Late last month, Avianca’s frequent flyer program LifeMiles had its best buy miles promotion in over a year due to the fact it was offering a 140% bonus for all purchases over 5,000 miles. They have extended the sale, but it’s not as good value this time.
Until 20 December, you can buy LifeMiles with a 100-125% bonus, with the bonus increasing the more miles you purchase.
The current offer represents good value if you missed out on last month’s promotion and have a specific Star Alliance redemption in mind.
If not, we’d recommend holding off for six months or so until around May 2017 when we expect a more favourable promotion to come out (judging by past offer trends).
Why this guide is useful
LifeMiles is the main way to get hold of Star Alliance Business and First Class award space, however using the program comes with a range of gotchas to be aware of.
In this guide, we cover the tips and tricks to buying miles, researching award availability and how you can use the current bonus promotion to score cheap Business and First Class flights on the likes of Thai Airways, Asiana and ANA.
This guide is a beast! LifeMiles is for the more advanced points buyer who has some understanding of how to search for award seats with different airlines, and knows when they should and shouldn’t buy miles, and how willing they are to buy and hold miles to redeem in future.
Michael Kao, one of the Point Hacks Community’s longest standing members, is very familiar with the ins and outs of the LifeMiles program, and contributed to this article.
Current offer details
- Current offer: 100-125% bonus (tiered)
- Best value redemptions: cheap Star Alliance Business and First Class flight awards to North Asia with simple routings and minimal connections, plus no fuel surcharges
- Book awards online or phone: online is recommended ($25 USD redemption fee) over phone ($85 USD)
To take advantage of this promotion, you need to buy miles by 20 December (US time).
The bonus that receive depends on how many miles you buy:
- 2,000-50,000 miles: 100% bonus
- 51,000-100,000 miles: 115% bonus
- 101,000-150,000 miles: 125% bonus
At the top end, this would have you buying $4,950 USD of LifeMiles for a total of 337,500 miles, at a cost of 1.47 USD cents per mile.
If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for a LifeMiles account here.
- December 2016 (current offer): 1.47 US cents
- November 2016: 1.375 US cents
- September 2016: 1.43 US cents (first half of month), then decreased to 1.375 US cents (second half of month)
- May 2016: 1.47 US cents
- November 2015: 1.40 US cents
- September 2015: 1.40 US cents
Sweet spots for Australia in the LifeMiles award chart
The best value redemption for Australians is North Asia (places such as Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Taipei and Hong Kong), for which you only need 40,000 miles one-way for Business Class or 50,000 miles for First Class.
For some reason, Southeast Asia is priced dearer than North Asia for First Class at 60,000 miles one-way, however, Business Class is the same at 40,000.
Advantages of LifeMiles
LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca, the national airline of Colombia based in Bogotá. Most of us have never flown this airline and won’t intend to fly it in the foreseeable future.
So, what relevance does it apply to us in Australia? Here is why it is one of the favourite programs in the frequent flyers community:
- It is a member of Star Alliance, therefore you can use LifeMiles to redeem on reputable airlines such as Thai Airways, Asiana, ANA, Lufthansa and United (just kidding)
- Their redemption rates are fairly reasonable, comparable to many US programs
- They do not impose fuel surcharges on award tickets, which can save you hundreds compared to many well-known programs in Australia such as Qantas Frequent Flyer and KrisFlyer (more on that later). You’ll usually pay under $100 (except when departing from the UK, where it costs around $300)
- You can redeem awards online, making it simple to book awards (with some caveats)
- It allows one-way redemptions at half the price of return awards, giving you flexibility
- It offers a miles and money option, meaning you only need 40% of the miles needed for the award and can pay the other 60% in cash
Redemption opportunities for travellers in Australia
The Star Alliance airlines that service Australia are:
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- EVA Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- Thai Airways
- Turkish Airlines (possibly in the future)
Of this list, only Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways service most major Australian cities other than Sydney and Melbourne, but Air NZ and Singapore Airlines do not release their premium cabins as awards to their partners for flights to and from Australia, so the partners that are most useful are Thai Airways, Asiana and ANA.
Of those airlines, Thai and Asiana are the most generous with their award seats in First and Business Class seats. So if you book early enough, you can pretty much book on any day you want with multiple passengers.
Generally for Thai Airways, availability from Australia to Asia and Europe is wide open. You can usually redeem First Class from Sydney to Tokyo, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich and Rome.
Asiana is also fairly accessible for availability to its hub in Seoul and onto the US. You can fly in Business Class all the way to the US for 80,000 miles one-way. You can arrive into Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or New York, all usually with good availability.
If you are willing to position yourself to a Star Alliance hub such as Singapore, Bangkok or Tokyo, your opportunities open up widely.
Limitations of LifeMiles
According to Michael:
LifeMiles is a strange beast. I have a love and hate relationship with it. In some ways, it is great for cheap luxury travel, but at the same time, its limitations can really make you go mad.
