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 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, one such promotion is expiring later today, as you can buy LifeMiles with a 140% bonus (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 redemptions by transferring points from Amex and Citi.

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. For example, otherwise Air Canada’s Aeroplan program is one of my favorite Star Alliance programs, but they have outrageous surcharges for travel on Air Canada and some partner airlines.

For example, want to redeem Aeroplan miles for a one-way business class ticket from the US to Germany on Lufthansa? Expect to pay pay $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 many stops, 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.

Save complicated itineraries for other Star Alliance programs

Buy miles at ticketing at a reasonable cost

One thing that makes LifeMiles unique is that they let 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 airlines have access to. Truth be told, I’ve found this to be less of an issue in the past few months than before.

Some people report this being a huge issue, but I can think of very few discrepancies I’ve seen in the past few months of all the searches I’ve done. Let me again emphasize that I use LifeMiles for straightforward itineraries.

There was actually a situation last year where an itinerary had award availability through LifeMiles but not through Aeroplan, due to the way that they display married segments. 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.

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 1.25 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?

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 alternative would be transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United, or Amex Membership Rewards points or Capital One miles to Air Canada

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

I’m going through my email inbox here looking at some of my recent LifeMiles redemptions, and wanted to share them, along with the logic for why I chose LifeMiles over another program.

Harrisburg to Munich in Lufthansa business class

In a couple of months my mom needs to go from Harrisburg to Munich, and it worked out perfectly, because there was a one stop option, flying United to Washington, and Lufthansa to Munich. This was literally the only saver award option available that day.

I considered three options for booking this:

  • 62,345 LifeMiles and no surcharges
  • 70,000 MileagePlus miles and no surcharges
  • 55,000 Aeroplan miles plus $800 in surcharges

LifeMiles was a no brainer.

LifeMiles is great for Lufthansa redemptions

London to Tokyo in ANA first class

I recently flew ANA’s new first class between London and Tokyo, and I considered three options for booking this:

  • 115,000 LifeMiles and no surcharges
  • 118,500 MileagePlus miles and no surcharges (usually 115,000, but United charges an extra 3,500 miles when booking last minute)
  • 105,000 Aeroplan miles plus $72 in surcharges

The surcharges through Aeroplan were reasonable, and arguably it’s slightly better of a deal. However, I still thought I’d rather redeem 115,000 miles that I acquired at 1.25 cents each, than 105,000 Aeroplan miles that I’d need to transfer over from Amex.

ANA first class 777

London to Brussels to New York in Brussels Airlines business class

I recently flew Brussels Airlines’ A330 business class from Europe to the US, and on the surface I considered three options for booking this:

  • 60,000 LifeMiles and no surcharges
  • 70,000 MileagePlus miles and no surcharges
  • 55,000 Aeroplan miles and no surcharges

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 through LifeMiles.

Brussels Airlines business class A330

Bangkok to Milan in Thai Airways business class

Last summer I flew Thai Airways’ A350 business class from Bangkok to Milan, and I considered three options for booking this:

  • 78,000 LifeMiles and no surcharges
  • 100,000 MileagePlus miles plus a $75 close-in ticketing fee
  • 75,000 Aeroplan miles plus $120 in surcharges

LifeMiles was once again the best value.

Thai Airways business class A350

New York to Johannesburg to Windhoek in SAA business class

Ford and I are headed to Namibia this spring, and are flying South African Airways’ A350 business class from New York to Johannesburg, before connecting to Windhoek.

I considered three options for booking this:

  • 78,000 LifeMiles and no surcharges
  • 80,000 MileagePlus miles and no surcharges
  • 75,000 Aeroplan miles and no surcharges

While Aeroplan has a marginally lower mileage requirement, I ultimately preferred buying miles for ~$975 rather than transferring 75,000 Amex points.

South African Airways’ A350 business class

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.

However, I’ve consistently gotten great value from the program, and am always happy to have a mileage balance with LifeMiles.

