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

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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.


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


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!

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