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Evaluating US Airways vs. Avianca 100% Buy Miles Bonuses For Star Alliance Awards

by on December 4, 2012 · 39 comments

in Avianca TACA, Buy Miles Promotions, star alliance, US Airways

Two Star Alliance airlines are offering 100% bonuses on purchased miles right now raising the question: which miles should you buy, US Airways Dividend Miles or Avianca/TACA Lifemiles?

First, let’s look at the two promotions.

1. US Airways 100% Bonus Buy Miles Promotion

I’ve written about this promotion a couple times since it was announced at the beginning of November and then extended until December 7.

Now through December 7, receive a 100% bonus when buying US Airways miles.

There’s no need to register since this isn’t a targeted promotion, and you’ll receive the bonus automatically on the Buy Miles page. However, there are a few rules:

1. You must be a Dividend Miles member for at least 12 days, so you can’t sign up today and get the bonus, unfortunately.
2. This promotion limits mileage purchases to 50,000 miles – 100,000 miles with the bonus.
3. For each purchase there is a processing fee of $30 and a 7.5% tax recovery charge, and GST/HST will be charged to Canadian residents.
4. These transactions are processed by points.com so it won’t count towards airfare multiplier categories like the 3 points per $1 on the Premier Rewards Gold or 2 points per $1 on the Sapphire Preferred, or for reimbursements through the Amex Platinum $200 rebate.

With this promo, it basically costs 1.88 cents per mile, which can be a great deal if you plan to redeem these miles for expensive international awards like business class to Asia for 90,000 miles (you’d end up paying $1,693 instead of $5,000-6,000).  You can view the US Airways award chart here.

US Airways Award Chart

2. Avianca 100%  Bonus Buy Miles Promotion

This promotion is available between December 3 and December 28, 2012, as the last date of purchase.

  • Minimum miles you may purchase: 1,000
  • Maximum: 75,000 miles – for a total of 150,000 miles
  • This promotion is available through Avianca and TACA’s Call Centers, LifeMiles.com and Avianca and TACA’s Information Centers, except Colombia where is available only through the Call Center and LifeMiles.com and Venezuela where is available only through the Call Center
  • Miles must be purchased in multiples of 1,000
  • Maximum number of transactions: 1
  • Does not apply to the Flexible Redemption (miles + money) payment option.
  • The amount for purchase of miles is not refundable
  • Each package of 1,000 miles cost USD $30 plus local taxes
Avianca is a member of Star Alliance and you can view their award chart here, but for instance, roundtrip business class from North America to either Europe or Southern South America (Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia) is 100,000 miles (135,000 in first class).
Essentially, you’re purchasing miles for 3 cents each and getting a bonus of 100%, so your final cost is 1.5 cents per mile – already ahead of the US Airways cost per mile. Also remember that Avianca lets you redeem for one-way awards, adding an extra level of flexibility that US Airways does not have.
Where this gets really interesting, however, is that when you search for award tickets on Avianca’s website, it will show you award availability and the cost in miles – but there is a widget down at the bottom of the page that lets you choose a cash & miles option so you can actually decrease the mileage amount in increments of 1,000 miles while upping the price of the ticket.

This United roundtrip itinerary in economy from LAX-JFK in January is 25,000 miles, same as if you were using US Airways (or United) miles.

The cash portion operates on a sliding scale, so while the first couple thousand miles you “buy back” cost close to 3 cents per miles…

Using 1,000 miles less costs just under $30, or 3 cents per mile.

You can choose to use cash to pay for up to 60% of the ticket, at which point the cost per mile goes down to a very reasonable 1.275 cents each.

You only need 40% of the miles necessary to get an award ticket and can “buy” the rest at a low rate of 1.275 cents each.

Even better – there aren’t fuel surcharges on awards, so you won’t end up paying hundreds or even thousands more dollars in fees than you are planning to.

So if you do the math, you’re buying 40% of the miles for 1.5 cents each with this promo and then 60% of the miles at 1.275 cents. That works out to 1.365 cents per mile – and that’s a pretty hard value to beat.

Where this can get to be very valuable is for those extremely expensive premium class international tickets that normally cost thousands and thousands of dollars and hundreds of thousands of miles. For instance, one of the great values in the Avianca award chart is going from North America to South Africa (which includes pretty much everywhere in Sub-Saharan African including the Seychelles, Mauritius and South Africa itself) in business class for just 120,000 miles – that’s only 20,000 more miles than a business class redemption to Europe would cost. (Just for reference, the US Airways partner award chart lists North America-Africa as 110,000 miles roundtrip – potentially another great value.)

One of the program’s best value redemptions is 120,000 miles for roundtrip business class to southern Africa.

With this promo, you could buy 60,000 miles for $1,800 and get a bonus 60,000 miles for the total 120,000 you’d need for the following itinerary from JFK to Johannesburg in March outbound on South African Airways and returning on EgyptAir via Cairo.

