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!

Conclusion

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.

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by American banks, #3: SKYPASS by US Bank

Moving right along, today's foreign co-branded credit cards are the Korean Air SKYPASS credit cards issued by US Bank.

Korean Air SKYPASS by US Bank

US Bank issues 4 co-branded credit cards that earn Korean Air SKYPASS miles:

  • the SKYPASS Visa Signature Card has an annual fee of $80 that isn't waived the first year, has a 15,000 SKYPASS-mile signup bonus after your first purchase and offers 2,000 annual anniversary bonus miles. It earns one SKYPASS mile per dollar spent on purchases.

  • the SKYPASS Visa small business credit card has an annual fee of $75, not waived the first year, a 10,000 SKYPASS-mile signup bonus after your first purchase, and 2,000 annual anniversary bonus miles.

  • the SKYPASS Visa Classic Card charges an annual fee of $50, not waived the first year, has a 5,000 SKYPASS-mile signup bonus after first purchase, and offers 1,000 annual anniversary bonus miles. It earns one SKYPASS mile per dollar spent on purchases.

  • and the SkyBlue SKYPASS Visa Card has no annual fee, offers 5,000 SKYPASS miles after your first purchase, and earns one SKYPASS mile for each $2 spent on purchases.

Fortunately, Korean Air SKYPASS is also denominated in miles, so unlike the previous two entries in this series (AeroMexico and LANPASS) there's no need to convert between miles earned and kilometers redeemed for SKYPASS redemptions.

Morning Calm Club membership

In the description of the SKYPASS Visa Signature card, there's this potentially interesting bullet point: "SKYPASS Visa card purchases help you reach and maintain Morning Calm Club membership."

I had literally never heard of Morning Calm Club, so my digital ears perked up. Turns out it's Korean Air's pretty crummy elite status program. Like the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass, partner transactions count towards Morning Calm Club status, apparently including miles earned with the SKYPASS Visa cards.

Unfortunately, to earn Morning Calm Club status, you also need to earn 30,000 of the 50,000 miles required for qualification on Korean Air flights. Requalification requires 30,000 miles, 20,000 of which have to be earned on Korean Air flights.

Earning SKYPASS miles

Since the SKYPASS credit cards don't offer any bonus earning categories (except Korean Air flights), I don't see any point in putting any spend on any of these cards after triggering the signup bonus. That's because unbonused spend on a Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred on a 1000:1000 basis to SKYPASS from any flexible Ultimate Rewards account.

Redeeming SKYPASS miles

Korean Air is a SkyTeam member, and SKYPASS miles can be redeemed online for award flights on most SkyTeam member airlines (I wasn't able to pull up availability on AeroMexico, Alitalia, or Aerolineas Argentinas). As a reminder:

  • SKYPASS charges fuel surcharges on award tickets;
  • award tickets can only be booked for a very restrictive set of family members;
  • but SKYPASS award zones are unusually generous.

The best opportunities to redeem SKYPASS miles are on routes with few or no fuel surcharges, like domestic US flights on Delta, especially to Hawaii, which is treated as a part of North America, flights on Delta to destinations like Japan and Peru, and flights on China Airlines to Taiwan. However, SKYPASS miles may still be worth redeeming on routes with higher fuel surcharges if cash rates are particularly expensive or if your alternative booking channels also pass along fuel surcharges.

You can read my more comprehensive rundown of SkyTeam fuel surcharges here.

Is it worth it?

This is where I'm supposed to tell you that this is a terrible credit card no one should sign up for. But I like to think every card is special and has its own role to play in our great human drama. Here are some fairly good reasons someone might sign up for a US Bank SKYPASS credit card:

  • Increased signup bonuses. According to Frequent Miler's Best Signup Bonus page, until recently the SKYPASS Visa Signature card offered a $150 statement credit after spending $1,500 in addition to the 15,000 miles it currently offers after first purchase, and in 2016 the signup bonus was raised to 40,000 SKYPASS miles. If your primary means of earning SKYPASS miles is transfers from Ultimate Rewards, then every mile you earn with an increased signup bonus is one more Ultimate Rewards point you can transfer to a more lucrative program.
  • Shut down by Chase and American Express. Flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards cards are easy ways to earn SKYPASS miles, but not everyone has or can get Chase credit cards. Likewise American Express issues Delta SkyMile-earning credit cards, but some people don't have or can't get American Express cards. In that way, the mere fact that SKYPASS credit cards are issued by US Bank is a mark in their favor. After all, if you want to book award travel on a SkyTeam carrier, you need some SkyTeam award miles!

