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Sweet Spot Sunday: Fly business class to Europe with no fuel surcharges

Sept. 19, 2021
6 min read
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Sweet Spot Sunday is a weekly series highlighting the best-value award redemptions across loyalty programs.

There are a plethora of ways to cross the Atlantic for cheap using points and miles.

We've previously shared how you can Star Alliance business-class flights to Europe for just 88,000 miles round-trip through ANA Mileage Club or 45,000 miles each way through Turkish Airlines’ Miles&Smiles program. The only drawback? Many of these cheap options come with some restrictions. For instance, you can't always book one-way tickets, and you’ll pay high fuel surcharges on some carriers.

In this edition of Sweet Spot Sunday, we're going to focus our attention on booking Star Alliance business class awards to Europe through Avianca LifeMiles. It charges 63,000 miles for one-way business class flights between the U.S. and Europe. While this isn't the lowest rate available, what makes this redemption option so attractive is that it doesn't pass on any pesky fuel surcharges. You’ll rarely pay more than $100 out of pocket on an award ticket. Equally important: LifeMiles are among the easiest to earn.

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Why it’s special

Several of the major European Star Alliance carriers like Lufthansa and Swiss add fuel surcharges to award tickets. These fees can approach $1,000 or more on some carriers, quickly making your "free" flight quite expensive.

Avianca LifeMiles is the perfect "in-between" program as it generally offers lower award rates than programs like United MileagePlus and Air Canada Aeroplan and doesn't pass on fuel surcharges to any award tickets.

(Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)

One-way business class flights between the U.S. and Europe cost 63,000 LifeMiles. But here's the real kicker: LifeMiles prices every segment separately based on the class of service you book into so you can often get a discount for booking a mixed cabin ticket. Meanwhile, most other programs price awards based on the highest cabin of service you travel in. On top of that, LifeMiles occasionally runs award sales on select routes so the award rate may be even lower.

(Screenshot courtesy of lifemiles.com)

Another upside to LifeMiles is how easy the miles are to earn. Even if you've never flown Avianca before, you can transfer points in from all the major transferable points programs, except for Chase Ultimate Rewards. You’ll also frequently see lucrative buy miles promotions.

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Related: The best ways to travel to Europe using points and miles

How to book this award

While not the most user-friendly website out there, in most cases, redeeming LifeMiles is as simple as logging on to lifemiles.com and searching for the award you want. LifeMiles is notorious for showing phantom award space from time to time, but you can get around that by cross-checking availability with another Star Alliance program's website.

Step 1: Log in to your LifeMiles account

Before you can even search for flights, you'll need to log in to your Avianca LifeMiles account. If you don’t have an account yet, you can sign up for one fairly easily.

Step 2: Search for award availability

Once signed in, you'll be able to search for flights via the "Travel" tab. Select whether you're booking one-way or round-trip and then enter your origin, destination, number of travelers and your preferred class of service.

(Screenshot courtesy of lifemiles.com)

On the next page, you’ll be shown a calendar so that you can select your dates.

(Screenshot courtesy of lifemiles.com)

Step 3: Pick your flight

You'll then be shown all of the flight options available for that day. Again, LifeMiles should have access to the same award space as other Star Alliance programs like United MileagePlus and Air Canada Aeroplan.

Related: The best websites for searching Star Alliance award availability

(Screenshot courtesy of lifemiles.com)

Note, when there's limited or no award space for your dates, LifeMiles will show a "More fare options" button at the bottom of the page. This is a separate redemption option so these awards will generally cost more miles and have a higher cash copay.

(Screenshot courtesy of lifemiles.com)

Step 4: Confirm and pay

The final step is to review your itinerary and finalize your booking. If you don’t have enough miles in your account, you won't be able to get to the checkout page.

As mentioned, LifeMiles doesn't charge any fuel surcharges so you'll only be responsible for the taxes, which are usually minimal. Be sure to pay the taxes with a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express or Chase Sapphire Reserve so that you’re protected if something goes wrong during your trip.

How to earn miles for this award

You can transfer points to Avianca LifeMiles from four transferrable points currencies:

LifeMiles also stands out for frequently offering transfer bonuses, as well as lucrative buy miles promotions. For instance, at the time of writing, American Express is offering a 15% bonus for transferring points to LifeMiles. This means that you could book a business class award to Europe for just 55,000 Amex points each way.

Related: Why are transferable points worth more than other rewards?

Bottom line

LifeMiles doesn't offer the lowest business class award rates to Europe. However, it shines for not passing on fuel surcharges on awards. At the end of the day, you'll need to do the math and decide whether you would rather spend more miles or pay high fuel surcharges. If you're like me and prefer to spend as little cash out of pocket as possible, then LifeMiles is the way to go.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
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  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees