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Avianca Vuela Visa® Card Review

At a Glance
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Avianca Vuela Visa® Card

  • Sign-up Bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus LifeMiles when you make your first purchase within 90 days
  • Rewards: Unlimited 3x LifeMiles on Avianca purchases; unlimited 2x LifeMiles at gas stations and grocery stores; unlimited 1 LifeMile per $1 spent on everything else
  • Benefits: 15% discount on a la carte LifeMile purchases; free bag on trips between North America and Central America; 50% discounts on award tickets for travel from U.S. to Central America or Colombia after $12,000 and $24,000 spent each year
  • Fees: No foreign transaction fee; 2% ($2 minimum, $10 maximum) balance transfer and cash advance fee
  • Annual Fee: $149
  • Credit Needed: Excellent

Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

The Avianca Vuela Visa® Card is an airline rewards credit card with a $149 annual fee. Its rewards program is designed with frequent Avianca fliers in mind, and to a lesser extent, folks who drive and buy groceries often.

Avianca isn’t particularly well known in the United States, but it has a dense route network in Central and South America. If you regularly fly to Latin American countries such as Colombia and Costa Rica, you need to give this card a closer look. Plus, as a member of the Star Alliance, Avianca’s loyalty currency (LifeMiles) are redeemable with about two dozen airlines worldwide, including U.S.-based giants such as United Airlines.

Like most branded travel rewards credit cards, including the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card and Chase British Airways Visa Signature Card, Avianca Vuela Visa earns LifeMiles faster on airfare and other travel purchases made with Avianca. And, while it doesn’t earn credit card bonus miles for purchases with partner vendors, LifeMiles members can still earn base LifeMiles on airfare and other purchases with any Star Alliance airline, plus LifeMiles on purchases with dozens of other travel and non-travel merchants. Base earnings vary from vendor to vendor, so it’s a good idea to check with retailers before assuming you’ll earn at a given rate.

Avianca Vuela Visa’s other noteworthy benefits include a very generous sign-up bonus, a solid discount on purchased LifeMiles, a free bag on particular Avianca trips, and steep airfare discounts for heavy spenders. Keep in mind that the LifeMiles program is complex. If you’re not familiar with it, or with airline rewards programs more generally, take the time to read its terms and conditions before signing up.

Let’s take a closer look at Avianca Vuela Visa’s features, strengths, and weaknesses.

Key Features

Sign-up Bonus

You get 40,000 bonus LifeMiles when you make a single purchase within 90 days of opening your account. This is enough for 2 round-trip flights within Central America, and nearly enough for 2 round-trip flights within North America.

Earning LifeMiles

This card earns unlimited 3 LifeMiles per $1 spent on Avianca airfare, vacation packages, and other travel items. To qualify for these miles, your purchases must go through Avianca’s call center, Avianca.com, or at Avianca ticket counters. Your bonus miles accrue in addition to base miles earned by all LifeMiles members, including non-cardholders, on Avianca airfare purchases.

As a LifeMiles member, you can also earn LifeMiles with Star Alliance airlines such as United Airlines, and with partner retailers that offer geography- and time-limited deals on merchandise and experiences. On Avianca airfare purchases, base mile earnings are dictated by flight distance and class. For instance, depending on the precise fare class, economy flights earn anywhere from 25% to 150% of the total trip mileage, while business and first class flights reliably earn 200% or more of the total trip mileage. On a 5,000-mile economy flight, you’d earn anywhere from 1,250 to 7,500 LifeMiles, no matter how much the ticket cost, plus 3 LifeMiles for every $1 spent on the ticket itself.

Separately, this card earns unlimited 2 LifeMiles on gas station and grocery store purchases, and unlimited 1 LifeMile on all other purchases. There are no caps or restrictions on how many LifeMiles you can earn over the life of your account.

Redeeming LifeMiles

The best way to redeem LifeMiles is to use them to cover the cost of airfare within the Star Alliance (including with Avianca).

Redemption requirements are set by region and are a rough function of total trip length. They’re not tied to the dollar cost of a ticket, as is the case with some other airlines, though this is subject to change at any time.

