How To Maximize Value Redeeming LifeMiles

How To Maximize Value Redeeming LifeMiles

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I often write about LifeMiles’ promotions on purchased miles, and other opportunities to earn LifeMiles. While I talk about how best to redeem them, I often don’t go into great detail.

In this post I wanted to share where I see the value in the LifeMiles program — how do I earn LifeMiles, when do I choose to redeem LifeMiles rather than other Star Alliance miles, how do I do the math on that, etc.

Best ways to earn LifeMiles

There are quite a few ways to earn Avianca LifeMiles. First of all, LifeMiles frequently has promotions on purchased miles. For example, at the moment there’s a promotion for a 155% bonus on purchased miles (see this post for all the details on that, as registration is required).

That’s not the only way to earn LifeMiles, though:

I primarily earn LifeMiles by buying them directly, though I supplement that by transferring points from transferable points currencies, especially when there’s a transfer bonus (and we see quite a few of those).

LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca

Important things to understand about LifeMiles

Before talking specifically about how I redeem LifeMiles, I wanted to talk about some aspects of LifeMiles that are important to understand before buying any miles, both for better and worse.

There are no carrier imposed surcharges

LifeMiles doesn’t have carrier imposed surcharges for travel on any partners, which is fantastic. Some other Star Alliance frequent flyer programs do have fuel surcharges, and those can really add up, especially for first & business class tickets.

For example, the Lufthansa Miles & More program does have fuel surcharges. Want to redeem those miles for a one-way business class ticket from the US to Germany on Lufthansa? Expect to pay over $800 in addition to the taxes and mileage requirement. Ouch.

Pay no surcharges through LifeMiles, even on Lufthansa

LifeMiles isn’t for complicated itineraries

If you’re looking to book a complicated itinerary with several layovers, or are interested in stopovers, the LifeMiles program isn’t for you.

I don’t think I’ve ever booked a LifeMiles award ticket that included travel on more than two segments on a one-way itinerary. Some report having luck emailing LifeMiles to ticket reservations, but that seems mighty complicated, and my goal with this advice is to be practical. For me LifeMiles is a program that’s about simple, point-to-point travel.

If you want to book complicated itineraries (especially with stopovers), I’d highly recommend going through Air Canada Aeroplan.

Save complicated itineraries for other Star Alliance programs

Buy miles at ticketing at a reasonable cost

One thing that makes LifeMiles unique is that the program lets you buy up to 60% of the miles needed for a ticket at the time of booking. The cost per mile doing this varies anywhere from 1.5 cents to 3.3, though if you buy around 40-60% of the miles needed at the time of booking, you can expect to pay 1.5 cents per mile.

That’s marginally higher than you’ll pay if you outright buy miles during the best promotions, but it’s still a good option.

You can buy LifeMiles at the time of booking

LifeMiles award availability discrepancies

There are some discrepancies between the award space that LifeMiles has access to and the award space that other Star Alliance frequent flyer programs have access to. Some people report this being a huge issue, and claim that the program is useless due to lack of availability.

I absolutely don’t want to dismiss those claims, but that largely doesn’t match my experience. Perhaps it’s the type of redemptions people are trying to make. As mentioned above, I usually use LifeMiles for nonstop, point-to-point travel, especially across the Atlantic (where the relative pricing is the best). Personally I don’t notice many availability discrepancies.

Just to make sure things haven’t changed recently, I just did four random award searches for flights I could see myself using LifeMiles for:

  • LOT Polish business class from Chicago to Warsaw
  • Lufthansa business class from Miami to Frankfurt
  • SWISS business class from Montreal to Zurich
  • United business class from Newark to London

In each case LifeMiles displayed exactly the same award availability as other partner programs. One important thing to keep in mind is that on LifeMiles’ website there are different search options. There’s a drop down where you can select “Smart Search,” “Star Alliance,” or the name of any individual partner airline.

I generally find availability is best if you search the exact airline that has availability, as there are sometimes differences in what’s displayed depending on how you search.

LifeMiles award search tool

So award availability discrepancies is something to be aware of and something to do your own research on, but it’s not something I personally consider to be a major downside to the program, at least based on the types of awards I book. Others obviously feel differently, and I respect that.

Sometimes there may be availability discrepancies with LifeMiles

How to decide whether to redeem LifeMiles

I very much view miles as a currency, as I have a value I attach to each program. I have lots of transferable points between various currencies, but I sometimes still find myself buying and redeeming LifeMiles.

Why? Well, during a promotion I view my acquisition cost of LifeMiles as being around 1.2 cents:

Does it make sense to redeem a transferable points currency that I value at 1.7 cents per mile, when I could instead buy points for under 1.2 cents each? Now, sometimes there’s a bonus when transferring points from another currency to LifeMiles, so that could change the math.

