Avianca’s frequent flyer program LifeMiles is again offering a 125% bonus on miles purchased until 5 June.
LifeMiles is an attractive alternative to United MileagePlus for premium travel on Star Alliance airlines. Given that MileagePlus has shifted to a dynamic pricing model for United-operated flights, LifeMiles is also a good option for travel on United.
Avianca tends to offer their miles at a discount around every three months. This offer is average (see Offer history below), but note that LifeMiles are some of the most popular points to buy, along with Alaska miles.
LifeMiles sometimes offers a deeper discount towards the end of the promotion period, so you may wish to hold off to see what eventuates.
Note that the program revamped its website in February 2019. Reports from the frequent flyer community are that the website is more attractive but clunkier, and that Avianca may have more access to partner award space than before.
Why this guide is useful
LifeMiles is a primary 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, Asiana and ANA.
You can use LifeMiles to fly THAI First Class for cheap
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: 125% bonus (tiered)
- Best value redemptions: cheap Star Alliance Business and First Class flight awards to/from North Asia with simple routings and minimal connections, plus no fuel surcharges
- Book awards online or phone: online is recommended (US$25 redemption fee) over phone (US$85)
To take advantage of this promotion, you need to buy miles by 5 June (US time).
The bonus that you receive depends on how many miles you buy:
- 1,000-50,000 miles: 100% bonus
- 51,000-100,000 miles: 115% bonus
- 101,000-200,000 miles: 125% bonus
You can buy a maximum of 450,000 miles (including the bonus) for US$6,600 at a cost of ~1.47 US cents per mile.
If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for a LifeMiles account here.
Note that LifeMiles expire 12 months after inactivity—check this guide for more information.
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You can also choose to sign up to a buy LifeMiles on a regular basis through a subscription.
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Sweet spots for Australia in the LifeMiles award chart
The best value redemption for travellers in Australia is travelling back from 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.
Travelling from Australia to North Asia is more expensive, at 50,000 miles in Business and 62,500 in First—go figure.
For the South Asia region, which includes Singapore and Thailand but not India, you can fly back to Australia for 40,000 in Business (same as North Asia) or 60,000 in First (more expensive). You can fly from Australia for 50,000 in Business or 75,000 in First.
Here is the full LifeMiles redemption chart:
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 don’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 (limited award availability)
- EVA Airways
- Singapore Airlines (limited award availability)
- South African Airways (limited award availability)
- Turkish Airlines (possibly in the future)
Of this list, only Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and THAI service most major Australian cities other than Sydney and Melbourne, but Air NZ and Singapore Airlines do not release many premium cabin seats as awards to their partners for flights to and from Australia, so the partners that are most useful are THAI, Asiana and ANA.
Of those three 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, 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 to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or New York, all usually with good availability.
Availability from Australia to Asia and Europe with Thai Airways is also usually wide open. If looking for first class you can usually connect through to Sydney and redeem First Class from Sydney to Tokyo, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich and Rome.
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.
Another worrying limitation is that there are reports that LifeMiles does not advise you if there is a change such as a schedule change or equipment swap on your itinerary. It is up to you to regularly check your booking on the airline/s on which you are flying to make sure that what you booked matches up to what is scheduled to occur. CheckMyTrip.com may also help you do this.
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 US$15 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 search award availability on the LifeMiles website, which was relaunched in early February 2019:
- Log into your account
- Click on ‘Fly‘ in the top bar, and it will direct you to the search engine page where you can input a routing. You cannot input preferred dates at this stage.
- You will be presented with a calendar where you can select your preferred departure date. This calendar does not hint at whether there is availability on any given day.
- If there is a flight available on the date you pick, it will show you which flight/s are available. Click the one that you want.
If no flights are available, it will show you two days before and after your selected date. You can see if there are other flights on other dates and classes if you are flexible, simply use the arrow buttons.
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 a pop up box, which shows a slider titled ‘LifeMiles + Money’. This is the miles and cash option mentioned earlier. As you adjust the slider, the fewer miles you will need for the redemption (but obviously you will need more cash).
If you cannot see the pop-up box, click on the three little bars:
- After you have decided on the amount of miles and cash you want to pay, continue to the next screen, which will show you the taxes and fees payable, 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 US$150 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.
Cancelling and redepositing miles for travel between two regions costs US$200 but for travel within a region it is cheaper at US$50.
If you do want to follow up on a refund, the Bogotá office is the best to call on +57 1 401 3434.
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 itineraries with minimal connections. It is not the sole frequent flyer program I use, but I use it to integrate with others to help planning my itinerary.