Avianca’s frequent flyer program LifeMiles is offering a 125% bonus on miles purchased until 20 December, with the bonus in effect from just 1,000 miles.
This deal is not quite as good as their November offer, where we saw a 145% bonus.
Though with United’s MileagePlus devaluing their award chart earlier this month, LifeMiles has become an attractive alternative for premium travel on Star Alliance airlines, on some routes.
Why this guide is useful
LifeMiles is a primary way to get hold of Star Alliance Business and First Class award space, however, using the program comes with a range of gotchas to be aware of.
In this guide, we cover the tips and tricks to buying miles, researching award availability and how you can use the current bonus promotion to score cheap Business and First Class flights on the likes of Air New Zealand, Thai Airways, and Air China.
This guide is a beast! LifeMiles is for the more advanced points buyer who has some understanding of how to search for award seats with different airlines, and knows when they should and shouldn’t buy miles, and how willing they are to buy and hold miles to redeem in future.
Michael Kao, one of the Point Hacks Community’s longest standing members, is very familiar with the ins and outs of the LifeMiles program, and contributed to this article.
Current offer details
- Current offer: 125% bonus for purchases from 101,000 miles (tiered)
- Best value redemptions: cheap Star Alliance Business and First Class flight awards to North Asia with simple routings and minimal connections, plus no fuel surcharges
- Book awards online or phone: online is recommended ($25 USD redemption fee) over phone ($85 USD)
To take advantage of this promotion, you need to buy miles by 20 December (US time).
You can buy a maximum of 450,000 miles (including the bonus) for $6,600 USD at a cost of ~1.47 USD cents per mile.
You must already have a LifeMiles account to take advantage of this promotion. If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for a LifeMiles account here so you can be ready for the next one.
- November 2017 (current offer): 1.47 US cents
- November 2017: 1.35 US cents
- May 2017: 1.47 US cents
- February 2017: 1.47 US cents
- December 2016: 1.47 US cents
- November 2016: 1.375 US cents
- September 2016: 1.43 US cents (first half of month), then decreased to 1.375 US cents (second half of month)
- May 2016: 1.47 US cents
- November 2015: 1.40 US cents
- September 2015: 1.40 US cents
Sweet spots for New Zealand in the LifeMiles award chart
The best value redemption for Kiwis is North Asia (places such as Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Taipei and Hong Kong), for which you only need 50,000 miles one-way for Business Class or 62,000 miles for First Class.
For some reason, South Asia is priced dearer than North Asia for First Class at 75,000 miles one-way, however, Business Class is the same at 50,000.
Advantages of LifeMiles
LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca, the national airline of Colombia based in Bogotá. Most of us have likely never flown this airline and will be unlikely to fly it in the foreseeable future.
So, what relevance does it apply to us in New Zealand? Here is why it is one of the favourite programs in the frequent flyers community:
- It is a member of Star Alliance, therefore you can use LifeMiles to redeem on reputable airlines such as our own Air NZ (conditional on award availability) Thai Airways, Air China, ANA, Lufthansa and United (just kidding)
- Their redemption rates are fairly reasonable, comparable to many US programs
- They do not impose fuel surcharges on award tickets, which can save you hundreds compared with many better-known programs in New Zealand such as Qantas Frequent Flyer and KrisFlyer (more on that later). You’ll usually pay under $100 (except when departing from the UK, where it costs around $300)
- You can redeem awards online, making it simple to book awards (with some caveats)
- It allows one-way redemptions at half the price of return awards, giving you more flexibility
- It offers a miles and money option, meaning you only need 40% of the miles needed for the award and can pay the other 60% in cash
Redemption opportunities for travellers in New Zealand
The Star Alliance airlines that service New Zealand are:
- Air China
- Air New Zealand
- Singapore Airlines
- Thai Airways
Of this list, only Air New Zealand and Singapore (Wellington) service New Zealand cities other than Auckland, however both Air NZ and Singapore Airlines are notoriously tight at releasing their premium cabins as awards to their partners for flights to and from New Zealand.
The Star alliance partners that provide the most regular award availability are Thai Airways and Air China, who both fly out of Auckland, with Air China being the only option of the two to offer more than two business award seats per flight.
While this makes redemption options for direct award flights out of NZ difficult, fortunately two destinations Air NZ do release regular business award availability are to Sydney and Brisbane which will open up connection options to the same carriers plus many more Star Alliance airlines servicing Australia, inclusive of Air Canada, ANA, & Asiana.
Of these, Thai and Asiana are the most generous with their award seats in First and Business Class seats. So if you book early enough, you can pretty much book on any day you want, and often with multiple passengers.
Generally for Thai Airways, availability from New Zealand & Australia to Asia and Europe is wide open. If looking for first class you can usually connect through to Sydney and redeem First Class from Sydney to Tokyo, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich and Rome.
Asiana from Sydney is also fairly accessible for availability to its hub in Seoul and onto the US. You can fly in Business Class all the way to the US for 80,000 miles one-way. You can arrive into Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or New York, all usually with good availability.