However, because of the airline’s cash & miles option you would only actually need 48,000 miles in your account and could buy the rest for $918.72.

For business class from New York to Johannesburg roundtrip, you’d only need 48,000 miles and $920.

So if you were starting from scratch, you could purchase 24,000 Lifemiles and get 48,000 with this promo for $720, then you would pay the $920 on top of that for a total of $1,640.

Comparable itineraries on Orbitz are going for between $4,200-$7,200, so you’re saving anywhere from $2,600-5,600 per ticket!

For more information on the Avianca/TACA Lifemiles program and its rules, you can check out this FlyerTalk thread.

COMPARISON SCENARIOS

Now, let’s compare the two promos on a few different itineraries.

1. North America – Europe

You would need 100,000 US Airways miles to get from North America to Europe and back in business class. With the 100% Buy Miles promo, that would cost you $1,881.25 all in.

Avianca/TACA also requires 100,000 miles to fly between North America and Europe. You could either purchase 50,000 miles outright for $1,500, or you could just purchase 20,000 miles for $600 and get 40,000 through the bonus, then purchase the remaining 60,000 you’d need for about $765 – so your total cash outlay would be $1,365.

Either way you’re coming out ahead since these tickets normally go for anywhere between $3,000-6,000 depending on the route and date of travel.

Winner: Avianca

2. North America to Southern South America

Let’s say you wanted to fly from the US to Brazil. US Airways would require you to spend 60,000, 100,000 or 125,000 miles in coach, business or first respectively. So that business class redemption would also cost you $1,881.25 with the current promo.

Avianca/TACA would require 60,000, 100,000 or 135,000 miles depending on your class of service, so business class is $1,375 and again you’re coming out ahead here.

Winner: Avianca

3. Within South America

However, if you wanted to put some of your US Airways miles to fly within South America – and anywhere in South America since it’s all just one region on the airline’s partner award chart – you’d need just 25,000, 30,000 or 40,000 miles for economy, business or first class to go anywhere. Compare that to Avianca’s requirement of 25,000, 40,000 or 50,000 miles and US Airways is suddenly looking better.

On the cost side of things, though, those 30,000 US Airways miles for business class would cost you $564 while Avianca would make you pay $240 for 16,000 miles (8,000 miles plus 8,000 bonus) plus $306 through cash & miles for the extra 24,000 – $546 total. Still less than US Airways – but remember, that’s just within the southern part of the continent.

If you were to travel between southern South America and northern South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru), the US Airways requirements are the same, but  you’d need 40,000, 80,000 or 90,000 miles for economy, business or first. That brings up your price on the business class fare up to $1,092. Almost double the cost of using US Airways miles.

Winner: US Airways

3. North America to Australia

This is one of my favorite US Airways redemptions since you can go from North America to the South Pacific with a stopover in Asia for a total of 110,000 miles in business class. While you can’t purchase 110,000 miles through this promo, if you could it would net out to $2,068.

By contrast, Australia falls into Lifemiles’ “Others” category, and you’d need 135,000 miles to fly from North America to Australia in business class on the airline. Now, you could purchase all those miles (136,000 actually since you have to purchase in increments of 1,000 and half of 135,000 is 66,500) for $2,040, or you could buy just 40% of them. So you’d need to purchase 27,000 miles for a total of 54,000 miles for $810. Then you’d have to buy the other 81,000 for about $1,030 for a total cost of $1,840.

While it seems you’re coming out ahead with Lifemiles, remember, the airline doesn’t allow stopovers on awards – this could be fine if you’re just looking to go to Australia and back, but if you want to add in that valuable Asia stopover, US Airways is the way to go.

Winner: Close call: Avianca (Cost), US Airways (Flexibility)

4. Domestic US First Class

This is a redemption where US Airways clearly excels because due to a quirk on the airline’s partner award chart, first class redemptions in the US on their Star Alliance partners (namely United) require just 50,000 miles, which I outlined in this post. With the buy miles promo, that would cost you $940.

Avianca would require 70,000 miles for the same redemption. Taking into account the bonus and then cash & miles, you’d be spending $955 – and you can actually book one-ways, whereas US Airways doesn’t allow any chances once the outbound portion has been flown.

Winner: Avianca

5. Within Europe

US Airways’ partner chart requires 25,000 miles and 45,000 miles for economy and business class award tickets respectively within Europe.

Avianca’s requires just 25,000 or 40,000 miles for economy and business respectively. Since Avianca miles are cheaper in the first place – 1.365 cents per mile compared to US Airways’ 1.88 cents per mile and the business class redemption is 5,000 miles less, you’re coming out ahead using Lifemiles in this scenario. That business class ticket would wind up costing you $546 with purchased Lifemiles – so just be sure that’s less than what you’d just be paying for your ticket.

