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Diversify your rewards: Avianca Vuela Visa card review

April 29, 2020
10 min read
Avianca Brasil A320
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Avianca Vuela Visa card overview

The Avianca Vuela Visa Card is a mid-tier airline card available to U.S. residents. It might not offer any premium benefits like lounge access, but unlocks several opportunities to save on award flights booked through Avianca LifeMiles, one of the most undervalued airline loyalty programs. Card Rating*: ⭐⭐½

*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG's editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.

Update: this card has been discontinued.

With so many U.S.-based airline credit cards on the market, it's easy to overlook those from foreign airlines. However, some offer a lot more value than you might expect.

Today we're going to look at the Avianca Vuela Visa card, with a $149 annual fee. While you'll get the most value from the card if you fly the Colombian airline at least once per year, it might still make sense to pick up the card even if you never plan to travel to South America. As savvy TPG readers know, the Avianca LifeMiles loyalty program offers many sweet spots for booking Star Alliance partner awards, including cheap domestic United flights. TPG pegs LifeMiles at 1.7 cents apiece, making them some of the most valuable airline miles around.

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Who is this card For?

You don't need to be a frequent flyer of the Colombia-based airline to get value from this card. The Avianca Vuela Visa is a solid option for anyone who likes to score cheap United and other Star Alliance partner award flights and is looking to diversify their rewards. The LifeMiles program offers low award rates and doesn't pass on any fuel surcharges.

Related reading: Star Alliance booking showdown

Unlock cheap United awards with Avianca LifeMiles. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The card is issued by the Puerto Rican bank Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, but American citizens living in the continental U.S. (or Hawaii or Alaska) are still allowed to apply. Aside from likely not being eligible if you have already have another Avianca card, there aren't any major application restrictions, so it's a good option for anyone over 5/24 with Chase. On the flip side, if you're under 5/24, there are more compelling cards from Chase you might want to apply for first.

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Sign-up bonus

The Avianca Vuela offers a sign-up bonus of 40,000 bonus miles after your first purchase within the first 90 days of account opening. Those miles are worth a $680, based on TPG valuations. While not the highest bonus around, it's still very solid, especially considering the purchase to earn the bonus could be in any amount. Other welcome bonuses typically require you to spend a certain amount of money on your card within a certain time frame, like $3,000 in the first three months.

Main benefits and perks

While most aren't of very high value, the Avianca Vuela card has a few benefits that are worth taking note of, most notably discounts on purchased miles and on award tickets redeemed for travel to Central America or Colombia.

  • Additional checked bag allowance – Bring one free additional piece of baggage for travel between the United States and Central America.
  • Discounts on award travel to Central America and Colombia – Get a 50% discount on an award ticket redeemed for travel to Central America or Colombia from the United States after $12,000 spent each year, and a second 50% discount after spending $24,000
  • Discount on purchased miles – Get a 15% discount on purchases of miles with Multiply Your Miles. You can stack this with Avianca's frequent sales for purchasing miles.
  • Secondary car rental insurance – You'll have auto rental collision coverage, but it only kicks in after first filing with your personal insurance company.
  • Travel accident insurance – Coverage for an accident resulting in death or dismemberment while on a trip.
  • No foreign transaction fees – Safely make purchases overseas without accumulating extra charges.

The card also offers new applicants 12 months of 0% APR financing on balance transfers made within 90 days of account opening (then a variable APR of 13.24% to 26.24% applies), with a 2% (or $2 minimum, whichever is greater) balance transfer fee.

How to earn miles

With the Avianca Vuela, you'll earn 3x miles per dollar spent on Avianca purchases, 2x miles per dollar spent at gas stations and grocery stores and 1x mile per dollar spent everywhere else. The 3x earning rate on Avianca purchases is more generous than most other cobranded airline cards, which typically only offer 2 miles per dollar on purchases with the carrier. It's also nice that you'll earn bonus miles on some common everyday purchases. Based on TPG valuations, these earning rates equate to a very solid return of 5.1% on Avianca purchases, 3.4% on gas station and grocery stores purchases and 1.7% on all other spending.

