Hidden Gems of the Avianca LifeMiles Program

Aug 17, 2017

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We recently covered the basics of LifeMiles, the loyalty program of Star Alliance member airline Avianca. With a few solid options for earning/buying thousands of miles, you could quickly find yourself with a sizable account balance. Today, let’s look at the possibilities that exist within the program that will allow you to get maximum value from your miles.

Pay Reasonable Prices for Premium Cabins

Because of the multiple buy and transfer mile bonuses that LifeMiles runs, you can purchase the required miles for business and first-class tickets and end up paying substantially less compared to the revenue cost of these premium-cabin tickets. The LifeMiles program regularly runs buy miles promos offering up to a 200% bonus. Typically, the bonus is about 135% if you buy at the highest tier, which brings the cost of miles down to roughly 1.45 cents apiece.

While the cost per mile can vary depending on the amount of you buy, when looking at what LifeMiles itineraries cost me, I multiply the number of miles required by 1.45 cents to quickly estimate what a ticket will cost. Here’s an example of what a few desirable one-way itineraries will cost during the buy miles promos:

Route Cabin Miles Required Cost
North America – Europe Business 63,000 $913.50
North America – North Asia Business 75,000 $1,087.50
North America – Middle East/North Africa Business 78,000 $1,131
Europe – Central Asia Business 45,000 $652.50
Hawaii – Others (Oceania) Business 60,000 $870
Others – North Asia Business 50,000 $725

The tickets still cost considerable money, but represent a significant discount on typical revenue business-class fares. Plus, considering that you can buy LifeMiles when they’re on sale and hold onto them for a last-minute booking — with no close-in ticketing fee or fuel surcharges — these prices can represent a fantastic value.

Find the Right Balance of LifeMiles + Cash

As long as you have 40% of the required miles for an award ticket, you can buy miles to make up the remaining 60%. Interestingly, the amount LifeMiles charges for each additional thousand miles is not equal. The following chart displays the cost of buying LifeMiles when utilizing LifeMiles and cash:

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Buying the full 60% of miles allowed will not give you the cheapest rate when using LifeMiles and cash. Based on the analysis above, buying 44%-58% represents the cheapest range of miles to buy with the price bottoming out at exactly 1.5 cents per mile before increasing slightly to 1.57 cents per mile at 60%.

In a practical sense, this means if during a buy miles promo your price is above 1.5 cents per mile after the applicable discount, you should only buy 55% of the required miles from the promo and then use those miles in conjunction with LifeMiles and cash to buy the remaining required miles in order to get the cheapest possible price for a LifeMiles award ticket.

Star Alliance Award Chart Sweet Spots

Even though the LifeMiles award chart went through a devaluation in 2014, the current chart is still very competitive with the miles other loyalty programs charge. Scroll to the bottom of the award chart to look at region definitions. The chart shows economy, business and first class for one-way itineraries on Star Alliance airlines as well as Aeromexico and Iberia:

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For travel from North America (defined as the US and Canada), the routes that stick out as good value include:

  • 25,000 miles for a business-class transcon flight on United
  • 30,000 miles to South of South America in economy
  • 63,000 miles to Europe in business
  • 87,000 miles to Europe in first (Lufthansa first with no fuel surcharges)
  • 78,000 miles to the Middle East in business
  • 40,000 miles to New Zealand or Australia (“Others”) in economy
  • 39,000 miles to South Asia in economy

For travel departing from other regions, these routes present excellent value:

  • 45,000 miles from Europe to Central Asia (including Sri Lanka and the Maldives) in business
  • 36,000 miles from South Asia to North Asia in business (Thai Airways business class from Tokyo to Bangkok)
  • 40,000 miles from South Asia to “Others” in business (Thai/Singapore business class from SIN/BKK to Sydney)
  • 50,000 miles from “Others” to North Asia in business (ANA/Asiana/Air New Zealand from Fiji/Auckland/Australia to Japan and Korea)
  • 48,000 miles from Hawaii to North Asia in business
  • 22,500 miles from North Asia to North Asia in business (Region includes Guam, China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macao, Palau and the Philippines)

There are so many possibilities for great redemptions in the generous North Asia region alone that it makes me want to earn/buy LifeMiles as quickly as possible. Buying 22,500 LifeMiles with my average cost estimate during promos of 1.45 cents means you could fly Beijing-Tokyo-Manilla on ANA’s 787 and 767 or JAL’s 767 business class for $326.25. By looking at the above routes, you can get a sense of the type of discount you should be able to command when buying LifeMiles compared to the revenue prices of these sweet-spot routes.

Circuitous Travel

If you’re an #avgeek like me who enjoys trying out new airline cabins and is willing to take a less than direct route to get from point A to point B, the LifeMiles program can be especially useful. The ability to select single carriers for award space will often return routings that allow you plenty of time in a premium cabin or the ability to enjoy multiple products for just a few extra miles.

Warning: You need to ensure you do not place yourself in a cabotage situation when booking circuitous travel. If a foreign carrier is going to transport you between two points in the United States (or US territories) on a single ticket, you may correctly be denied boarding. For example, you cannot fly a rather logical one-way itinerary from Los Angeles to Seattle via Vancouver all on Air Canada. This is a domestic itinerary and a foreign carrier cannot fly you the entire way or it faces a significant fine.

Even when you’re searching for space on all carriers, the LifeMiles engine will not always give you the most direct routing but will price your itinerary based on your origin and destination, not where you transit. An easy example is Chicago to Africa, but transiting via Asia:

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Remember mixed-cabin bookings like the one shown above are now allowed with LifeMiles, but you’ll be charged the higher price of the two cabins for the entire itinerary. North America to Hong Kong in business class costs 75,000 LifeMiles miles, while North America to Africa via Hong Kong costs 78,000 miles. This means for 3,000 extra miles you get to add business class from Japan to Africa.

This type of circuitous routing isn’t for everyone, and unfortunately stopovers are not allowed on LifeMiles award itineraries. However, there are times I simply enjoy trying as many products as possible for as few miles as possible. This type of route should give you a sense of some of the possibilities — and for someone like me who’s always up for an adventure, it’s exciting.

Another example that may entice you more: You can redeem just 50,000 miles and enjoy 23 hours of flying time on a United Dreamliner and a 777 from Sydney to Tokyo via San Francisco:

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Without showing you all the options available, I hope you start to take a visual image of the globe in your mind and think of some great routings you could take advantage of with the LifeMiles engine. If you book a circuitous route, you may get funny looks when you check in or board, but as long as you aren’t in a cabotage situation you shouldn’t be denied boarding. I’ve had many airport staff and gate agents want me to explain how my love of flying has me going the long way to a destination.

Bottom Line

LifeMiles is a lot of fun. Every time a buy miles bonus pops up, I immediately begin to run the numbers to see what a far-flung itinerary may cost me. For the price of many typical international economy itineraries, you could find yourself in business or first class for 20+ hours if you buy LifeMiles. Alternatively, signing up for the Banco Popular LifeMiles credit cards in conjunction with a transfer of SPG points means you can skip buying the miles and command plenty of premium-class flying time with just modest taxes and fees.

What hidden gems do you want to take advantage of with LifeMiles?

Featured image courtesy of RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images.

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