Cardless launches new Avianca LifeMiles credit cards

Today Cardless and Avianca LifeMiles launched new new credit cards — a standard Avianca LifeMiles card and an Avianca LifeMiles elite card. These cards run on the American Express network and may be of particular interest to regular Avianca flyers and/or those who would already consider subscribing to LifeMiles+, which we covered in a separate post earlier: New Avianca LifeMiles LifeMiles+ subscriptions, a great deal for enthusiasts.

Last night, I attended the Cardless / Avianca LifeMiles card launch event at the Amex Centurion Lounge in New York City to learn more about the cards and to speak with executives from both Cardless and LifeMiles.

The Offers & Key Card Details

Card Offer and Details

Earn 40K bonus miles after $3K in first 90 days$99 Annual Fee

Information about this card has been collected independently by Frequent Miler. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

FM Mini Review: This card could be worthwhile for those who fly Avianca enough to take advantage of Silver Elite benefits but not enough to earn that status. However, it isn’t a great way to earn Avianca Lifemiles long-term.

Earning rate: 2x Avianca purchases, dining, and grocery ✦ 1x everywhere else

Card Info: American Express issued by FEB. This card has no foreign currency conversion fees.

Noteworthy perks: Complimentary Aviaca Silver elite status

Card Offer and Details

Up to 100K miles: Earn 60K bonus miles after $4.5K spend in first 90 days + 40K miles after $25K total spend in first 12 months$249 Annual Fee

Information about this card has been collected independently by Frequent Miler. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

FM Mini Review: If you were already interested in a LifeMiles+ subscription, this card might be appealing since it only costs $9 more than the cost of 12 months of the “Lite” subscription (or you can enjoy the same annual $240 in value toward higher subscription levels with a $20 monthly discount). It could be worth getting the card for the Silver Elite benefits if you would have considered buying a LifeMiles+ subscription anyway. However, for ongoing spend, it is less compelling given the fact that many transferable currency cards offer superior return on spend.

Earning rate: 3X Avianca purchases ✦ 2X dining and other travel ✦ 1X everywhere else

Card Info: American Express issued by FEB. This card has no foreign currency conversion fees.

Big spend bonus: Earn double miles on up to 1,000 miles per month with the included “Lite” subscription.

Noteworthy perks: Complimentary Aviaca Silver elite status

More Analysis

An Avianca LifeMiles Amex will not count against the 5-Amex-card-limit

First of all, it may have come as a surprise to some to see that these cards run on the American Express network. To answer a question many have had and will have, an Avianca LifeMiles card will not count against your limit of “Amex” cards. American Express is known to limit most people to having no more than 5 open credit cards. However, since these are not Amex-issued cards but rather just cards that run on Amex’s payment network, they will not count toward the ~5 revolving credit cards that Amex will allow on cards that they issue themselves. For clarity, the 5 credit card limit applies to Amex-issued credit cards, not to “pay over time” cards like the Platinum or Gold. Again, an Avianca LifeMiles card will not count against those Amex-issued limits.

Base-level $99 card: Cheap Avianca Silver status

The base-level $99 card only makes sense if you value the Silver status benefits. While that Silver status also provides Star Alliance Silver, you won’t find much of value in Star Alliance Silver status. Instead, Avianca Silver benefits will be attractive to those who actually fly Avianca at least a couple of times a year since that status will get you an extra checked bag on an Avianca economy fare and 5 annual lounge passes and 2 companion lounge entries to one of Avianca’s 12 VIP lounges. A free checked bag each time and a few lounge visits could be worth $99 a year to the right customer.

That said, the welcome bonus on this card is so poor that I’d have trouble recommending it even to a frequent Avianca flyer over getting a far better bonus on one of many competing cards at that price.

Avianca LifeMiles elite card is more interesting, but still niche

Matt Vincett, CEO of LifeMiles, and Michael Spelfogel, Founder & President of Cardless, at the LifeMiles card launch event at the American Express Centurion lounge in New York.

The Elite card has the potential to be far more interesting. That’s mostly because the Elite card comes with a LifeMiles+ “Lite” subscription, which otherwise costs $20 per month. I covered the LifeMiles+ subscriptions separately and said that I imagine that regular LifeMiles redeemers will likely find at least the base-level Lite subscription to be worthwhile, at least when they are about to make a big redemption.

