Are the Alaska, Hawaiian, and Virgin Atlantic credit cards worth acquiring?

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Reader Will asked me the following question via email:

Ben –
This might be a possible blog post idea since I’m not sure I’ve seen you address this too often – I’ve seen you discuss the major players like Chase UR and AmEx MR.  My question is can you share some thoughts on ease and value of Hawaiian and Alaska airline award redemptions?    I need to take a break from Chase, Citi and AmEx and am wondering if either of these is worth applying for.  I’m primarilly interested in flying to SE Asia and Central America as opposed to Europe.  Thanks.

Since I figured this is a topic that might interest others as well I’ll answer it here instead of by email. There are tons of credit cards issued by Chase and American Express, and they get most of the coverage since they have the best sign-up bonuses and are usually the most rewarding for everyday spend. But often our limiting factor in applying for credit cards is the number of cards we can get from a single issuer.

I’ll take it a step further, though, and also include the Virgin Atlantic American Express, because I think a lot of people group these three programs and cards into the “other airlines” category when it comes to applying for cards.

As a reminder, the co-branded cards offered by these three airlines are as follows (and for what it’s worth none of them earn me a referral bonus):

  • The Alaska Airlines Visa offers 25,000 miles upon account activation and a $100 statement credit after spending $1,000 within 90 days; it has a $75 annual fee, which isn’t waived for the first year
  • The Hawaiian Airlines Visa and Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Airlines Visa each offer 20,000 miles after your first purchase and an additional 15,000 miles after spending $1,000 within 90 days; each has a $79 annual fee, which isn’t waived for the first year
  • The Virgin Atlantic American Express offers 20,000 miles after your first purchase and an additional 25,000 miles after spending $2,500 and an additional 5,000 miles for adding two authorized users; it has a $90 annual fee, which isn’t waived for the first year

Last week I wrote a post asking you guys how much of a reward you need to apply for a credit card. I said I needed about a $400 reward for it to be worth my while (and the small, temporary credit hit), and most of you seemed to be in a similar range. So I’ll cover each card individually as to whether I think it’s worth applying for or not.

The Alaska Airlines Visa — worth applying for

As I wrote about in this post, I do think the Alaska Visa is worth applying for under most circumstances. I value their miles at about 1.5 cents each, so 25,000 miles is worth $375 to me. Then there’s a $75 annual fee, though also a $100 statement credit, bringing the “gain” from the card to about $400.

There are two important things about this card worth noting, though. First of all, the card is churnable, meaning you can earn the bonus multiple times. This is huge. Second of all, the card comes with a $99 coach companion certificate, which is pretty valuable if you ever travel Alaska. Unlike other companion certificates this one has few restrictions, and the passenger traveling on the companion certificate even earns miles and is eligible for upgrades.

But the thing about Alaska miles is that they’re actually a really valuable mileage currency. Alaska partners with American, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Qantas, and many more carriers, so your miles have tons of flexibility. And now that they’re slowly introducing one way awards on partner airlines, the flexibility of those miles is increasing even more.

The Virgin Atlantic American Express — maybe worth applying for

This card offers 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 and adding two authorized users, which is a fairly good sign-up offer, and the card is apparently churnable. Now I actually shouldn’t recommend this card. I value Virgin Atlantic miles at 0.8 cents each, and the card offers 50,000 miles, meaning I value those miles at $400. Then there’s a $90 annual fee, bringing the value down to $310.

But under a set of specific circumstances those 50,000 miles might be worth it to you.

For one, you can transfer Virgin Atlantic miles to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio, so the sign-up bonus basically gets you 100,000 HHonors points. Now, those were worth a lot more before the devaluation last month, but if you’re not looking to redeem for high end properties, those points will still get you pretty far. For example, the Doubletree Beijing is only 5,000 points per night, and every fifth night is free. So 100,000 HHonors points would get you 25 free nights there. If you were actually looking to spend some time in Beijing, chances are you value 25 nights at a nice looking Doubletree at more than $310.


Pricing reflecting the free nights

Virgin Atlantic miles are also quite useful for redemptions on Virgin America, as they have reasonable redemption rates with no fuel surcharges. Roundtrip flights up and down the west cost cost 10,000-15,000 miles, while transcons cost 25,000 miles. Heck, roundtrip first class to Mexico is just 40,000 miles in many cases.

So if you intend to use your miles in one of the above ways I’d say the card is worth applying for. Otherwise I’d say it probably isn’t, given the high fuel surcharges and redemption rates for travel on Virgin Atlantic and most of their other partners.

The Hawaiian Airlines Visa and Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Airlines Visa — not really worth applying for

The one thing that makes these cards worth applying for is that they’re churnable, meaning you can earn the sign-up bonus on both cards multiple times. Hawaiian miles can be transferred at a 1:2 ratio to Hilton, much like Virgin Atlantic miles. So if you really love Hilton points this isn’t a bad card to get.

