Why I’m taking advantage of the 100% bonus on purchased LifeMiles this month

For the month of April, AviancaTaca is offering a 100% bonus on purchased miles.Through this promotion you can essentially purchase a maximum of 100,000 miles for 1.5 cents each, including all taxes and fees. The major restriction is that you have to be a program member before the start of the promotion to qualify, so if you’re not a member already, be sure to sign-up so you’re eligible the next go around.

There are some things I love about Lifemiles, including:

  • They allow one-way awards at half the cost of a roundtrip
  • They don’t impose fuel surcharges on award redemptions
  • They have competitive redemption rates (you can find their Star Alliance award chart here)
  • As long as you have 40% of the miles needed for a redemption, you can purchase the remaining miles for 1.275 cents each, payable at the time of ticketing

And then there are two things I hate with a passion about Lifemiles:

  • Their call center is HORRIBLE, so if your redemption requires servicing over the phone, you might as well forget about it
  • They don’t allow mixed cabin awards, meaning if you book a business class award all segments have to be in business class

That last point is probably the single most ridiculous policy of any airline. Basically if you’re redeeming miles for business class and your itinerary requires a connection on a plane with only a coach cabin, you have to book two separate awards. I don’t know of any other airline with a policy that ridiculous.

So I’m kind of surprised that I speculatively purchased Lifemiles and also recommend others do the same, since I do think there’s a ton of uncertainty with the program. They could impose fuel surcharges at any point, get rid of the option to purchase the remaining 60% of miles at the time of ticketing for 1.275 cents each, or at the very least increase the cost, or they could raise their redemption rates without notice, as we’ve seen them do in the past.

But here’s the beautiful thing about buying miles with them — you only take on 40% of the “risk” that you usually do when you purchase miles. For example, purchasing just 26,000 miles will give you the flexibility to book a one-way business class ticket to almost anywhere in the world. At the time of ticketing you can purchase the remaining 60% of the miles needed for a redemption, which is just a really useful benefit.

While Lifemiles isn’t great for an aspirational 16 segment award with a stopover, I think we’ve just about all been in a situation where we just need a nonstop international first or business class flight, and Lifemiles is tough to beat for that. Assuming a ratio of 40% miles purchased in advance at 1.5 cents each and 60% miles purchased at the time of ticketing for 1.275 cents each, that’s an average of 1.365 cents per mile. They charge 52,500 miles one-way to Europe, so that’s ~$716 worth of miles, while they charge 62,500 miles one-way to Africa, Asia, or the Middle East, which is ~$853 worth of miles.

While there’s some risk with the program, that’s a rate at which I’m willing to gamble a bit.

Comments

  1. Lucky, I followed your advice, registered back in January, bought 50% of required Life Miles and got 50% match from TACA/AVIANCA, and just booked a return business class ticket to Europe without any problems whatsoever! Thank you very much for your excellent suggestions/advice!

  2. Actually, if you are risk adverse, your point about only having to buy 40% of the miles is incorrect. If they cancel the sliding scale ability to mix miles and $ at a reduced cost, you’re now stuck with 40% of nothing if you can’t use 100% of those on something you really need. Therefore, at that juncture, you have a 100% failure.

    Aside from that, I think if you don’t buy speculatively and actually use it fairly soon, your risk fear should be assuaged. Personally, I might do it just because I think the program will remain somewhat steady.

  3. Avianca/Taca (which will become Avianca some time this year) is going thru growing/merging pains. The company is backed by a Brazilian/Colombian billionaire who is passionate about air travel ( he gets on planes incognito to check customer service etc, hand on type of guy)

    He is turning around this airline to become the best in Latin America and among the best in the world. Most of the planes are brand new and emphasis is on customer service. I have flown Avianca and have nothing to say but excellent customer service.

    Now, Lifemiles started a few months ago ( used to be AviancaPlus that focused on a Latin market). I think Ben hit it on the nail. Things can change as they learn from other Star Alliance plans but I can speculate things will change for the better, and maybe they will lift that mixed cabin restriction and other crazy quirks that they have.

    Having read a lot about the owner, I think maybe he will try to follow something like Swiss or Lufthansa’s mileage program and move the customer center to either Miami or LA to a more bilingual staff. But right now the priority is to get the merge with Taca right.

  4. Very interesting. Looks like their *A award chart is pretty similar to UA’s. So only 140K in F to South Asia. But I guess that no mixed class awards rule is a major drawback there.

  5. Joey – the call center is horrible no matter what. Language has nothing to do with it. The people at the sales desks aren’t much better. Overall it is a good airline though

  6. Etihad has a similar policy of no mixing classes on award tickets on at least some of their partners (i.e. you can’t book an award using Etihad miles connecting from AA domestic “First” to AA international business). In Etihad’s case, at least, I suspect it has more to do with incompetence of their call center agents than anything else.

