Avianca LifeMiles unlocks low-cost business, first class flights

Avianca LifeMiles unlocks low-cost business, first class flights

UPDATE | A new Avianca 'buy miles' promotion is paying out up to 125% more LifeMiles until September 30, which can be redeemed for travel on Thai Airways, Air Canada and across the Star Alliance.

For this promotion only, the usual 150,000 miles-per-year cap is boosted to 337,500 miles (including any bonuses earned), with miles sold in increments of 1,000 miles.

The number of bonus miles you'll pick up depends on how many you buy: purchases between 2,000 and 50,000 miles net double miles; buys between 51,000 and 100,000 net a 115% bonus, while buying 101,000 to 150,000 miles returns the full 125% boost.

All up, you could max out the offer by buying 150,000 miles with a 187,500-mile bonus for an all-out total of 337,500 miles – yours for US$4,950 (A$6,625).

That's almost enough for three return trips from Sydney to Bangkok in first class with Thai Airways when booking your travel outright, but can unlock significantly more opportunities through Avianca's 'flexible payment' option – more on that later.

But as flagged in our previous article, this special offer is only open to accounts that were created before the promotion began – so if you followed our advice and created a free LifeMiles account, now is the time to buy!

Remember: although you'll need to buy your miles before September 30, they can of course be redeemed for flights after this date.

The article below, written ahead of this promotion, explains more about the process of buying and using Avianca LifeMiles to book flights with Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and other Star Alliance airlines.

PREVIOUS | Over the past year Australian Business Traveller has shared strategies for bulk-buying frequent flyer miles with United, American Airlines and Virgin America as a canny way to score business and first class seats at vastly discounted rates.

But this tactic isn't limited to US airlines. One of the most prized tricks of the travelling cognoscenti involves the little-known LifeMiles frequent flyer scheme of Colombian airline Avianca.

Avianca doesn't fly to Australia, yet that doesn't stop you from buying miles through LifeMiles – and because Avianca is a member of the Star Alliance family you can use those miles to book flights on other Star Alliance airlines such as Thai Airways, United, Air Canada and Lufthansa at far below the normal ticket cost.

For example, you could fly from Australia to London in business class for around $3,700 return with Star Alliance members Air China and Air India.

Another appealing option: jet to Vancouver and back with Air Canada in business class for around $3,300, or to Bangkok and back for an unbelievable $2,600 in first class.

As always, buying miles may let you travel at the pointy end without the premium price tag but it's not as straightforward as 'buy your miles, then book your ticket'.

Avianca LifeMiles has a few wrinkles of its own when it comes to booking those redemption flights, and you should always check the availability of award flights on your preferred travel routes and dates before buying miles.

Let's repeat that: always make sure there's a way to redeem miles to a destination and at a time that suits you... (did we say 'always'?)

Only when you've found something suitable should you pull the trigger and buy those miles, before then immediately redeeming them for your desired travel.

LifeMiles is one tricky beast, and the scheme is not for everyone, but it can be tamed. Here's how.

How to buy Avianca LifeMiles

Outside of any promotion periods, miles in the LifeMiles scheme can be purchased for US$0.033 each in multiples of 1,000 – or US$33 per block.

However, Avianca often runs two-for-one promotions on mileage purchases, reducing the cost per mile to just 1.65 US cents... but there's a catch: these deals are normally available only to existing members of the LifeMiles program.

The program is completely free to join and has no ongoing membership charges, so join online today – it takes just a few moments and means you should be in the running for Avianca's next promotion.

Each calendar year, LifeMiles members can buy up to 150,000 miles, which includes any extra miles earned during two-for-one promotions.

That's enough for at least two return business class trips to Europe London using a 'flexible payment' option – more on that later.

What you need to know

One reason that Avianca is a fave among frequent flyers: fuel surcharges, which typically cost hundreds of dollars on international flights, are absent from all LifeMiles award tickets.

Whether you book a flight with Avianca or one of its Star Alliance partners, you won't pay a cent towards the airline-induced 'fuel tax'.

All LifeMiles flight redemption bookings attract a US$25 'redemption fee', so if your circumstances allow you to book a return trip rather than two one-way fares, you'll avoid paying that fee twice.

