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Citi’s latest transfer partner, Avianca LifeMiles, hails from Bogota, Columbia. Part of the largest global airline alliance, LifeMiles is one of just three Star Alliance programs that doesn’t pass on carrier-imposed (fuel) surcharges, both on Avianca or partner awards.
With the addition of ThankYou Rewards as a transfer partner, you can now collect Avianca miles on co-brand credit cards, transfer points from Citi’s ThankYou Rewards branded cards, transfer from Marriott, or collect miles via one of Avianca's regular points buying promos.
With the relative ease of obtaining miles and the lack of carrier-imposed charges, the Avianca loyalty program is relatively appealing.
Best Ways to Earn Avianca LifeMiles
You can earn LifeMiles through flying Avianca or crediting paid partner flights to LifeMiles, or credit miles from hotel stays at Hilton, IHG, Marriott, and Best Western. But if you want to build a substantial balance of LifeMiles you’ll need to look at one or more of the following options.
Co-Brand Avianca LifeMiles Credit Cards
Puerto Rico’s Banco Popular released two Avianca co-brand credit cards late in 2016 which are the only Avianca co-brand cards available to U.S. residents.
- Avianca Vuela Visa® Card: $149 Annual Fee – Earn 40,000 Bonus LifeMiles after first card use
- Avianca Vida Visa® Card: $59 Annual Fee – Earn 20,000 Bonus LifeMiles after first card use
Bagging 40K miles after a single purchase is a nice signup bonus, but from all accounts, Banco Popular is picky about who they approve for the cards, with reports of credit scores over 800 being denied without reason. Digging through the card T&C’s we stumbled on this excerpt which may explain some of the denials.
“Only one Avianca credit card per customer. Must have earned LifeMiles from flying Avianca Airlines or an airline included in the Avianca partner network or have been a previous LifeMiles credit cardholder to apply.”
Transfer Points from Flexible Rewards Programs
You can transfer points from Marriott Rewards to Lifemiles at a 3:1 ratio from cards like the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card. You'll receive an additional 5,000 miles for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred.
Not only does this make Avianca partnership much more valuable for the everyday points and miles fan, but it also opens up some exciting possibilities for anyone looking to offload their ThankYou points to a program with more liberal expiration policies than current favorites Singapore KrisFlyer and Air France/KLM Flying Blue.
Buy Avianca LifeMiles During Regular Promos
We don’t typically recommend buying miles for award travel. But LifeMiles regularly runs promos with bonuses as high as 200% on purchased miles which allow you purchase miles at under 1.5¢ per mile. Considering you can redeem miles across all Star Alliance carriers without paying additional fuel surcharges, buying LifeMiles during one of the regular purchase promos gets you into premium business and first class seats for a fraction of the cost you would pay if you purchased revenue tickets at retail value.
Seats are still subject to award space so you’ll need to run the numbers and ensure you’re flying a route with ample award space for this strategy to return a positive result. But paying under $1,000 for premium cabin redemptions is another option if you can’t accumulate the required miles through organic methods alone.
Best Value Avianca LifeMiles Sweet Spots
One of the headaches of award travel on Star Alliance carriers is the prevalence of programs that charge hefty fees. Avianca’s award chart is not the most attractive Star Alliance chart out there, but beside United and Copa, LifeMiles is the only program not charging fuel surcharges or close-in booking fees on any partner awards. You’ll find the region definitions underneath Avianca's partner award chart.
Avianca devalued its award chart to fly Avianca flights early in 2016, and the award prices aren’t particularly competitive. So, the majority of top-value awards are flying partner awards. Here are a few of our favorites (all prices are one-way and start within the continental 48 US states):
- 63,000 miles in business-class to Europe
- 87,000 miles in first-class to Europe (Lufthansa with no fuel surcharges)
- 25,000 miles in business-class transcontinental within the U.S.
- 78,000 miles in business-class to the Middle East
- 40,000 miles in economy-class to New Zealand + Australia
- 39,000 miles in economy-class to South Asia (includes Bali, Vietnam, and Thailand)
- 30,000 miles in economy-class to the South of South America
- 50,000 miles in business-class from NZ/AU to North Asia (includes Japan, China, Philippines, and Korea)
- 22,500 miles in business-class within North Asia
Yes, you can redeem award flights to Europe via United for 57K, but flying partners will set you back 70K which makes the Avianca option a lot more attractive for Star Alliance partner awards. Flying coach to New Zealand isn’t high on many travelers bucket lists, but when you take into account that you could redeem that award after just a single purchase on the Avianca Vuela Visa, the price becomes a lot more attractive.
Other awards presenting top value include the business-class redemptions within North Asia, which allow you to fly premium cabins on some lengthy routes for just 22,500 miles, and the ability to redeem miles for Lufthansa first without the ridiculous surcharges.
Avianca doesn’t allow stopovers or open-jaws on award flights, but factor in that you can redeem one-way awards and you could potentially open-jaw at both ends of your redemption and explore other cities on your travels. Avianca also allows you to purchase up to 60% of the miles required for an award, so there is no need to have the full balance needed to pull the trigger on an award flight if you find award availability.
Benefits and Pitfalls of Avianca LifeMiles Program
As with all frequent flyer programs, Avianca has its pros and cons which we’ve listed below.
Advantages of Avianca LifeMiles:
- No fuel surcharges on Star Alliance partner awards
- Can book the majority of Star Alliance carriers online via a reasonably intuitive booking engine
- No close-in booking fees
- The ability to buy up to 60% of the miles required for an award via LifeMiles + Cash
- Miles don’t expire as long as there is qualifying account activity every 24 months
- Regular bonuses on purchased miles allow you to buy miles for less than 1.5¢ per mile
The lack of fuel surcharges and close-in penalties is a big plus for the program, but perhaps the most overlooked of Avianca’s benefits is the miles expiry policy. LifeMiles won’t expire if there is qualifying activity in your account within 24 months of the last miles earned. For Citi cardholders looking for a place to park their ThankYou points without the restrictive expiry policies of fellow transfer programs KrisFlyer and Flying Blue, Avianca provides a convenient solution.
Drawbacks of Avianca LifeMiles:
- The reservations department is difficult to deal with if you need to call an award in by phone
- Flat $25 booking fee across all awards
- High award change ($150) and cancellation fees ($50 per segment up to $200)
Similar to our experience dealing with Aeromexico, Avianca’s call-center is challenging to deal with if you need to phone in an award. The $25 booking fee is bearable if you factor in the lack of other fees on award flights, but the change and cancellation fees are on the high side compared to other programs we’ve featured in our Award Flight Sweet Spot series.
Following the addition of LifeMiles to the ThankYou Rewards roster of transfer partners, Avianca is now firmly in the sights of many award travel fans. You can transfer points from 2 of the 4 major transferrable rewards currencies, earn miles via co-brand credit cards, buy miles on the cheap during regular promos, and redeem miles across the entire Star Alliance carrier spectrum at reasonable rates with no fuel surcharges or close in booking fees.
If you have any experiences you can share on booking LifeMiles redemptions we’d love to hear from you here in the comments, or jump over to our FaceBook community, Award Travel 101, and join the conversation with over 50,000 dedicated points and miles fans!
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