Best Ways to Use Avianca LifeMiles – Our Top 5
Avianca LifeMiles are one of my favorite loyalty currencies. Maybe I need to qualify that statement a bit, as I have had some very frustrating experiences with the program. But on the whole, there are solid reasons why I keep coming back to LifeMiles as a fantastic option for award travel. They have an attractive award chart with some great sweet spots, and I’ve personally booked trips using a few of the best ways to use Avianca LifeMiles.
The best part is that their awards never include fuel surcharges. Even though many Star Alliance airlines levy fuel surcharges, Avianca LifeMiles does not pass these on. This is one reason I love the program so much, as I hate paying anything but taxes for an award ticket. And with the Avianca Vuela Visa having an increased 60,000 miles offer with code SB4060 (Learn More) I thought it was the perfect time to share the best redemptions out there.
Earning Avianca LifeMiles
There are a number of ways to earn Avianca LifeMiles. The program is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou. Both transfer at 1:1 rates in increments of 1,000, and the transfer time is instant, unlike a number of partners. You can occasionally catch a transfer bonus as well.
You could also pick up the Avianca Vuela Visa card, issued by Banco Popular. The card is currently still offering an elevated welcome offer of 60,000 miles through September 30, 2019 using code SB4060. Mark just picked up the card and is itching to use the bonus miles. You do have to pay the $149 annual fee, but 60,000 LifeMiles are well worth that cost, considering what you can do with them. If the fee is too much, you can opt for the Avianca Vida Visa card with a $59 fee, but you’ll receive fewer miles. (Learn More)
If you’re into booking premium cabins and have the cash, LifeMiles are often on sale. You can sometimes book one-way business for ~$800 out of pocket, and first class for ~$1,200 by buying miles. Not cheap, but much better than paying cash for revenue tickets.
Now let’s take a look at five of the best ways to use Avianca LifeMiles.
Lufthansa First Class: The Best Way to Use Avianca LifeMiles
There are precious few options for flying first class between the U.S. and Europe, and even fewer where you don’t have to pay obscene fuel surcharges on your award ticket. Avianca LifeMiles are not only an excellent option for booking Lufthansa First Class in terms of the number of miles, but they also never pass on high fuel surcharges levied by the German flag carrier.
A nonstop ticket between a U.S. gateway and either Lufthansa’s Frankfurt or Munich hubs in First will run you 87,000 LifeMiles. United charges 110,000 miles, and they are the only other way to book without high surcharges. Here is a sample nonstop between Detroit and Frankfurt in Lufthansa First.
Remember that Lufthansa doesn’t release any seats to partners until 15 days from departure. If you want to fly it, you’ll need to book last-minute. Also, adding on connecting segments will likely bring the price down, as LifeMiles uses a weighted average (of sorts) to calculate the award price. You can really use this to your advantage.
ANA First Class to Asia
Just like first class award to Europe, first class awards to Asia are another excellent use of Avianca LifeMiles. Asiana is unfortunately discontinuing their first class product, but you can still fly both Air China or ANA first using LifeMiles, as both are Star Alliance partners. Between these two, I’d opt for ANA, as everything I hear about their product is amazing.
LifeMiles charges 90,000 miles to fly in first between the U.S. and North or South Asia, and 111,000 miles if you want to connect to Central Asia or “Others” (i.e. Oceania). ANA first space can be hard to snag, but you can often find something that works if you’re flexible.
As I mentioned, Avianca LifeMiles uses a weighted average of the flight distances to calculate the award price, and this can really work in your favor. As an example, I have a ticket booked flying ANA first class from Tokyo to Houston, with an economy leg on United from Houston to San Jose. Sure, it’s a bit lame to connect to United economy from ANA first. But this reduced the cost of the award to ~82,000 LifeMiles. I’ll save miles by flying longer.
If the cost was the same, I might have gone with the ticket straight to SFO. But the Houston option also offers more time in ANA first class.
Business Class to Europe or Asia
If a close-in trip on Lufthansa First is too stressful to plan, you can fly business class on any of the Star Alliance carriers that fly across the pond for 63,000 miles. Partners include United, Lufthansa, Austrian, SWISS, Brussels, LOT, SAS and Turkish Airlines.
The price isn’t quite as good as the best options for booking business class between the U.S. and Europe, but the lack of fuel surcharges makes them an excellent option. For some itineraries, Aeroplan or ANA (if round-trip) will be a better choice. But not if you’re flying Lufthansa or Austrian. I’d rather spend a few more miles and dodge $100s in fees.
Again, you can also reduce the cost of an award by adding economy segments on either end. I find that LifeMiles business awards more often ring in around 58,000-60,000 miles, depending on the length of the connecting flights.
The only frustration with booking these awards is that the Lifemiles site often shows poorer availability than what you can find at united.com or aeroplan.com. You can try calling LifeMiles, but don’t expect much help.
Domestic Short-Haul Economy Awards
This might be my favorite way to use LifeMiles, although the new Turkish domestic economy (and amazing business awards) have dethroned them as my go-to currency. Avianca used to have a published award chart that broke the U.S. into three region. Intra-region economy flights were priced at only 7,500 miles one-way, an excellent savings. These can even include connections!
However, the pricing has changed a bit. Avianca has moved away from an official award chart for U.S. domestic awards, choosing instead to offer pricing by route. In general, prices are similar. Some are even cheaper, and the longer cross-country awards are a bit more expensive.
But many of the intra-region itineraries still price at 7,500 miles. Here is an example flying from Fresno to Colorado Springs:
You will have to pay the nonrefundable award booking fee of $25 per ticket (whether one-way or round-trip), so take that into consideration when deciding whether LifeMiles are a good option for domestic awards.
Discounted Economy Awards to Central America
This actually leverages a benefit from holding the Avianca Vuela Visa card. If you spend $12,000 on the Avianca Vuela card, you can earn a 50% discount certificate for booking an award between the United States and either Central America or Colombia. If you spend $24,000 on the card in a year, you can earn a second 50% discount code. These codes have an expiration one year after they are issued. (Learn More)
The normal award prices are 18,000/35,000 miles for awards to Central America in economy/business. Awards to Colombia, the other option, run 20,000/40,000 miles each way. The 50% discount can be applied to either cabin, so scoring round-trip business class to Colombia for just 40,000 LifeMiles total (including a 40,000-mile discount) provides the greatest potential return.
The value here didn’t hit me until very recently. As you can book award travel to Colombia, you could actually use this 50% discount code for Avianca’s long-haul business class between either Los Angeles or New York to their Bogota hub. Their 787 business class product is definitely superior to what is installed on their A330s.
You are restricted to flights on Avianca (and all their sub-airlines operating as Avianca), however. Their network throughout Central America is excellent, however, providing you many options for redemption. This should be obvious, but you cannot use more than one 50% discount code per ticket.
If you’re based in the United States, these are hands-down the best ways to use Avianca LifeMiles. I’m a fan of short-haul awards on United, but I have to admit that the premium cabin redemption options are also excellent. I dropped my Avianca Vuela Visa card over a year ago, but I am beginning to regret it now, given the potential value for awards to Central America and Colombia. (Learn More)
Let us know if you use your LifeMiles to book any of these amazing awards!