How To Maximize Value Redeeming LifeMiles (2021)

How To Maximize Value Redeeming LifeMiles (2021)

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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 generally do so pretty vaguely.

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 150% 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 Amex and Citi, especially when there’s a transfer bonus.

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 pay $700 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 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 sometimes has access to different award availability

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, but personally I haven’t noticed all that many discrepancies recently. Let me again emphasize that I use LifeMiles for straightforward itineraries.

A couple of years ago I was able to book an award ticket through LifeMiles that wasn’t bookable through other Star Alliance programs, and that was due to the way that married segment availability was displayed. So it can sometimes even work in your favor.

This is something to be aware of and something to do your own research on, but it’s not something I consider to be a major downside to the program anymore, at least based on the types of awards I book.

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 1.25 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 my recent 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 couple of years, and I’ll share the logic for using LifeMiles compared to another program.

Frankfurt to Chicago in Lufthansa first class

My family has been traveling between the United States and Germany quite a bit over the past year, 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 while back Ford and I were flying from Miami to Frankfurt, and Lufthansa had nonstop business class award availability, so we 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 1.25 cents each, and then redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card (review) for 1.5 cents each towards 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?

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  1. Nathan

    Melbourne-Bangkok on Thai A350 business, then on to Vienna in Austrian’s business. One of our favourite trips!

  2. Ron R.

    I guess I'm in the minority. I use LifeMiles a lot, mostly international business but occasionally domestic. Jump all over the transfer bonuses when they're available. Had some issues, bound to happen when you book frequently, but resolved through email. They can be glitchy, but worth it.

  3. Greg

    I agree Life Miles is good for domestic flihgts. But coming from a small airport (BZN) I have yet to even see business (much less first class) for last 3 years going to Europe. Where do you find them? I do note a recent article that there were really business seats available but only from New York to Lisbon. Is there a secret list of what airport can get you business to Europe? Then it...

    I agree Life Miles is good for domestic flihgts. But coming from a small airport (BZN) I have yet to even see business (much less first class) for last 3 years going to Europe. Where do you find them? I do note a recent article that there were really business seats available but only from New York to Lisbon. Is there a secret list of what airport can get you business to Europe? Then it might make sense to do a seperate domestic to the gateway airport. Otherwise while a United search shows lots of awwards to Europe nothing shows up on same LifeMiles search as I sit in my 100,000 Life Miles.

    1. Weymar Osborne

      You might have to just search flights from the hub airport and book a positioning ticket with cash/on another mileage ticket. Saying that LifeMiles isn't for complex itineraries is a bit of an understatement. It seems to even have trouble with an itinerary involving 1 connection and an overnight flight, which frankly is not even that complicated and it's baffling that a modern FFP would not be able to price that out. There's also the...

      You might have to just search flights from the hub airport and book a positioning ticket with cash/on another mileage ticket. Saying that LifeMiles isn't for complex itineraries is a bit of an understatement. It seems to even have trouble with an itinerary involving 1 connection and an overnight flight, which frankly is not even that complicated and it's baffling that a modern FFP would not be able to price that out. There's also the email method that a few people mentioned here and is easy to Google, but honestly dealing with LifeMiles' customer service is so onerous that often times I don't think it's worth the trouble and I'll book a connecting ticket separately if it's cheap enough.

  4. Mark

    Ben, since your site clearly has tie ups with LM as you are able to offer readers additional bonuses, why don’t you use your connections to find out what is going on at LifeMiles, such as why all Air Canada reward inventory (available to other * carriers) has been canned since July 2021 and replaced with economy only co-pay options.

    That would be relevant and value add information for your readers, not details of a...

    Ben, since your site clearly has tie ups with LM as you are able to offer readers additional bonuses, why don’t you use your connections to find out what is going on at LifeMiles, such as why all Air Canada reward inventory (available to other * carriers) has been canned since July 2021 and replaced with economy only co-pay options.

    That would be relevant and value add information for your readers, not details of a 2019 redemption when this programme changes overnight without notice. While you reference LM availability can sometimes vary and give one example that was to your advantage, this paints the picture as somehow balanced and ad hoc, not carrier wide embargoes.

