Avianca’s LifeMiles program frequently offers substantial bonuses on purchased miles. Well, they’re at it again, just in time for Black Friday. As One Mile At at Time reported earlier, LifeMiles currently has a “Cyber Week Special”, offering a 145% bonus on purchased miles, though November 27th. This is potentially a very good deal if you need to purchase miles. Especially since this bonus requires a very minimal minimum purchase!
Details of the Promotion
LifeMiles normally sells miles for 3.3 cents per point – not a very good rate at all. While LifeMiles runs frequent promotions, you usually must purchase more than 100k miles to receive the lowest rate. Not with this promotion, though. Even the minimum purchase of 1,000 miles earns the full bonus here.
That brings the cost down to 1.35 cents per mile for any size purchase. LifeMiles allows a maximum purchase of 200,000 miles per year. So in theory, you can buy up to 490,000 miles (after the bonus) for $6,600.00. Though I don’t suggest buying that many, this promotion IS a decent deal as I detail below.
The Advantages of LifeMiles
The LifeMiles award chart offers some fair Star Alliance partner redemptions, competitive with what United MileagePlus offers. You can see the entire chart here (be warned, it is a bit of a mess). I won’t go through all the possibilities, but some useful options are the US to Europe and Asia. The mainland US to most of Europe costs 63,000 LifeMiles for Business Class. Compare this to 70,000 MileagePlus miles for the same award. Likewise, US to Japan (North Asia) runs 75,000 miles, but 80,000 MileagePlus miles. (This assumes you want to redeem on a non-United Star Alliance partner. United charges fewer miles to fly on United Metal.)
Furthermore, there are a handful of redemption sweet spots. The program offers coach awards within the same US zone for just 7,500 miles. So, for example, you can fly from Dallas to Miami for that price. That’s a savings of up to 5,000 miles over MileagePlus. Also, the US East Coast to London or Dublin prices at 60,000 miles. LifeMiles also doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges, which can result in large savings depending on your routing.
So how does this make the promotion a potentially good deal? Using the US to Europe award as an example, you only need to purchase 26,000 miles for the award.
Essentially, you’re buying a one-way Business Class ticket for $858. That’s a pretty good price in my opinion. Now, LifeMiles recently became a transfer partner for Citi Thank You. Or, you can transfer points from another program to a different Star Alliance program. So why not just transfer the points for free? Well, depending on how you value credit card points, it may still make more economic sense to purchase the miles under this promotion. For example, let’s say you value Thank You points at 1.5 cents each. 63,000 points provide a value of $945, so it’s marginally cheaper to buy the LifeMiles outright. Or maybe you just don’t have the points, and need to book an award ticket now.
In addition, LifeMiles does offer some interest mixed cabin redemptions at a discount. For example, take a look at this sample itinerary from Frankfurt to Dallas.
LifeMiles apparently has an automated proration system if short-haul legs only book into a lower class. The Frankfurt-London and Toronto-Dallas legs book into coach, but the London-Toronto long-haul books into Business. For accepting coach on the two short-hauls, you get a discount of 12,130 miles. Under the promotion, you can buy this award for 21,000 LifeMiles for $693. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
Finally, LifeMiles processes purchases directly, and not through Points.com. Therefore, you do have a possible double dip opportunity if you have a credit card that awards bonus points for airline purchases.
The Disadvantages of LifeMiles
Really, there’s one primary issue with LifeMiles, though it is a doozy. Namely, LifeMiles significantly restricts partner award availability. As an example, I pulled up availability from Amsterdam to Dallas on August 13th. United offers multiple pages of flight options at the coach saver rate of 30,000 miles. (Only 3 fit on my screen ,but the search returned more than 30 options.)
LifeMiles, though? Bupkis.
In a sense, you get what you pay for. I definitely don’t recommend buying miles unless you already have a specific use in mind. Or your plans are flexible enough that you don’t mind spending most of the long weekend looking for workable routings.
I’m generally not a fan of buying miles, but this promotion does make sense under some circumstances. If you’re spending Thanksgiving on the couch trolling for Star Alliance award redemptions, but don’t have the miles or points on hand, you can pick up some premium cabin awards for a reasonable price. Just be prepared to spend some time looking due to limited award availability.
Photo of Avianca Airbus A320: “Avianca” by BrlYYZ, via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).