The Elite card bundles that subscription or the same value ($20 per month) toward a more expensive subscription, like the “Basic” subscription. For some enthusiasts, buying a “Lite” or “Basic” subscription will make more sense than getting a LifeMiles credit card since those subscriptions only require a 6-month commitment. However, for LifeMiles enthusiasts who redeem for awards regularly, subscribing on an ongoing basis will make sense. If keeping even a “Lite” subscription for 12 months a year would be worth it to you, then the incremental cost of the credit card here is basically $9, which buys you easy Avianca Silver elite status. Of course it also counts against one’s 5/24 count, which may impact your ability to get approved for Chase cards in the future, so that’s worth some consideration (though if you’re super into LifeMiles, that may not be as relevant to you).

Given that a LifeMiles+ subscription “doubles” your credit card miles up to a certain threshold, I think the Elite card will be a fit for a niche group of customers. If you’re someone who would consider buying the second-level “Basic” LifeMiles+ subscription for $50 per month ($600 over the course of a year) without the credit card, then the elite card might make more sense yet. With the Elite card, you’ll save $20 per month on that Basic subscription, paying your $249 annual fee for the credit card + an additional $30 per month for a net total cost of $609 for both the card and the “Basic” subscription. That will get you double credit card miles up to 2,000 bonus miles per month. Given that the full 100K welcome bonus requires just over $2K in purchases per month on average, it would be easy to see the full benefit of this bonus in the first year if you were interested in 100K miles for $25K spend (which, in reality, would end up being at least 124,000 bonus miles if you spread the spend out to take maximum advantage of the monthly doubling).

But now that we’ve said all that out loud, one has to recognize that the Elite card just isn’t at all competitive in terms of the welcome bonus as compared to the spending requirement. Given that you can easily get 100,000 transferable points that could be transferred 1:1 to LifeMiles with far less than $25K spend, I just can’t see putting that much spend on the Elite card unless you have a very large capacity for spend, the ability to spread it out so you can take advantage of all 12 months of monthly doubling, and you highly value Avianca LifeMiles over the many transferable currencies that can be earned and transferred to LifeMiles.

Speaking of the doubling, I don’t consider that an integral part of the benefits of a LifeMiles+ subscription. With most purchases on an Avianca card earning just 1x, the doubling of miles earned via credit card (only up to certain thresholds as outlined in the LifeMiles+ subscriptions) merely brings 1x purchases on part with the 2 miles per dollar that can be earned with a plethora of other cards on the market which have lower annual fees (or no annual fees!) and no need to mind the monthly cap on “double” miles (and which sometimes offer transfer bonuses to LifeMiles). In my opinion, that “doubling” merely decreases the opportunity cost of spending on your LifeMiles Elite card. That can increase your first year value, but beyond the first year if you want 2 LifeMiles per dollar spent, you can get it easily and possibly without an annual fee with the right transferable currency card (and if you catch a transfer bonus, your 2 miles per dollar on that transferable currency card might become more like 2.3 or 2.5). I don’t see the bonus miles from spend as being consequential for miles enthusiasts but rather a way to bring return on spend up to “table stakes”.

Is it worth getting an Avianca LifeMiles credit card?

If you fly Avianca some and you would buy a LifeMiles+ membership for the combo of the 10% award rebate and monthly miles anyway, then yes I think the Elite card probably makes sense in order to get both Silver Elite status, including some lounge passes and a free checked bag on Avianca, along with your LifeMiles+ subscription for only $9 more than you would have spent on the LifeMiles+ subscription alone.

I don’t find the card welcome bonuses on the Avianca cards particularly attractive. I do find LifeMiles+ attractive and I imagine that Avianca Silver Elite status for the cost of a credit card annual fee will be attractive for some. If you would be interested in LifeMiles+, it could make sense to give this card a shot.

My biggest hesitation is that Cardless currently limits you to one card. It is therefore somewhat difficult to know which Cardless card to get since, for the time being, getting one Cardless card will lock you out of getting a future Cardless card. Will Cardless launch some other co-branded card in the future that you’d be more interested in having? The “fear of missing out” on a future hot offer makes it hard to know whether or not to jump on this one (where “this” could refer to any Cardless product that could be a fit for you). For what it’s worth, I haven’t heard anything to indicate another imminent card launch. And as Gary has reported at View from the Wing, we’ve heard that Cardless intends to eventually allow people the opportunity to get another Cardless card, albeit with churning-related restrictions. I can understand why they think they want that, though I’m skeptical that it’s the right approach given the fact that the programs with which they partner, like LifeMiles, will always appeal most to people truly enthused by loyalty points and credit cards. I’d argue that the folks most likely to be their best customers — the people who will spend $249 year after year because they want the LifeMiles+ subscription anyway — are also likely to be people earning a lot of miles and points with other cards that they transfer to LifeMiles, also. For those people, doubling credit card rewards to 2 miles per dollar spent on most purchases isn’t likely to move the needle. On the other hand, easy elite status, rebates on award bookings, and free changes and cancellations are indeed things that do move the needle for that crowd.

