Avianca LifeMiles Program Overview and Sweet Spots

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Avianca LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program for Avianca, Columbia's flag carrier and national airline. 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, on both Avianca or partner awards, providing access to awards on all 28 Star Alliance partners, plus AeroMexico and Iberia.

It wasn't all that long ago LifeMiles was viewed as United's eccentric Bohemian cousin, affording good value provided you could put up with its idiosyncrasies (and atrocious call centers). However, following the steady decline in the value of United's MileagePlus program and the addition of multiple new partners transferring to Avianca, LifeMiles has become an essential tool if you want to book award travel on Star Alliance airlines for the best price possible.

The relative ease with which you can collect LifeMiles and the lack of carrier-imposed fuel surcharges make Avianca a top choice for both domestic and international travel.

Avianca-LifeMiles
Featured Image By Oliver Holzbauer, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Best Ways to Earn Avianca LifeMiles

You can earn LifeMiles through flying Avianca and 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 serious 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. Both cards are currently offering increased signup bonuses with an additional 20,000 miles up for grabs on top of the standard offers. To qualify for the additional 20,000 miles, you must insert the promo code SB4060 during the application and spend at least $1,000 in the first 90 days.

Avianca Vuela Visa® Card
Avianca Vuela Visa® Card
Annual Fee$149
Welcome Bonus Get up to 60,000 bonus LifeMiles for a limited-time! Standard 40,000 welcome bonus after first purchase, plus 20,000 bonus miles after at least $1,000 spend on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening (total of 60,000). Promo code SB4060 must be entered when completing application in order to receive the additional 20,000 welcome bonus miles after qualifying purchases.
  • Get up to 60,000 bonus LifeMiles for a limited-time! Standard 40,000 welcome bonus after first purchase, plus 20,000 bonus miles after at least $1,000 spend on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening (total of 60,000). Promo code SB4060 must be entered when completing application in order to receive the additional 20,000 welcome bonus miles after qualifying purchases.
  • Earn 3 LifeMiles per $1 spent on Avianca purchases
  • Earn 2 LifeMiles per $1 spent at gas stations and grocery stores
  • Earn 1 LifeMile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 15% discount on purchases of miles with Multiply Your Miles
  • Free additional piece of baggage for travel between the United States and Central America
  • A 50% discount on an award ticket redeemed for travel to Central America or Colombia from the United States after $12,000 spent each year
  • An additional 50% discount on an award ticket redeemed for travel to Central America or Colombia from the United States after $24,000 spent each year
  • 0% Introductory offer for 12 months on Balance Transfers
  • Chip-enabled card provides added security
  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
  • Travel Accident Insurance
  • Protection against unauthorized charges
  • Emergency Card Replacement
  • Online Account Management
  • Electronic Statements
  • Auto-pay option
  • 3X LifeMiles per $1 spent on Avianca purchases
  • 2X LifeMiles per $1 spent on gas stations & grocery stores
  • 1X LifeMile per $1 spent on all other purchases
Avianca Vida Visa® Card
Avianca Vida Visa® Card
Annual Fee$59
Welcome Bonus Get up to 40,000 bonus LifeMiles for a limited-time! Standard 20,000 welcome bonus after first purchase, plus 20,000 bonus miles after at least $1,000 spend on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening (total of 40,000). Promo code SB4060 must be entered when completing application in order to receive the additional 20,000 welcome bonus miles after qualifying purchases.
  • Get up to 40,000 bonus LifeMiles for a limited-time! Standard 20,000 welcome bonus after first purchase, plus 20,000 bonus miles after at least $1,000 spend on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening (total of 40,000). Promo code SB4060 must be entered when completing application in order to receive the additional 20,000 welcome bonus miles after qualifying purchases.
  • Earn 2 LifeMiles per $1 spent on Avianca purchases
  • Earn 1 LifeMile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 15% discount on purchases of miles with Multiply Your Miles
  • No cap on the number of LifeMiles you can earn
  • 0% Introductory offer for 12 months on Balance Transfers
  • Chip-enabled card provides added security
  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
  • Travel Accident Insurance
  • Protection against unauthorized charges
  • Emergency Card Replacement
  • Online Account Management
  • Electronic Statements
  • Auto-pay option
  • 2X LifeMiles per $1 spent on Avianca purchases
  • 1X LifeMile per $1 spent on all other purchases

Transfer Points from Flexible Rewards Programs

Avianca now counts four transfer partners that allow you to transfer points to LifeMiles:

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 combine flexible points from multiple programs to accumulate enough miles for an award flight.

Buy Avianca LifeMiles During Regular Promos

We don’t typically recommend buying miles for award travel. But LifeMiles regularly runs points-buying promos with huge bonuses that allow you to purchase miles as low as 1.35¢ 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.

Avianca Purchase Miles

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 besides United and Copa, LifeMiles is the only program not charging fuel surcharges on any partner awards. Avianca also has an edge on United MileagePlus by not charging any close-in booking fees.

Avianca Partner Award Chart

Avianca LifeMiles Partner Award Chart

Avianca Region Definitions

Avianca Lifemiles Region Definitions
Image Credit: DealsPoints.com

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 airlines. Here are a few of our favorites (all prices are one-way and start within the continental 48 U.S. 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 N.Z./A.U. 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 60K, 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.

lufthansa-first-class
Lufthansa first-class without carrier-imposed surcharges? Yes, please!

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.

Final Thoughts

Avianca is now firmly in the sights of many award-travel fans. You can transfer points from four of the five 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.

We think Avianca presents a reliable alternative to other Star Alliance carriers, particularly following recent devaluations on partner awards from United and Singapore.

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 60,000 dedicated points and miles fans!

Avianca LifeMiles Program Overview and Sweet Spots
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Comments

  • Thanks for the great info. This program is new to me, so I am excited to give it a try and hopefully save some $$/miles!!

  • Steven William Van Meter says:

    I have flown Avianca numerous times, both internal (Colombia) flights and external – internationally. I have generally been pleased, though the last time it seemed their quality had slipped. Come to think of it, it may have been only because it was an internal flight. Those seem to have lower standards.

  • Lifemiles is much devalued from what it was. I would definitely narrow down the “sweet spots” to Lufthansa and any other airline whose surcharges are otherwise unavoidable. Otherwise you’re mostly paying more miles than other ffps.

  • This writeup is fantastic and is why I subscribe. Please keep them coming! 🙂

  • In general I find the LifeMiles programme very interesting.
    Both the earning rate and the miles required for the rewards are quite good compared to other programmes.
    Moreover, LifeMiles doesn’t add fuel surcharge on award tickets.
    The only concern is its financial situation.
    Maybe someone knows something more about this.

  • IMHO Lifemiles doesn’t have good sweet spots anymore after they killed all the boomers.
    It’s just a decent overall program, which is not too bad but also not really outstanding.

  • And, Banco Popular would be light in most folks credit card supply.

  • Lifemiles used to have a fully functioning web booking interface. That has been severely buffed. A typical booking would error out after pax info is typed in.

  • ron_vaughn@hotmail.com says:

    Hope Avian doesn’t read this!

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