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:
- LifeMiles is transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards
- LifeMiles is transfer partners with Capital One
- LifeMiles is transfer partners with Citi ThankYou
- LifeMiles has co-branded credit cards with good sign-up bonuses
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- When there’s a 150% bonus on purchased miles, you can acquire them for 1.32 cents each
- If you pay with The Platinum Card® from American Express (review) you earn 5x points (on up to $500,000 in flight purchases per calendar year and then 1x), which I value at an 8.5% return, bringing down the “real” cost per acquired mile to ~1.20 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?