I’m one of those smart shoppers who’s always looking out for ways to stretch my credit card spending. I let my nose for deals guide both my selection of cards and the retailers I choose to use them with, online and in person.
Recently, I was excited to find out about an American Airlines program that offered 10,000 bonus miles to members who shopped with the airline’s partners. (The airlines are constantly introducing new deals like this; a different AA program started up less than a month ago that featured a very sweet 50,000 bonus miles.) One of the partners participating in the program gave me pause: Vinesse Wines. I was generally familiar with the idea of a wine club, but this company – and its wine selection – was new to me. What finally won me over was reading a review of the Vinesse Wine Club which explained how signing up with Vinesse paid off with a bonus deliverable in airline miles or hotel points. That was enough to get me on board.
Vinesse Wine Club: What’s It Worth?
My chosen offer with Vinesse delivered six bottles of wine for $41.94 (plus a $0.01 shipping charge). Vinesse is partnered with a wide range of loyalty programs. Affiliates include American, Delta, Spirit, United, Club Carlson, Choice Hotels, and Hilton. When I signed up, I earned 2,000 Advantage miles. The last time I checked TPG’s valuation data, AA miles scored $0.014 each; that makes the Vinesse reward of 2,000 points worth about $28. Total it all out, and I scored those six bottles for about $14 a piece. Not too shabby.
The deals are evolving and getter better over time, too. When I last checked, Vinesse had started offering a bigger bonus if you purchase 12 bottles – 10,000 American miles. This reward is split in two; your first shipment earns you 3,000 miles and the second is worth 7,000. This is common for elevated sign-up bonuses. Remember, the whole point is to encourage you to stick with the program! If you hang onto your Vinesse membership past the second shipment, every dollar you spend gets you five miles back.
The trick here is that later shipments come with a higher price tag than the introductory one. I heard straight from a Vinesse representative that the second shipment was going to cost $120 to $130. That’s three times as much as the first case. The elevated bonus miles (10,000 American) cash out at roughly $140, so you’re close to breaking even. If you actually derive some enjoyment from the wine that comes with the deal, though …
The First Shipment: First Look
Programs like Amazon Prime have set consumer shipping expectations sky-high. I try to resist this tendency myself; it’s not fair to expect EVERYTHING I buy to show up within three days. That being said, it seemed to me like Vinesse didn’t exactly shift into high gear getting my wine to me. Once my order was placed, it was three weeks until I received my first shipment.
The wine arrived in a cardboard box with ample protective packaging. The quality of all six bottles seemed flawless, without a speck of damage. I liked the variety I got from the first shipment; it included red, white, and rosé. The shipment also included a bit of background information on each wine and a nice set of suggestions for food pairings.
The Wines Themselves
I couldn’t help my inquisitive nature. Before I cracked open any of the Vinesse wines, I put Google to work studying the market cost of the individual bottles and learning about the wines’ origins. This research ended up rather disappointing: None of the wines in the shipment came from “real” wineries. All of them were bottled by private label branding and bottling firms. That means you won’t find these on sale at your local grocery or liquor store – which is not, in fact, a good thing.
I was really hoping that part of this experience would be learning about wines and wineries with some real history, so the Vinesse experience was a disappointment on that score.
I’ll gladly admit that I’m not an expert on wine. Instead of veering too far into subjective territory, I roped some of the TPG staffers into conducting a communal tasting with me. We all scored each of the wines on a one-to-five scale and then averaged out our impressions. Don’t be too shocked, but we were severely underwhelmed.
None of us found any of Vinesse’s initial offerings particularly impressive. The Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc were the only wines that got as high as “palatable” in the TPG taste-test. Many of the staffers (there were seven of us tasting) noted odd, metallic aftertastes that had us dreading the prospect of any more of this wine.
I hope this makes it clear why I can’t recommend Vinesse and its wines. Just a few of us found the product drinkable, and I suspect that reactions would be even worse if any of us were real connoisseurs.
Buying a product, like all transactions, is about exchanging values. The Vinesse club offers up the value proposition of heavily-discounted airline miles coming along with a party-sized load of wine. Based on the staff’s tasting experience, I can’t say that the latter offer is adding much value. My personal opinion is that signing up for Vinesse only makes sense if you can combine it with partnership offers, and I don’t think you’d want to hang onto your membership after earning the sign-up bonuses.
All things being equal, I think earning miles with a co-branded credit card (e.g. the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer or the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard) is a more convenient and effective way to earn your miles. They have sign-up bonuses of their own and plenty of other benefits. I’d say the savings offered there would dovetail nicely with splurging a little bit on wine that was actually tasty.