How to fly First Class to Japan, China or South Korea for $1000: buy LifeMiles

Guide to buying Avianca LifeMiles for cheap Star Alliance travel

GUIDE: Buying Points
TIME TO READ: 7 minutes
POSTED: May 10, 2017
UPDATED: August 23, 2017
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Avianca Lifemiles
STATUS: Effective 15 May 2017, some redemption values will decrease but most will increase. See heading 'Sweet spots'

Avianca’s frequent flyer program LifeMiles is offering a 100-125% bonus on miles purchased until 30 May, with the bonus increasing the more miles you buy.

This bonus is the same as the last two promotions run in February and December and is the least generous that LifeMiles tends to offer during promotions, which run every three months on average.

With redemption values changing from 15 May, if you are planning a trip to:

  • North or South America: you may want to hold off until after the changes as prices to these regions are going down
  • anywhere else: you may want to redeem your miles before the changes as prices are going up

Having said that, LifeMiles tends to offer a deeper discount towards the end of the promotion period, i.e. the last week or two of May, so the gamble is holding off for a lower buy miles price or locking in a lower redemption rate now before the devaluation.

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 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.

How to fly First Class to Japan, China or South Korea for $1000: buy LifeMiles was last modified: August 23rd, 2017 by Matt Moffitt

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 30 May (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

At the top end, this would have you buying $6,600 USD of LifeMiles for a total of 450,000 miles, at a cost of 1.47 USD cents per mile.

Some readers may find they are eligible for an additional bonus if they purchased miles in the previous promotion.

If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for a LifeMiles account here.

You can buy LifeMiles here →

Offer history

DateCost per point
(USD cents)
May 2017 (current offer)1.47highest
February 20171.47highest
December 20161.47highest
November 20161.375
September 2016 (second half of the month)1.375
September 2016 (first half of the month)1.43
May 20161.47highest
November 20151.40lowest
September 20151.40lowest

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 50,000 miles one-way for Business Class or 62,000 miles for First Class (effective 15 May 2017). Before the devaluation, these redemptions were 10,000 and 12,500 miles cheaper, respectively.

For some reason, South Asia is priced dearer than North Asia for First Class at 75,000 miles one-way, however, Business Class is the same at 50,000.

You can access the full LifeMiles redemption chart here.

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 (redemption no longer available through LifeMiles)
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand (limited award availability)
  • ANA
  • Asiana
  • EVA Airways
  • Singapore Airlines (limited award availability)
  • South African Airways (limited award availability)
  • Thai Airways
  • United
  • 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 many premium cabin seats 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 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 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.

An example:

  1. 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
  2. You can transfer back the 20,000 miles to your account and get 40,000 miles by paying another $300
  3. 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.

To search:

  1. Log into your account
  2. Then click on Enjoy > Air Ticket, and it will direct you to the search engine page where you can input dates and routings
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. If you are happy, click Continue, and it will take you to input the passenger’s information
  9. 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.

In February 2017, LifeMiles increased the cancellation and redeposit miles charge for travel between two regions to $200 USD but kept the fee for travel within a region at $50 USD.

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.

How to fly First Class to Japan, China or South Korea for $1000: buy LifeMiles was last modified: August 23rd, 2017 by Matt Moffitt
How to fly First Class to Japan, China or South Korea for $1000: buy LifeMiles was last modified: August 23rd, 2017 by Matt Moffitt