Still, aside from that there aren’t many good values on their award chart. Partner awards on Virgin Atlantic used to be a great value back in the day given the lack of fuel surcharges, though that chart was substantially devalued a few months back.

Awards on Hawaiian are rather overpriced, though I suppose if you’re aspiring to book an award to Hawaii then they’re not a horrible option, though you can also add those as a “free” one way to a legacy award in many cases. So I’d give this one a pass, unless you desperately want Hilton points.

Anyway, those are my two cents. What do you guys think about the above three cards — are they worth applying for or not?

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Comments

  1. My 2 cents on Alaska Airlines Visa.

    My spouse and I have 3-4.
    1 from Canada BofA (thats a diff discussion)
    2-3 at any given time from USA BofA

    We use all 4 annual certificates, and liked the signup bonus. After you pay $75 and $110 for the companion fare we save 50-100 per card/certificate. Is that worth it alone, no, but if you fly AS and since you can churn the card it is great.

    BofA is not the best, but they are decent so we will continue with their cards.

  2. Awesome post. I got the HA card and think it was a waste inquiry. Glad to know that the virgin atlantic card is useful for VX redemptions. As I’m SFO based, it looks like a card to get next time.

  3. I think you should re-evaluate your value for AS value, now that you can do one way AA and BA awards, and mix the awards with AS. This is great, and should increase the value of an AS point, in my opinion.

  4. Can you use Virgin Atlantic miles for intra-Australia flights on Virgin Australia without the fuel surcharges?

  5. I was just today debating whether to go for the Virgin card or the Alaska. I decided that since I have no specific redemption in mind that the Alaska is the better deal since it is essentially annual fee waived for the first year.

  6. Wife and I have 6 Hawaiian Air cards, 4 personal and 2 business. Paid $79 x 6 = $474. Not cheap but it ends up at 210,000 miles. We live in San Diego. Only Hawaiian and Alaska fly direct out of SD to HI. Alaska will be next churn for sure. At 40,000 HA miles per RT = 5 RT flights using our haul. We like going to HI and at $500 average RT cost from SD, the $474 cost will substitute for the $2,500 we would’ve spent. So it’s worth it for us, but I agree 40k is a high requirement. I’d prefer 25k like Avios but you can’t have everything, well except Avios points which are also great for West Coast travel to HI but that’s another story.

  7. Definitely see the AS card as worthwhile, as I value AS miles pretty highly. Only US program with access to Emirates F, plus the amazing price for USA-Africa on Cathay. If one-way pricing appears on these, oh boy! Quite irritating to earn a balance at AS for me as an AA EXP, never want to credit anything away from AA. No easy transfer partners (Amex or Chase), just SPG.

  8. Disagree on the Hawaiian card for sure. the 25% off coupons have come on very handy and with direct flight from the west coast to HNL and TONS of availability it’s a chip shot for 2 tickets to Hawaii which can run 500-700 dollars sometime. Throw in the fact you can churn the card you could be going to Hawaii almost every year for free. Not sure whay thats a bad thing.

  9. @ KR — While the option for American and British Airways one ways are nice, neither airline play into my valuation of Alaska miles, since I don’t think they’re the best uses of Alaska miles (due to the fuel surcharges on BA and lack of exciting options on AA).

    Once they start allowing one way redemptions on Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Qantas, I’d probably value them more highly.

  10. @ J — Totally agree. If/when one-way redemptions become possible on Cathay Pacific and Emirates, my valuation of Alaska miles will increase materially. That being said, I’d be willing to bet that we’ll see a substantial increase in the cost of certain awards around the same time one-way awards become possible on those carriers. There’s no way they want people redeeming 70K miles for a one-way in Cathay Pacific first class to Africa via Asia.

  11. @ Paul — Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the card isn’t worth getting, I look at everything in terms of opportunity costs. If you’ve literally applied for everything else then the Hawaiian card is worth getting. But even for going to Hawaii there are better cards out there. For example, it’s only 25,000 Avios to go from the west coast to Hawaii, and you can rack those up with British Airways directly or any Membership Rewards credit card, where they’re even offering a transfer bonus.

  12. Ben,

    Not sure where you got your facts regarding Virgin Atlantic crid card, bit it is certainly churnable. I had 3 of them in less than 12 months. You may want to update your post.

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

  13. @ PedroNY — Thanks for the heads up, I wasn’t aware. Went ahead and updated the post to reflect that.

  14. While I agree that Virgin Atlantic miles are worth less than most, I can’t help but think your valuation of 0.8 c/mile is missing a few tricks. For starters, it is easy to transfer to Hilton, and despite the devaluation it’s still quite easy to redeem at 0.5 c/pt, placing a lower bound of 1.0 c/mile.

    Transatlantic Upper Class fees are steep, but the product is reasonable (closer to First Class than Business class equivalent in other airlines, and much nicer lounges), and availability on some routes remains reasonable. It’s relatively easy to get 3 c/mile equivalent cash value out of them; For this purpose I value at 1.5 c/mile.

