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, #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!