Also, if your journey requires a connection – such as from Sydney to London via Bangkok – the maximum time you can spend in transit is eight hours: any more time in between flights and you'll have to book separate tickets.

That means you'd need to make one booking for Sydney to Bangkok and then another booking from Bangkok to London, forking out more miles than if you were to fly straight through, and also with two sets of 'redemption fees' to pay.

If you do manage to book connecting flights on a single ticket within that eight-hour window, it can also become a double-edged sword if an airline retimes your flights to have a gap longer than eight hours in between.

Not only would you be inconvenienced by losing the timings of your original flights, Avianca then won't re-issue your ticket until any new transits comply with the rule – so you'd need to choose new flights with a connection time of under eight hours, or cancel the ticket completely.

As situations like this are out of your control, we'd strongly suggest using Avianca miles for non-stop flights, but where a transit is required, choose an airline and hub with more than just a daily flight on the route.

Finally, you won't be able to book an award journey unless all flights on that journey are in the same cabin class (economy, business or first) – award availability must exist in the same cabin on even the shortest of connecting flights, so you might find better results by adjusting your destination city to one nearby (particularly within Asia and Europe).

Redeeming LifeMiles for Star Alliance flights

The rules are definitely restrictive and can work against you – but now that you're up to speed, it's time to uncover a few LifeMiles gems.

Sydney-Bangkok

A return business class trip on Thai Airways from Sydney to Bangkok will set you back 80,000 miles plus a small amount to cover Thai's additional taxes and charges.

That might sound like a good deal, but it's a solid chunk of that 150,000 pre-bonus cap.

You can get around the rule and book more of these great tickets by using the ‘flexible payment’ option at the bottom of the page – reducing the points cost to 32,000 with a co-payment of US$755 + taxes.

We'll assume you've played your hand well and held out to make your purchase during a double miles promotion – those 38,000 miles would cost US$627 at 1.65c/mile, so when combined with the $755 co-pay and $25 booking fee, you're looking at US$1,407 plus tax (A$1,880 on today's rate).

Work, dine and rest in Thai's Boeing 747 business class from Sydney to Bangkok

If you're booking those same flights the 'normal' way, you'd pay A$3,900, including the fuel surcharge but excluding other taxes and surcharges which are also added to Avianca redemptions, as mentioned above.

All your sleuthing and patience has paid off – that's over 50% cheaper than the retail fare!

Thai Airways also allows Avianca members to book award seats in first class – including to and from Sydney – which can be had for a straight 120,000 miles or 48,000 miles + US$1,133 (both plus taxes):

All up, the asking price is around A$2,605 before tax (48k miles @ 1.65c/mile + $1,133 + $25 booking fee = US$1,950)... tempted to book the normal fare? You might want to have a re-think – it's going for a whopping A$5,611 on those flights, making the mileage route less than half the cost of retail!

Oasis first class on Thai Airways' Boeing 747 aircraft

Again, we've included the fuel surcharges in the fare calculations, but have excluded the other taxes and surcharges – given that fuel surcharges aren't payable on Avianca redemptions, it's the most accurate way to compare the two.

Award availability between Sydney and Bangkok is reasonable – we were able to find seats on most flights later in the year, while also spotting seats on flights closer to departure (as above).

It's also worth highlighting that while Singapore Airlines used to be a great option for LifeMiles bookings to Asia, award tickets on SQ's Australian flights are now incredibly difficult to locate: to the point that we were unable to find a single award seat on any dates we searched.

Sydney-Vancouver

Another way to use your LifeMiles is on Air Canada's Sydney-Vancouver flights, but note that business class award seats on this route are quickly snapped up, so again, be sure to check your dates.

If the stars align, you'll be looking at either 160,000 LifeMiles outright or as few as 64,000 miles plus a co-payment of US$1,511, along with any government taxes payable:

The latter is also the best option for travellers who aren't also collecting miles in Avianca via other means, as the most you can buy in a single year is capped at 150,000 miles – 10,000 miles less than the outright cost of this ticket.

