Is LifeMiles Still Blocking Star Alliance Award Space?

I’m a big fan of Avianca’s LifeMiles program. They have attractive premium cabin redemptions rates on Star Alliance partner airlines, and they don’t add any carrier imposed surcharges to award tickets.

Best of all, LifeMiles sells miles at a discount quite often, so it’s a great way to score a deal on a first or business class Star Alliance ticket. For example, today is the last day to register for a special OMAAT bonus of 140% on purchased miles. After you register you’ll have to wait 24 hours before buying miles, so tomorrow is the last day to buy miles. In the interest of full disclosure I don’t get anything out of this, I just appreciate that they offer a special deal to you guys (well, and to me — I’m buying miles under this offer as well).

In this post I wanted to provide a positive update on LifeMiles award availability that I’ve noticed lately.

Historically LifeMiles has blocked some award space

Historically LifeMiles hasn’t had access to all Star Alliance award availability. For whatever reason they often didn’t have access to Lufthansa first class award space, Austrian business class award space, and all Air China award space. I’m not sure why exactly this was, but I’d guess there are a few possibilities:

  • These redemptions cost LifeMiles the most, so they were doing what they could to prevent members from booking these seats
  • Perhaps the other airlines didn’t want LifeMiles booking the award space
  • Perhaps there was a technology issue or some other contract issue; for example, several Star Alliance programs have had issues booking Air China award space, so LifeMiles wasn’t alone there

I always try to add the warning that availability with LifeMiles may not match what you see with other programs when writing about the program.

How to approach the LifeMiles program

Do you want to plan a multi-segment itinerary or book an award with lots of stopovers? Then LifeMiles isn’t for you. I take a very simple approach to the program — only book one-ways, and what you see online is what you get. In my experience the call center can’t see space that isn’t available online.

Sometimes you’ll be disappointed, because the seats you want won’t be bookable through LifeMiles. However, more often than not I seem to have luck booking through them.

So you just have to come in with the “what you see is what you get” expectation, and you won’t be disappointed. Given the good price at which they sell miles, it’s tough to go wrong buying LifeMiles for premium cabin tickets, in my opinion.

How much award space is LifeMiles blocking nowadays?

Historically LifeMiles didn’t have access to Lufthansa first class award availability, or any Air China award availability.

However, lately I noticed that LifeMiles has access to Lufthansa first class award availability again, which is great news (for a while they had access to more Lufthansa first class availability than other partners, but that’s not the case anymore).

Similarly, Air China awards are once again bookable with LifeMiles, and they generally are good about releasing premium cabin award availability.

After noticing those two things, I figured I should do a quick “audit” of LifeMiles award availability. Specifically, I searched one premium cabin award seat on each of the over two dozen Star Alliance member airlines. I used United’s website to search, and then once I found a saver level award seat I went to LifeMiles’ website to see if they also saw that. In all cases I searched premium cabin award availability, since historically that’s what has been blocked.

I didn’t cherry-pick here, but rather just chose dates and routes at random, to/from North America whenever possible.

What did I find? With the exception of SAS and South African Airways (which haven’t been bookable with LifeMiles for years), LifeMiles availability matched what other Star Alliance airlines had access to. This includes in ANA first class…

And Asiana first class…

And Austrian business class…

And United business class…

And LOT business class…

I could keep sharing the screenshots, but cropping them is a bit cumbersome, so just take my word for it that availability matched on other partners as well.

Does this mean LifeMiles has access to full Star Alliance award availability (minus SAA and SAS)? Absolutely not. I just searched one flight on each airline. That hardly represents what you might find if searching for many flights on each airline. However, it’s a great sign that the randomly picked flight in each case also showed through LifeMiles.

This suggests to me that LifeMiles has access to more Star Alliance award availability than at any point I can recall in the past, as there were always several partners on which they couldn’t book space, as far as I can remember. So this is great news, in my opinion, and they should be commended for this.

I figure it’s something to be aware of before the current LifeMiles promo ends.

What has been your experience with LifeMiles having access to award space lately?

Comments

  1. SAS is still not bookable on lifemiles.com.
    The other concern is how much of a hassle and $$ to change/cancel an award.

  2. I just booked LH F from FRA-JFK through Lifemiles for this past Saturday. Was even able to call them and move the flight to Sunday when I saw availability. Had no problems at all. In the past been able to book TG and OZ F with no issues.

  3. I was searching this weekend for US-EU and availability was not the same on United and Lifemiles (or Aeroplan, for that matter.) However, sometimes itineraries only came up on Lifemiles. It’s a mystery.

  4. Lucky, recently I have seen more SA award space on Life Miles than on any other program. For example, I booked a one-way from IAD to FRA in LH business class in just a few weeks, and the flight was unavailable in J on united.com, singapore.com, and aeroplan.

  5. If you click continue, you will see the error message again. The screen shot for the flight schedule doesn’t guarantee the flights are available for booking.

  6. @ Lucky — I’ve read claims that people have successfully pieced together/ticketed over email. Ever done this?

    —JRL

  7. I actually flew LH-F last week from IAD and return to Boston, both segments with plenty of LH -First availability. Now it’s showing sold out for any flight segments for the next several months.

    On LifeMiles does “sold out” just mean they’ve clamped down first redemptions and they’re not available, or have these bookings truly been all snatched up already?

