FINALLY: LifeMiles Now Allowing Mixed Cabin Awards

Avianca joined the Star Alliance a few years back, and their LifeMiles program is one the most useful frequent flyer programs out there. They frequently sell miles at a discount, for as little as ~1.32 cents each. They’re probably the most aggressive airlines out there about selling miles, and their offers seem to keep getting better.

LifeMiles-Bonus

The program hasn’t been without problems, though. For a couple of years they blocked virtually all Lufthansa first class award seats. That has recently been changed, and it’s once again possible to redeem LifeMiles for Lufthansa first class.

But perhaps the single biggest pain of booking with them has been that LifeMiles didn’t allow mixed cabin awards, which is an absolutely ridiculous policy. In other words, if you’re flying Lufthansa first class from Boston to Frankfurt, you couldn’t connect in economy or business class on an intra-Europe flight. That’s despite the fact that there’s no first class cabin on those flights.

The policy is entirely non-sensical, and they’re the only program I know of which doesn’t let you voluntarily “downgrade” a segment of your award, either based on availability, or because the flight actually doesn’t have premium cabin award availability.

I suspect this restriction was initially an IT limitation or glitch of some sort, and then they ended up seeing that it was saving them money on award redemptions, so they kept it. Well, not anymore.

LifeMiles mixed cabin awards now possible

LifeMiles now lets you book mixed cabin awards, either through their website or call center (not that I’d ever recommend booking a LifeMiles award through the airline’s call center).

For example, you can now book an award in Lufthansa first class from the US to Europe, and then a connection in intra-Europe business class on the same award.

LifeMiles-Mixed-Cabin-1

Lufthansa-First-Class-747 - 1
Lufthansa first class cabin

Similarly, you can book an Asiana first class transpacific flight, and then include a connection in economy because there’s not a first class cabin on the plane and isn’t any business class award availability either.

LifeMiles-Mixed-Cabin-2

Asiana-A380-First-Class-001
Asiana first class cabin

There’s even a special disclaimer when you book a mixed cabin award, where they make you acknowledge that you’re agreeing to pay the cost for the highest cabin you’re flying:

Your selection includes mixed cabins, meaning combining segments in economy, business and first class. The mileage needed for the whole award ticket corresponds to the mileage for the highest cabin. Reimbursements and date changes are subject to an administrative charge. Date changes are subject to availability. If there is no availability on the redeemed cabin on the desired date, if the member chooses to do so, cabin changes are allowed if at least one segment of each Origin/Destination is on the highest cabin. Change in cabins (even to an inferior cabin) will not result in a redeposit of the redeemed miles. Terms and conditions apply to the redemption of award tickets in mixed cabins, which can be found in the Terms and Conditions of the LifeMiles Program.

If you agree press continue.

LifeMiles-Mixed-Cabin

Why would LifeMiles make this change now?

This change isn’t just interesting because it’s good news for those looking to redeem LifeMiles, but also for what it says about the program.

A bit over a year ago, LifeMiles increased the cost per purchased mile and also devalued their award chart. Prior to that they would consistently offer a 100% bonus on purchased miles, and it seemed to be well received. While the devaluation wasn’t too extreme, it seems it may have been a bit more than consumers were okay with, between the decrease in the value of miles and increase in cost of purchasing them. At least it seems that way based on how LifeMiles has acted since:

  • Since the devaluation, LifeMiles has consistently been increasing the percentage bonus when they have a promotion on purchased miles, all the way up to 150%
  • The airline unblocked Lufthansa first class redemptions, knowing that this was something a lot of people valued for award redemptions
  • A couple of months ago LifeMiles announced a minor devaluation, though only for travel on Avianca flights, and not for travel on partners
  • Now the airline allows mixed cabin awards, which was probably the single biggest hang-up with the program

So while we assume airlines are always in the driver’s seat when it comes to award chart devaluations and mileage pricing, this is a clear indication that our response was heard by them, and they’re making changes in response. Because they want more of us to buy miles.

Bottom line

LifeMiles not allowing mixed cabin awards was my single biggest complaint about the program, given that it made certain types of awards impossible. If you wanted to book a first class award to anywhere but a hub city, you typically had to book two awards, since there wasn’t a first class cabin on the connecting flight.