All up, you'd fork out A$3,337 (US$2,526) plus government taxes for business class flights that Air Canada would otherwise sell for around A$9,092 plus government taxes and fees.

That's less than half the cost of buying a ticket the 'normal' way – 63.2% cheaper to be precise – and gets you the same seat on the same flight to the same destination.

Award seats on other flights to North America such as with United to Los Angeles and San Francisco can also be a good option, but availability is often quite limited.

Sydney-Europe

If London’s call beckons, you'll need either 170,000 miles outright or 68,000 + US$1,605 in business class for a return trip, plus taxes.

Again, and certainly not helped by the 'eight hour transit' rule, it can be tricky to find seats on the dates you need to travel – but if you're flexible with which cities you fly through, there's a good chance you can make something fit.

For example, if your ideal route is from Sydney to London, consider flying internationally from Melbourne or Brisbane instead, or using other European airports such as Zurich, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Rome and Milan.

Using dates in April 2016, we were able to stitch together a Sydney-Paris trip with the outbound journey with Air China via Shanghai, and the return with Air India via Delhi:

All up, it'd cost US$1,122 to buy the 68,000 miles you'd need during an Avianca 2-for-1 promo, and with a co-payment of US$1,605 and the redemption fee of US$25, that's just A$3,675 return in business class, plus any government taxes and fees.

Before you book...

Once you've booked your preferred flights via LifeMiles, any changes and cancellations can only be made over the phone – attracting fees of US$50-150.

Furthermore, any cash amounts paid in lieu of miles through the 'flexible payment' stage won't be refunded if your booking is cancelled – instead, your mileage balance will receive a boost equivalent to the full mileage asking price for that journey.

For example, if you shelled out 68,000 miles and US$1,605 for a return trip to London, a cancellation would see a credit of 170,000 miles, rather than a refund in the manner originally paid.

We also wouldn't recommend sitting on your miles for too long, as Avianca changes the redemption rates from time to time and sometimes without warning, such as in 2013 when the cost of some first class journeys increased by 50,000 miles overnight.

Avianca award costs and exchange rates used in this section of the article correct as of July 10 2015.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on twitter: we're @AusBT

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin (ChrisCh)

[email protected] / @ChamberlinChris

Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

24 Comments

  • spudseamus

    spudseamus

    17 Apr, 2014 01:02 pm

    OHHHHH my spinning head ! All so much to take in for a now infrequent flyer of advanced age! Lol , BUT those savings !!!!! Wow ! 

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  • Mal

    Mal

    17 Apr, 2014 01:07 pm

    Good work on detaling this, Chris. I have heard people talking about LifeMiles, well actually seen posts and such on this rather than 'heard', and wondered what the fuss was about, but this seems a pretty good part of the 'buying miles' portfolio. Good job explaining it and also noting those caveats, this is something I'll look into a bit more closely for Asia trips this year!

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  • Serg

    Serg

    18 Apr, 2014 12:19 pm

    Interesting reading, please more articles like this.

    No member give thanks

  • Natalia Matronitsky

    Natasha

    22 Apr, 2014 08:06 pm

    I've been looking at Avianca for a looong time, that's great program! The only thing is that the limit is 75K to buy andf 75K bonus per year as far as I know. They said that 150K is including the bonus. Also, it's interesting as points plus money option does not have an even scale, it first starting at $30 per 1000 points, then gradually drops to below $10, then raises up again to $30 per 1000 points. The sweet spot is it  about 54-55% money and the rest with points, and if you go up to maximum 60% of money then you overpay for your ticket. I hope I didn't confuse anybody :)

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  • Brian Williams

    evilbrian

    24 Apr, 2014 04:55 pm

    Thanks for that thorough artlcle Chris. Can definitely make use of that little lurk, so will join up to Lifemiles for myself and the wife right now.

    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    6 May, 2014 11:15 am

    Hi Brian,

    Just a heads up that the double miles promotion we'd predicted has now gone live – so if you did indeed create those accounts before the promotion started on May 5, you're eligible for double miles!

