Travel With Vik

Avianca Visa Vuela and my saga with Banco Popular

Towards the end of 2016, Avianca released a new credit card into the marketplace with a spectacular offer: 60,000 miles for one purchase. These types of one purchase offers haven’t been seen since the recession period of 2009-2011, so this card definitely piqued my interest, particularly since it is one of only two cards that can be used in Cuba by Americans, the other being tiny Stonegate Bank of Florida’s Mastercard. Also, Avianca is part of the Star Alliance, which includes United, Air Canada, Turkish Airlines, Copa, and Lufthansa among others. As a result, these miles could be very valuable.

The bank that chose to release the card was one that I’d never heard of, Popular Community Bank, essentially the American subunit of Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. This was already concerning based on the perilous financial situation on the island, and even moreso when I read some threads in Flyertalk and MyFico about random periods of not being to use the card, useless customer service, and requests for onerous documentation. Needless to say, I ended up experiencing all three of these.

I was approved online for my card June 23, only after answering a series of tough credit questions, similar to those when accessing a credit report, and didn’t expect to receive it anytime soon because I didn’t read any reports of expedited shipping. This was fine because with only one purchase necessary I was no hurry to receive it.

I received the card after a week or so, and attempted to make a purchase on July 5 for around $7. I was a bit perturbed when the transaction was declined, more out of public embarrassment, as this has only happened to me when trying to make very large purchases as a fraud alert in the past. Embarrassment led to confusion as when I called the number on the back of the card, I was told that my account was currently suspended and under investigations for reasons that could not be disclosed. This was rather stunning to me as I wasn’t sure what warranted an investigation, I have a great credit history with no black marks. I asked for when I would receive an update, I was told I would receive a letter and/or call; this never happened.

I proceeded to call 2-3 times a week until finally I was told on July 18 that I needed to submit some documents for proof of address: Passport, driver’s license, bank statement, and utility bill. The passport confused me because address isn’t even listed on the main page, it’s on another page and is written with pencil. Anyhow, I submitted these documents and assumed this would be taken care of relatively quickly: I was wrong.

The timeline kept extending itself; first I was told five business days, then ten business days, and then three weeks. Also, I was again told I would receive a call and/or letter when the card was approved, but of course this never happened. What made this more comically surreal is that I was charged the annual fee when I wasn’t even able to use the card. Finally, exactly three weeks after submitting the documents, I called and the block was finally lifted from my account. I proceeded to make a $3 purchase and wonder with curiosity if the bank will actually give me my points on the next statement.

To put this in perspective, seven weeks after I was approved and six weeks after I received the card, I was finally able to use it. If I go to Cuba soon before restrictions are put in place on Americans, this card may become quite valuable, but I warn everyone who takes the chance on this card to be prepared for all kinds of annoyances and hurdles.

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