All that is to say that I find the card benefits exciting, but not really the welcome bonus or the ongoing return on spend. And the core benefit, a LifeMiles+ subscription, is something that Avianca is offering separately — so you don’t need to be eligible for a Cardless card and tie up a 5/24 slot in order to get that benefit. On the other hand, if you have plenty of capacity for credit card spend to take advantage of other opportunities and also get the LifeMiles Elite card, then the bonus might be enough to draw you in. And I have to recognize that LifeMiles are a valuable currency — as I noted in my separate post about LifeMiles+, I redeemed at least 700K LifeMiles last year alone and that was of course entirely for premium cabin travel and in situations where LifeMiles was already yielding my best option. I have often said that if I could only have one airline transfer partner, Avianca might be it because I love the LifeMiles program. So I’m happy with more Avianca LifeMiles, but I’m not ready to tie up $25K in spend that could easily earn me far more transferable points that I could transfer to LifeMiles when I want to book something. I’ll probably still subscribe to LifeMiles+ the next time I’m ready to make a redemption.

I would have loved to have seen two more things with the credit cards:

  1. A mileage expiration waiver. Matt Vincett tells me that any purchases made on the card will push out the expiration date by a year, but you won’t save your miles from expiring just by being a cardholder as is the case with some other programs.
  2. A path to spend to Gold status. While you can earn Qualifying Miles with credit card spend (one qualifying mile per 2 miles earned on the card, those won’t be Qualifying Miles with Avianca. Avianca requires both a certain threshold of qualifying miles and a certain threshold of those earned with Avianca (by flying Avianca). Last year, I transferred plenty of points to Avianca to earn enough Qualifying Miles for top-tier Diamond status, but since I didn’t fly on Avianca-operated flights, I did not earn any status at all. I’d have appreciated away to spend toward the “with Avianca” requirement, even if it required a lot of spend (which I may or may not have done, but I’d like to have the option!).

Still, I imagine that the benefits will make it worth paying $249 a year for some folks even if they don’t complete $25K spend for the full 100K bonus miles. To that point, I really question spending the full $25K. While 60K miles for $4.5K in purchases in the first 90 days isn’t great for a new card bonus, it isn’t a bad return on spend. Keep in mind that you’d be. Unlocking the other 40K bonus requires an additional $20,500 in spend — a return of just 1.95 miles per dollar spent. Even if you buy up to the $30 “Basic” subscription and you spread out your spend to earn the full 2,000 bonus miles per month, you’re talking about earning 64,000 bonus miles on $20,500 in spend — a return of about 3.12 miles per dollar spent. That’s a pretty good rate for “everywhere else” type spend (i.e. things that would have otherwise only earned 1x), but if you consider the plethora of cards with useful bonus categories on the market, it wouldn’t be hard to replicate that 64K miles with $20,500 spend on other cards that may already be in your wallet and without having to track a need to spend $2K or more in every single month. If you would earn a welcome bonus or two with that $20,500 in spend, you could do much better than the additional 64,000 bonus miles. If you have tons of capacity for spend, it certainly isn’t poor return, it just isn’t enough juice for me to get actively excited.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, I am legitimately excited to see Cardless continue to take a stab at new niches and I’m glad to see LifeMiles back with a US credit card offering. I am probably more excited about LifeMiles+ than I am about the LifeMiles credit cards, but it’s cool to see Cardless expanding the portfolio and putting some thought into unique sets of benefits. I get the sense that LifeMiles is looking closely at things in general and will likely continue to tweak and make improvements over time. In fact, both companies seem open to suggestion and change, which is an approach that I think will serve them well. With the Elite card, they developed a niche solution for a niche market. I think LifeMiles would be more broadly useful and relevant in the space with a few small improvements — and while I don’t think these cards are going to do the trick in making them more broadly relevant, they certainly may help shore up their relevancy to their core fans for now and it will give all involved a chance to look at ways to improve. Looked at as a starting point, I think this launch is exciting.

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