After United increased award rates on some MileagePlus awards by over 100%, the best Star Alliance “sweet spot” awards now largely come from foreign carriers. While navigating a foreign airline’s frequent flyer program may seem daunting, the rewards can be significant.
This is particularly true for Colombian airline Avianca and its LifeMiles frequent flyer program.
LifeMiles offers highly appealing redemption rates for Star Alliance awards and additional unique features that make this program worth your attention. Let’s delve into everything you need to know about Avianca LifeMiles.
How to earn Avianca LifeMiles
There are many ways to earn Avianca LifeMiles, but the most likely avenue for TPG readers is through its partnerships with major transferable points programs. You can currently transfer your American Express Membership Rewards points, Capital One miles and Citi ThankYou Rewards to your LifeMiles account at a 1:1 ratio. These programs sometimes offer transfer bonuses — though there aren’t any currently in effect.
If you’re looking to top up your transferable points balances, you can do so by applying for these top offers:
Additionally, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points at a 3:1 ratio. Unlike most major programs, you won’t receive the 5,000 bonus miles for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer; LifeMiles was one of the programs that lost this feature in 2022.
Beyond credit cards, Avianca often offers discounts on LifeMiles purchases. In the past, we have seen prices drop as low as 1.2 cents per mile, although the typical sale price ranges from 1.3 to 1.35 cents per mile. These rates are significantly lower than TPG’s valuation of LifeMiles at 1.7 cents each. While buying points speculatively is generally not recommended, these sales can be a good option if you have a specific redemption in mind.
If you frequently travel on paid tickets with Star Alliance carriers, it might be worth considering crediting your miles to Avianca. This can be advisable if you find more value in the LifeMiles program than in other options like United MileagePlus or Air Canada Aeroplan. Crediting your miles to Avianca is also beneficial if you don’t travel enough to earn elite status but still want to maximize your redemption opportunities.
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How to redeem Avianca LifeMiles
As a member of the Star Alliance, Avianca allows you to use your LifeMiles for flights on Avianca or any of its alliance partners. Additionally, Avianca has partnerships with GOL and Iberia, providing opportunities to earn and redeem LifeMiles on select flights operated by these airlines.
LifeMiles follows a standard zone-based award chart for most flights. However, flights within the U.S. sometimes deviate from the standard award chart. Dynamic pricing is typically unfavorable. However, these discrepancies have often worked in favor of travelers, offering advantageous redemption options.
Here’s a one-way economy flight from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) that prices out 1,000 miles cheaper than Avianca’s award chart suggests:
Redeeming LifeMiles is typically a straightforward process that involves logging into the LifeMiles website and searching for your desired award flight.
However, it is important to note that while Avianca should have access to the same Star Alliance award availability as United and Air Canada, the carrier’s information technology is known to have limitations. This can result in phantom award space, where seats appear online but are not bookable.
Conversely, Avianca may not always display available award space on United or Aeroplan. Therefore, it is advisable to double-check your search using another Star Alliance search engine or tools like ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) before transferring points to Avianca. This ensures you have accurate and up-to-date information before proceeding with your redemption.
LifeMiles sweet spots
In most cases, you are faced with a trade-off between low award rates and high fuel surcharges or spending more miles to avoid extra costs. However, LifeMiles is one of the few programs that excels in both aspects. It offers highly competitive rates for Star Alliance awards and does not pass on fuel surcharges to LifeMiles members. As a result, you can expect to pay minimal taxes and fees when redeeming an award ticket.
Lufthansa first class from the U.S. to Europe
Between Porcshe amenity kits and gourmet inflight dining, Lufthansa’s first class is often a dream come true for award travelers.
United often prices Lufthansa first-class awards to Europe at around 121,000 miles each way. Air Canada Aeroplan charges 100,000 points when there’s award space. While Asiana and Lufthansa offer lower rates, both programs impose high taxes and fees.
Meanwhile, Avianca offers one of the best ways to book Lufthansa first class on miles. Award rates start at just 87,000 miles each way and carry minimal taxes and fees.
At 30,000 and 63,000 miles, Star Alliance economy and business class awards aren’t bad deals, either.
