One of the better ‘little’ credit card offers out there is the Alaska Airlines card offered by Bank of America. Sure, the bonus is usually only 25K-30K but you can get as many card accounts and bonuses as you need, one every few months or so. Or so say the credit card guides. But they don’t bother to warn you what may happen once you have a card or two open. See, it’s not always so easy. It seems that the U.S. airline with the most customer-friendly region based award program has teamed up with a bank that doesn’t match up at all in Bank of America.
Alaska Airlines has a great award chart as well as lots of partners including American, Delta, Emirates, Fiji, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, LAN, Korean, Air France and KLM. Actually they have a separate award chart for each carrier but the prices across the board are reasonable and the program rules are some of the best:
- Stopovers are allowed on domestic tickets on Alaska Airlines. Free one-ways!
- Stopovers are allowed on one-way international travel. Getting to South Africa on Cathay Pacific with a stopover in Hong Kong? Australia with a stopover in Fiji? India on Emirates with a stopover in Dubai? All no problem, and you can use a different program for the return, or another stopover if using Alaska miles for that too.
- Award tickets can be changed for free or cancelled for a full refund up to 60 days before departure. This is huge for families as you can book when seats open up and then sort out the rest of the details or use another program if a preferred option becomes available.
One drawback with Alaska miles is the fact that you can’t use more than one partner in each direction. You could fly, for instance, New Orleans-Seattle-Los Angeles-Fiji on Alaska and Fiji Airlines but not New Orleans-Los Angeles-Fiji on AA and Fiji Airlines.
Bank of America Alaska Airlines offers
The available offers for Alaska Airlines cards have been as high as 50,000 miles last December, but are typically 25K-30K. At least that’s what is advertised until you get down to the fine print, which is on every offer, including the best offer currently available which gives 25K miles and a $100 statement credit to offset the $75 annual fee after spending $1000:
These terms apply to Visa Signature accounts. Different terms apply to Platinum Plus® and Preferred accounts.
Different? I’ll say! Scrolling through the terms and conditions reveals the following:
You understand that your credit line will be determined based on your creditworthiness and your account type will be determined based on your approved credit line as follows: if your application is approved with a credit line of $5,000 or greater, you will receive a Visa Signature® account; if your credit line is less than $5,000, but greater or equal to $2,000, you will receive a Platinum Plus® account; if your credit line is less than $2,000, you will receive a Preferred account. The APRs, Annual Fees and benefits for Platinum Plus accounts and Preferred accounts differ from each other and from Visa Signature accounts.
You will qualify for 25,000 bonus miles upon approval of a Visa Signature® account, 5,000 bonus miles upon approval of a Platinum Plus® account or 3,000 bonus miles upon approval of a Preferred account.
A credit inquiry and a $35-50 annual fee for 3,000 or 5,000 miles? I don’t think so!
My experience with the bait-and-switch
Last October, I got the same 25K offer with the $100 statement credit linked above. It was approved instantly with far more credit than I ever intended to use at $14,000. At that time, I had applied for 16 card accounts and been approved for 14 of them within the previous 12 months (not counting the other 2 applications at the same time), so I was pretty happy with the instant approval. I got the 25K miles in my account before the card even arrived, and the $100 statement credit showed up on the first statement after I spent the required $1000. Side note: I wound up cancelling an insurance policy that I paid with that card which resulted in a credit balance, and the corresponding number of Alaska miles were “clawed back’ from my account. I don’t recommend buy and return tricks ever, but definitely don’t try them with Bank of America! I put the card back in my wallet and earned those miles back, no problem.
Then in May 2014, I applied for a 40K offer I saw on Hack My Trip for Alaska MVP members, which I qualify for. It promised 25K miles for opening the account, and an additional 15K miles for spending $10,000 within 6 months.
This time I was at 15 applications in the previous 12 months, and again applying along with two other cards. All 3 were approved, but the Alaska card was only given a $2000 limit, meaning I’d get a Platinum Plus card with 5,000 miles. So I called the reconsideration line and was able to, without too much difficulty, get them to move credit from my existing Alaska card. I also confirmed with the agent that I would be getting the Visa Signature card and corresponding benefits according to the offer. As usual, I did not bring up those details – that’s what screenshots are for until I actually have an open account!
The next day, I got a call from Bank of America confirming that (1) I wanted to open a new account and (2) I wanted to convert my older account to a BankAmericard Cash Rewards account. Um, yes and no, no, no! I’m glad I took that call! Anyways after a while on the phone she sorted out the mess and said I was all set, with the credit line split like I requested and two Visa Signature Alaska Airlines accounts.
A couple days later I noticed on my online account that the second card had been added, but it was listed as a Platinum Plus account with a $8000 credit line. Uh-oh. Anyways I didn’t have time to do anything, so I waited to see what would actually arrive. By the time the Platinum Plus card came in the mail there were three accounts listed, the third one a new Alaska Airlines Signature card. I set aside the Platinum Plus card and, sure enough, a Signature card arrived about a week later with a different number. I shredded the Platinum Plus card without ever activating it and called in to activate the new Signature card.
I don’t usually confirm bonuses. Instead I meet whatever spending requirements are attached to a card during the first statement period so I have plenty of time if something does not post as expected. However I decided to go ahead and make sure BofA was planning to give me the correct bonus since there had been changes to the account as initially approved. The rep came back right away with all the benefits of the card and the 25K bonus for opening the account. I asked her if she also saw there was also an additional 15K for spending $10,000 within 6 months, and she said no, nothing like that. Great! I’m now halfway there! After a long hold, she asked for the full URL I applied through and was able to get the offer code from it (the offer code for the current offer is VAB6CK). She told me she would have the rewards department research it and send me a message within 2 weeks. A month and a half later, I guess another call is in order.
A friend here in Texas also got approved for a Platinum Plus rather than a Signature account last week, and a look at the Alaska Airlines card Flyertalk thread on these cards reveals that this has become a common occurrence over the past couple of months, since around the same time I initially applied. So he’ll have a few calls to make, a spare card and hopefully it will be smoother for him. Of course his offer doesn’t have an additional bonus like the one I don’t know if I’ll get.
I had gone through this process and put this post together before I decided to check FT for similar experiences, and this serves a good if small example of how threads with detailed wiki posts, and credit card offer master lists fall short. If they are the only place you get your information, you won’t realize what can go wrong until something goes very wrong with one of your own accounts.
In any case, regardless of whether I get my additional 15K miles, we are looking forward to using some of the Alaska miles we have collected on what will likely be our family’s first experience with long-haul business class in summer 2015. Using Alaska miles, it’s only 60K miles per person to Australia in the one program that predictably has 4 or more available business-class seats to down under: Cathay Pacific. And we can spend a day or two in Hong Kong on the way at no extra cost! We play this game to have fun, not to complain when things don’t go perfectly!
Disclosure: Please don’t carry a balance on any credit card, or apply for a new one or 15 if you currently do. I dislike Bank of America even more as a bank than as a credit card company, but as long as they work with a great airline program I guess I’ll be a customer.