Is this Sign-up Bonus Good or Bad? Both!

I’ll explain the title later on. In November I’ve mentioned that some were targeted to receive 55,000 miles offer on Chase United Mileage Plus Visa card. I was one of those individuals. After long deliberation I pulled the trigger. Let me explain why.

Next year, I plan to book award tickets for my parents’ visit to USA in 2016. I am hoping to take them on a cruise to Alaska in June. At the moment, the only miles I can use for their flights are AAdvantage.

In the off-season, this program is ideal because it charges only 40,000 miles (36,000 with Citi AA card’s 10% discount) for roundtrip award ticket from Moscow to Fort Myers, Fl. It’s an amazing deal if you think about it, especially considering the fact that United charges 60,000 miles for the same type of award.

The problem

However, cruises to Alaska mostly start in the summer, and 40,000 miles pricing is only good through May 15th. Not to mention, taking my daughter out of school for  a week would be a deal breaker. That means I would have to pay 54,000 miles (after discount) through AAdvantage program.

On top of it, when I searched the flights from Moscow to Seattle,  all flights were routed through London and included British Airways. That added a significant fuel surcharge. There may be a way to use Air Berlin by searching the segments separately, but it’s not a guarantee. So basically, I had all my eggs in one basket, and they didn’t look very pretty.

A possible solution

In August, I got my brother-in-law to apply for  increased United Mileage Plus offer, with the idea of using the miles for an upcoming Munich-Rome flight. However, as I’ve written in a post about Citi Thank You transfer to Flying Blue, their flights were now taken care of. That meant that he had close to 60,000 United miles without any specific use and told me I could have them. That’s enough for one roundtrip economy flight from Europe to USA. I’ll be able to use them to issue an award ticket for one of my parents when the time comes, since it can be done in anyone’s name.

If I could get another 60,000 miles, the total  would take care of both of my parents’ tickets. And the best part is: They wouldn’t have to take a train to Moscow and could just fly from Minsk, the capital of Belarus. A nice thing about United  Mileage Plus program is that  it doesn’t impose any fuel surcharges on its Star partners. Those could add up to $600 on economy Lufthansa ticket.

Unfortunately, Lufthansa is the only game in town for many obscure countries in Europe such as Belarus. Of course, my parents could always fly from neighboring Poland or Russia, but it entails extra hassle. In this case, they could potentially go from Minsk to Seattle with only one connection in Frankfurt. AAdvantage option will require at least 2 connections, possibly more, plus a long train ride both ways.

Map provided courtesy of
I checked and availability for this route is decent, and the tax runs around $130 total per person, quite palatable. Of course, I don’t know how things will be next summer, but that’s always the case when it comes to miles and life in general. That’s why I’ve decided to go ahead and apply for United card.

Back to the title of my post

Even though this card is a good fit for my specific needs, it may not be a great choice for you. Why not? Well, for one, the official  bonus is now down to 30K miles. But even if/when it goes back up  to 55K miles, you may not want it.

If the nearest airport served by United is 6 hours away, it might be  a deal breaker if you have small kids. Also, if you have a large family and only travel during peak times, this bonus won’t do you much good because the availability may be non-existent for the flights you need.

That’s why I try not to make definitive statements on sign-up bonuses, especially when it comes to frequent flyer miles. Everyone is different, and it’s hard to predict what works or doesn’t work for your particular family situation.

Let’s say that you live near a small airport served only by Delta (monopoly=expensive flights) and need to bring your parents over a few times per year. They are retired and have a very flexible schedule. You also only want to get one card for the next year and that’s it. You don’t fancy Amex because it’s still not accepted everywhere, and you can easily charge $2K per month on credit. What is the best choice?

It’s actually Bank of America Virgin Atlantic co-branded credit card. What does it have to do with Delta? They are partners, and it costs 25K Virgin Atlantic miles for one roundtrip ticket within Continental USA, Alaska and Canada, no fuel surcharges added.  Right now there is an offer on this card that looks like this, doesn’t pay me commission:

  • 20,000 Flying Club bonus miles after your first retail purchase
  • 50,000 additional Flying Club bonus miles after you spend at least $12,000 in qualifying purchases within 6 months of your account open date
  • Earn up to 15,000 additional bonus miles upon anniversary
  • Earn up to 5,000 Flying Club bonus miles when you add additional authorized users to your card
  • Earn 3 miles per $1 spent directly on Virgin Atlantic purchases and 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all other purchases

You get 7,500 miles after spending $15,000 in one year, 15,000 miles after spending $25,000. Assuming you maximize the first one, you would end up  with over 100K miles, enough for 4 roundtrip tickets on Delta. Voila!

The annual fee of $90 is not waived, but the value is certainly there… for some. This isn’t an offer I would consider pursuing mostly because I constantly switch cards and  Delta award program isn’t  a very good fit for my family. But just because I don’t find it  worthwhile, doesn’t mean it’s a bad deal.

And so it goes for most other cards. I say “most,” because some are genuinely bad, like Carnival Visa (the cruise line, that is). Hmm, I wonder if there is a card that lets you earn credits toward hot dogs and ride tokens at the fairs? Most likely.

Readers, is anyone considering Virgin Atlantic offer?

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5 thoughts on “Is this Sign-up Bonus Good or Bad? Both!

    • Hi, Hilde! If you mean availability for Delta through Virgin Atlantic, you can look it up on The only award seats that are bookable through Virgin Atlantic program are the “saver” level, which is 25K miles roundtrip within Continental USA and Canada. Also, you can only redeem for roundtrip ticket, so the route would have to be available both ways.

      You can also call Virgin Atlantic office in USA +1 800 365 9500 and double check to make sure there are seats. I don’t have a first-hand experience with redeeming for Delta through that program, but that’s how it works. Of course, there is an option of using Virgin Atlantic miles for its own flights, but there are fuel surcharges. Let me know if this answers your question.


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