    Enjoy. :)

    -Chris

    No member give thanks

  • Brian Williams

    evilbrian

    9 May, 2014 10:39 am

    Hi Chris,

    Yep, it worked out very well. My only problem is that 'she who must be obeyed' is in a mood to spend them all as quicky as possible!

    No member give thanks

  • ozmouse

    ozmouse

    28 Apr, 2014 03:00 pm

    Great info.  Had a go this past weekend... and like all other attempts at flight awards i can't seem to find any availability.  

    Was looking last 2 weeks june - melb or sydney - bangkok, singapore or tokyo - business - 2 pax.  

    Found nothing for melbourne at all.  Nothing for tokyo.  And of the 2-3 avail out of sydney for sin or bkk were unreasonable +20 hour connections thru seoul, bejing or shanghai. 

    Any easier way to determine availablitiy than hacking away 1 sector at a time?  

    Also, i had 1 sin-syd sector offered for bkk itinerary, but it was not offered on the next search for SIN direct.  

     

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  • Chris Fox

    foxc1

    8 May, 2014 03:52 pm

    This is easy....Just bought 150,000 miles and booked a PER-BKK in Economy and then a Bangkok-Frankfurt (Thai) and Frankfurt-Prague (Lufthansa) and then a Paris-Singapore (SIngapore Airlines) all in Business.

     

    All up cost including the taxes around $2800 which is pretty good as it's over the Christmas period when economy return is around the same price depnding on carrier!

     

    Was worth waiting for the double miles promotion :)

    No member give thanks

  • Gunners

    Gunners

    8 May, 2014 08:02 pm

    Chris

    I would like to thank  you and the ABT for your great recommedations which has provided me with the following trifecta:

    LifeMiles (ABT Recommendation)

    As recommended joined LifeMiles last month and today paid for 150,000 miles today for USD 2,250.   The LifeMiles was credited instantly after payment. Already booked two Inter-Asia J airfares (Asiana and SIA) at fantastic  redemption levels and pricing.

    GE 28 Degrees Credit Card (ABT Recommendeation) 

    Saved credit card foreign exchange fees and achieved a credut card exchange rate of 93 cents by using GE 28 Degrees Credit Card  for paying  for the Lifemiles.

    Starwood Velocity Program (ABT Recommendation)

    Joined Starwood Program  and Velocity Promotion earned 6,000 points and a further 10,000 points during two short stays at the Aloft.  Will shortly have 20,000 points that can be converted to 25,000 Velocity or SAI frequent flyer points (5,000 business on conversion).   (Note further 2 for 1 program is running now on Starwood Prgrogram).

    Thanks again for showing us to travel J for slightly more than the cost of Y.

    ABT should be re-named The Smart Australan Business Traveller. 

    No member give thanks

  • DRW

    DRW

    10 May, 2014 10:03 am

    How often do Avianca and AA run these promotions each year? Also, how risky is it to buy and sit on these points during a promo? I know you say they can devalue without notice but is Avianca more risky than AA? Are there any other FFPs worth looking at for bonus points?

    No member give thanks

  • Chris Fox

    foxc1

    10 May, 2014 10:14 am

    The way I see it once you have bought the points they are yours. The only risk in sitting on them is the flights you want might get sold so you will be left with the miles but have to change your travel plans. If you are flexible with dates it doesn't seem to be an issue I have found it gives you a few different dates. Also flexible with where you fly out of. I found the taxes on SQ flights out of London for example were 3 times higher than those out of Paris. 

     

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  • Ross

    Ross

    10 May, 2014 06:39 pm

    Great value! Bought 70,000 (with 70,000 bonus) for just over $2100USD.

    Redeemed 2 x J ME to Europe return on TK.Booking fee $25USD per ticket, taxes $80 - $110USD.

    Best paid price $3500USD each.

    No member give thanks

  • chairman

    chairman

    10 May, 2014 08:57 pm

    So do do you get the bonus points? 
    No member give thanks

  • Hbrown

    Hbrown

    5 Jul, 2014 10:50 am

    HI Chris, 

    The LifeMiles promotion looks indeed terrific. But in the realty, I encountered many problems when it comes to actually make an award reservation:

    Online reservation: I must have tried 10 times to make an award reservation using the Lifemiles website; everything is great until the payment. It has always failed even if I tried different internet browsers and credit cards as well. The PNR number comes out but an error message pops up saying ' we could not process the credit card transaction.... please call call centre..."