This is often the situation I find myself in, so in general, my approach is:

  • If LifeMiles and other programs are charging roughly the same number of miles, or if LifeMiles is charging fewer miles, I’ll book through LifeMiles (I factor in any carrier surcharges through other programs when doing the math)
  • I compare the cost in LifeMiles to the number of transferable points I would have to transfer, so any transfer bonuses could also impact the math on that
  • Typically the best alternative would be transferring Amex, Capital One, or Chase points, to Air Canada Aeroplan, since that’s the most competitive Star Alliance program

This isn’t an exact science for me. Sometimes I just don’t want to spend cash buying miles, while other times I’m happy to conserve miles based on my current mileage balances with various programs.

Examples of some LifeMiles redemptions

Just to give some real-life examples, let me take a look at some of the LifeMiles redemptions that I’ve made in the past few years, and I’ll share the logic for using LifeMiles compared to another program.

Frankfurt to Chicago in Lufthansa first class

My family frequently travels between the United States and Germany, and I’ve used this redemption several times. The most Lufthansa first class award availability across the Atlantic is between Chicago and Frankfurt.

I considered three options for booking this:

  • 87,000 Avianca LifeMiles
  • 100,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles
  • 121,000 United MileagePlus miles

Booking through LifeMiles is a no-brainer. And at a mileage acquisition cost of 1.2 cents, that’s like paying right around $1,000 for a one-way first-class ticket across the Atlantic.

I love redeeming LifeMiles for Lufthansa first class

Miami to Frankfurt in Lufthansa business class

A couple of years ago I needed to fly from Miami to Frankfurt, and Lufthansa had nonstop business class award availability, so I wanted to book that.

I considered three options for booking this:

  • 62,345 Avianca LifeMiles
  • 70,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles
  • 70,000 United MileagePlus miles

LifeMiles was the lowest cost option, so that seemed like a no-brainer.

LifeMiles is great for Lufthansa redemptions

London to Brussels to New York in Brussels Airlines business class

In late 2019 I flew Brussels Airlines’ A330 business class from Europe to the United States, and on the surface, I considered three options for booking this:

  • 63,000 Avianca LifeMiles
  • 55,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles (that was the cost at the time, now this award would cost 70,000 Aeroplan miles)
  • 70,000 United MileagePlus

On the surface, Aeroplan was the best deal, but the reality is that Aeroplan couldn’t actually book the ticket. This was a case where married segment logic meant that one program could book it but not the other, due to the systems they use — it kept erroring out on Aeroplan’s website, while it booked without issue with LifeMiles.

Brussels Airlines business class A330

Bangkok to Milan in Thai Airways business class

In the summer of 2019 I flew Thai Airways’ A350 business class from Bangkok to Milan, and I considered three options:

  • 78,000 Avianca LifeMiles
  • 75,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles plus $120 in surcharges (that was the cost at the time, now this award would cost 80,000 Aeroplan miles)
  • 100,000 United MileagePlus miles

LifeMiles was once again the best value.

Thai Airways business class A350

Bottom line

I’m not suggesting that LifeMiles is the very best program for every single Star Alliance redemption. There are many redemptions I book through other programs instead (in particular Air Canada Aeroplan, which I find to be an immensely valuable program). However, I’ve consistently gotten great value from LifeMiles, and am always happy to have a mileage balance with the program.

If I can pick up miles at a real cost of 1.2 cents each, and if redemption rates are roughly comparable between programs, I sure think that’s a solid alternative to transferring points from another currency.

For example, I could buy LifeMiles for 1.20 cents each, and then redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card (review) for 1.5 cents each toward other travel purchases, and I would come out ahead (compared to transferring to Air Canada or United in situations where costs are comparable).

Anyway, that’s my take on the value of the LifeMiles program, so hopefully, that provides some inspiration for others…

What has your experience been with redeeming LifeMiles?

Conversations (23)
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  1. steve Guest

    lifemiles is basically worthless for translatlantic business class now, and to be honest even economy options are limited or nonexistent.

    It's about at the point where I am just not going to bother anymore. Wish I could transfer my remaing lifemile balance elsewhere. would do it even at a loss

  2. Ezra Guest

    Lifemiles availability continues to get worse and worse by the month-the total lack of availability for just united flights, as compared to United itself is staggering.

  3. Duke Guest

    I just logged in to search for award space to various places I’m interested in. I’ve noticed options have drastically gone down even as they had clearly changed even a few months ago. Disclaimer: I bought lifemiles after reading an article.

    I have had to get ultra creative (for me, but I’m sure this is nothing for experienced points travelers). I couldn’t find the flight I wanted by putting say CUN-PHX but I was able...