Kudos to LifeMiles for finally making this positive change. Now I’ll be much more likely to buy LifeMiles the next time they have a promotion. And I’d argue this move singlehandedly increases the value of their miles by 10-20%.

How much do you care about LifeMiles allowing mixed cabin award tickets?

(Tip of the hat to Hristo)

Comments

  1. Ben
    I found a availability ZRH-FRA(LX J)MIA(LH F).
    You know if I’ll be allow to use Swiss F lounge at ZRH?
    Cheers

  2. @ Lucky — am I reading the disclaimer correctly that we would also be able to change cabins for free in certain circumstances, e.g. if initially booked UA Y & NH J or F, would be able to get UA J if there’s availability in the future?

  3. @Phil doublecheck that again, I Gas in mind that Zurich has that ridicolous rule that only passengers in s Swiss flight can get into their first class loungen but I am not sure

  4. Hi Lucky – I just found some availability on JFK-NRT-HKG, with the first segment on ANA F and the second segment on Ethiopian Y (an interesting fifth freedom route indeed!). Do you know if I would be able to use the lounge at NRT?

  5. Makes a huge difference for me. UA flies mostly regional jets to my home airport so there’s rarely any F space available to get to a hub. Have thought about buying Life Miles in the past but it never seemed worth it. This changes that!

  6. This is good, but what I’ve realized they haven’t changed the search system. Essentially this translates to their slow system taking longer to search the flights you want because it shows more flights suddenly.

    For instance, FRA – SIN on LH F, you could search a straight shoot F seat, either it’s there or not. Now it shows a few economy connections, and then a F route (as an example) from MUN instead, even though it’s not what you want.

    But still, they are almost there, so this is nice!

  7. Now they have the same annoying issue as Aeroplan. Showing business class availability for YVR-FRA, but when you check details you see YVR-LHR in economy and LHR-FRA in “business”. All for business class miles.

  8. Finally! Being based in MEL (whereto TG doesn’t offer an F cabin) this is amazing news!

    Lucky, any suggestions how to best change an existing MEL-BKK-FRA J award to get the BKK-FRA leg in F? There’s availability on the date I need. Thanks!

  9. @ Sebastian — Unfortunately you’d need to redeposit the award and rebook. Not a way to just make the change as such with LifeMiles, as far as I know.

  10. @echino~ this tactic is an (annoying) tactic of Alaska MileagePlan awards, and also Qantas. They show the tiniest sector in Business and the largest sector in Economy/coach, pricing it Business all the way! They actually go out of there way to do this, hoping beginners won’t notice, until they get shown to the back of the plane on D -Day, when it’s too late! It is deceitful behavior and no doubt creates a great deal of ill-will towards those 2 airlines. I believe just one newish senior employee in awards now with Alaska is largely responsible.

  11. The problem still remains though the Lifemiles seem to block most of SQ and LH business flights out of Asian cities, and SQ out of Australia. Lucky, do you why this is?

    PS thanks for a great website

  12. But you can use miles to book first class in one direction and economy in the other. Has always been like this?

  13. Ben, big fan of your blog! Been a relatively silent observer for years.

    Need some advice from you.
    I’ve booked a dream trip to sfo from sin, and made the grave mistake of booking a return trip on lifemiles instead of two single trips.

    Now, I want to change my inbound from ua F + nh J to nh F (availability came up!), but I constantly get transferred back and forth by the lifemiles agents, who claim that the flight I want to change to has no availability even though their website shows space.

    Could you advise if 1, it’s possible for me to purely cancel the return leg and get my miles refunded? Or 2, book the return with the remaining miles I have, and somehow cancel the flight after I’ve taken the outbound and get the miles refunded. Or am I stuck with the current itinerary I’m on?

    Thanks Ben!

  14. OK, so my issue here is the way Lifemiles defaults the booking class. For example, I can get SYD-HND in J and NRT-JFK in F in a single search function, but when I run a search from SYD-HND//NRT-JFK (sample date 03MAR16) it defaults the SYD-HND to coach class. Short of calling the Lifemiles service centre does anyone have a workaround for this online?

  15. Sorry, I just don’t get it.

    For instance, if I book Gua-Lhr via Houston, the transatlantic section is now always in economy and the short sections in business, so I’m being severely penalised. So there goes the flat beds…..I call it a scam…..

  16. I’m not finding any more Lufthansa First Class availability on LifeMiles.com; mixed cabin or otherwise.

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