Which Miles Should You Buy: Alaska, LifeMiles, Or US Airways?

May has been a pretty active month for airlines offering specials for the purchase of miles:

So which of these promotions should you consider taking advantage of?

Of course it depends on your individual circumstances, but let me start by saying that it’s generally not worth taking advantage of the American or Southwest promotions. The American promotion will at best get you miles for 2.32 cents each, and you can do much better than that with US Airways. Meanwhile Southwest has a revenue based frequent flyer program, so it really doesn’t make sense to buy points for more than their maximum redemption value.

With that in mind, let me briefly cover the three promotions you should consider:

Up to 35% bonus on Alaska Mileage Plan miles

Alaska-35-Bonus

Lowest cost per mile: 2.19 cents
Limit to the number of miles you can buy: no limit
Award chart: Alaska Mileage Plan award chart

Relevant Link(s):

Pros:

  • There’s no limit to the number of miles you can purchase
  • One-way redemptions are allowed for half the cost of a roundtrip
  • Stopovers are allowed on one-way awards
  • Lots of unique airline partners, like Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Fiji Airways

Cons:

  • You can’t mix airline partners on an award
  • Highest cost per mile of any promotion I would consider
  • We saw a 40% bonus on purchased miles earlier this year, so this isn’t the best price ever

Examples of some of my favorite redemption opportunities:

  • 100,000 miles for Emirates first class one-way from the US to Asia via Dubai, with a stopover (~$2,200 to buy miles)
  • 70,000 miles for Cathay Pacific first class one-way from the US to South Africa via Hong Kong (~$1,500 to buy miles)
  • 55,000 miles for Fiji Airways business class one-way from the US to New Zealand via Fiji (~$1,200 to buy miles)

Cathay_Pacific_777_First_Class75
Cathay Pacific first class

100% bonus on Avianca LifeMiles

Avianca-LifeMiles-100-Bonus

Lowest cost per mile: 1.5 cents
Limit to the number of miles you can buy: 75,000 miles (before bonus)
Award chart: Avianca LifeMiles award chart

Relevant Link(s):

Pros:

  • One-way redemptions are allowed for half the cost of a roundtrip
  • One of the best ways to book premium cabin Star Alliance award tickets nowadays
  • No fuel surcharges
  • You can purchase up to 60% of the miles needed for an award at the time of ticketing for as little as ~1.55 cents per mile

Cons:

  • No stopovers or complicated routings allowed
  • You can’t mix cabins on an award ticket — all segments have to be in the same class of service
  • LifeMiles has a history of making devaluations without notice

Examples of some of my favorite redemption opportunities:

  • 72,500 miles for Lufthansa first class one-way from the US to Europe (~$1,100)
  • 75,000 miles for ANA first class one-way from the US to Japan (~$1,100)
  • 75,000 miles for ANA first class one-way from the US to South Korea (~$1,100)

Lufthansa-First-Class-A330-10
Lufthansa first class

Up to 100% bonus on US Airways Dividend Miles

US-Airways-Buy-Miles-Promo

Lowest cost per mile: 1.88 cents
Limit to the number of miles you can buy: 50,000 miles (before bonus)
Award chart: US Airways Dividend Miles award chart

Relevant link(s):

Pros:

  • Very generous routing rules, much more so than American
  • Stopover or open jaw allowed on a roundtrip award

Cons:

  • One-ways aren’t allowed
  • Good chance award rates will be devalued soon, once the merger is complete
  • Occasionally offer a 100% bonus on shared miles, which is an opportunity to generate miles for 1.1 cents each.

Examples of some of my favorite redemption opportunities:

  • 120,000 miles for Cathay Pacific first class roundtrip from the US to Hong Kong (~$2,250)
  • 140,000 miles for Qantas first class roundtrip from the US to Australia (~$2,600)
  • 90,000 miles for Cathay Pacific business class roundtrip from the Caribbean to South Asia (~$1,700)

Qantas-A380-First-Class
Qantas first class

Bottom line

There’s no “one size fits all” strategy for buying miles, though hopefully the above narrows things down and you can decide based on your specific redemption aspirations.

Very generally, I would consider speculatively buying LifeMiles simply because they’re one of the few ways to economically redeem for Star Alliance premium cabins nowadays. Yes, they could devalue their miles, but even if they do, they’ll still likely be cheaper than United and not have fuel surcharges, unlike Aeroplan. And keep in mind that LifeMiles lets you buy 60% of the miles needed at the time you book your award ticket, so you are limiting your risk somewhat.