    If you call the call centre, they say that somebody will call you back soon to make a phone payment. Which they don't do. Then you loose the reservation.

    As it was always failing online, I tried the phone reservation:

    Phone (call centre) reservation: even if you make your research of award availability online and you see seats available (on SQ for example), the operator told me that she could see these flights but that she could not book them.I was myself exactly at the same time I was speaking to her seing availability same day, same flights I was asking to her.

    So I am asking: why showing availability on the website when in fact there are none when you speak to the call centre? Are the lifemiles website availability fake ones?

    So I have one question: has anybody succeeded in reserving any lifemiles award online? If yes, what kind of bank credit card did you use?

    I would greatly appreciate your help on this.

    No member give thanks

  • Chris Fox

    foxc1

    5 Jul, 2014 12:00 pm

    Hi hbrown I posted above and had no issues booking, you do have to be flexible with dates and departure cities, and there is a big difference in the taxes from some cities. Paris was a lot cheaper on SQ taxes wise the Heathrow.

    I used a MasterCard and had no issues, and got itineraries from Avianca and then confirmed via the Thai and SQ websites that the flights were there and selected seats etc. The bank did stop my credit card after the transaction ( it came up as a different type of transaction that was all :) my parents also booked J class seats on SQ and had no issues.

    No member give thanks

  • Hbrown

    Hbrown

    5 Jul, 2014 04:42 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your answer. What do you mean by 'the bank did stop my credit card after the transaction': did you have an error message on the screen saying to contact the call centre?

    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    5 Jul, 2014 07:07 pm

    Hi hbrown,

    Just a heads up that the 'Chris' above is a different user than myself, the author.

    Please direct any questions regarding the above to the user Chris Fox.

    -Chris Chamberlin

    No member give thanks

  • Chris Fox

    foxc1

    5 Jul, 2014 04:44 pm

    No it was after the transaction went through just as the bank identified it as a non normal transaction no issues during the booking process :)

    No member give thanks

  • Hbrown

    Hbrown

    6 Jul, 2014 05:45 pm

    I finally managed to do it and got my award paid online!

    I was confirmed by Life Miles that if the award appears on the website it is always possible to book it and pay it online (no fake or phantom awards)

    Nevertheless, if you see the award available on the web site and you call lifemiles, the chances are they do not see the same award than you browsing the website at the exact same time you are talking to the operator: it can be available on the website and not for the call centre.

    so, if you want to reserve an award, use the website and use the credit card that works for the payment (I tried 3 different ones before using the one which worked!)- crazy

    No member give thanks

  • Guvner

    Guvner

    12 Sep, 2014 02:41 pm

    Superb insight by ABT. Thanks to the tips re LifeMiles I purchased the double points max of 300,000 (~AUD $5000). Booked 4xJ class SIN - CDG return for AUG 2015 using points+pay. Total cost for a return on the SQ A380 for the family was just under AUD 10k incl taxes. Retail J on SQ is ~AUD23k. Retail economy is circa 9k for flexi.

    Having saved around 60% I'm a fan of ABT for life!

    Just a tip: Checked the availabilty prior to buying miles and The LifeMiles engine wouldn't accept my Aus VISA (ANZ issue) but did accept my Aus Amex (ANZ issue).

    No member give thanks

  • arramkim

    arramkim

    22 Sep, 2014 11:01 pm

    This might sound like a stupid question, but If I use the promotion and say I want to buy 2 J tickets (one for me and one for my wife), would it be possible even though my wife isn't a member of the lifemiles program? 

     

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  • Tom Goddard

    TomGoddardd

    9 Sep, 2015 02:45 pm

    Such a good deal! Should of made a LifeMiles account!

    No member give thanks

  • BeijingBogan

    BeijingBogan

    9 Sep, 2015 04:18 pm

    Shame about the US Dollar movements - there used to be a time when it was even better value! :) 

    No member give thanks

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