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Mixed-cabin award tickets are often an unfortunate necessity, especially when traveling in long-haul international business or first class. One common example would be booking a transpacific Cathay Pacific first class flight from the US to Hong Kong (HKG) and then connecting on to another destination in Asia in regional business class (since most airlines don’t operate first class-equipped planes on short flights). You might even end up dropping from first class all the way to economy if there isn’t award availability in business class on the flights you need.
Spending a few hours connecting in a lower class of service isn’t the end of the world, especially if that’s what it takes to fly a fantastic first class product on the long-haul flight. When it comes to booking, your ticket will generally be priced based on the highest class of service you’re flying. That means you’re paying first class rates for a business class or economy connection.
However, one carrier does a great job at addressing this discrepancy: Avianca LifeMiles. This popular Star Alliance loyalty program recently redesigned its award booking site, and the new engine clearly shows how this segment-by-segment pricing for long-haul flights will discount mixed cabin awards.
How LifeMiles Pricing Works
Avianca LifeMiles uses a standard, zone-based award chart for Star Alliance flights. If you’re flying from Point A to Point B in business class, you’ll generally pay a flat amount, regardless of the routing or airline you take. Unfortunately, it appears that the carrier’s redesigned site has removed its published award chart, so you’re now left to search for the award you want to see the price.
For example, a one-way first class award ticket from the US to Japan on ANA, a Star Alliance partner, typically costs 90,000 miles.
This same award would set you back 110,000 miles with United …
Or 105,000 miles with Aeroplan.
However, let’s say you wanted to continue on from Tokyo-Narita (NRT) to another destination in Japan like Okinawa (OKA). Here’s what the award availability looks like for this connecting option:
As you can see, the connecting flight is only available in economy. Instead of keeping that 90,000-mile rate, LifeMiles will split up the cost proportionally across the entire itinerary. The exact calculation is unclear, but in the above itinerary, the price of the ORD-NRT segment (77,250 miles) is roughly 86% of the 90,000 miles needed to book the nonstop flight alone. This roughly (though not exactly) corresponds to the distance of the entire itinerary. Flying from ORD-NRT-OKA covers 7,276 miles, and the long-haul leg makes up approximately 86% of of that distance.
If the connecting leg to Okinawa was also in first class, the sum of the two segments should add up to 90,000 miles. However, by adding a connection in economy instead, you’re overall price drops to just 83,210 miles, a savings of 6,790 miles. Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, that’s over $115 worth of LifeMiles you’ll save for another redemption, all for taking a short-haul flight in economy.
Note that United would keep the same 110,000-mile price:
While Aeroplan would still charge the same 105,000 miles:
In both cases, there’s an indication that you’re flying a mixed-cabin itinerary, but the required mileage is the same.
You can see the same phenomenon playing out on a number of other routes. One-way, first class awards from the US to Israel (“Middle East”) should cost 105,000 LifeMiles if you travel in first class the entire way. In this case, flying from New York-JFK to Frankfurt (FRA) in Lufthansa first class and connecting from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv (TLV) in Lufthansa business class only costs 91,060 miles and $40 in taxes. That savings of ~15,000 miles is pretty significant — that’s an entire short-haul domestic round-trip on United Airlines you’re saving!
In all of the above cases, adding a connecting flight in a lower class of service drops your overall price.
Note that in the above ANA example, you didn’t have a choice in the matter; the connecting flight was only available in economy. However, in the Lufthansa one, you could’ve saved even more by selecting economy on the connecting flight to Tel Aviv instead of business class. That’s an additional savings of 6,190 miles, or $105.23 based on TPG’s valuations.
If you’re looking to take advantage of this discount yourself, you’re in luck, as Avianca LifeMiles are some of the easiest miles to earn. Avianca frequently sells miles for as little as 1.3 cents each, and you can also transfer points to Avianca from the following programs:
- Amex Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio)
- Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)
- Capital One (2:1.5)
- Marriott Bonvoy (3:1, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer)
If your point balances are getting low, you can take advantage of the following welcome bonuses to quickly earn a large number of LifeMiles:
- The Business Platinum® Card from American Express: Earn up to 75,000 Membership Rewards points — 50,000 after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 all within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months.
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
Avianca LifeMiles was already an attractive program for a number of reasons, especially its low rates for long-haul premium cabin flights and the fact that it doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on partner awards. Being able to actually save miles by adding a connecting flight in a lower class of service makes this even sweeter. Airlines typically price mixed cabin awards based on the price of the highest class you’re flying, so it’s great to see Avianca using a fair pricing mechanism that only charges you for the product you actually get.
Featured photo by RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
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