Cheap Star Alliance Awards with Avianca LifeMiles

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Airline alliances are very important to consider when you travel quite often. Avianca is a member of the renowned Star Alliance, operating mainly in Latin America. They are headquartered in Colombia and has subsidiaries and hubs in the Americas. More importantly, the company runs LifeMiles, its own frequent flyer loyalty program.

So what is LifeMiles, why should you buy them, and why is there a post about a South American airline?

LifeMiles

Avianca LifeMiles Loyalty Program

LifeMiles is the frequent flyer run by Avianca. Just like other loyalty programs, members earn and spend miles mainly from flights boarded on Avianca or partner carriers. We briefly discuss LifeMiles’ membership system.

Elite Status and Perks

 

Silver

This is NOT the starting tier. Members get promoted to Silver after boarding 25 Star Alliance flights OR crediting 22,000 miles, but at least 5,000 miles must be from Avianca flights. This must be accomplished within a calendar year (January 1st to December 31st) to enjoy the tier’s privileges until the end of the following year.

Avianca Silver members enjoy 25% bonus on miles earned, as well as Star Alliance Silver Status and its benefits.

Gold

After boarding 45 Star Alliance flights OR crediting 40,000 miles, of which at least 10,000 miles are from Avianca flights, members move up to Gold. They must do this within a calendar year to renew and enjoy the benefits of this tier for another full year.

Avianca Gold entitles members to 100% bonus on miles earned, plus Star Alliance Gold Status and its benefits.

Diamond

Finally, you are awarded Diamond status once you board 85 Star Alliance flights OR crediting 75,000 miles, with at least 15,000 miles earned with Avianca, all within a calendar year.

Avianca Diamond entitles members to 100% bonus on miles earned, two upgrade certificates a year, redemption fee waiver, and Star Alliance Gold Status and its benefits.

 

Avianca plane. copyright Mark Harkin

Earning Opportunities

After that quick overview of LifeMiles status, let’s move on to the best part about the program: earning miles.

Flying

You can earn miles and gain status by flying with Avianca, Star Alliance or other airline partners. Give your LifeMiles number upon booking, and check that the booking class earns milesUse these planning tools to find out how much you can earn; the route mileage calculator and crediting tables are most helpful for the job.

Staying

You can take advantage of various online travel agency point programs to earn more miles. RocketmilesKaligo and Booking.com award you additional LifeMiles with qualified bookings.

Booking with hotels directly would give you miles:

  • Hilton: up to 100 LM per stay
  • Intercontinental Hotel Group: up to 2 LM per $1
  • Marriott International: up to 2 LM per $1
  • Best Western: up to 250 LM per stay
  • Wyndham: up to 500 LM per stay
Spending

Simply put, there are no card tie-ups with Avianca among Asian banks or financial institutions. Sadly, there is no way to earn LifeMiles through ordinary spending.

Buying Points

You can convert Starwood Preferred Guest points into miles. First you buy 1,000 SPG points cost $35 for up to 30,000 SPG points in a year. You even earn a bonus 5,000 LifeMiles for every 20,000 SPG points converted. The transfer may take a few days though, and do NOT count towards LifeMiles status eligibility. SPG also throws discounted point sales every year which you should not miss.

But wait, there’s a better, less roundabout way of getting LifeMiles points… and that’s to BUY them outright! Yes, you read that correctly: BUY LIFEMILES. Surprisingly, this is the best way to get great value for premium class awards redemption!

Avianca LifeMiles usually sells 1,000 miles for US$33, plus some tax. That’s buying LifeMiles at 3.3 US cents per mile (3300 cents / 1000 miles = 3.3 cpm, in travel hacking parlance).

But in a year they run multiple promotions, mostly by giving lots of bonus miles proportional to the number bought. In November 2017, for example, they’re running a Cyber Week promotion giving 145% bonus miles! So buy 1,000 miles and you’re getting 2,400 miles in total, for the same US$33 + tax. Do the math and it’s a bargain at just 1.347 cpm!

LifeMiles Cyber Monday 2017 Sale

So if you bought 50,000 LifeMiles during the promotion you’d get 122,500 total LifeMiles for just US$1,650 + tax! From the Star Alliance award chart you’d find that it’s more than enough for a First Class one-way ticket from Asia to Europe or North America!

Just note that you can’t earn status this way. Otherwise this is the best and only way Asian residents can maximize LifeMiles membership. Just remember that you can only buy up to 200,000 pre-bonus miles per year per account.

 

Asian Miler says…

So where does the Avianca LifeMiles program fit in your travel hacking strategy?

Value

The sheer value of LifeMiles lies in being able to buy lots of miles and getting the bonuses. There is no doubt that the ability to immediately boost the miles you can redeem for Star Alliance awards is very compelling. Suddenly those First Class seats don’t seem to be as expensive!

This comes in very handy looking for alternatives when tickets have become incredibly expensive to pay for (e.g. last-minute booking). Before giving in to the listed price, a quick search through award availability could end up saving you money (remember when you bought those promotion miles for only 1.3 cents a mile?).

Searching Awards

The LifeMiles program provides registered members with a search engine to look for award availability. And you can use this to check route costs, compare cabin class availability, or complete a one-way flight booking!

And you can even customize your flights by booking multiple cabin classes. While a flight from Manila (the Philippines, North Asia) to Los Angeles (USA, North America) First Class partner award normally requires 90,000 miles, a mix of Business for one segment cuts the cost down a bit:

LifeMiles Award Search

This kind of power and flexibility provides us with a way to best use our LifeMiles in different situations.

Redemption Booking

LifeMiles is remarkable in a few ways when it comes to redeeming award flights:

  • They do not pass on any fuel surcharges no matter which airline you fly, but a $25 booking fee applies.
  • You can redeem miles and cash to cover an award flight if you don’t have enough miles. But you’d need at least 40% of the required miles to do so.
  • You can also redeem Lifemiles for Oneworld partner Iberia, but you must call to book an Iberia ticket.

And, you can book awards for anyone, so long as you have their travel information. So if you’re in need of more than just the 200,000 miles you can buy in a year, you can create other accounts to buy more miles and make more bookings.

Points to Note

There are but a few issues with LifeMiles, mostly in redeeming awards.

Their award search engine does not necessarily have complete premium cabin availability access as in other Star Alliance programs. For one thing, some carriers (like Singapore Airlines or Lufthansa) limit availability on some routes, if not outright make them exclusive only to their own members. This is a common issue even with programs in other alliances.

Also, you cannot book stopovers on any award booking. That means you have to make two separate bookings if you want to stay longer in the intermediate stop.

Perhaps more importantly, Avianca call centers are a bit difficult to make requests with. Support in English is known to be a challenge, and you can be put on hold for quite some time. So be prepared; some patience and fluency in Spanish could make things smoother.

 

Avianca routes from hubs in BOG, LIM, SAL. courtesy Star Alliance FlightMaps

Final Word

The Avianca LifeMiles is a loyalty program that’s simply under the radar for most travelers. That’s understandable, especially for the millions of citizens and residents based in Asia.

However, given the attractiveness of its points promotions and the accessibility of its award search engine, LifeMiles is actually great. Buying tons of miles for cheap, searching seat availability and booking award flights — all online — is remarkable.

True, actually finding premium cabins on busy routes and making requests through the phone can be a challenge. But these are just some hiccups to an otherwise useful miles program.

Is this your first time hearing about this? Are you ready to take advantage of its quirks and benefits? Let us hear from you!

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