Avianca’s frequent flyer program LifeMiles is offering an up to 200% bonus (i.e. triple) miles for purchases made until 25 September 2020. This is the highest bonus we’ve ever seen but read on to see why doing so is a risky move in this current travel climate.
Why this guide is useful
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.
LifeMiles are some of the most popular points to buy, along with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. However, it’s also one of the hardest programs to work with for most, so this guide is better suited to advanced point hackers.
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.
Buying 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.
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: 200% bonus (tiered for the general public, but untiered when registering via OMAAT)
- 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. Note COVID-19 restrictions may make international travel difficult at this stage.
- Book awards online or phone: US$25 redemption fee online (recommended) or US$85 over the phone
If you use the OMAAT link above, you’ll receive the 200% bonus no matter how many miles you buy, from 1,000 right up to 200,000. That means they cost 1.1 US cents each.
You must register for the promotion here to get the best bonus. ou can also choose to sign up to a buy LifeMiles on a regular basis through a subscription, though we wouldn’t recommend that option.
The caveat with buying LifeMiles during COVID-19
It’s important to note that while we are highlighting this excellent deal in case it benefits anyone (such as those trying to book a flight home with points), there are some big caveats to take into account.
Parent airline Avianca filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2020, paving the way for the airline to reorganise its business under court supervision. In September 2020, a court blocked the government of Colombia from giving Avianca a US$370M loan.
Much like Velocity Frequent Flyer, LifeMiles is a separate business to Avianca, so it’s not in bankruptcy. However, the value of LifeMiles may take a big hit if anything bad happens to Avianca, so keep that in mind if your sole purpose is to use it for flights.
In an email circulated to members in mid-September 2020, LifeMiles reassured members that:
Even though we do not intent (sic) to change our award rates, for the members who purchase this promotion we will honor these award tables until at least January 2021.
This does seem to hint at an impending devaluation of LifeMiles at some point in 2021, despite the program denying any intent to do so.
The main takeaway is: only utilise this offer and buy LifeMiles if there is a reward flight you can book instantly (and preferably be able to fly on in the near future).
It may be too risky to speculative buy points for future travel, given we don’t even have a timeline for when international borders open up again.
|Date||Cost per point|
|September 2020||1.11||Exclusive One Mile at A Time offer|
|February 2020||1.38||Exclusive One Mile at A Time offer|
|February, March, April 2019|
February, May, August, September 2018
|February, May 2017|
|September, November 2016||1.38|
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
- 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)
Of this list, only Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and THAI service most major Australian cities other than Sydney and Melbourne, but Air New Zealand 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 in 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, which 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 around.
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 for 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 the 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 exactly the 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.