  5. Thaddeus McIlroy

    As of today I literally cannot even find a URL to make a futile attempt at a Lifemiles booking. If I could, I know that I would be disappointed by the availability, as I have always been when I could actually search the site. I bought 225000 miles on Avianca Lifemiles just before COVID. They say they're going to expire in January 2022. But there's no way to use them. WORST investment EVER!!

    1. Paul

      Totally agree with you that buying Lifemiles is a waste of money. I got suckered in to purchasing 100K. I would give them back for half price and be done with the program.

  6. Andy

    I recently transferred 260k Amex Points to Lifemiles after reading your article on the double promo. Lifemiles just reversed the second 15% bonus and you are still promoting Lifemiles without saying sorry?

  7. glenn t

    LM is one of those programs when things go well, until they do not.
    Keeping it simple makes it easier to untangle unexpected problems when they occur.

    Like many programs the best partner awards pop up and go quickly, so it's often necessary to ticket a long way out. In that situation it's essential to check regularly that your booking is still there and no unsuitable changes have happened. If that does happen you...

    LM is one of those programs when things go well, until they do not.
    Keeping it simple makes it easier to untangle unexpected problems when they occur.

    Like many programs the best partner awards pop up and go quickly, so it's often necessary to ticket a long way out. In that situation it's essential to check regularly that your booking is still there and no unsuitable changes have happened. If that does happen you will never hear of it from LM; it will be from the partner airline, so make sure you have your full contact details registered with them.

  8. Steve

    You must be really 'lucky' with LH F from/to anywhere in the US. I've never been able to find LM availability 30 days out, 14 days out, or last minute. Maybe you have an inside contact?

  9. _ar

    I've not had any issues - booked 1 roundtrip and 2 one-ways in the last 3 months. No issues. Got my refunds from cancelled covid trips last year as well. I speak to the agents on the phone and they are lovely and take care of everything.... YMMV

    There's also a way to not pay the redemption fee ....

  10. Jos

    It's not terribly complicated to manually book more complex itineraries. I've done it multiple times flying between Guam and the US. I just use the email method that some other blog talks about in more detail. This is valuable because with other airlines doing dynamic pricing, there's fewer programs that allow manual bookings.
    However, I do agree that the customer service is lackluster. You better hope nothing happens to your itinerary.

  11. David

    Lifemiles is incredibly hard to find award space! In fact the program often cannot find ANY…..especially if you really want to plan ahead. Flying Blue is a much more user friendly experience.
    Even single segments award seat is sometimes hard to find. You can see the award seat on United but LifeMiles showed nothing. On top of that, their Customer Service is not great. Booking on Mileage Plus for 2500 miles more is worth...

    Lifemiles is incredibly hard to find award space! In fact the program often cannot find ANY…..especially if you really want to plan ahead. Flying Blue is a much more user friendly experience.
    Even single segments award seat is sometimes hard to find. You can see the award seat on United but LifeMiles showed nothing. On top of that, their Customer Service is not great. Booking on Mileage Plus for 2500 miles more is worth the peace of mind.
    Despite the repeated temptations to transfer with a bonus or purchase points with a bonus. I generally stay away from this program.

  12. Alan Oakes

    This was one of my favorite programs but no longer.

    First, you just pray you have no issues as really, really difficult to get through to customer service and get it resolved. I can never hear their agent which makes it twice as hard

    Secondly, flying out of LAX or SFO, I have been unable to secure one way business class seats to Europe( anywhere) for sometime now. Just not what it used to be.

  13. Andrew

    @Ben

    I know there are restrictions for round trips and certain airlines have high fees, but I’m surprised ANA isn’t even mentioned. There are plenty of times when it’s the best option.

  14. Rjb

    Not a great experience. Terrible agents. I on,ly book last minute when I know a change is very unlikely.

    LifeMiles recently tripled the fees associated with 7500 point United redemptions. Plus, they added a completely made-up “tax” on redemptions.

    1. greg

      Can someone exp[lain the "email process" that supposedly finds business international awards? I will beieve it when I see it!

Featured Comments Load all 17 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Paul

Totally agree with you that buying Lifemiles is a waste of money. I got suckered in to purchasing 100K. I would give them back for half price and be done with the program.

greg

Can someone exp[lain the "email process" that supposedly finds business international awards? I will beieve it when I see it!

Nathan

Melbourne-Bangkok on Thai A350 business, then on to Vienna in Austrian’s business. One of our favourite trips!

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