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by American banks, #2: LANPASS by US Bank

As we plow through the foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by American banks, we continue with another card issued by US Bank.

LANPASS by US Bank

US Bank issues two LANPASS co-branded credit cards that earn LATAM Pass miles:

  • The LANPASS Visa Signature Card has an annual fee of $75 after the first year, offers 4,000 annual bonus miles, and gives a 20% discount on LATAM purchases up to $1,000 once per year. The current signup bonus is 20,000 bonus miles after your first purchase. Cardholders also receive 25% bonus miles on certain paid flights, according to the following inscrutable language:

"LANPASS Visa Signature Cardmembers only will receive a flight mileage bonus of 25% in additional miles above the actual miles accrued on every LATAM Airlines or its Affiliate carriers’ flight. For example, if a cardmember accrues 6,000 miles, the cardmember will receive 1,500 extra miles. To renew this benefit, the cardmember must have net spending of at least $15,000 each calendar year."

  • The LANPASS Visa Card has an annual fee of $45 after the first year and offers 2,000 annual bonus miles. The current signup bonus is 15,000 miles after your first purchase.

Just as in yesterday's edition of this series, the LANPASS credit cards earn miles, but the LANPASS award chart is in kilometers, so as LANPASS helpfully explains, the 20,000-mile signup bonus is worth 32,187 kilometers and the 4,000 annual bonus miles are worth 6,437 kilometers.

Earning LANPASS miles

Unfortunately, neither card offers any interesting category spending bonuses, so you're left earning 1 mile (roughly 1.61 kilometers) per dollar spent on either card everywhere.

Unfortunately necessary digression about Starpoint transfers

Starwood Preferred Guest transfers to LANPASS are into kilometers, not miles. So while 1 Starpoint transfers into 1.5 LANPASS kilometers, that's somewhat less than the 1.61 LANPASS kilometers you'd earn putting spend directly onto a LANPASS co-branded credit card.

Of course, 20,000-Starpoint transfers earn a 5,000-point (7,500 kilometer) transfer bonus, bringing the earning rate on $20,000 in Starwood Preferred Guest American Express spend slightly above the earning rate on a LANPASS credit card (37,500 kilometers versus 32,200 kilometers).

Redeeming LANPASS miles

LATAM is a member of the oneworld alliance, so its LANPASS kilometers should be redeemable on oneworld carriers, and indeed LANPASS has a distance-based award chart for flights on its oneworld partners.

But according to the LANPASS website:

"You can redeem your LATAM Pass KMS. for flights with American Airlines, Qantas and Iberia through our Contact Center or at one of our offices. For other oneworld and associated airlines, this service is not available."

I have no idea what this means. Can LANPASS kilometers be redeemed for flights on other oneworld carriers? Maybe, but not through the Contact Center or any of their offices?

Nonetheless, for American Airlines flights with low-level availability, LANPASS miles can be a strong choice. This FlyerTalk thread about LANPASS redemptions seems to cast them as less valuable than British Airways Avios redemptions, but that's only from the perspective of Starpoint transfers. If you're earning LANPASS kilometers directly at 1.61 kilometers per dollar spent, you're virtually certain to be better off compared to a 1:1 Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to Avios.

In other words, your best redemption will depend on your best alternative.

Is it worth it?

Just as I concluded yesterday, the question of whether earning a more exotic loyalty currency is worthwhile will depend on whether you're able to leverage it for better value than you would the currencies in your wheelhouse. In 2014 Thought Leader from Behind Gary Leff reported that "you can redeem BA F without fuel surcharges using LAN kilometers."

If that's still possible, then LANPASS's distance-based award chart may still offer out-sized value, if you can redeem miles earned on unbonused spend for premium awards without paying extortionate fuel surcharges.

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by American banks, #1: AeroMexico by US Bank

Most travel hackers take advantage of the loyalty programs of foreign airlines through flexible points currencies, like transfers of Chase Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways Executive Club Avios, American Express Membership Rewards points to Singapore KrisFlyer, or Citi ThankYou points to Air France KLM Flying Blue.

