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.