    Some Virgin America economy redemptions are excellent value, and the product is better than most of the competition. LAX-Cancun for 20k in coach is decent, and the west coast routes are, as you said, all pretty good value. Most other US routes are comparable with United and AA in terms of mileage redemptions. For Virgin America redemptions, therefore, I value at 1.5c/mile, but can often do much better in terms of cash equivalent value.

    Finally, bear in mind that, if you hit the spending threshold of $25k on the Virgin Atlantic American Express credit card that you are earning at a very respectable rate of 2.1 miles/$ for regular spend, and so your earning rate is very good.

    Sure, it’s not for everyone, but if you happen to live near a Virgin America hub, or are lacking points for a transatlantic redemption and fancy travelling in Upper Class, then this might be a good card for you. Even if not, the value in Hilton points will be worth it to many.

  15. If you live in a city that Hawaiian serves and like to go to Hawaii, then the Hawaiian cards seem like no-brainers to me.

    You get 35,000 miles which is RT to HI (with the discounted awards that the card gives you access to) and you get a 25% off coupon for a RT flight for the $79 annual fee. Assuming $500 RT prices, that is $500 + $125 – $79 = $546 of value.

  16. I used to love and use the heck out of the Alaska card when its companion certificate could be used in F. Now, not so much. I used to have 4 cards. Now I have 0.
    I live on the W. Coast and primarily go up and down the W. Coast so this card is now worthless to me. Should Alaska go back to its old benefits, I’ll be back on board x4 and w/a very large spend. Until then, they have lost a lot of $ as now all my purchases are going to Chase Sapphire or Starwood AMEX.
    Also, the companion certificate is only good on Alaska metal so posts inferring otherwise are sadly misguided, and wrong.
    Very sad. Had a multi decade relationship w/BofA and Alaska it’s all over now….

  17. I also disagree with your assessment of HA cards. Each card (35k mi)is a free RT to Hawaii and back to West Coast cities. If you live in the gloomy Pacific Northwest and have a direct flight it’s a great deal. Generally Alaska awards take you down into California first/last and are often overnight flights; a real pain. Their award RT to the islands are also usually 40k.
    Now recently I’ve discovered that BA Avios can be used on Alaska to Hawaii. For 25k roundtrip that WOULD be a better deal.

  18. I can easily get 1 cent per mile value out of Hawaiian miles when used for inter-island flights, and unlike with partners, Hawaiian Miles can be used to book any flight with coach availability, though not necessarily at the low level of 7,500 miles.

    I find that inter-island flight award availability through partner airlines can be cheaper however the flights I want are generally not available via their partner’s awards.

    I tend to use my Hawaiian miles for inter-island flights when the flight I want is greater than $80 – $85.

    Also, they are quite flexible in allowing you to book a r/t with one direction booked using miles and the other using cash. That’s turned out to be very useful for me.

    -David

  19. Does B of A look to whether prior AS card has been cancelled in considering app for new one? What is common experience on time between apps? Thanks very much.

  20. I think its worth mentioning that you can get both AS and HA cards together… I actually got both personal and one business in the same day…

  21. Similar to other comments, I got two HA cards and one Alaska card so far.

    Alaska is good since they partner w/ Cathay for intra-asia trips at 25K miles.

    HA I feel isn’t so great, I have all these miles but not much use now. International flights require tons of mileage. They should be good on Delta domestically if you can ever find a seat on DL. Or to/from Hawaii as others mentioned.

  22. It’s a narrow use case, but I got the Virgin Atlantic card for west coast redemptions on Virgin America. Last minute Virgin America flights between SF and Southern Cal can run upwards of $300RT. The 12,500 mile redemption gives me 4 rounds trips for the 50k mile signup bonus.

    I’ve also thought it might be useful to use the points for an upgrade on Virgin Atlantic flights to London, but not sure if the math works out on that one.

  23. @ Sam — Plenty of people report approvals even if they already have a card. Lots even report getting four cards a year, while the previous cards are all still open.

  24. Hi Lucky, My favorite part of this post was learning that the Doubletree by Hilton Beijing can be redeemed for just 5,000 points. Thanks for sharing! Can you please point me in the right direction on all the other Category 1 Hilton locations worldwide, and especially those which you would consider a great redemption like the Doubletree in Beijing.

  25. Has anyone been succesful in stacking credit lines with BofA. Not sure if BofA will allow CL transfers…

    i.e. Apply for card 1,
    apply for card 2
    consolidate card 1’s CL into card 2
    apply for card 3
    consolidate card 2’s CL into card 3
    etc

  26. I’d say the BoA and BoH HA cards are absolutely worth applying for, IF one’s looking to stay at a Hilton.
    Yes, the devaluation has made the points pretty much worthless, but consider this

    If i wanted to stay at a Hilton Cat 10 hotel, I couldn’t do that for $160. Nor could I do a cat 8 for $80.

    But for $80, I could get 70k Hilton points and for $160, 140k points.

    So that makes them worth it for ME.
    $140 for a Cat 10? Hell yeah! 🙂

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