Hey PointsNerd readers, it’s been a minute 🙂
I’ve been insanely busy with work and life and have been neglecting the blog a little bit but I hope to make it up to you by cluing you into a program that has very little fanfare in Canada but deserves some real attention.
What Are LifeMiles?
LifeMiles is the program and currency of Star Alliance Carrier, Avianca (AV). While Avianca is a Colombia based carrier, it has an excellent network within Central and South America with limited connections to North America and Europe.
The only routing that really pertains to Canadians (without repositioning) is from Toronto to San Salvador, the capital and most populous city in El Salvador.
San Salvador actually serves as a hub for Avianca, along with Bogota, Colombia and Lima, Peru, so connections throughout Central and South America are actually possible with one-stop out of Toronto.
Why Does This Matter?
Most of us don’t have Central or South America high up on the list, especially if you have to position to Toronto and then connect in San Salvador. So why do you care about LifeMiles if you aren’t planning a trip south of the 15th meridian?
The reason is that Avianca is a Star Alliance carrier, meaning that you have access to all Star Alliance carriers for award travel, just like you would with Aeroplan!
The biggest plus about this is that Avianca, and conversely LifeMiles, DOES NOT CHARGE FUEL SURCHARGE!
Before you even ask; YES – this means that you can fly Lufthansa First Class, Thai First Class, Air Canada Business Class and any other Star Alliance carrier without being charged fuel surcharge!
Pros and Cons
As with any loyalty program out there, you’re going to have positives and negatives and LifeMiles is no exception. I would say that generally, LifeMiles is a bit more complicated than something like Alaska’s Mileage Plan program but in my opinion, it’s worth learning due to the great value that is possible.
I’ll dive deeper into the program in the next couple of posts but let’s start by looking at the positives of the program at a high level.
- No fuel surcharge when booking with Star Alliance airline partners that normally charge fuel surcharge.
- Excellent ability to buy LifeMiles at a deep discount on a fairly regular basis
- Flexibility in the program with Cash and Miles redemptions
- No close-in booking fee (For example, United charges $75 USD if booking an award within 21 days of travel)
- Mixed cabin awards are allowed
Even with the strong value proposition that LifeMiles provides, there are a few negatives that you must keep in mind. Again, I will cover this more in depth in future posts but let’s look at some things to keep in mind.
- $25 fee to book an award, regardless of whether it is online or over the phone. Ultimately this fee is peanuts compared to the savings but some readers definitely hate fees.
- There are no stopovers allowed
- Some limited availability has been reported for Lufthansa (LH) awards in premium cabin
- Any layover in excess of 8 hours is considered as stop and will then be considered a separate award, meaning you will pay more points.
- There are many reports of a language barrier when calling in for assistance to the LifeMiles call centre. There are ways around this, which I will cover off in the next few posts.
- Some reports of wonky behaviour on the LifeMiles website
How To Get Miles
If I haven’t scared you off with the cons, you can see the value that I see as a travel hacker. When there’s a program that doesn’t charge fuel surcharge regardless of the partner airline you fly, it’s worth the hassles of all the cons I’ve listed above. We’ll take a look at how to book these awards in the next post but first things first – how to actually get LifeMiles.
Unfortunately, there are no credit card transfer partners in Canada that directly transfer to Avianca’s LifeMiles program, nor is there a credit card that earns LifeMiles that can be readily accessed by Canadians. The only easy way to transfer miles into LifeMiles is through Marriott, either through the normal points transfer ratio of 60,000 Marriott Reward Points : 25,000 Avianca LifeMiles or through Marriott’s Travel Package.
The Travel Package used to represent a very good deal but after the SPG integration, not so much. You can read our take on the new packages here.
While both are viable options to those that have Marriott Rewards Points or Membership Reward Points from American Express that can transfer to Marriott, many people just don’t have those types of points.
Luckily, LifeMiles goes on sale – a lot.
We are actually working with LifeMiles to bring an even better deal to PointsNerd readers so stay tuned for that in the future.
What this means is that in a pinch, you can easily purchase points to make an award booking and save significant amounts of money rather than booking a regular revenue ticket. Keep in mind that award inventory is an airline’s distressed inventory so you often won’t find the most convenient timest to travel but still – it’s a huge amount of money to save.
There are lots of great programs for Canadians including Aeroplan’s Mini Round-the-World Excursions and Alaska Airline’s amazing Partner Redemptions but Avianca LifeMiles offers a unique value proposition to Canadians in that you can simply buy the miles you need when they come on sale and secure your award flight for much less than if you purchased the ticket at retail.
Stay tuned to find out how you can maximize the value of Avianca’s LifeMiles program.