  8. Hi Lucky, did you check EVA AIR specifically? I remember reading a couple years ago that space on their flights was blocked to Lifemiles

  9. Lucky – It would be great if you would also try the reverse “audit”: look on LM for award space, then see if you can find it on UA and Air Canada. I recently had an experience like John’s, where I found availability on LM, but not UA. I even booked the LM tickets, so it wasn’t phantom space. It would be interesting to know how extensive this discrepancy is.

  10. Ah Lifemiles. I have often considered buying a big block of them but I never have because the program is so quirky.

    I am thinking about signing up for the LM cc. Is there access to more or better award space if you have the cc sort of like the access certain Chase cards afford to discount economy awards on UA?

  11. I still have serious trouble with most destinations with connections. Nonstops work well, but searching for a connection tends to come up with nothing. e.g. jfk-fra-ams will work, but jfk-fra-UK will not.

  12. @JRL – I’ve emailed with LM to piece together individual legs / flights that don’t show up when searching complete itinerary. You need to send screenshots and have patience but in general the support desk will come back in a few days with the itinerary you suggested. They’ll call you to them collect payment. Only drawback is that during the wait flights might became unavailable…

  13. Since Lifemiles changed the booking engine it has become a nightmare to find space and make a booking.

    A route may show up on Lifemiles but it crashes out when you try to enter the pax names. Air Canada BNE-LAX for example and many other AC routes.

    Any routes recently added within the last 3 years which are not in their database will fail or not even display, try looking for the direct flight SYD-IAH on UA, plenty of Y space, then look on LM, route doesn’t exist.

    And anything with a connection, routes where the old engine would let you select the carrier and the route like TG LHR-SYD, will now crash with a message “carrier does not fly this route”. You can still try to book on the Star-Alliance setting and sometimes it will show up, butmore often it will only show some unpalatable routing on CA – which also crashes out when selected.

  14. @DC-PHLyer – you’re right, connections to London seem to be a problem since last year although strangely, it depends on the route. For example, LHR-FRA/MUC-ORD comes up no problem but nothing via JFK.

    I also usually need a connecting flight to Canada and those never come up as a complete itinerary online. But in the last month, I have had success is getting them to build 4 tailor-made itineraries for me. If you are going to go down that route, it’s important that you provide all the required information from the start in order to speed up the process:

    Name, Date of Birth, LifeMiles number and a contact telephone number for the to call you on when they are ready to book and ticket your flights.
    Full itinerary with dates, times, flight numbers and class of travel of each leg
    Screenshots showing availability of each individual leg with your class of travel bullet ticked
    A scan of your passport: this is an absolute requirement, if you don’t send it initially, they will simply write back and request it again and you’ll lose another three days waiting time.
    A short cover note explaining that you are requesting a manual booking because your itinerary is not showing up on the website

    You should then get an email within a day from the support desk informing you that they have sent your request to the “concerned department”. Then you have another 2-3 day wait for the phone call from a Miami phone number.

    Every time it was the same guy calling me back, Diego. Really nice guy and he actually does the booking for you whilst on the phone, it was never done in advance. He’s very easy going and willing to look at other alternatives with you during the phone call. He’s my new BFF. The whole thing is a hassle but the reward is well worth it, if you have the stomach for it all.

    Also remember, if you are going to use the part miles part cash facility, never purchase the absolute maximum but reduce your cash purchase by 3,000 miles. For some odd reason, they charge 1.5 cents for all miles except the last 3,000 of any maximum purchase which are charged at 3.3 cents.

  15. @George: Sounds great, until Diego quits.

    Also, my big worry is that award space disappears during the 3 days you have to wait until Diego calls you. Why don’t they just let people call and talk to Diego and his colleagues directly?

    It’s ever so slightly tempting to just buy thousands of dollars worth of miles during one of their big sales, then use them as needed. If it were even just a little easier to deal with them when things go wrong (e.g., can’t piece together an itinerary online even though all segments are available), I would. But as it is now, it’s too risky.

  16. @George: Thanks for these details. I got about $5,000 worth of LifeMiles during a promotion even better than the one they have now (slightly better — not substantially better) but I’ve only been able to use 25,000 miles for a domestic USA ticket last August and still have some 370,000 miles or so. I bought them with the idea that I wanted to take my mother on the first class trip of a lifetime (some long-haul destination like South Africa or New Zealand or Australia) but although I have checked numerous times in the last two or so years, I can never find anything. It does sound like of late it might be possible and perhaps I should try again.

    @Mjolnir22: So, I have the LifeMiles credit card — but — WARNING — their computer system is archaic and you should NOT expect it to be as efficient as the ones you are used to using for other cards based in the USA (Chase, American Express, Bank of America, Citibank, etc.) As such, they messed up a simple transaction of about $25 — and I followed their rules to dispute the charge — but the dispute department does not talk to the computer system — so the card went unpaid (technically disputed) and my credit rating dropped like 75 points or something and I was livid. So I got the card to a zero balance and have kept the card in my drawer. In late June, I’ll be assessed an annual fee. I’m thinking of killing the card, but I heard somewhere (please confirm someone else if you know) that WITHOUT the LifeMiles credit card, mileage balances start to have an expiration date whereas — at the time I purchased them — they had an unlimited lifetime use.

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