Regardless of the actual ticket cost, a round-trip economy flight within North America requires 25,000 LifeMiles. A round-trip economy flight from North America to Brazil requires 60,000 miles. A round-trip economy flight from North America to Central Asia requires 85,000 miles. These redemption requirements are the same throughout the Star Alliance, regardless of your preferred airline.

You’re not allowed to redeem for an award flight until you’ve accumulated the requisite number of LifeMiles. However, you can buy additional LifeMiles to make up any shortfall. LifeMiles’ redemption values vary sharply, depending on flight distance, fare class, and other factors, but the general rule of thumb is that they’re worth less than $0.01 apiece on short-haul flights and up to (and in some cases more than $0.03 apiece on long-haul flights.

You can also redeem LifeMiles to cover baggage fees, car rentals, hotels, airline fare class upgrades, tours, merchandise purchases with partner retailers, and more. However, non-airfare redemptions usually devalue LifeMiles below the $0.01-per-mile threshold.

15% Discount on LifeMile Purchases

Given the relatively high redemption thresholds for award travel, you may find yourself purchasing LifeMiles to make up for shortfalls in your account. This usually costs $33 (plus any applicable taxes) per 1,000 LifeMiles, valuing each LifeMile at approximately $0.033.

However, Avianca Vuela Visa cardholders are entitled to 15% discounts on all LifeMiles purchases, without limits, meaning your before-tax cost for LifeMiles purchases is roughly $28. That values each LifeMile at approximately $0.028.

Second Free Checked Bag on Flights from North America to Central America

Cardholders get a second checked bag for free (the first is already free) on flights from North America to Central America.

Airfare Discounts for Heavy Spenders

Avianca Vuela cardholders who spend heavily throughout the year have the opportunity to earn 2 airfare discounts.

The first, a 50% discount on an award ticket for travel from the U.S. to Central America or Colombia, applies after $12,000 in annual spending.

The second, another 50% discount on award travel from the U.S. to Central America or Colombia, applies after $24,000 in annual expenditures.

Important Fees

The annual fee is $149, but there’s no foreign transaction fee or authorized user fee. Cash advances and balance transfers cost the greater of 2% or $2, with caps of $10 (regardless of transfer or advance size) on both. Returned payments cost up to $10. Late payments cost up to $38. Additional authorized user cards cost nothing.

Visa-Backed Benefits

This card comes with a nice lineup of Visa-backed benefits, including:

  • Emergency card replacement for inconvenienced travelers
  • Travel accident insurance (a bare-bones travel insurance policy that’s not a replacement for a more comprehensive product)
  • Complimentary collision damage waiver for rental cars charged in full to the card

Credit Required

This card requires excellent credit.

Advantages

  1. Strong LifeMiles Earning Rate on Airfare. Avianca Vuela Visa earns three LifeMiles per $1 spent on Avianca airfare and travel packages. That’s significantly better than the two-LifeMile-per-$1 earning rate of its stablemate, Avianca Vida Visa. When combined with the two-Life-Mile-per-$1 gas and grocery category, it’s great news for frequent travelers who put many miles on their cars and eat at home a lot when they’re not on the road.
  2. High, Accessible Sign-up Bonus. This card’s sign-up bonus is worth 40,000 LifeMiles, good for two round-trip fares within Central America. Even better, this bonus doesn’t require new cardholders to hit any particular spending threshold. Just a single purchase within 90 days will do. That’s a significant advantage over competing cards with high sign-up bonus spending thresholds. For instance, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card asks new cardholders to spend at least $4,000 within three months.
  3. No Foreign Transaction Fees. Avianca Vuela Visa doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Since the airline primarily serves destinations outside the United States, this is likely music to frequent Avianca fliers’ ears.
  4. Airfare Discounts for Heavy Spenders. If you travel frequently and use this as your primary credit card, it’s entirely possible that you’ll spend at least $24,000 per year with it. Once you hit that mark, you’ll be entitled to 2 deep (50%) discounts on airfare from the U.S. to Central America and Colombia or vice versa. If you spend just $12,000 per year, you’ll still be entitled to one such discount. These discounts can reduce your annual travel expenses by hundreds of dollars.
  5. Low Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees. Avianca Vuela Visa has impressively low balance transfer and cash advance fees: just 2% of the transferred or advanced amount, with a $2 minimum and $10 maximum. It’s worth nothing that the $10 maximum is exceptionally low, as competitor cards typically don’t impose maximum transfer or advance limits at all. Competitors such as Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Card charge 3% to 5% for balance transfers and cash advances.
  6. Can Redeem Across the Entire Star Alliance. As an Avianca Vuela Visa cardholder, you can redeem your accumulated LifeMiles with any of roughly two dozen Star Alliance airlines – not just Avianca. If your travels rarely or never take you to Latin America, this ensures that you’ll still get some value for your spending. By contrast, some competing cards whose sponsors don’t belong to major alliances – including JetBlue, which backs The JetBlue Card and JetBlue Plus Card – lack don’t have reciprocal redemption arrangements with other airlines.