The best part of the Alaska Mileage Plan promotion is that you can purchase as many miles as you want. Don’t have any miles right now? Not a problem, you can buy enough miles for your entire family to fly to Asia in business class at a very reasonable cost.

US Airways Dividend Miles has some amazing award redemption opportunities thanks to their generous routing rules, so if you have a short-term use I think it’s an offer that’s tough to beat. But expect these miles to be devalued fairly soon.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this post! I was trying to figure it out on my own and I was having a difficult time. I am leaning towards Alaska for cathay flight.
    Question though, when we are traveling to our gateway city.. Do we have to pick up our bags at baggage claim and re-check in?
    Thanks!

  2. How many miles from Avianca would you speculatively buy? I do have a couple award tickets to India in mind for later this year but I’m not 100 percent sure I will use them

  3. If i purchase Alaska miles with my Alaska visa credit card, do I get x2 points for the purchase? Or is the purchase of miles treated differently than purchasing Alaska air tickets?

  4. It’s getting harder to find available seats on OW by using US DM, especially across pacific. Pretty sad

  5. Thank you for this post, Lucky! Which programs will charge your credit card from the airline itself and which ones from points.com?

  6. Lucky,

    If I was to buy 75k Avianca LifeMiles, does that mean i get 150k LifeMiles, and the price for the miles would be $1125?

  7. Lucky,

    I need a one-way J class ticket from Eur to the US. Instead of buying Avianca miles, I’m leaning towards getting the Miles & More card for 55k miles after meeting spend. The fuel surcharges and taxes will be about $300 vs. spending $300-$500 on buying LifeMiles. The upside is better access to LH and LX award space. Would you recommend this approach or would you still recommend buying LifeMiles?

  8. @ Teja — All depends on how much travel you plan on doing. Personally I’d do the maximum if you have the case, since it’s a good “Star Alliance mileage fund,” if you will.

  9. @ Ginny — Nope, 1.5 cents is the cost per mile with the bonus. So 150,000 miles (75,000 plus 75,000 bonus miles) would cost you $2,250.

  10. @ Hitesh — I would do both. Seems worth it to buy LifeMiles for Lufthansa business class, but still worth picking up Miles & More Card for the miles, which are especially valuable towards Lufthansa first class.

  11. @ Travel Card Guide:

    I wouldn’t hold my breath. They’re probably not interested in having a huge run on CX/EK redemptions that could be ruin partnerships.

    I say that because the reason why AS and FI (Icelandair) aren’t partners any more is people figured out that you could get AS F for cheap through FI mileage purchases, a huge run ensued, and then AS yanked the partnership.

  12. @ lucky, thanks. That’s not near some of the other airlines!

    @ eponymous coward, I think you’re correct but would love to have a cheaper way of earning AS miles. They have good value awards and stopover rules.

  13. Lucky, what’s the best credit card to use to purchase Lifemiles? I have a Chase sapphire preferred and a chase united club card? Or should I do something totally different?

  14. @ Markus — LifeMiles processes the purchase directly, so any card offering extra points on airfare would be ideal. Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express Premier Rewards Gold are both great options.

  15. @ Jeff — Just a limit to how many bonus miles you can earn per promotion, but no overall limit to the number of miles you can buy.

  16. @luky

    sorry for double post.

    One more question, If you can purchase miles for a first class ticket,does this mean you can buy miles hence redeem them for a cheaper price?
    For example, from US to HK rt cost ~$2,250 buying miles. If buying a revenue ticket it would cost over $20,000.

  17. Bought LM and used it to lock-in ANA F and J awards for mom but may have to cancel J award since just got 2 suites on SQ thanks to a tip here.

    Really wish LM would get more online functionality though — can’t cancel online and, if transaction gets declined by CC company (fraud, etc), can’t resubmit payment online — have to call them and then they’ll call back in a day or two to take all info again.

  18. Hi Ben,
    do you think Alaska will have any promotions in the near future. I would like to top up my Alaska account ..

  19. Does Alaska offer bonus miles historically every year? how about booking with united miles for a trip in Sep. I see that most business class availability on carriers like Lufthansa is not released by LH yet. I know that LH only releases those seats around two weeks before departure. Do you think it is a smart idea to wait until two weeks before departure ( united part will be one way only ).

  20. @ Momen — Historically Alaska offers bonuses on the purchase of miles multiple times a year. Lufthansa typically only releases first class award space two weeks out. There’s no such “window” for business class award space.

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