Use 2 Tickets Not 1 To Save Miles On The Avianca LifeMiles Award Chart
Avianca’s LifeMiles program has some quirks, but you can really maximize your redemptions and save miles on the LifeMiles award chart by booking your flights separately. Instead of 1 ticket all the way to your destination, book them in separate pieces. Why? Is this always a good idea? How does it work? Let’s look at this way to save ourselves some miles.
Avianca LifeMiles Award Chart
There used to be an Avianca LifeMiles award chart. It listed prices from point A to point B. Unfortunately, it’s gone away as numerous airlines move to more dynamic pricing on award bookings. However, Nick at Frequent Miler has a great write-up on the secret award chart and what you can expect to pay for award bookings.
Remember that Avianca never adds carrier-imposed fees to award bookings, which further increases the value of their miles. As Ian mentioned in his post about great LifeMiles redemptions, LifeMiles uses a weighted formula of flight distances to calculate the award price, so flying further can sometimes reduce the number of miles you need. Why? Adding an economy flight at the beginning or end of the trip reduces the overall weight of the award ticket, reducing the miles required. But none of that matters if Avianca can’t find the ticket you want OR if the miles it requests seem absurd. Also, that math sometimes works against you when booking a ticket that includes a layover / connecting flight.
2 Tickets, Not 1, For The Win
What if I make 2 separate bookings for my flights, instead of 1 ticket? Sounds absurd, right? Not when I’ll get the flights I want and spend less miles doing so. Here are 2 scenarios I’m actually booking where this idea came to me and worked in my favor. I’ll arrive faster, on the flights I want, and spend less.
Avianca Flights to Ecuador
Once travel is possible again, we want to visit Ecuador. When I looked at flights from São Paulo, routes were horrible. 14 hours’ layover in Lima, Peru. 9 hours’ layover in Bogota, Colombia. I started first by looking up the flights from São Paulo to Lima or Bogota. The flight from GRU to BOG is the only route in South America where Avianca uses their A330 with seats that lie nearly flat. Everything else is on the A320 and is more like what you’d see on domestic business class flights within the U.S. This became the starting point.
For 37,000 LifeMiles, I can book this flight. However, when I try to book the full route GRU-BOG-UIO to connect from São Paulo to Bogota to Quito, strange things happen.
I need another 31,000 LifeMiles to add the 2nd flight. That flight is only 1:40. There’s no way I’m shelling out 31,000 miles for less than 2 hours.
If I try for routes on the A320 via Lima, thinking this is less desirable, I need even more miles! 98,500 miles? I can do better.
Book With Avianca + United
I started looking at breaking up the flights. I used United and booked economy flights for that last leg.
Using my United miles, I have multiple direct flights to choose from. Each costs only 9,000 miles.
Total Savings: 22,000 miles per person
United Polaris To the U.S. For Thanksgiving
Assuming travel is possible, my wife and I want to go to the U.S. for Thanksgiving. Given that we have a lot of LifeMiles, this is a great chance to fly on United Polaris. Ian flew Polaris, and his review put this on my list of cabins to check out. From São Paulo, United flies Polaris business cabins to Newark EWR and Washington, D.C. Dulles IAD airports. Problem is, Avianca LifeMiles can’t find any business class seats for those flights.
Again, what if I take off the 2nd flight? Can I find exactly what I want? Yup.
Because this is Thanksgiving time, flights are 60,000 miles per person. I found other dates for 50,000 miles for the direct flight on United Polaris from São Paulo to Washington, D.C. When searching for the whole route, no Polaris routes are found or only economy availability.
Add United Booking
To stick with United, I can use United’s own program to add my 2nd flight. Avianca wanted 20,000 miles for the domestic flight in United economy. United wants only 12,500 miles (even less if not at Thanksgiving time).
By making separate bookings, I was able to find exactly the flights I wanted. Adding flights from the same carrier but booked separately through different programs, I saved miles.
Total Savings: 7,500 miles per person
It Doesn’t Always Work
Other times, the Avianca LifeMiles chart will give you better pricing with a combined ticket. It’s not a guarantee that this works on all routes, but the point is that this can help you find better options and save miles by looking at other bookings. When available, Avianca offers an option to choose which flights you want in economy and which flights you want in business class. This is another way to save on miles by taking the shorter flights in 1 cabin and the longer flights in a nicer cabin, for example. I found I could save miles on flights from California to Japan but not to Taiwan or Thailand. I could save miles from Newark EWR to some cities in Europe but not others.
When Is This A Good Idea?
There are several times when making separate bookings can be a great idea:
- Saving lots of miles
- No checked baggage
- Connecting into a country like the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, etc. where you will have to claim your bags anyway, so connecting to a new ticket isn’t an issue
- You have a long layover
When Is This A Bad Idea?
I will be honest that there are times when you shouldn’t do this. Airlines are not required to cooperate with you by linking your tickets together. You might get a nice employee at check-in for your first flight. Maybe that person will check your bags all the way to your final destination. However, it’s not required. Also, if you miss the 2nd flight during delays from the first flight, the airline has no responsibility to help you if they’re on separate tickets. Here are times when separate tickets can be a bad idea:
- Short layover and a risk of missing your next flight by retrieving your bags
- Traveling with a large family or big group, because the odds of delays will multiply
- Visa issues (ex: if you have a connection in a country like Russia where you need a visa, but you don’t have a visa, don’t try to go out to claim bags on that connection)
- You don’t have permission to stay in the country where ticket #1 ends (again, if you need a visa, expect problems checking in)
Also, there can be times where you just don’t want to deal with this on your layover. If you have checked bags and need to retrieve them to do a new check-in during your layover, it can be a hassle. Maybe you just want to go sit down.
Final Thoughts on Maximizing The LifeMiles Award Chart
This isn’t for everyone, but it can work in your favor at times. I find that the Avianca LifeMiles award chart and award booking system have a lot of quirks. The “smart search” on the LifeMiles site is anything but smart sometimes. There are times when making 2 separate bookings can save you time, miles, or both. It might help you get exactly the flights you want, rather than just taking what it gives you. However, there are times when this type of ticketing can be more hassle than it’s worth. That’s up to you to decide, but this might help you save miles on your award bookings.