LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program for Colombia’s national airline, Avianca, but is actually a separate entity in and of itself. For those in the know, Avianca’s LifeMiles program is one of the best ways to fly Star Alliance airlines around the world. In this deep dive, we’ll go over some of the pros and cons of the program as well as transfer partners and how to book flights with Avianca LifeMiles.
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Regular transfer bonuses and sales on purchased miles
Mixed-cabin awards have proportional pricing
Book awards 360 days in advance
Difficult customer service and long hold times
Website has many bugs and glitches
No complex routings (i.e., no stopovers)
Less availability than other Star Alliance programs
How to Get Avianca LifeMiles
Of course, you can earn LifeMiles the traditional way by flying Avianca or other Star Alliance carriers, such as Air Canada or United, and crediting your miles towards Avianca LifeMiles. This may be something to consider if you don’t fly enough to earn status with those carriers and if you find more value with LifeMiles, though most Canadian and U.S.-based travelers will simply apply flown miles to those respective programs. However, there are a few other ways to obtain Avianca LifeMiles and it doesn’t require you to fly Avianca — or to fly at all for that matter.
The Avianca LifeMiles program partners with three of the major transferable credit card programs as well as Marriott’s Bonvoy loyalty program. There are also other transfer partners, but these are the main ones to consider when transferring points.
American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)
Citibank ThankYou Points (1:1)
Capital One Venture Rewards (1:1)
Marriott Bonvoy Points (3:1)
With an even exchange from credit card points to LifeMiles, transferring points from your bank is one of the best ways to earn Avianca LifeMiles. And there are frequent transfer bonuses, which often give you an extra 15-25% on top of your transfer. This means you can usually get an even better exchange rate than 1:1. When transferring Marriott Bonvoy points, you’ll only get 1,000 LifeMiles for every 3,000 Bonvoy points, but there is a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Bonvoy points transferred. Even with bonuses, it’s only recommended to transfer points when you are ready to book a flight redemption with availability.
Normally, we only recommend to buy miles if you need to top up a balance in order to make a high-value redemption. This logic also holds true if you are buying LifeMiles at the normal rate of ~3.3 cents per mile, but there are often sales and bonuses when buying LifeMiles that can bring the cost down to around 1.5 cents per mile. In these cases, it can sometimes make sense to just buy the number of miles needed for an available redemption, as it can be well below the cost of purchasing the same flights as a cash ticket.
For instance, say you want to fly ANA First Class to Japan but don’t have any enough transferable points or frequent flyer miles. If you compare the cost of a cash ticket to what you’d pay to just buy the miles required for redemption during a 175% bonus sale with LifeMiles (1.2 cents/mile), it could be drastically lower in price.
New York to Tokyo in ANA First Class One-Way
Redemption with Avianca LifeMiles: 90,000 miles + ~$60 in taxes/fees
Cash Price: ~$14,700
Cost to Purchase LifeMiles (1.2 cents/mile): $1,080
Of course, this is an extreme example, and as is the case with all award travel, subject to availability, but you can usually find plenty of other examples where it can make sense to purchase miles for a redemption when Avianca has a good sale for buying LifeMiles. The maximum number of miles you’re allowed to purchase in a calendar year is 200,000, which Avianca says includes bonuses received. However, we have seen some promotions that allow you to earn bonus miles beyond this limit.
Now comes the fun part. You can get some incredible value with the Avianca LifeMiles award chart as it has several “sweet spots”. It is unique in the fact that it divides the Continental U.S. into three separate regions. While redemption rates across the world are mostly identical from all three U.S. regions, travelers from states in the northeast get slightly lower redemptions to certain European countries such as the U.K., Ireland, and Scandinavia.
High-Value LifeMiles Redemptions from North America
50,000 miles one-way to Brazil in Business Class
60,000 – 63,000 miles one-way to Europe in Business Class
78,000 miles one-way to South Asia in Business Class
87,000 miles one-way to Europe in First Class
90,000 miles one-way to North Asia in First Class
There are also some decent opportunities for award travel on domestic flights on United within the U.S. These sometimes price below what you find listed on the award chart so it’s best to have a look to see if you can find a better rate through Avianca than through United’s own program. And it’s always best to compare the price of a cash ticket as it can oftentimes make more sense to purchase a domestic flight with cash.
