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Reader Will asked me the following question via email:
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.
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 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?