    I just logged in to search for award space to various places I’m interested in. I’ve noticed options have drastically gone down even as they had clearly changed even a few months ago. Disclaimer: I bought lifemiles after reading an article.

    I have had to get ultra creative (for me, but I’m sure this is nothing for experienced points travelers). I couldn’t find the flight I wanted by putting say CUN-PHX but I was able to book two reservations separately through Panama PTY.

    I was just searching again, got a CAPTCHA challenge because “my behavior looks like a bot” and the remainder of my 130k and change miles are gone with an expiration date that now says June 01.

    Another odd thing is the customer service info is basically vague and unclear now whereas before the email and a number were listed.

  4. MK Guest

    Lifemiles seems to have for 6 months ABSOLUTELY NO AVAILABILITY WHATSOEVER in business class from Europe to South-East Asia. let me know if anyone can find any.

  5. laurent Guest

    @Ben
    Are you being paid to write this article?

    1. Laurent Guest

      I will even further, the fact you are promoting Lifemiles makes you lose all credibility, as suspected by reading your advertising article, I saw a new Lifemiles promotion post, and I looked, of course ZERO availability in any class of service from US to Europe in June, and Zero business availability to Asia either...
      Explain to me how a program that sells exponentially more Points/Miles that it has redemption options is not a scam?

  6. Brodie Guest

    TJ,
    I booked two F seats on LH the other day and I immediately received the error code. I signed out and back in to my account and noticed my miles balance had changed. Sure enough the transaction went thru, however I still received the error code. This was using my Amex Plat.

  7. Erik Guest

    Canadians beware!

    One major problem with LifeMiles for Canadians (since 2019!) is the inability to book award tickets on Air Canada. Domestic flights, flights to Europe, and flights to Asia do not show up in the search engine. One can only find some flights between Canada and the US. Back then, there was a similar issue with flight on United, but LifeMiles eventually fix that, but not with AC, though.

    1. C.C. Guest

      Seems true, unfortunately. I searched for an award between YUL and YYZ and all the flights I got were on United! So, one would have to fly from Canada through the US to go to Canada!?!? Is that even legal? Wouldn't it be considered "cabotage"?

  8. TJ Guest

    Does anyone else have issues with ticketing their LM flights online? 4 out of 5 times I get an error claiming my credit card was rejected (while chase claims it never got a request in the first place nor is there a pending transaction). In then tried to complete the reservation via phone agent and they said this can not be done. In some cases, it also tied up the award seats for a while...

    Does anyone else have issues with ticketing their LM flights online? 4 out of 5 times I get an error claiming my credit card was rejected (while chase claims it never got a request in the first place nor is there a pending transaction). In then tried to complete the reservation via phone agent and they said this can not be done. In some cases, it also tied up the award seats for a while and you can't just redo it as the space disappears. I have this problem All the time and it is super frustrating.

  9. Alan Oakes Guest

    I have used Lifemiles successfully for many years based on your recommendations. Six or seven years ago. We only fly business class and mostly to Europe.

    Sadly since just before Covid hit and since travel restarted there is zero availability out of LAX for month after month into pretty much every major city in Europe. Due to cancelations during Covid now have 300000 miles that I can't find a way to use

    And yes it is like entering hell when you have to call them

  10. Alan Oakes Guest

    I have used Lifemiles successfully for many years based on your recommendations. Six or seven years ago. We only fly business class and mostly to Europe.

    Sadly since just before Covid hit and since travel restarted there is zero availability out of LAX for month after month into pretty much every major city in Europe. Due to cancelations during Covid now have 300000 miles that I can't find a way to use

    And yes...

    I have used Lifemiles successfully for many years based on your recommendations. Six or seven years ago. We only fly business class and mostly to Europe.

    Sadly since just before Covid hit and since travel restarted there is zero availability out of LAX for month after month into pretty much every major city in Europe. Due to cancelations during Covid now have 300000 miles that I can't find a way to use

    And yes it is like entering hell when you have to call them. Any question means being put on hold for 5 to 15 minutes with a good chance of being put on hold 5 or 6 times and then losing the call..and sadly agents mostly don't have any power and there is constantly being transferred ggrrrrr.

  11. Bo Guest

    I consistently find better LifeMiles availability using incognito mode on Chrome

  12. HP Guest

    Just booked a SOF-FRA-LHR-BOG-GYE-GPS business class trip for less than 70k Lifemiles. Longest layover is in London and is 6 hrs. Last 2 flights are not in business, there was no availability.

  13. Andy Guest

    Ben, curious your experience during IRROPS when ticketed through lifemiles - I've never been unfortunate enough to experience that but every time I book a lifemiles flight I do think there's an inherent risk based on call center wait times and the general aptitude of their agents.