If I can pick up miles at a real cost of 1.25 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 for 1.5 cents each towards other travel purchases, and I would come out ahead (compared to transferring to 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…

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Comments
  1. I recently booked very simple JFK-LIS on TAPAirPortugal. One way business was 35,000 LifeMiles. Seemed like a mistake price, which I was happy to take advantage of.

  2. LifeMiles do not charge fuel surcharges, but I think they charge a booking fee? How much is it, $50 per passenger?

  3. Ben, Interesting article and congratulations on the excellent redemptions using LM. I wanted to participate in redeeming LM for upcoming travel between US and India and constantly ran into “no flights for selected dates” pretty much all the way from March to July. I know that LH, AC, And AI all have some award space as checked on United or Aeroplan, but LM came up blank. Any thoughts?

  4. I love Lifemiles and get great use out of them. Just booked Turkish Airlines biz to and from Istanbul from Atlanta on the new 787-9. Easy website to navigate and super easy to accumulate miles for cheap. I signed up for the Avianca credit card to get the bonus and used the card to pay for a Lifemiles annual subscription. Had over 63k miles by year end.

  5. There will inevitably be people who come in and post about how LifeMiles is a scam because they can’t find availability themselves, accuse you of getting paid etc.

    But I’ve gotta say, LifeMiles has been great depending on the situation. It shouldn’t be relied upon as the only method for redeeming *A awards (honestly, no program should be relied upon exclusively), but it’s definitely not a scam.

  6. Used them to book flights round trip to Dubai. Used TY points in one direction and UR in the other. Taking the flights in about 6 weeks.

  7. Flying next week, JFK-SYD via HND. only 80K in J! (and the new J on ANA, can’t wait!).. Its only 5K more to fly HND-SYD …. that is great value! And lots of JFK-HND-SYD availability next few weeks!

  8. I recently booked 3 pax BKK-HKT.
    Aeroplan: 20,000/40,000 eco/biz (per person)
    LifeMiles: 7,500/10,000 eco/biz (per person)
    Obviously I booked using LifeMiles, in Biz.

  9. As another user stated above I booked three one-way business class seats on tap Portugal’s A330 Neo for 35,000 miles each. JFK-LIS. Immediately after my booking confirmed there were no more available business award seats when searching again.

  10. I’ve booked several flights between IAH and Southeast Asia through TPE on EVA Air biz class for 75,000 each way, which is easily at or more than 3x the value I paid acquiring those miles.

  11. They do give more than 2 segments on an award. I was given the option SZG-FRA-LHR-YYZ-PHL which did not show on UA or AC. The flights that showed on those websites of course did not show on Lifemiles.

  12. I have gotten really good use out of LifeMiles, from good mixed award tickets and cheaper nonstop one-way economy flights, to great prices for long-haul business class.

    @DC, I took that route last April, with my parents, 2 tickets for 240k LifeMiles which is an amazing value. Enjoy your trip!

  13. Another great thing for me with LM is that points – whether I purchase them directly or transfer TY points from Citi – show up instantly.

    Last year, I had a decent existing booking in biz on AC going SFO-YYC-FRA-BIO all in biz with SQ miles. But I checked LM the day before I flew – and found SFO-MUC-BIO in LH F for 83K miles. This was a great upgrade for not a lot of extra points.

  14. So you choose to not mention their mixed cabin trick, which is… Okay.
    Also they previously have transfer bonus from MR and TYP, would still be a nice deal especially TYP.

  15. Has the LM award booking website gotten any better? In my experience a few years ago, it was truly awful – constant bugs and glitches.