Winner: Avianca

FINAL COMPARISON

I’m new to Avianca/TACA’s Lifemiles program, but just a quick overview of it shows that there are some great values in its award redemption chart when you take both the 100% bonus on purchased miles and the cash & miles option which bring down the price of miles to just under 1.37 cents each. The fact that you can redeem one-way awards is another added plus that US Airways does not allow.

That said, 1.88 cents per mile for US Airways is still a pretty good value for purchased miles, and there are plenty of good values in its award chart to exploit as well – notably that US domestic first class option and redemptions to the South Pacific and North Asia as well as within South America.

As with all buy miles promo, whether it is worth it, and which airline program you choose depends entirely on what you hope to redeem your miles for and what those tickets normally cost. However, both programs present a lot of potential when it comes to those ultra-premium international redemptions, and both have some great Star Alliance availability (I’m also impressed by Lifemiles’ ability to search Star Alliance partner availability – I might just start using it instead of United.com).

Has anyone redeemed Lifemiles? How was your experience? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Bfaizee123

    I used Lifemiles buy miles promo back in September to redeem a 60k miles business class award from Houston to Delhi in December with United+lufthansa. The trip had two stopovers so it was not showing up on Lifemiles website but since it was showing on United’s website I was able to call them and book the flight over the phone. The miles bought posted instantly. They have english speaking customer service but sometimes you may get non-english speaking reps and may cause some troubles but otherwise I think its an awesome program for Star Alliance awards. I was able to get an one way business class ticket to India in about $1000, the same price I was paying for an economy ticket before.

  • John

    Brian- Previously you commented that you could use US Air miles to go to Australia using Singapore Air in bus or first with a stopover in Singapore. It is virtually impossible to get a long haul bus or first redemption in Singapore Air using US Air or partner miles. Singapore Airlines for the most part releases long haul bus or first only to their own Krisflyer program.

    Lifemiles does not allow mixed class redemptions. For example an award with an economy segment and a bus or first segment. I think it must all me in the same class

  • Jason Grunin

    Other conditions

    Applies only to members enrolled in the program prior to December 3rd, 2012

  • Ram Kashyap

    In the post:

    2. North America to Southern South America

    Let’s say you wanted to fly from the US to Brazil. US Airways would require you to spend 60,000, 100,000 or 125,000 miles in coach, business or economy respectively. So that business class redemption would also cost you $1,881.25 with the current promo.

    I guess the last option should be First.

  • The Points Guy

    Thanks you’re right, I fixed it!

  • arcticbull

    3 big caveats:
    (1) No stopovers at all.
    (2) Maximum connection time is 12h. Anything over 6h and you have to call the call center, and apparently they make US Airways agents look like savants.
    (3) No mixed-cabin awards at all. If you pay F miles, every single segment must be in F (not in Y or J). This can make things very difficult getting to/from an international gateway when flying in the front of the bus. For North America you can use USAir, for China, Air China. But barring that you’re going to be ending your F trip at your international gateway and making a separate reservation.

    That said, I’m still game. I’m sure I’ll be able to make something work.

  • arcticbull

    The trip had 2 connections, I assume, which are “layovers” not “stopovers” — a stopover is anything over 12h with AviancaTaca and are not permitted on award tickets.

  • AirplanePeanuts

    Hey Brian K, dont you think that since there is taxes with the award ticket then the cost is more? For instance suppose you are able to buy 120K for JFK to DEL (New York to New Delhi, India) Round trip on US Airways. That comes to 2257 (1.2 x $1881). Then there would be tax too right? I’m not sure but is the US Airways tax to south east asia or to Asia nominal like United.com? Interested to hear your thoughts.

  • mike

    I think a bigger issue to look at is how much availability Aviance opens up for its members. By now it should be widely known US blocks alot of partner seats making those miles harder to use than usual.

  • Choiklu

    can you buy points for Avianca from the creation of the account ? I ve just created one with zero miles. would like to buy 65k for 125k redemption to SE Asia. do you think its possible ?

  • FourN6Doc

    Taxes will be the same as seen on united website except US adds a $50 award fee for international awards

  • arcticbull

    At 3.0CPM yes. At 1.5CPM not until the next promo.

  • arcticbull

    The only thing US blocks is access to LH F. Everything else is just as available as it is to any other carrier. Avianca appears to not be blocking anything, and when the program first launched you could even get SQ F/J and LX F, which nobody else could get. That ended at some point though.

  • arcticbull

    TPG has a habit of telling people that they can use US miles on SQ (F/J) and LX/LH (F), all 3 of which are impossible using US Air miles.

    Lifemiles: Correct, no mixed-class redemptions at all.
    Also, no stopovers, and all layovers must be less than 12 hours long. Over 6 and you have to call in.

  • Jake

    Great Post. Thanks a lot!