If you are willing to position yourself from Auckland to a more frequented Star Alliance hub such as Bangkok (Thai) Tokyo (Air NZ) or Beijing (Air China) your opportunities to various destinations will open up widely.
Limitations of LifeMiles
According to Michael:
LifeMiles is a strange beast. I have a love and hate relationship with it. In some ways, it is great for cheap luxury travel, but at the same time, its limitations can really make you go mad.
Its biggest limitation is its routing rules of no longer than eight-hour layovers, although the previous rule of not allowing mixed cabin redemptions has now been lifted, making it much easier to join together a Business and a First Class flight as you need.
One other issue is that while New Zealand is home to Air New Zealand, a major Star Alliance airline, they are shocking with releasing award availability to their partners, including LifeMiles.
On top of that, LifeMiles’s website is very temperamental, and sometimes it just crashes without reason.
Also, LifeMiles will not book any awards that cannot be booked online with their search engine. If you cannot see it on their website, even though it can be seen on the United or ANA website, LifeMiles will not book it for you.
Finally, for any booking cancellations or changes, you will need to be deal with the LifeMiles infamous customer service. Refunds can take anywhere up to seven days, and being South American there can be language barriers all round.
Take all that into account before jumping in.
Share miles promotions
LifeMiles also runs 100% bonuses on shared miles a couple of times a year. The regular cost of sharing miles is 15 USD per 1000 miles.
Normally you shouldn’t do it; the value just isn’t there. But during a promotion, you can share miles and earn the bonus, effectively ‘buy’ miles at 1.5 cents each.
- if you transfer 10,000 miles to someone else, they will receive 20,000 miles in their account at a cost of $150 to transfer
- You can transfer back the 20,000 miles to your account and get 40,000 miles by paying another $300
- You earn another 30,000 miles in the process for a cost of $450 in total, i.e. 1.5 cents per mile
The maximum amount of miles you can transfer is 75,000 per year (meaning you can get 150,000 with the bonus), but these miles do not count towards the 150,000 limit on purchased miles, so effectively you could buy 150,000 miles and share them, creating a total of 300,000.
To share miles, the accounts don’t have to be pre-existing. So you can create as many accounts as you like and keep on transferring, but that’s not recommended as there is no point of keeping hundreds of thousands of miles without any specific use in mind.
How to search availability and make a booking
You can easily search award availability on the LifeMiles website.
- Log into your account
- Then click on Enjoy > Air Ticket, and it will direct you to the search engine page where you can input dates and routings
- If there is a flight available on the date you picked, it will show you which flight/s are available. Click the one that you want
- If no flights are available on the date you want, it will show you three days before and after your selected date and other classes. You can see if there are other flights on other dates and classes if you are flexible
- Alternatively, you can look up award availability on a monthly calendar on the United website. Whatever is available to United as a saver award should be available to LifeMiles
- At the bottom of the same page, you will see the option of ‘Flexible Payment’. This is the miles and cash option mentioned above. You can keep on clicking on ‘More Money’ and you will see that the more you click on it, the fewer miles you will need for the redemption but the more cash will be required
- After you have decided on the amount of miles and cash you want to pay, click Continue and it will show you the taxes and fees needed, plus the cash component you chose to pay. You can still change the amount of cash and miles on this page
- If you are happy, click Continue, and it will take you to input the passenger’s information
- Once finished, click Continue and it will take you to payment page where you put in your credit card detail and submit payment, and your e-ticket will be emailed to you within 48 hours
Double-check your credit card details are correct before you submit the payment, and make sure you have contacted your credit card company that you are making a purchase in Colombia. If the credit card gets declined, your reservation will remain in the system for three days until it is ticketed, or will return to the award inventory if not ticketed.
LifeMiles award changes and cancellations
All bookings can be changed or cancelled up to 24 hours prior to departure.
To change or cancel an award ticket, you need to call LifeMiles customer service. As there is no office in New Zealand or Australia, we recommend calling the US one on +1 800 284 2622.
To change an award ticket, there is a fee of 150 USD and the origin and destination must be the exact same airports. So, for example, if your destination is Tokyo Narita, you can’t change it to Tokyo Haneda.
In February 2017, LifeMiles increased the cancellation and redeposit miles charge for travel between two regions to $200 USD but kept the fee for travel within a region at $50 USD.
If you do want to follow up on a refund, the Bogotá office is the best to call on +57 1 401 3434.
Overall, Lifemiles represents a cheap option for Star Alliance redemptions. Alongside United’s MileagePlus, LifeMiles is one of the two primary options for miles purchases within Star Alliance.
There are many tricks and gotchas with LifeMiles, however due to its lack of fuel surcharges and cheap miles while on sale, there are bargains to be had as long as you are aware of its limitations.
Michael sums up as follows:
It is most useful for simple itinerary with minimal connections. It’s not the sole frequent flyer program I use, but I use it to integrate with others to help planning my itinerary.