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United Awards From $101 and Other Reasons to Consider Club LifeMiles

Oct. 31, 2018
6 min read
United Awards From $101 and Other Reasons to Consider Club LifeMiles
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One of the most overlooked mileage programs is Avianca LifeMiles. With opportunities to book domestic United awards starting at just 7,500 miles and business class flights to Europe from 63,000 miles, LifeMiles certainly earns its place on TPG's list of undervalued mileage programs.

In addition to favorable award rates, LifeMiles also provides opportunities to buy miles for cheap and was recently added as a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Rewards. Starting in February 2018, LifeMiles started offering a unique way of buying miles: via an installment plan. And now, Avianca has dropped the rates to make the mileage subscription plan even cheaper.

You can find this offering in the Avianca "Buy LifeMiles" section of the LifeMiles website:

There are six different plan options. Three of them are grouped under "Travel the Americas" (Plan 500, Plan 1,000 and Plan 2,000):

The other three are under "Travel the World" (Plan 3,000, Plan 5,000 and Plan 7,000):

But, the important part isn't the name of the individual plans — it's the number of miles you're buying and the purchase price of those miles. Each plan allows you to buy a set number of monthly miles for the installment price:

  • Plan 500: Buy 500 miles each month for $9.99 (2.00 cents per mile)
  • Plan 1,000: Buy 1,000 miles each month for $19.49 (1.95 cents per mile)
  • Plan 2,000: Buy 2,000 miles each month for $38.49 (1.92 cents per mile)
  • Plan 3,000: Buy 3,000 miles each month for $56.99 (1.90 cents per mile)
  • Plan 5,000: Buy 5,000 miles each month for $91.99 (1.84 cents per mile)
  • Plan 7,000: Buy 7,000 miles each month for $125.99 (1.80 cents per mile)

However, the longer you subscribe, the more bonus miles you'll earn. From the date of signing up, you'll get pro-rated bonuses every three months, so the longer you keep your subscription, the lower your net cost per mile. If you subscribe for a full year on either Plan 5,000 or Plan 7,000, you'll end up with 80,000 or 112,000 total miles respectively at a cost as low as 1.35 cents per mile:

PlanTotal Miles with bonusTotal CostNet Cost Per Mile
Plan 5008,000$1201.50
Plan 1,00016,000$2341.46
Plan 2,00032,000$4621.44
Plan 3,00048,000$6841.42
Plan 5,00080,000$1,1041.38
Plan 7,000112,000$1,5121.35

Is It Worth Participating in Club LifeMiles?

First, let's consider the pros: This plan is useful in picking up miles at very low rates. In his latest valuations, TPG pegs LifeMiles at 1.7 cents apiece. At this level, the opportunity to buy miles at 1.35 cents is certainly tempting, especially if you're going to take advantage of the sweet spots in the LifeMiles program.

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At the purchase rate of 1.35 cents per mile, here are some examples of what you can book and the effective purchase price of each:

  • United domestic intra-region: $101 one-way (7,500 miles)
  • United transcontinental economy: $169 one-way (12,500 miles)
  • United transcontinental business: $338 one-way (25,000 miles)
  • North America to Europe business: $851 one-way (63,000 miles)
  • North America to North Asia business: $1,013 one-way (75,000 miles)
  • North America to Europe in Lufthansa first with no fuel surcharges: $1,175 one-way (87,000 miles)

However, the downside is that you're only going to be racking up miles a little bit at a time. If you're hoping to redeem LifeMiles for Lufthansa first class, it's going to be a while before you accumulate enough to make that redemption, and you're in danger of potentially seeing a devaluation in the meantime.

Also, the program has made some recent negative changes — including shortening and restricting its expiration policy. Now, instead of just needing to have activity every 24 months, you need to "earn miles with Avianca or via any other commercial partner" in order to extend the expiration date by 12 months. Avianca elite members and credit card holders will get 24-month extensions with each earning activity. Of course, if your miles are about to expire under the new expiration policy, subscribing to a Club LifeMiles plan for just a month would be an easy way of extending your miles.

Bottom Line

With standard buy miles promotions, you buy a large chunk of miles that you generally apply to redemptions over time. However, with this Club LifeMiles program, members will be accumulating miles little by little. Even though the effective purchase price can get as low as 1.35 cents per mile, you do run the risk of devaluations, and it also may take a while for you to build up a meaningful number of miles.

If you're planning to be a long-term subscriber, this program pairs especially well with a card that participates in the Citi ThankYou Rewards program, such as the Citi Premier® Card. This card earns 3x points on travel purchases and the ThankYou points can be transferred to LifeMiles at a 1:1 ratio, giving you the ability to top off your account whenever you're ready to lock in an award flight.

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