  7. I have great experience with their online booking and semi-time-taking one with phone booking of award tickets, but it has always worked out in the end… already booked 5 J class tickets with them over a period of time with different airlines… all ok so far…and going to book 2 more J class … all of them have been between Asia & US…

    So I think I will buy them…

  8. Getting back on track, I think I’m also going to pull the trigger on this. Really, what do you have to lose ? I can use the miles for the outrageously priced air tickets domestically within Canada if the international tickets don’t work out.

  9. lucky,
    What’s LifeMiles expiration policy? Is there any chance I eventually lose all the miles I buy?

  10. Also wanted to ask you, most of US programs clear thru points.com, so no real CC point bonuses. Which company does Lifemiles use to handle the points?

  11. Does the purchase of miles get billed directly through the airline? In other words, if I were to use that newly minted, once-swiped Barclay Arrivals card of mine would I be able to use the Arrival points to pay for the purchase (as a travel purchase)? I imagine this might be asking more than you can provide, but anything you know would be great.

  12. I also find the fact you cannot mix classes very stupid. If I take a F flight to Frankfurt with LH and want to connect onward within Europe in J (since they don’t offer F) that is not bookable unless it’s on two tickets! Hope that is changed soon!

  13. Darn, I didn’t have an account prior to the cut-off date. Any workaround to take advantage of the offer? Thanks Lucky for your great posts.

  14. There are also other major negatives about this program:

    No connections that exceed 8 or 10 hours: for example, a late evening flight connecting to a morning flight will require two separate awards just like a mixed class booking does.

    The on line booking tool is very limited and the call centre cannot do any more than the online booking tool.

  15. @ Constantine — Happy to hear, enjoy your trip!

    @ Bgriff — Well lots of airlines have a policy like that because “Z” is technically first class while “U” is business class. But Etihad will let you book business class internationally and connect to a coach flight, for example.

  16. @ Denis — Lifemiles expire after two years of no activity, though any activity resets that date.

    @ jorge — They actually process the purchase directly, so it shows up as airline spend.

  17. @ jorge — Yes, it sure would.

    @ Mike — Wish there were some trick, but all I can recommend is finding someone with an account that was open prior to the beginning of the promotion and see if they’ll let you use it.

  18. dear lucky, i have two questions about RA referral.

    1. I am RA now, Can I refer myself as a RA?

    2. If yes, when would be the best time to send the RA referral certificate?

  19. Lucky does it come thru as a foreign transaction? I’d be careful using cards that have foreign transaction fees, such as Amex PRG to get the 3x for airlines.

  20. Be carefull Lucky

    I booked with them the return leg of my trip to FTU in DC. A simple IAD-FRA-DOH in first (UA and LH) for Apr 28t. Found the space; bought the miles, paid the rest (60%), and got the ticket.

    2 days ago I got a “change” of my itinerary for the 29th… a day later. They are not paying the extra night in DC, nor the meals, nor the extra day of vacation I had to book.

    They said is a “system” problem, but United doesn’t want to pay either.

  21. BTW, I flew IAH-JFK-FRA-DOH all in F without problem last couples of week ago, using a combination of US Airways and Lufthansa metal.

    I think the problem with my IAD-DOH flight is related with phantom availability, but I am not sure. I guess I will try to visit the museums while I am here.

  22. I keep getting a “now searching” timeout every time I search for availability on the website. I’d prefer to confirm availability before buying miles. Lucky, have you had that issue at all?

  23. Wow, today I hear that USAirways is coming back with a 100% bonus in May (Canadian Kilometers says).
    On the one hand I want *A miles, but on the other hand I want to buy cheap and future “AA” miles. Lucky can you help? Have you heard anything and what would you do?

    Decisions, decisions….

  24. @ Tim — Yes it does, so I recommend paying with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which offers double points on travel and has no foreign transaction fees.

  25. @ Phil — Sorry to hear that, can’t say I’ve ever had that issue. I’d maybe try a different browser.

  26. @ jorge — You can’t go wrong with either promo. If you have the cash it can’t hurt to take advantage of both, in my opinion.

  27. Lucky – you know know that there is an even cheaper way to acquire LIFEMILES – cheaper than 1.5 cents – it involves the refund process… where after you buy the 60% miles using cash for 1.275 cents… you simply cancel. even after the $50 refund fee and the loss of the $25 nonrefundable booking fee, you can still get a nice rate of around 1.4 cents per mile on a big redemption-cancellation. See details on FT.
    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/avianca-taca-lifemiles/1396001-cancelling-avianca-award-flights-not-flying-cheaper-than-buying-miles.html

  28. Having huge issues with booking itineraries with Lifemiles that involve ANA flights. The process breaks down even before the credit card page appears.

    Anyone else facing this?

  29. The lifemiles search website is very unstable right now. I can search for an award ticket without getting an error. arghz

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