The Avianca Vuela earns bonus miles at the pump. (Photo by Virojt Changyencham/Getty Images)

How to redeem miles

Aside from Avianca flights to Central America and Colombia, LifeMiles are great for booking cheap Star Alliance partner award flights. The program became even more attractive when United MileagePlus shifted to a dynamic award pricing model in 2019, resulting in many United awards jumping in price.

Some hidden gems in the LifeMiles program include transcontinental lie-flat United business-class flights for 25,000 miles and one-way flights to Europe in Lufthansa business class for 63,000 miles or Lufthansa first class for 87,000 miles. The program doesn’t pass along exorbitant fuel surcharges and regularly offers award sales. For instance, we've seen domestic United awards available through LifeMiles from just 3,500 miles one-way, whereas United typically charges at least 7,500 miles for those same flights. It also makes it easy to save miles on itineraries with connections by allowing you to book mixed-cabin awards and pricing each segment based on the class you’re flying.

Related: Everything you need to know about Avianca LifeMiles

LifeMiles is one of the best programs for booking Lufthansa First Class. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

If you're ever short miles, you can top off your account by purchasing them for cheap or transferring miles from major major transferable miles programs. LifeMiles usually expire 12 months after the most recent mileage accrual, and other transactions, like redemptions, don’t extend the validity of the miles. However, earning miles from a cobranded LifeMiles credit card like the Avianca Vuela or as an Avianca elite status holder will extend the validity of miles by 24 months.

Which cards compete with the Avianca Vuela?

The closest card to the Avianca Vuela is the other cobranded Avianca card, the Avianca Vida Visa Card. It has a lower welcome bonus of just 20,000 bonus miles after your first purchase within the first 90 days of account opening, but also has a lower annual fee of $59. It earns 2x miles per dollar spent on Avianca purchases and 1x mile per dollar spent everywhere else. It doesn't offer perks like the discounts on purchased miles and on award tickets redeemed for travel to Central America or Colombia, or a free checked baggage allowance.

That said, because the Avianca LifeMiles program is also a transfer partner of American Express, Capital One, Citi, Marriott Bonvoy and even Brex, the card's competition goes well beyond just the Avianca Vida. Here’s a side-by-side look at the card’s three direct competitors:

CardAnnual FeeWelcome BonusEarning Categories (% return based on TPG valuations)Best Benefits
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card$95Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.2x miles (3.7%) on all other purchasesGlobal Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100)
Citi Premier® Card$9560,000 ThankYou points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.3x points per dollar (5.1%) on air travel, hotels, gas stations, restaurants and supermarkets and 1x point (1.7%) on all other purchasesExtended warranty
American Express® Green Card$150 (see rates and fees)45,000 points after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first six months of card membership.3x points on travel, transit and dining (6%) and 1x point (2%) on all other purchases.Up to $100 annual Clear credit, up to $100 annual LoungeBuddy credit and trip delay coverage. Terms apply.

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

While the Citi Premier and American Express Green Card appear to offer the same earning rates for travel, the points are not equal. Citi ThankYou points and American Express Membership Rewards points offer greater redemption flexibility, as you can transfer those points to a variety of airline and hotel partners aside from just Avianca LifeMiles. Although typically a poor value proposition, you can also redeem those points for cash back, whereas that's not an option with the Avianca Vuela. Additionally, the American Express Green Card's earning bonus is for all travel, including hotels and transit, rather than just Avianca purchases.

Related reading: The ultimate guide to Citi ThankYou Rewards

Bottom line

There's a ton of value in diversifying your rewards strategy and the Avianca Vuela Visa offers an easy opportunity to do so. It can take some time to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs LifeMiles program, but it'll be worth it on the long run. The card's main benefits revolve around flying Avianca, but the bonus categories make it easy to earn extra miles on common everyday purchases. The biggest incentive of the card is its welcome bonus, which you'll earn after just one purchase.

For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, please click here.

Featured image by Photo by Rafael Luiz Canossa/Wikimedia Commons.
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.