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Sometimes I hate getting emails from airlines. While some contain information on bonus promos, others are like the one that Lifemiles, the mileage program of Star Alliance carrier Avianca, sent out to members yesterday announcing sweeping changes to its award chart.
Here’s what the email said:
“To maintain a reasonable relation between the miles we charge for redemptions and the commercial fares available in the market, adjustments are necessary at times.
In this occasion, we are announcing changes to our redemption fares for flights with Avianca and Star Alliance member airlines. With these changes, some destinations will require more miles and others will reduce the amount of miles required. Some routes will not have variations.
To be sure that our members have the opportunity to understand all changes before these take place, all modifications will be effective from October 15th, 2014.”
Well, at least they’re giving us about 3 months notice this time around (the airline also raised some redemption levels last year without notice).
The email then linked to this page with “illustrative” examples of how many miles you’ll need on certain routes from North America to various places around the world, but they’re just round-trip economy numbers. The page outlining the changes goes on to say:
“As for changes in air ticket redemption with Star Alliance member airlines, these include increases up to 13.000 miles in Economy Class and up to 26.000 miles in Business Class. Both cases apply for roundtrip flights from North America.
“For roundtrip flights from Mexico, there will be reductions up to 15.000 miles and increases up to 14.000 miles in Economy Class, also reductions up to 20.000 miles and increases up to 28.000 miles in Business class.”
And then these unhelpful tidbits:
- “The table shown above is illustrative only; its intention is to summarize the amount of miles that will be required per region for the X class in economy cabin. The amount of miles required for a ticket redemption is calculated based on a specific origin and destination and could not match with the amount of miles shown on the table above, it could be higher.”
- “The amount of miles required could vary depending on the date, route and redemption product.”
- “To know the exact amount of required miles for each origin and destination, it will be necessary to consult the amount through the redemption system at https://www.lifemiles.com/eng/use/red/dynredpar.aspx after October 15th, 2014.”
So if I’m following all this correctly, tickets to/from the US will go up as much as 13,000 miles round-trip in economy and 26,000 miles round-trip in business class, except when “it could be higher.” Awesome, Lifemiles, way to be clear about all this.
For a quick, specific example: According to Lifemiles’ current award chart, a round-trip economy award from North America to Europe would be 60,000 miles. However, according to the page that outlines the changes, the new amount from Dallas, Newark, New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston and Toronto will be 80,000 miles. So the difference will be 20,000 miles, not 13,000 miles.
On the other hand, round-trip awards in economy from those same cities to Southern South America will remain unchanged at 45,000 miles.
There are some other strange inconsistencies, like separate pricing from Miami and Orlando and Florida in general, as well as differences between flying from Los Angeles versus San Francisco on specific routes.
All this makes me think that instead of a new award chart from Avianca, we’ll see a distance-based award system where you’ll enter your city pairs into a calculator, and the amount of miles will depend on how far you’re flying, and possibly whether you are flying Avianca versus a Star Alliance partner (much like United introduced different pricing for awards on its own metal versus partner airlines last year.
However, there seems to be no way to tell exactly what we’re going to see come October 15, so if you’ve been holding off booking a Lifemiles award, I would do so before then, especially if you’re looking at award chart sweet spots like the ones I’ll discuss below.
100% Share Miles Bonus
Avianca Lifemiles is offering a 100% bonus on shared miles until July 21, 2014. This offer is not targeted, so all you have to do to participate is go to the promo page and transfer your miles to participate. There are, however, a few conditions. Here are the most important (check the link for the complete list):
- Minimum transfer miles: 1,000
- Maximum transfer miles: 75,000
- The miles must be transferred in multiples of 1,000
- Maximum transfer miles per member per year: LM 150,000. (Includes promotional transfer miles bonuses).
- Transfer fee for each block of 1,000 LifeMiles: USD $17.70 including local taxes*
- The amount paid for the miles’ transfer is not refundable
- The miles transferred and earned with this promotion do not apply to achieve Elite status
There are a few things to note here. First, the price to transfer miles is now 1.77 cents each. That’s like paying 1.77 cents for each new mile you generate. The price on transferred miles used to be 1.5 cents, so this isn’t as good a deal as in the past. Nor is it as good a deal as purchasing Lifemiles at the time of booking, since you can buy up to 60% of the miles you need for an award for as little as 1.5 cents per mile (though the cost can be up to 3 cents per mile depending on how many you purchase).
Though the bonus terms also say you can transfer up to 75,000 miles (with the recipient receiving 150,000 miles), it looks like you can only transfer 50,000 at a time. Otherwise you get an error message that says “the amount of miles you wish to transfer exceeds the maximum limit.” 50,000 seems to be the max the system can handle.
There are also a couple of other things to remember about Lifemiles and the awards you can book using them.
On the positive side:
- There are no fuel surcharges – this is a big plus over other loyalty programs like Singapore Airlines Krisflyer and Air Canada Aeroplan.
- You can book one-way awards for half the price of round-trips
- You can purchase miles at 1.5 cents each for up to 60% of an award ticket with their cash & points option
On the negative side:
- You cannot redeem for mixed-cabin awards, so if you want a business class award, you must find availability in business class on all legs
As with all deals like this, it’s important to have a specific, high-value, imminent and attainable award to make buying miles worthwhile. That’s especially true given the upcoming changes to the Lifemiles award chart.
As I mentioned, Avianca is a member of Star Alliance, and you can view their award chart here. There are a couple sweet spots worth noting.
For instance, round-trip business class from North America to Southern South America (Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia) is 100,000 miles as opposed to the 110,000 United now charges.
North America to Europe redemptions have gone up recently to 105,000 miles in business class and 145,000 in first class. However, it’s a bargain compared to what United would charge you: 116,000 miles round-trip in business class and 160,000 miles round-trip in first on its own metal, and 140,000 miles or 220,000 miles in business and first, respectively, on partners like Lufthansa or Swiss!
To put that in another context, let’s say you had 25,000 Lifemiles sitting around and transferred them to someone else for a total of 50,000 miles at a cost of $442.50. You could then look for business class awards to Europe this summer, like the following itinerary on Brussels Airlines and Lufthansa, where you can use your 50,000 miles and pay a cash co-pay of $825. So your out-of-pocket cost for a round-trip business class ticket to Europe comes to $1,267.50. That’s much cheaper than the cash price, but it’s still a big outlay.
Just remember, if you book a cash and miles ticket like this and then cancel it, youll get refunded in miles, not money. That’s handy if you want to buy miles cheaply, especially because they don’t count toward the annual limit of miles you can buy, but it’s expensive if you simply change your mind and want your money back, so be certain of your plans before you consider that option.
Also worth noting: Lifemiles purchases are processed directly by the airline, so they count as an airline purchase and should earn you bonus points if you pay for it with a credit card with airline or general travel category bonuses, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Barclaycard Arrival Plus.
Know before you go.
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