Earlier today we broke the news that AMEX has added the ability to transfer Membership Rewards points to Avianca Lifemiles, a Star Alliance airline. You can transfer points instantly at a 1K:1K ratio.
Lifemiles is one of the rare mileage programs that doesn’t collect any fuel surcharges. United is another program that does not collect fuel surcharges, but AMEX points can’t be transferred to United as they are exclusively with Chase.
You can also transfer Marriott points to Lifemiles at a 60K:25K ratio or Citi ThankYou points to Lifemiles at a 1K:1K ratio.
- You’ll need to open a Lifemiles account here before you can search for award tickets online.
- Lifemiles allows you to use cash+points on award tickets, where you can effectively buy miles from about 1.5 cents each on the award search results page. You do need to have 40% of the required miles in order to do this.
- The Lifemiles award chart can be viewed here and has several sweet spots.
Back when I used to give regular seminars I talked about many of the glitch cities that existed that allowed you to fly to Europe or Asia for just 12.5K Lifemiles, but a blogger managed to have them killed by complaining to the DoT about a flight that involved a trip from North America to Guam via Asia that Lifemiles used to count as a domestic US award.
That being said, there is plenty of value to be had with Avianca Lifemiles.
Lifemiles splits up the US into 3 zones:
US Zone 1: Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Washington DC.
US Zone 2: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin
US Zone 3: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
Here are the one-way mileage requirements for travel within the US:
|From/To||US Zone 1||US Zone 2||US Zone 3|
|US Zone 1||7.5K Coach|
|US Zone 2||10K Coach|
|US Zone 3||12.5K Coach|
The 7.5K and 10K short-haul awards are even better than with BA Avios in many scenarios as United availability is generally much better than American’s and they allow for free connections as well.
Let’s take a look at some comparisons between using United miles and Avianca miles.
1. A flight from Chicago to Miami on 11/13 would cost 12.5K United miles in coach or 25K United miles in business class. Plus there is $5.60 tax and a $75 fee for booking an award within 3 weeks unless you have elite status or a United Club card. That $75 close-in fee is the same on a one-way award as it is on a round-trip.
With Avianca Lifemiles this is an intra-Zone 2 award, costing just 7.5K miles in coach or 15K miles in business class. Note that Avianca has a $25 partner airline redemption fee, regardless of when you’re booking the award, so you’ll also need to pay $30.60 per passenger. That partner award fee is the same on a one-way award as it is on a round-trip.
2. United does have 10K short-haul awards for flights under 700 miles, such as Cleveland to LaGuardia, subject to the $75 close-in fee.
However with Lifemiles you can redeem a points+cash award by moving the slider on the flight search results page. The price per mile varies, so you can move the slider and divide the cash by the miles saved to determine the best rate. In this case you can spend $60 to save 4,000 miles.
In other words you can redeem 3,500 Lifemiles, plus $60 for the 4,000 miles, plus the $25 booking fee, plus $5.60 tax, or a total of 3,500 Lifemiles plus $90.60:
The cost of the paid flight is $432.20, so that’s a value of 9.76 cents per Lifemile ($432.20-$90.60=$341.60/3,500)!
Plus there is no close-in fee, making this a better option than using 10K United miles plus $80.60. That would value the United miles at 3.52 cents per United mile ($432.20-$80.60=$351.60/10,000)!
3. A flight from San Francisco to Newark in business class on 11/22 would cost 35K United miles. United domestic first class saver awards are typically 25K miles, but it costs 35K on premium lie-flat transcontinental routes. Plus there is $5.60 tax and a $75 fee for booking an award within 3 weeks unless you have elite status or a United Club card. That $75 close-in fee is the same on a one-way award as it is on a round-trip.
With Avianca miles this is 25K miles in business class. Note that Avianca has a $25 partner airline redemption fee, regardless of when you’re booking the award, so you’ll also need to pay $30.60 per passenger. That partner award fee is the same on a one-way award as it is on a round-trip.
4. United charges 70K miles for Lufthansa business class or 110K miles for a Lufthansa first class flight between the US and Europe. Note that Lufthansa only releases first class award space within 2 weeks of a flight.
5. You can save even more miles flying Lufthansa First Class to a different city in Europe besides Frankfurt or Munich. For example if you search for JFK to Madrid and pick the flight from JFK to Madrid via the first class flight to Munich and business class from Munich to Madrid the price is actually less than just the JFK to Munich flight! It will display 87,000 for this flight, but after you select it, it goes down to 81,460 miles:
Searching from JFK to Paris and picking Lufthansa first class via Munich is 84,700 miles:
6. United charges 85K miles for Lufthansa business class or 140K miles for a Lufthansa first class flight between the US and Israel.
7. United charges 120K miles for a Asiana first class flight between the US and Asia:
With Avianca miles this is just 90K miles in first class:
9. United charges 30K miles for a coach flight or 55K miles for a business class flight between Israel and Africa:
Of course there are caveats to all this:
- If you have a United credit card you have access to expanded saver availability on United flights. Avianca Lifemiles can’t book awards like that.
- United’s website is far more capable at finding awards than Avianca Lifemiles. That applied to both nonstop flights and connecting flights. You can try calling Avianca to book award tickets, but that rarely works as their call center is mostly incompetent and frustrating to deal with.
- Lifemiles charges just $50 to cancel intra-region awards. International award cancellation and change fees range from $100 to $200. Hover over where it says “Limited seats” on the page that displays the award flights to check the change and cancellation/refund fee to see the fee for your itinerary. Oddly on some awards it will be cheaper to cancel an award than to change it, while on other awards it will be more expensive to cancel an award than to change it.
- You can’t book a multi-city award, such as Cleveland to LaGuardia and Newark back to Cleveland, without booking it as 2 separate one-ways. That means you need to pay the $25 booking fee twice on such an itinerary and the $50 cancellation fee twice should you need to cancel.
- United allows a free stopover leg on a round-trip award, Lifemiles does not.
- Lifemiles requires earning activity every 12 months in order to stop them from expiring. Redeeming miles will not extend the life of your miles. With United any earning or redeeming extends your miles for 18 months and if you have a United credit card your miles will never expire.
What other Lifemiles sweet spots have you used? Hit the comments!