But US-based banks also enter into co-branded credit card relationships with the loyalty programs of foreign airlines. Some of those relationships are more familiar than others, so I thought it would be useful to put them all in one place.

So, without further ado, here is the first in a series on foreign loyalty programs with co-branded credit cards issued by US banks, with commentary and analysis as needed.

AeroMexico by US Bank

US Bank issues 2 co-branded credit cards that earn AeroMexico Club Premier miles:

  • the AeroMexico Visa Signature Card has an $80 annual fee after the first year, 4,000 annual bonus miles and an annual $99 "Companion Certificate." The current signup bonus is 20,000 bonus miles after first use and a "Complimentary Companion Certificate."
  • the AeroMexico Visa Card has a $45 annual fee after the first year, 2,000 annual bonus miles and an annual $99 Companion Certificate. The current signup bonus is 15,000 bonus miles and a Complimentary Companion Certificate.

This is going to sound insane, but bear with me: apparently, the AeroMexico Club Premier award chart is in "kilometers," while the AeroMexico Club Premier credit cards earn "miles." The conversion rate between the two is 1.6 AeroMexico Club Premier kilometers per AeroMexico Club Premier mile. That means you can either multiply the mileage earning by 1.6 or divide the award chart by 1.6 to normalize the ratio between your earning and redeeming rates.

If you're looking at AeroMexico's SkyTeam award chart, this explains why a domestic US ticket costs 40,000 "Premier Points:" once converted into miles it's a standard 25,000-mile roundtrip redemption.

Earning AeroMexico Premier Club Miles

Both US Bank AeroMexico credit cards earn 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) per dollar spent at gas stations and grocery stores. While gas station manufactured spend isn't as widely available as it used to be, grocery store manufactured spend is still available in many parts of the country, which creates an opportunity for these cards to outperform.

Of course, that depends entirely on the opportunities for...

Redeeming AeroMexico Premier Club Miles

Here I'm going to shamelessly lean on Travel Codex, who took a look at the AeroMexico award chart during an American Express transfer bonus back in 2015, while translating those results into bonused spend on the US Bank co-branded credit cards. The sweet spots Omar identified are:

  • Roundtrip business class to Europe. 160,000 Premier Club kilometers (100,000 Premier Club miles) require $50,000 in bonused spend at gas stations or grocery stores.
  • Roundtrip business class to North Asia. 180,000 Premier Club kilometers (112,500 Premier Club miles) require $56,250 in bonused spend.
  • Roundtrip business class to Southeast Asia. 240,000 Premier Club kilometers (150,000 Premier Club miles) require $75,000 in bonused spend.
  • Roundtrip business class to the Middle East. 224,000/248,000 Premier Club kilometers (144,000/155,000 Premier Club miles) require $72,000/$75,500 in bonused spend.

Is it worth it?

Having a higher-than-average co-branded credit card earning rate for a SkyTeam carrier and lower-than-average redemptions rates for a SkyTeam carrier together seem like an obvious opportunity to seize for redemptions on SkyTeam partners. However, since AeroMexico Premier Club passes along fuel surcharges on award tickets, the value you'll ultimately get from the program depends on the airlines and routes you fly. AeroMexico does allow one-way redemptions, so it seems most obviously valuable for reservations on carriers with low fuel surcharges in one or both directions.

You can find some of my earlier research on SkyTeam fuel surcharges in my post on Korean Air SKYPASS.

Well look at Barclaycard adding a trip delay insurance benefit!

I've written before about taking advantage of the Chase Sapphire Preferred trip delay insurance benefit (the same benefit is shared by the Chase Sapphire and Sapphire Reserve cards). I don't think it's as good a benefit as your local affiliate blogger says it is, and like any insurance product they'll do their best to find reasons not to honor your claim, but the benefit is real and if they can't find any reasons not to, they really will honor it.

Good credit card trip delay insurance is good for a couple key reasons:

  • it doesn't cost anything extra: you trigger it when you pay for your flights with the credit card;
  • it's more generous than airline delay benefits: instead of having to eat at the airport Quizno's and make sure you spend less than $12, you can get a proper meal. Chase doesn't even ask for itemized meal receipts for charges under $50;
  • you get to strategically stay wherever you want. I used my trip delay to get another Hyatt Gold Passport stay credit, which meant one less night I needed to mattress run in December.