As a Star Alliance member, you can use Avianca LifeMiles to book flights on all Star Alliance carriers, which includes popular airlines such as United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, Turkish, ANA, Asiana, Copa, and many more. In addition, you can also book certain flights on Aeromexico, GOL, and Iberia.
One of the most difficult aspects of booking flights with Avianca LifeMiles can be finding available inventory. The best method is to start by searching flexible dates using United’s website to find available saver inventory on your desired flights. Once you’ve found dates, double check those same dates on the LifeMiles site to see if those flights can be booked with LifeMiles.
You’ll need to create an account and log in to search on Avianca’s LifeMiles website. And don’t expect this to be a great experience. The website has many bugs and frequently times out doing searches. Plus, you’ll often notice that flights you’ve found available through United’s site or other Star Alliance programs, such as Air Canada Aeroplan or ANA Mileage Club, are not actually bookable through Avianca’s LifeMiles website. This can make it very frustrating to book flights with LifeMiles.
Calling Avianca LifeMiles on the phone can also be a headache-inducing experience. If you can’t get your flights to come up online, sometimes this is the only way to try to book flights. However, you may have to try several agents and know a bit of Spanish to get anywhere in order to make any special bookings over the phone. If trying to piece together segments, you may be requested to email screenshots to customer service and have them call you back to complete the booking.
Therefore, using Avianca LifeMiles is not recommended to book any complex routings. It doesn’t allow stopovers or open-jaw tickets. Other Star Alliance programs are better suited for these types of trips and will also have more routing options for one-way or round-trip flights as well.
Taxes, Fees, and Surcharges
When searching for flights on the LifeMiles site, the taxes you see on the initial search do not always resemble the correct amount. You can a $35 per person redemption fee added once you get to the final booking page. We’ve also noticed that the UK duty taxes may not show up during the initial search. Bottom line, you’ll need to have LifeMiles in the account to confirm the total amount of taxes/fees charged on its website. Otherwise, you can call an agent or check the breakdown of taxes for your particular flights using the ITA Matrix software.
No Fuel Surcharges
One of the best perks of booking with LifeMiles is the fact that you won’t have to pay any fuel surcharges. This can save big money when booking flights on Lufthansa Group Airlines (Austrian, Brussels, Lufthansa, Swiss) since those flights can sometimes have fuel surcharges well over $1,000 on round-trip flights between the U.S. and Europe when booked with other programs such as ANA Mileage Club or Turkish Miles&Smiles.
Another great feature with LifeMiles is the ability to book mixed-cabin awards and pay a lower number of points. For instance, if you want to fly First or Business Class on the long-haul segment, but switch to Economy for a shorter flight, the number of points will be distributed proportionally to the distance of each flight and you’ll pay fewer miles than if you were to book a premium cabin the whole way. Most programs will simply charge the required number of miles for the highest class of service so this is an advantage of booking mixed-cabin itineraries with Avianca LifeMiles.
In short, don’t forget about Avianca’s LifeMiles program when booking award flights. It can sometimes go unnoticed since many people don’t realize you can book flights all over the world using the Colombian airline’s mileage program. And if you have points with Amex, Citibank, or Capital One, you can transfer miles at an even exchange.
Depending on the type of trip and the points you currently hold, it may make more sense to use Avianca LifeMiles than other Star Alliance programs. Since it has a fixed award chart, you can sometimes find cheaper redemptions than Air Canada Aeroplan’s hybrid distance/zone-based award chart and the fact that there are no fuel surcharges gives LifeMiles a huge advantage over ANA Mileage Club, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles when trying to book flights operated by Lufthansa Group.
Looking for help to determine if using LifeMiles is a good choice in your particular case? Contact one of our award travel experts and have a chat.
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