    A one other note you're missing - mixed cabin awards on Lifemiles blow Air Canada out of the water - AC will charge you the full business fare...

    Ben, curious your experience during IRROPS when ticketed through lifemiles - I've never been unfortunate enough to experience that but every time I book a lifemiles flight I do think there's an inherent risk based on call center wait times and the general aptitude of their agents.

    A one other note you're missing - mixed cabin awards on Lifemiles blow Air Canada out of the water - AC will charge you the full business fare for a first class puddle jumper and an economy long-haul (if you are dumb enough to buy it). Lifemiles averages it out. I once had NH SYD-HND-JFK booked with mixed first and business and it was great value because the shorter leg was business vs first. Unfortunately COVID meant i could never take that dream flight.

    1. TJ Guest

      Does anyone else have issues with ticketing their LM flights online? 4 out of 5 times I get an error claiming my credit card was rejected (while chase claims it never got a request in the first place nor is there a pending transaction). In then tried to complete the reservation via phone agent and they said this can not be done. In some cases, it also tied up the award seats for a while...

      Does anyone else have issues with ticketing their LM flights online? 4 out of 5 times I get an error claiming my credit card was rejected (while chase claims it never got a request in the first place nor is there a pending transaction). In then tried to complete the reservation via phone agent and they said this can not be done. In some cases, it also tied up the award seats for a while and you can't just redo it as the space disappears. I have this problem All the time and it is super frustrating.

  14. Duck Ling Guest

    Hey Lucky,

    I agree that Lifemiles offer unbeatable value when they have their extra % bonus miles for purchase. But I think you must have access to VIP inventory availability!

    I have never seen availability in UA premium cabins on any route on any date i've searched. Admittedly, this hasn't covered every route on every day of the year. I do have a life. Kinda lol. But as an example, just now I searched...

    Hey Lucky,

    I agree that Lifemiles offer unbeatable value when they have their extra % bonus miles for purchase. But I think you must have access to VIP inventory availability!

    I have never seen availability in UA premium cabins on any route on any date i've searched. Admittedly, this hasn't covered every route on every day of the year. I do have a life. Kinda lol. But as an example, just now I searched every single day of Sep/Oct/Nov (yep EVERY day) for one BIZ class seat available EWR - LHR. Not a one.

    The other frustration I find with Lifemiles is their clunky website which is often down, or allows you to get to the final stage of payment before giving some error message, or the final payment amounts being hundreds of dollars out from the initial quote for fees.

    Saying that, i've had some great success too. Like ET JNB-ADD-LHR and NH HND-SYD using miles i'd purchased with a bonus.

    1. platy Guest

      @ Duck Ling

      IME recently LifeMiles has had the same award seat inventory as United Mileage Plus on United sectors in business class between Australia and USA for July 2022 dates.

  15. J.Rowe Guest

    Hey Ben - thanks for the write up! How does Lifemiles cancellation policy factor into your decision making process around using Lifemiles or not? I've booked a few flights a few months/weeks out and then have wanted to change for a better itinerary but the $200 fee to cancel/change the Lifemiles redemption usually gives me pause.

    Thanks!

  16. Andrew Diamond

    And again, there it is. A thumbnail of the ANA first suite you will not ride in. Because aspirational awards are now rare finds, and ANA + VS will ensure you don't fly them.

    1. Andrew Guest

      I was able to book 2 ANA F suites on the same flight from JFK with VS points for October. You just have to keep your eyes out for them.

    2. Andrew Diamond

      I hear you. No inv from the west coast, though. :(

    3. Charlie Diamond

      I don’t like how Ben is using images of ANA first, telling you to buy Lifemiles to fly it, when I’ve yet to find any ANA first availability on Lifemiles at any point in time. And in the rest of the article he talks about booking LH business or LOT business, seriously not in the same category…
      Very misleading

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Laurent Guest

I will even further, the fact you are promoting Lifemiles makes you lose all credibility, as suspected by reading your advertising article, I saw a new Lifemiles promotion post, and I looked, of course ZERO availability in any class of service from US to Europe in June, and Zero business availability to Asia either... Explain to me how a program that sells exponentially more Points/Miles that it has redemption options is not a scam?

1
C.C. Guest

Seems true, unfortunately. I searched for an award between YUL and YYZ and all the flights I got were on United! So, one would have to fly from Canada through the US to go to Canada!?!? Is that even legal? Wouldn't it be considered "cabotage"?

1
Erik Guest

Canadians beware! One major problem with LifeMiles for Canadians (since 2019!) is the inability to book award tickets on Air Canada. Domestic flights, flights to Europe, and flights to Asia do not show up in the search engine. One can only find some flights between Canada and the US. Back then, there was a similar issue with flight on United, but LifeMiles eventually fix that, but not with AC, though.

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