I'm not trying to sell you anything, and credit card trip delay insurance has a profound shortcoming for a travel hacker: you have to purchase airfare, or at least pay the taxes and fees associated with an award ticket, with the credit card in question. That means:

  • if you're booking flights with US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards Flexpoints, you can't pay with another card to trigger trip delay insurance;
  • if you're booking a Delta Platinum or Reserve American Express companion ticket, you have to pay for the ticket with an American Express card;
  • if you're planning to redeem the Membership Rewards points connected to an American Express Business Platinum card against an airfare purchase at 2 cents per point, you can't also put the flight on a card with trip delay insurance.
  • if, like me, you have a Chase Ink Plus but not a card in the Chase Sapphire family, the only way you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points at 1.25 cents each is out of your Chase Ink account, which means you can't also pay with a card that offers trip delay insurance.

I say all this as preface to a pleasant surprise I had this morning: the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard has added a trip delay insurance benefit!

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard adds trip delay insurance

When I logged into my Barclaycard account this morning, I was greeted by a popup saying I was in for some exciting changes:

Needless to say, I found it profoundly unlikely that I would find the updates to my card benefits exciting, but as your dutiful servant I clicked through to find out. The link took me to the Services/Account Settings page (in case you want to navigate back there later), and down at the bottom there were two links: to the old Guide to Benefits (in effect since May 1, 2014) and to the new Guide to Benefits (effective April 1, 2017):

The old Guide to Benefits included a baggage delay benefit, while the new Guide to Benefit also includes a trip delay insurance benefit. It's not quite as generous as the Chase Sapphire benefit, but it's not bad!

Details of the Barclaycard trip delay insurance benefit

The benefit is pretty simple:

  • a trip must be delayed for 6 hours or more. There's no exception for overnight stays, so if a flight is delayed from 1 am to 6 am it won't be covered;
  • the delay must be a result of inclement weather, equipment failure, or lost or stolen passport or travel documents;
  • coverage is limited to $300 in benefits (compared to $500 with the Chase Sapphire cards);

To trigger the trip delay insurance benefit:

"You must purchase the trip entirely with Your covered card for You, or Your family member, and Your traveling companions. If redeemable certificates, vouchers, coupons, or discounts awarded from frequent flier programs are used to purchase the trip, any remaining charge for the trip must be purchased entirely with Your covered card."

I don't understand why credit card companies go to the trouble of writing their terms and conditions in legalese if the legalese is also going to be hopelessly confusing, but that's where we are. From what I can tell, the benefit covers tickets purchased by you for you and your traveling companions (whether or not they're related to you), and tickets purchased by you for family members, but not tickets purchased by you for the traveling companions of family members (if the family member's traveling companions are not related to you).

That's pretty stupid, but it's the best I can disentangle from this document. The benefit also seems to be limited to $300 per trip, while the Sapphire benefit is limited to $500 per ticket, so two people are eligible for $1,000 in reimbursement. That makes a big difference if you're traveling with a big family and need to book multiple hotel rooms. The flip side is that the Sapphire benefit only covers spouses, domestic partners, and dependent children, while the Barclaycard benefit seems to apply to anyone traveling with you, for example coworkers or older children.

Of course you can simply request a Sapphire authorized user card and extend the coverage protection to anyone you like.

Conclusion

For the reasons I laid out in my introduction, I don't find trip delay insurance as valuable as some people claim to find it. But now that I have a card that offers trip delay insurance, there are some no-brainer situations where I'll be using my Arrival Plus card from now on:

  • Award tickets. I usually use my Arrival Plus to cover the taxes and fees on award tickets anyway simply because it's my highest earning card for unbonused spend, but since I have a Delta Platinum Business American Express card, I have been paying the taxes and fees on Delta award tickets with that card. From now on I'll be paying all those piddling award taxes and fees with my Arrival Plus.
  • Flying United. If I had to fly United for some reason, I'd be much more comfortable doing so if I paid with a card that offered trip delay insurance, given my awful track record with them (I was moving across the country on the day their Chicago air traffic control tower spontaneously combusted).
  • Cheap tickets. For tickets in the sub-$300 range, for which I would typically redeem Ultimate Rewards points at 1.25 cents each, I'll strongly consider paying with my Arrival Plus and redeeming points against the charges, saving my Ultimate Rewards points for more lucrative opportunities.