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Sweet Spot Sunday: Use Avianca LifeMiles to save on United domestic short-haul awards

Aug. 07, 2022
6 min read
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United Airlines flies to just about everywhere in the U.S. So collecting airline miles that allow you to fly on United is a smart move for anyone with domestic travel in their future.

The simple approach would be to collect and redeem United Airlines miles to achieve your goals. But often you’re better off redeeming Avianca LifeMiles instead.

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Avianca partners with United Airlines. You can book United flights with Avianca miles — and if you’re booking short-haul flights, you’ll probably pay much less depending on where you're traveling.

Why it’s special

(Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

The amount of miles United Airlines charges for any given domestic flight is difficult to predict. A short coach flight may cost 9,000 miles one day and 15,000 miles the next. And while you may occasionally stumble upon some showstopper deals, you’ll often find that the same flights through Avianca cost significantly fewer miles.

For example, a flight from Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Myrtle Beach costs 7,500 Avianca LifeMiles plus taxes and fees.

(Screenshot from lifemiles.com)

But if you booked the same flight through the United website, you’ll pay 12,500 United miles plus taxes and fees. By booking through Avianca, you’ll save 5,000 miles each way.

(Screenshot from united.com)

Here’s another example. When booking a flight from Austin to New Orleans, you’ll pay 6,500 Avianca LifeMiles plus taxes and fees.

(Screenshot from lifemiles.com)

Booking that same flight through United Airlines will again cost 12,500 United miles plus taxes and fees. That’s a savings of 6,000 miles.

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(Screenshot from united.com)

Add to this the fact that it’s considerably easier to earn Avianca miles than to earn United miles. Avianca may be your award currency of choice if you fly around the U.S. regularly.

Related: Here’s why you need a healthy stash of Avianca LifeMiles

How to book this award

1. Log in and enter your travel details

To book United Airlines flights with Avianca LifeMiles, you’ll first need to log into your LifeMiles account. Then enter your domestic origin and destination airports.

Remember, shorter flights tend to be the best deals. As long as United serves those airports, the search results should return the flights you’re after.

(Screenshot from lifemiles.com)

2. Find eligible dates

You’re now taken to a calendar where you can view dates with available award space. Blue dots indicate that you’ll find award seats.

(Screenshot from lifemiles.com)

The downside to booking United flights through Avianca tends to be that less award space exists — particularly if you’re a United Airlines credit cardholder or if you’ve got United elite status. That’s because United gives these members access to hidden award space that can’t be found anywhere else.

3. Choose your United flight (and compare prices with the United website)

Click on the date you want and you’ll be given a list of available flights. You can clearly see if the flights are operated by United by looking at the icon next to each flight.

Be sure to compare these prices to the prices on United’s website, as United Airlines may sometimes be the cheaper option thanks to dynamic pricing.

(Screenshot from lifemiles.com)

Related: Can’t find award availability with Avianca LifeMiles? Don’t give up until you try this trick

How to earn points for this award

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

United Airlines is a transfer partner of Bilt Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy. These flexible currencies aren’t particularly difficult to earn, so United miles are relatively easy to rack up. However, Avianca LifeMiles are significantly easier to earn. They’re a transfer partner of the following transferable points programs:

In other words, you can quite effortlessly achieve a small fortune of LifeMiles by opening cards such as:

Avianca also publishes generous points sales a few times each year. We recently saw the opportunity to purchase LifeMiles with up to a 145% bonus.

Related: The buy points and miles promotions worth considering

Bottom line

If you use United Airlines miles for short-haul flights around the U.S., consider shifting your points and miles strategy toward Avianca LifeMiles. You’ll often find that redeeming LifeMiles for United Airlines flights will give you significantly more value than United’s own program.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/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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TPG featured card

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
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
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

60,000 bonus points
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.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
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.

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
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