Disadvantages

  1. High Annual Fee. Avianca Vuela Visa has a high annual fee: $149. That’s substantially higher than competing airline rewards cards such as Gold Delta SkyMiles from American Express, which waives its $95 annual fee in the first year. If you don’t often travel or spend heavily enough to offset Avianca’s high fee, it’s best to look for a more modestly priced airline card.
  2. Bonus LifeMiles Require Direct Purchase from Avianca. To earn three LifeMiles per $1 spent on Avianca airfare, you need to purchase your tickets directly from Avianca’s website, call center, or ticket counters. For many travelers, this is less than ideal, as it forecloses discount travel sites such as Priceline and Kayak – often the best sources of low-cost travel deals.
  3. No Way to Combine LifeMiles and Cash. You can’t directly combine LifeMiles and cash to fund award travel redemptions – you need the requisite number of LifeMiles for your chosen route and fare class, period. If you don’t have enough LifeMiles, you need to buy them from Avianca at the cost of $28 per 1,000 miles. That’s better than the regular rate for non-cardholders but is likely still a money-losing proposition for most flights, as all but the longest-haul Avianca flights value points at less than $0.028 apiece. Most other airline rewards programs, including Star Alliance partners such as United Airlines, allow you to combine points and cash.
  4. No Automatic Elite Status. Avianca Vuela Visa cardholders aren’t automatically entitled to elite status with Avianca, United, or any other Star Alliance airline. You need to earn your status the hard way – by spending thousands of dollars per year on Avianca flights and racking up the airline’s valuable elite qualifying miles.
  5. Charges Penalty Interest. If you occasionally miss credit card payments due to unexpected cash crunches or unforeseen expenses, this card’s 29.99% penalty interest rate could pose a problem. Many competing cards, including Chase British Airways Visa Signature Credit Card, don’t charge penalty interest.

Final Word

The Avianca Vuela Visa® Card has some useful features and benefits, but it’s not the best airline rewards credit card. All other things being equal, most travelers do better with general-purpose travel cards such as Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which earns 2x miles on all purchases – not just airfare, gas, and grocery spending.

However, because Avianca is part of the Star Alliance, frequent overseas travelers may still benefit from this card’s LifeMiles earnings. That’s because, when you use it specifically for Avianca flights and redeem for flights on other Star Alliance airlines, you can significantly boost your return on spending and snag regularly pricey flights for free.

Verdict
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Avianca Vuela Visa® Card

The Avianca Vuela Visa® Card is a strong choice for heavy spenders who frequently travel on Avianca (and other Star Alliance members) and spend heavily enough in favored categories (airfare, gas stations, and grocery stores) to offset the hefty annual fee. This card isn’t as good of a deal for lighter spenders and those who prefer to redeem their rewards for non-airfare items, such as cash or hotel stays.

Key benefits include a high earning rate on Avianca purchases, no foreign transaction fee, a strong sign-up bonus, airfare discounts for heavy spenders, low balance transfer and cash advance fees, and the ability to redeem across the entire Star Alliance.

Drawbacks include the high annual fee, the inability to combine LifeMiles and cash, high redemption thresholds for most flights, no automatic elite status, and penalty interest charges.

Overall, this is a good card for high-spending, frequent Avianca and Star Alliance fliers, but not the ideal choice for most others. Consider grabbing the sign-up bonus and moving on to greener pastures.

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Brian Martucci
Brian Martucci writes about frugal living, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas. When he’s not interviewing small business owners or investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, he’s probably out exploring a new trail or sampling a novel cuisine. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

Comments Disclosure: The below responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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