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TPG readers are used to hearing about some of the great deals offered by lesser known frequent flyer programs. However, these often come with some caveats: you’ll have to put up with navigating a difficult website, you’ll be disappointed that it doesn’t have access to the same awards found on other programs, or you’ll be frustrated with poorly trained phone agents (to name a few).
Avianca LifeMiles has been the poster child for these kind of issues, as it offers some great award prices, yet its website had many limitations, and its call center is extremely difficult to handle. But after a scheduled outage to its site, LifeMiles is back with a much more attractive version, though whether it will materially improve the award booking process is still unknown.
Exploring the New Site
Avianca clearly invested a lot of effort into the new site, but it’s unclear if it’s much of a leap forward in functionality. First, you are able to search by a single airline, the entire Star Alliance or do something called a “Smart Search,” which appears to be the Star Alliance plus their two non-alliance partners AeroMexico and Iberia. However, the program’s initial search screen leaves out one important detail: the dates of your flight. You’ll have to wait to fill that in on the next screen.
If the site finds the seats you’re looking for, it appears to be a straightforward process to book them. Furthermore, there are reports from FlyerTalk of the program now having more access to partner award flights that weren’t available before, such as Turkish, South African and some Lufthansa first class flights.
Yet United.com quickly found this routing and other options in business class (despite its seven-day fare calendar being inaccurate).
Why LifeMiles Are so Valuable
While you might not be flying on Avianca to Latin America anytime soon, the LifeMiles program has gained a following due to the low prices it offers for awards, and because it has no fuel surcharges on premium class international awards. For more information, read Senior Points and Miles Contributor Richard Kerr’s posts on Everything You Need to Know About Avianca LifeMiles and Hidden Gems of the Avianca LifeMiles Program.
LifeMiles can also be especially valuable for domestic flights, as I point out in my post on Best Ways to Redeem Capital One Miles for Domestic Flights. As shown in the example above, many United-operated flights within the US will set you back just 7,500 miles each way.
Finally, LifeMiles are extremely easy to come by, as it’s a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, the Marriott Bonvoy program, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One. If you have rewards in any of these programs, you can pool them into your LifeMiles account and start traveling. Avianca also frequently runs bonuses on purchased miles as well as mileage transfers, giving you the opportunity to pick them up for as little as 1.35 cents apiece, well below TPG’s most recent valuation of 1.7 cents.
It’s great to see LifeMiles investing in its website, and members will certainly appreciate the chance to redeem their miles online with additional Star Alliance partners. It’s just too bad that they didn’t put more thought into the design of the site, and it’s still not as functional as other Star Alliance websites. Having a website with a challenging interface never stopped award travel enthusiasts from taking advantage of a great deal, and I’m sure the new LifeMiles website won’t be too great of a challenge either. Here’s hoping that the program continues to update both the front-end look and back-end functionality in the weeks and months to come.
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