  • Bfaizee123

    Yes you’re right. Layovers not stopovers

  • Stephan

    No, as stated above, you need to have an existing and established account. Next time they run the promo, then yes you would qualify.

  • David

    Avianca also dont offer infant fares, they told me I would have to buy a full adult ticket ! Not baby friendly

  • David

    Sorry – to clarify, I meant offer infant fares on miles, and I would have to use teh full adult amount of miles for the infant

  • Barry

    Incorrect information. US does not charge a $30 processing fee on buy miles transactions. They do however on gift miles.

  • BMG

    It is super hard to book with Lifemiles. The best example for this is LOT Polish Airlines. I’ve completely given up on Lifemiles because although availability shows up on United, It doesn’t show up with Lifemiles. Another thing they are bad at is that if you do a search on their website and find something, you wont be able to find it again! This happened to me 9/10 times where I searched for something on their site, found it and then when searchign again told it was sold out.

    Either way, I would go with US Airways anyday because Lifemiles are literally the biggest hassle ever.

  • Barry

    I don’t know that it’s ‘super hard’. I’ve successfully booked 2 3-segment one-ways between EU & Australia & a multi city trip between Australia and Asia with minimal fuss & good carriers. It has it’s place but that place is not where US excels…piecing together complex itineraries based on your preferred carriers, building in slightly under 24 hrs layovers to suit and spoon-feeding all of this to a receptive agent! I also suspect when things go wrong…irrops, schedule changes etc that LM will be much more a PITA to deal with.

    Not sure what the issue is with LOT but I know LM (online) sometimes struggles to see perfectly valid *A subsidiary companies like LH Cityline.

    Lack of mixed class redemptions is the program’s biggest failing for those who are looking to book long haul F.

  • ADRIAN STOLLER

    I reedemed already a lot of C class flight with Lifemiles. Never had some problems. Ticketed within max. 1 hour.
    But I did just simple intenaries. For complex stuff it is not so useful.
    And then search engine could be improved too, but dont forget for US you need to call for everything. As

  • ADRIAN STOLLER

    as I live in Europe. The best deals are North America,(South) Africa, Middle East.
    For Asia I prefer US miles.
    But I really like the one-way option. So I can combine different FFP.

  • Adrian Stoller

    by the way Lifemiles has acces to LH F awards. I saw them, but just with very short notice, not more than 2 weeks ahead.

  • Barry

    I think that’s the case with most FFPs. US also certainly doesn’t have a child or infant miles discount. Anyone I know who has taken an infant on a US redemption has had to pay the 10% cash business fare which can be considerable.

  • Guy

    Brian: That’s two days in a row you have delivered LEGIT posts that keep me coming back for more.

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  • ona

    Actually, there is, if fact a transaction fee. Please go to usairways.com and see for yourself. I just did this and was charged the transaction fee of $35 (not $30). Perhaps it is waived for members of a certain preferred level?

  • Traveller

    I have a ticketed itinerary with a layover greater than 12 hours (and overnight to boot) so I do t think you are correct

  • RichW

    2x miles or any miles purchase program is a scam! Lifemiles lures people with lucrative miles purchase promotion but the system fails when actually trying to purchase tickets. I tried to buy CCU->SJC route via BKK/NRT on Thai and ANA multiple times with no luck. The system shows error after entering passenger details. I even called and tried to book through an agent and even he wasn’t successful (calls keep dropping is another horror story). After investigating he found that ANA will not confirm the tickets, even after calling ANA directly (holding for about an hour). The agent even tried other dates and got the same error. I know this route is available from United MileagePlus and Aeroplan. In general, lifemiles system shows available route but does not allow to complete the ticket purchase. They have problem with other star alliance also like Lufthansa and Singapore. So now I am stuck with my purchased miles as they are useless.

  • pcg

    Not sure if you’re referring only to business class tickets or international travel, but we just took an infant LAX-KOA on UA for free with the adults on award tickets. No miles, no fees for the baby. (BA, flying AA metal, wanted the 10%.)

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  • http://twitter.com/veeRob Rob Perelman

    Wow, TPG, how could you not mention that I had to be a member before December 3rd? Major oversight that just cost me $300. Really wish you would have covered that.

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  • gk08

    I’m a little confused by the cpm calculation for the US miles. I bought these at the last share miles promo and paid $567.50 for 50,000 miles which works out to 1.135 in my book. Might change some of your calculations?

  • GlobetrotterHQ.com

    If you did decide to buy either US Air or Avianca miles, I just posted a chart comparing all of their mileage amount redemptions from Europe. US Airways wins hands down.

  • gkbiiii

    Outstanding, using 2X1 offer my total cost for two one-way J tickets on Swiss MIA-CDG was lass than $1,400!!

    Plus, I really like my Lifemiles credit card, from US Bank! I have earned many miles in, just a short period of time.

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