You’ve no doubt heard about the unfortunate end of the Chase Ultimate Rewards – Korean Air partnership. After much consideration, I pulled the trigger on transfer and redemption for next July just under the wire. Getting home was another decision altogether, though. I didn’t have enough UR points for a round-trip. And while I preferred to use some leftover AAdvantage miles, they make saver availability ridiculously tight. Through the end of schedule, I found a grand total of TWO saver awards, both in coach.
The recent United 100% bonus on purchased miles gave me some inspiration, though. ANA showed wide-open availability from Tokyo to LA at the same time. And better yet, you can book ANA awards on Avianca LifeMiles. First Class from Japan to LA costs 90,000 miles, a pretty good deal. There was a problem, though. Despite availability showing online, my attempt at booking returned an error. I’ve read horror stories about calling LifeMiles, so I dreaded the process. Turns out that, while not flawless, it wasn’t that bad at all.
Transferring Points from Citi Thank You
Citi added LifeMiles as a transfer partner some time ago, and I had enough miles to cover the cost. However, LifeMiles offers an interesting (and potentially valuable) alternative option. You can partially pay for an award with points, and then purchase the remainder for 1.5 cents per mile. In my case, I barely had the points to cover the full cost, so keeping some in reserve made sense to me. I’d also consider 1.5 cents a reasonable valuation for Thank You points, so in that sense, “buying” 45,000 additional points for that price seems fair. I ended up transferring 45,000 points to LifeMiles, which processed instantly. Not like my Flying Blue misadventure several months earlier…
Problems Trying to Book Online
LifeMiles’ website showed availability for both ANA flights on the day I wanted, as did United’s. (Though the first flight now shows one seat, it displayed two when I started the process.)
During the brief time a few months ago that Lufthansa First Class space appeared wide-open to partner programs, I had no issues booking and confirming a seat instantly. Unfortunately, this time, I received a “your transaction cannot be processed” error. I tried again, with no luck. Then, I tried the second flight, still with no luck. I thought this might be a case of phantom award availability, a known issue with LifeMiles. But ANA showed the exact same availability on these flights.
And so, I had no choice but to try my luck with the call center the next day…
The LifeMiles Call Center Was…Surprisingly Competent
My first pleasant surprise with the US 1-800 number? No wait to speak to an agent. I long ago perfected the art of multitasking on speakerphone when dealing with domestic airline call centers. So imagine my surprise when I reached an agent immediately. He quickly determined that the issue was related to the payment not processing properly. I never received a clear answer on this, but I suspect it’s related to using the “LifeMiles+ Money” option. Anyway, he then processed the redemption manually, and said the payment desk would call within 24 hours to take my payment details. The call took less than 5 minutes.
One issue – you’ll most likely receive a confirmation in Spanish. I can read a little, though even if you don’t, it’s not hard to figure out the important parts.
This is where the process broke down a little. In short, the payment desk never actually called, either Friday or Saturday. Instead, as I headed to bed, I received another e-mail advising to call by 11 am Sunday. So, back to the phones again the next morning. Once again, no wait, and after verifying my information, I was transferred to the payment desk within a couple of minutes. They took my credit card number, and completed the transaction with no issues. The entire call took less than 10 minutes.
So, the entire experience involved maybe 15 minutes on the phone, with friendly, competent employees all throughout. They did fail to call back, but did at least send me an e-mail reminder. Not bad at all. One problem – LifeMiles will charge you a $25 phone booking fee, even when the website errors out. That’s annoying, but frankly, I didn’t feel like wasting time to argue about it. 45,000 Thank You points, $700 for the balance, and another $43 in taxes & fees was a good enough deal for me to fly home First Class.
Perhaps I got lucky, but I dealt with far less aggravation with LifeMiles than I expected. Despite the horror stories, I connected with pleasant, competent agent both times, with no hold times. LifeMiles offers some good values with their award chart, so don’t be scared away by potential website bugs.
Photo of ANA Boeing 777: “Boeing 777-200 ANA” by Bill Abbott, via Flickr Creative Commons, license Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).