I woke up to LifeMiles changing its programme, but don’t fret

Dec 11, 2020

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Like many of you, I woke up Thursday morning to see an email from LifeMiles announcing changes. My heart skipped a beat.

Avianca LifeMiles is one of those unique programmes that offers great value on Star Alliance award bookings. It’s become one of my go-to programmes over the years, since it offers great redemption rates and doesn’t add fuel surcharges on Star Alliance flights.

So, when I saw that this much-loved programme might be changing, I was worried — especially since I have a large LifeMiles balance due to cancelled trips.

But don’t fret: these changes only affect people that actually fly Avianca. I’ll walk you through the changes and discuss how they affect LifeMiles members.

Let’s get started.

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LifeMiles moving to revenue-based mileage earning

Avianca flyers will earn miles based on how much they spend on a ticket starting in 2021. (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images)

LifeMiles currently awards miles based on fare class and distance flown. So the longer the flight, the more miles you earn.

Thursday, Avianca announced that it’s moving to revenue-based mileage earning. This means that you’ll earn miles based on how much you spend instead. This is similar to how American, Delta and United award miles. The change goes into effect on 31 January 2021.

LifeMiles members without elite status will earn 5x LifeMiles per dollar spent (excluding taxes) while elite members can earn up to 11x miles per dollar spent. This means a standard member will earn 500 LifeMiles on a $100 fare while a Diamond member will earn 1,100.

Here’s how many miles each status tier will earn:

  • Members: 5x
  • Red Plus: 6x
  • Silver: 8x
  • Gold: 9x
  • Diamond: 11x

It’s worth noting that this only affects flights booked with Avianca. This means if you book a United flight and add your LifeMiles number, you’ll still earn miles based on distance flown. You can calculate the number of miles you’ll earn using the United earning chart on the Avianca website.

I see this as a negative change for Avianca loyalists. With the change, low-cost Avianca fares will earn very little mileage on long flights. That said, it doesn’t really impact those who credit partner flights to Avianca as — like discussed — those tickets will still earn based on distance flown.

Avianca isn’t the only international Star Alliance carrier to move to revenue-based mileage earning. In 2018, we saw Lufthansa’s Miles & More programme switch and offer 4 miles per Euro spent on flights. Like Avianca, this change only affected flights booked through Lufthansa and other Miles & More member airlines like Austrian, Swiss and LOT Polish Airlines.

This affects elite status qualification too

Here’s where things get weird: elite-qualifying miles will also be earned based on how much you spend.

You’ll earn 5 qualifying points per dollar you spend on a flight, which will count toward elite status. This is similar to United’s Premier Qualifying Points requirement — which are earned in direct correlation to how much you spend on a paid flight.

I think this is another negative change for Avianca elites. Now it’s next to impossible to earn top-tier elite status by booking inexpensive, long-haul flights since the airline requires a minimum of 80% of qualifying miles to be earned on Avianca flights to qualify for status.

To me, this shows us that Avianca is prioritising high-paying members for earning elite status. On one hand, this makes sense — the airline is currently bankrupt and will need to drum up high-paying travel demand when travel resumes.

On the other hand, it’s a huge blow to leisure travellers who book cheap tickets. I think this will actually drive away loyalty from these travellers, as they’ll have less incentive to stay loyal to Avianca.

New elite status tier

Avianca Elite Status Cards
(Image courtesy of Avianca)

Further, Avianca introduced a new elite status tier dubbed Red Plus.

This is the airline’s new low-tier status that includes minimal benefits but is relatively easy to earn. The perks include:

  • Star Alliance Silver status
  • 1x mileage bonus for 6x miles per dollar spent on flights
  • Priority check-in
  • Priority phone support
  • Miles valid for 24 months

You can earn this status tier when you earn 11,000 qualifying miles, 80% of which must be earned on Avianca flights. This requirement is lowered for 2021 as well — which I’ll discuss this later in the article.

This elite status will be relatively worthless for most flyers, but it’s a nice addition for new Avianca flyers, as they will have at least some benefits before hitting Silver status. That said, I don’t think it’s worth earning on its own, as Star Alliance Silver status has very minimal benefits (like priority standby).

Related: Complete guide to airline elite status during the coronavirus outbreak

Avianca removing some elite status requirements

(Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

Now for a bit of good news: the airline is removing one elite status requirement.

In the past, you had to meet three requirements to qualify for Avianca elite status: segments, miles flown and miles flown on Avianca. For example, top-tier Diamond status required 85 segments, 75,000 qualifying miles and 30,000 qualifying miles on Avianca.

Starting 1 January 2021, Avianca will drop the segment requirement and only require members to meet the mileage and mileage on Avianca requirements going forward.

This makes perfect sense as Avianca is largely moving to a revenue-based elite status programme where — as discussed — only high-spenders can earn status.

Lower status requirements in 2021

Avianca will lower elite status requirements next year too. This temporary change offers up to a 40% reduction on elite status requirements, with more significant reductions being offered on higher status tiers.

Here’s how many qualifying miles you’ll need to earn elite status in 2021:

Standard qualifying miles required Qualifying miles required in 2021 Reduction
11,000 8,250 25%
16,000 11,200 30%
29,000 18,850 35%
48,000 28,800 40%

Do note that you must earn 80% of your qualifying miles on Avianca-operated flights in order to qualify for status. The rest can be earned on any Star Alliance partner.

It’s nice to see Avianca reduce elite status requirements next year. While travel will continue to recover through 2021, many travellers will still be travelling less. Offering reduced elite status requirements makes it easier for new elites to qualify and current elites to upgrade status tiers during this time.

Bottom line

Avianca has announced a number of changes to its loyalty programme Thursday, but thankfully, they don’t really affect travellers who transfer points to LifeMiles to book Star Alliance award tickets. This is a huge relief to me, as LifeMiles is one of my favourite Star Alliance loyalty programmes.

On the other hand, most of these changes are negative for Avianca loyalists based in the airline’s hubs. Starting next year, many members will find it harder to earn redeemable miles and qualify for elite status. Elite requirements are reduced for 2021, but it will be tough long-term for leisure travellers and others who fly low-cost Avianca tickets.

I don’t think this was the right time for Avianca to announce these changes. We’re still in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic where most travellers are staying home and not travelling. This is like rubbing salt in the wound of Avianca loyalists and will — in my opinion — drive them away in the long-run.

That said, it is interesting to see Avianca announce a new elite status tier and lower 2021 status requirements. The new status tier will provide a nice bridge for new elites, while lower requirements may help the airline drum up demand next year.

Feature photo by Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

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