To compare, here’s what you’d need from other Star Alliance programs that partner with transferable point currencies:
- United MileagePlus: 44,000 miles for economy; 88,000 miles for business; 121,000 miles for first
- Air Canada Aeroplan: 40,000 points for economy; 70,000 points for business; 100,000 points for first
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer: 30,500 miles for economy; 81,000 miles for business; 121,000 miles for first (note that these would also incur much higher fuel surcharges in addition to the extra miles)
ANA business and first class from Honolulu to Tokyo
If you want to travel to Japan on a shorter daytime flight, you might consider going from Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL).
LifeMiles charges just 27,500, 48,000 and 66,000 miles for one-way flights in economy, business and first class (respectively) between Honolulu and Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT). These award rates are at least 10% less than what Aeroplan, KrisFlyer and MileagePlus charge for the same route.
Business class from the U.S. to Asia
As expected, award rates from the mainland U.S. to Asia are higher, with one-way flights from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) costing 47,000 miles and 90,000 miles in economy and business class, respectively.
Nevertheless, this can still be a decent way to reach the continent for fewer miles than you’d see through other programs.
Business class to New Zealand
Although premium-cabin award space on Air New Zealand is notoriously difficult to find, another LifeMiles sweet spot is the carrier’s business class to Auckland Airport (AKL), with flights costing just 80,000 miles.
As Aeroplan sells these awards for 75,000 points, you might consider booking through Air Canada — though if you’re buying LifeMiles, it’s still a sweet spot worth knowing about. For reference, this award costs 110,000 miles with United MileagePlus.
Business class to South America
LifeMiles also offers great award rates on certain South American flights. Lie-flat, business-class awards cost just 35,000 miles from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM) in Lima, Peru — a hidden gem for a flight of this length.
Longer haul business-class flights like from Washington’s Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Sao Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) cost 52,800 miles. Still, that’s lower than the 60,000 points and 80,000 miles that Aeroplan and United charge.
When traveling in long-haul business or first class, it’s common to encounter mixed-cabin awards through LifeMiles. This happens in the following situations:
- When airlines don’t offer first class on shorter routes, requiring passengers to connect in business or economy class
- When there isn’t award space in your desired cabin
Most loyalty programs determine the award rate by the highest cabin of service used. However, LifeMiles takes a different approach. They price each leg of the journey separately based on the class of service booked. This often leads to a discounted rate for mixed-cabin tickets.
In the above example, you can save 3,040 miles on a one-way ticket to Europe by starting your trip in economy class at Orlando International Airport (MCO). The total cost would then be just 59,960 miles. The flight from Orlando to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) doesn’t have award availability in United’s domestic first class, so this is a great way to still get the award you want.
Alternatively, even when there is availability for your entire journey, you may decide it isn’t worth using extra miles for a shorter connecting flight. Even then, you can pick economy and save some of your rewards for later.
Problems with Avianca LifeMiles
Despite LifeMiles offering appealing award rates, it might not be the program for you. The program has a reputation for error-prone information technology and inconsistent customer service.
LifeMiles members often encounter website glitches when redeeming their miles. On one occasion, LifeMiles deducted the miles from my account for a simple round-trip, economy-class Europe award flight but didn’t issue the ticket. Although I had hoped an agent would be able to resolve this quickly, it took around three hours and conversations with half a dozen agents to complete this process.
Additionally, if you reserve an economy award ticket and business class becomes available, LifeMiles requires you to pay a cancellation fee to redeposit your miles. You can then rebook your flight in business class.
While you may save thousands of miles booking with Avianca, canceling your ticket could be tedious and costly. You typically can’t cancel award bookings online, and Avianca is slow to issue refunds.
Avianca LifeMiles is a frequent flyer program that has proven its worth in the award travel world. With its attractive redemption rates, lack of fuel surcharges and partnerships with major transferable points programs, LifeMiles offers great value and flexibility to its members. While there may be some customer service challenges and quirks to navigate, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks for many travelers.
So take the time to explore Avianca LifeMiles, delve into its sweet spots and unlock the possibilities it presents for your future travels. With a little research and planning, you can make the most of this valuable program as you consider where to transfer your credit card points.
Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.