flights, or longer flights with relatively low fuel surcharges. For that person, this card offers the equivalent of 120,000 Ultimate Rewards points for $20,000 in spend. Even in the final stage of the signup bonus earning the equivalent of 2.8 Ultimate Rewards per dollar of unbonused spend is a good value compared to other unbonused opportunities.

Whether or not it's worth hitting the $30,000 threshold once or twice in order to trigger the Travel Together Ticket in your first two years is a much more individual judgment. Are you planning a trip on British Airways? Do you anticipate that there will be award availability on the entire itinerary for two travelers? Are you planning to book a premium cabin? Are paid flights expensive enough to justify redeeming Avios? If the answer to all those questions is yes, then the Travel Together Ticket provides a straightforward opportunity to save money. If not, then you're more likely to find the Ticket expiring before you come up with a worthwhile way to redeem it.