Vida card ($59 annual fee)
Vuela card ($149 annual fee)
Avianca (the Columbian airline that primarily serves Latin America) severed ties with U.S. Bank, its former U.S. issuing partner, in mid-2016. In Nov. 2016, it announced two new cards for U.S. consumers – this time issued by Puerto Rican bank Banco Popular.
In this review, we’ll go over the benefits of both products to help you decide if they’re worth adding to your collection.
Basics and benefits
The two cards are the Avianca Vida Visa ($59 annual fee) and the Avianca Vuela Visa ($149 annual fee). Compare them in the chart below:
|Comparing the Avianca credit cards|
|Sign-up bonus||20,000 LifeMiles after first card use||40,000 LifeMiles after first card use (some offers have been found for 60k LifeMiles)|
|Rewards on Avianca purchases||2X||3X|
|Rewards on gas and grocery purchases||N/A||2X|
|Rewards on other purchases||1X||1X|
|Discount when buying miles||15%||15%|
|Redemption discount||N/A||50% discount on reward tickets to Central America or Colombia from the U.S. after you spend $12,000 on the card in a year (Jan.-Dec.)
Additional 50% discount on reward tickets to Central America or Colombia after you spend $24,000 on the card in a year.
|Free checked bags||N/A||Free additional checked bag|
The cards also come with a suite of travel benefits and protections commonly found on travel rewards cards, including rental car insurance and travel accident insurance.
What makes the Avianca cards stand out
1. The sign-up bonuses: The Avianca cards’ sign-up bonuses are attracting the most buzz. Unlike other rewards cards, which often require you to spend a certain amount before you get the bonus miles, the Avianca cards require you only to make an initial purchase. That gets you a lot of LifeMiles (especially if you can get the 60k offer on the Vuela version) without much effort (and no worries about spreading yourself thin if you’re working on several sign-up bonuses at once).
LifeMiles carry a relatively high value compared to other airlines’ currency; according to the most recent Points Guy valuations, they’re worth 1.7 cents each. And keep in mind, you’re not limited to redeeming just with Avianca – you can redeem your LifeMiles with other Star Alliance partners. So you might use those sign-up-bonus miles toward a trip to Europe, if you’re not drawn toward Latin America.
2. Reward fare discounts: Another unique feature of these cards is the Veuala’s discount on rewards tickets to Central America and Colombia after you meet certain spending thresholds. Then again, if you’re just getting the card for its bonus and cashing in your miles for another destination, this may not be a feature you use.
3. 15 percent discount on purchased miles: A permanent discount on purchasing miles is a rare benefit among airline cards and might be valuable to you if you need to top off your balance for a rewards flight to an Avianca destination or another Star Alliance destination.
4. Rewards on gas and grocery purchase (Vuela version): Airline cards rarely offer bonus categories outside the airline itself. With 2X lifemiles on gas on groceries with the Vuela card, you can accrue miles even if you don’t travel.
What makes them less than exciting
Other similarly-priced (and even cheaper) airline cards offer more benefits for loyal travelers, like priority boarding, discounted lounge access and free checked bags.
The Avianca cards are short on those types of benefits. Even the $149-a-year Vuela card offers only the second checked bag free for primary cardholders. Because the first bag is already generally free on international flights, this may not be a perk you use much. Also, other airlines cards, including the similarly-priced Platinum Delta SkyMiles card and a slew of $95-annual-fee cards airline cards from various carriers, offer priority boarding and, in some cases, lounge vouchers.
If you’re a frequent flier, these small luxuries may be important to you.
Should you get an Avianca card?
The Avianca cards may be a good fit if you fall into the following traveler profiles:
1. You frequently fly to one of the destinations covered by the Vuela’s rewards fare discount: If you can concentrate your spending on the Vuela card, you’ll get at least 50 percent off rewards fares to Colombia or Central America. If you frequently fly there, you’ll get a lot out of this card.
2. You’re saving for a specific trip with Aviana or a Star Alliance partner: The sign-up bonuses are easy to get and won’t take any of your spending away from other sign-up bonuses you’re working on. So, if you need a quick infusion of miles for a planned trip (and are willing to pay the annual fee, which neither of the Avianca cards waive the first year), these cards could well be part of your strategy.
Looking for another way to earn Avianca miles but don’t want to pin yourself down with a co-branded airline card? Starwood includes Avianca as a 1:1 transfer partner (1 Starpoint gets you 1 Avianca LifeMile, with a 5,000-point bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints). And the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) is a good way to rack up these transferrable Starpoints.
If you’re in the Marriott rewards program, you can now transfer your Marriott rewards points to your Starwood account, thanks to these hotel chains merging. Then, you can transfer to Avianca or any of Starwood’s other partners.
Why we gave them 2.5 and 3 out of 5 stars
The Avianca cards were evaluated based on our standards for co-branded airline cards. Because our standards focus on perks that justify keeping the card for the long term, their performance was weakened. However, as mentioned above, the cards may still be worth getting for their easy-to-get sign-up bonuses.
|Star criterion||Avianca Vida||Avianca Vuela||Explanation|
|Bonus-earning opportunities||Both bonus categories outside the airline and a sign-up bonus with no spending minimum.|
|Rewards flexibility/simplicity||We docked half a star, as miles expire after 24 months of inactivity. However, miles are flexible and can be used with other Star Alliance carriers.|
|Unique travel perks||Vida: The card is short on perks but offers a discount on purchased miles.
Vuela: This card offers the discount on purchased miles, as well as 50% discounts on reward fares if you meet spending thresholds, a unique perk among airline cards.
|Companion benefits||Neither card offers companion benefits.|
|Fair fees||We rewarded half a star, as Avianca is an international carrier that does NOT impose fuel surcharges. However, both cards lacked perks with monetary value that would offset the annual fee.|