  16. I recently redeemed LifeMiles for BKK-TPE-ORD-DAY in TG J, BR J, and UA Y. I managed to get it done but phew boy, was it a process. I don’t think it is within LifeMiles’ capability to book any itinerary with 2 or more connections. I initially thought LifeMiles wasn’t showing my itinerary as available because it involved an overnight connection and the city on one end was fairly small. I started playing around with their online tool though and even between major city pairs no 2+ stop itineraries would ever show even if they were available on MileagePlus and others. For some reason you can’t just contact them and feed them the flight numbers and dates you want but you have to send them screenshots of award space for all the individual flights and another screenshot of the entire itinerary failing to price. Then I had to email them again 4 days to check to make sure they were working on it and only then I received a phone call where I had to confirm identity and itinerary details to them. Long story short, LifeMiles can represent a good deal most of the time, but it can also be a tremendous pain in the ass.

  17. @Weymar – In fairness, Ben says to use LM for simple, one-stop-max itineraries. Anything else will be difficult or impossible.

    What worries me more is that I’ve had awful experiences with the website giving me errors when I try to book. When that happens, you have to go through the same process of emailing screenshots and waiting a few days. That really worries me because award space can vanish in a flash.

  18. The only way to book complicated itineraries is by emailing them. If you find award space on multiple segments but the website doesn’t show it, you can send an email with all the details and they will put the award on hold. After that you can call in and they will take you CC info over the phone and proceed with booking the award. Painful and time consuming but it can be done.

  19. LifeMiles also offers terrific bonuses for booking hotels. You omitted the booking fee of I believe $25 which is a surcharge. Lately, I find that I can’t find awards with LifeMiles, but I can with United.

  20. Don’t forget about domestic economy travel. many united flights can be had for 8000 miles one way +$10 booking fee.

  21. I’ve recently been desperately trying to use my LifeMiles up as i seem to have no luck finding any availability on the simple routes I’m looking to book from the UK. However, even searching some of Bens routes theres nothing in J and its all in Y.
    Im finding plenty of availability if i want to travel round europe in J, if you can out up with our shoddy business class over here

  22. LifeMiles IMHO is the best mileage program in the planet but I am not acumulating miles there because I am afraid about their financial status. Its parent comany AVIANCA is strugling to survive. What do you guys know about that? I´d love to return to Lifemiles.

  23. I guess it’s luck of the draw. I’ve seen precisely one time any award space with an origin anywhere out of Florida, particularly MIA. Just saw recently a flight on TAP, but it wasn’t an overwhelmingly great value. Avianca to actually deal with is not so simple from my experience. Their site mostly shows no availability at all out of MIA to anywhere in Europe even there are several Star Alliance carriers flying here. I’d even be willing to do a connection in Bogotà (eh, why not?!), but that too always shows unavailable.

    I guess they work from some, but thus far I’m quite unimpressed. Had high hopes for them based on reviews seen here, but haven’t yet realized any value at all from them. Maybe point to point flights not originating in the US as you have provided those examples might be the way to go. But out of MIA, go for it and look. You’ll likely see what I see. Pick any city. You’ll see.

  24. Lifemiles not so flexible any more – cancellation fee $200 per ticket for long haul. Website a lottery whether your route will a) show up and b) get past the payment page without crashing. And if you cant use them those LM miles will expire, and in any case they’ll vanish when Avianca goes bust in the travel downturn.

  25. I’ve had good success in the past booking long haul biz flights with lifemiles, lately not so much. I think this is partially due to less availability in and out of SFO.

    However I do still encounter simple awards which are available on United which aren’t on lifemiles.

    Overall lifemiles is a mixed bag, the site and search interface sucks and is quite buggy, the fees for changing a ticket and booking by phone are quite high. On the plus side the miles are cheap, fees are low and mixed cabin awards can offer an amazing value. I flew from bkk to sfo with the nrt sfo leg in NH first for 72k miles.

    Lately I’ve gotten more value booking close in domestic awards with lifemiles.

  26. Based on recent searches I’ve done, the LifeMiles website isn’t showing any of the Lufthansa award space, in any cabin, that I’ve found on the United and Aeroplan websites. In this case, would I just call in to book?

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