Its biggest limitation is its routing rules of no longer than eight-hour layovers, although the previous rule of not allowing mixed cabin redemptions has now been lifted, making it much easier to join together a Business and a First Class flight as you need.
One other issue is that because Australia is not a Star Alliance hub, many day flights out of Australia do not have connecting flights until the next morning, which exceeds the eight-hour layover limit, meaning two separate awards are needed.
On top of that, LifeMiles’s website is very temperamental, and sometimes it just crashes without reason.
Also, LifeMiles will not book any awards that cannot be booked online with their search engine. If you cannot see it on their website, even though it can be seen on the United or ANA website, LifeMiles will not book it for you.
Next, some Star Alliance airlines offer limited availability, such as Singapore Airlines, who makes very few seats available to its Star Alliance partners.
Finally, for any booking cancellations or changes, you will need to deal with LifeMiles’ infamous customer service. Refunds can take anywhere up to seven days, and there are language barriers all round.
Take all that into account before jumping in.
Share miles promotions
LifeMiles also runs 100% bonuses on shared miles a couple of times a year. The regular cost of sharing miles is 15 USD per 1000 miles.
Normally you shouldn’t do it; the value just isn’t there. But during a promotion, you can share miles and earn the bonus, effectively ‘buy’ miles at 1.5 cents each.
- if you transfer 10,000 miles to someone else, they will receive 20,000 miles in their account at a cost of $150 to transfer
- You can transfer back the 20,000 miles to your account and get 40,000 miles by paying another $300
- You earn another 30,000 miles in the process for a cost of $450 in total, i.e. 1.5 cents per mile
The maximum amount of miles you can transfer is 75,000 per year (meaning you can get 150,000 with the bonus), but these miles do not count towards the 150,000 limit on purchased miles, so effectively you could buy 150,000 miles and share them, creating a total of 300,000.
To share miles, the accounts don’t have to be pre-existing. So you can create as many accounts as you like and keep on transferring, but that’s not recommended as there is no point of keeping hundreds of thousands of miles without any specific use in mind.
How to search availability and make a booking
You can easily search award availability on the LifeMiles website.
- Log into your account
- Then click on Enjoy > Air Ticket, and it will direct you to the search engine page where you can input dates and routings
- If there is a flight available on the date you picked, it will show you which flight/s are available. Click the one that you want
- If no flights are available on the date you want, it will show you three days before and after your selected date and other classes. You can see if there are other flights on other dates and classes if you are flexible
- Alternatively, you can look up award availability on a monthly calendar on the United website. Whatever is available to United as a saver award should be available to LifeMiles
- At the bottom of the same page, you will see the option of ‘Flexible Payment’. This is the miles and cash option mentioned above. You can keep on clicking on ‘More Money’ and you will see that the more you click on it, the fewer miles you will need for the redemption but the more cash will be required
- After you have decided on the amount of miles and cash you want to pay, click Continue and it will show you the taxes and fees needed, plus the cash component you chose to pay. You can still change the amount of cash and miles on this page
- If you are happy, click Continue, and it will take you to input the passenger’s information
- Once finished, click Continue and it will take you to payment page where you put in your credit card detail and submit payment, and your e-ticket will be emailed to you within 48 hours
Double-check your credit card details are correct before you submit the payment, and make sure you have contacted your credit card company that you are making a purchase in Colombia. If the credit card gets declined, your reservation will remain in the system for three days until it is ticketed, or will return to the award inventory if not ticketed.
LifeMiles award changes and cancellations
All bookings can be changed or cancelled up to 24 hours prior to departure.
To change or cancel an award ticket, you need to call LifeMiles customer service. As there is no office in Australia, we recommend calling the US one on +1 800 284 2622.
To change an award ticket, there is a fee of 150 USD and the origin and destination must be the exactly same airports. So, for example, if your destination is Tokyo Narita, you can’t change it to Tokyo Haneda.
However, it’s 50 USD cheaper to cancel a ticket outright! The only problem is that the tax component may a while to arrive (and sometimes never does), but as it’s usually less than 100 USD, you’ll probably end up saving money cancelling the ticket rather than changing it.
If you do want to follow up on a refund, the Bogotá office is the best to call on +57 1 401 3434.
Summing up – Avianca LifeMiles purchases for cheap Star Alliance Business and First Class awards
Overall, Lifemiles represents a cheap option for Star Alliance redemptions. Alongside United’s MileagePlus, LifeMiles is one of the two primary options for miles purchases within Star Alliance.
There are many tricks and gotchas with LifeMiles, however due to its lack of fuel surcharges and cheap miles while on sale, there are bargains to be had as long as you are aware of its limitations.
Michael sums up as follows:
It is most useful for simple itinerary with minimal connections. It’s not the sole frequent flyer program I use, but I use it to integrate with others to help planning my itinerary.