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Book Now: United Flights Pricing From 3,500 Miles via Avianca LifeMiles

May 16, 2019
6 min read
Book Now: United Flights Pricing From 3,500 Miles via Avianca LifeMiles
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United sent shock waves through the frequent flyer world last month when it announced that it would be removing award charts in a full-on shift to dynamic award pricing. However, there are still ways to book United award flights using other Star Alliance award charts and mileage currencies, and this morning, we're seeing some phenomenal deals through one such program: Avianca LifeMiles.

Under the carrier's Star Alliance award chart, you can redeem LifeMiles for United-operated flights starting at just 7,500 miles each way, depending on the cities from which you are departing and arriving. The carrier will be changing this scheme slightly as of July 15, 2019, but the online chart still reflects the current pricing. For whatever reason, we're seeing certain flights pricing at less than half the posted amount, even on longer routes that cross regions.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Avianca LifeMiles

For example, award flights from Houston (IAH) to Denver (DEN) are pricing at 3,500 miles.

Return flights from DEN-IAH are slightly higher but still a bargain at just 4,500 miles.

These prices don't seem to be a limited-time offer either, as I'm seeing them throughout the rest of 2019 and into 2020. In fact, you could take a family of four on a week-long ski trip to Colorado in February for a total of 32,000 LifeMiles plus $44.80 in taxes and fees (note that the $11.20 below is per passenger).

This sample itinerary is as follows:

  • Saturday February 8: United Flight 825 from IAH-DEN (departs 4:33pm, arrives 6:10pm)
  • Saturday February 15: United Flight 1184 from DEN-IAH (departs 5:30pm, arrives 8:50pm)

I've verified that this isn't phantom award space, as United.com is showing the same flights available at the saver level (but for 12,500 miles each way). And if you wanted to purchase this four-person itinerary outright with cash? That would set you back over $1,400.

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In this example, redeeming 32,000 LifeMiles gives you a stunning redemption value of 4.38 cents per point, over two and a half times TPG's most recent valuation of LifeMiles.

This isn't the only route that's pricing lower than what you'd expect from Avianca's Star Alliance award chart. We've run dozens of searches from various United hubs and found the following one-way award rates through LifeMiles:

  • San Francisco (SFO) to Portland (PDX): 6,000 miles (normally 7,500 miles)
  • Houston (IAH) to New Orleans (MSY): 6,000 miles (normally 7,500 miles)
  • Houston (IAH) to Los Angeles (LAX): 6,000 miles (normally 12,500 miles)
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Salt Lake City (SLC): 7,000 miles (normally 7,500 miles)
  • Washington-Dulles (IAD) to Boston (BOS): 7,000 miles (normally 7,500 miles)
  • Denver (DEN) to Des Moines (DSM): 8,000 miles (normally 10,000 miles)
  • Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Philadelphia (PHL): 8,000 miles normally 10,000 miles)
  • Houston (IAH) to Seattle (SEA): 8,000 miles (normally 12,500 miles)
  • Houston (IAH) to San Francisco (SFO): 11,000 miles (normally 12,500 miles)

Most of these flights are not only pricing lower than they should with LifeMiles; they're also well below what United would charge through its MileagePlus program for the same award flights. For example, SFO-PDX is displaying as 10,000 United miles each way for most of the summer, as is ORD-PHL. Nonstop flights from IAH-SEA, meanwhile, are typically 12,500 United miles, so using 8,000 LifeMiles can be a terrific discount, especially when multiplied out over multiple travelers.

That being said, there are many routes that are still pricing at the expected award rates, and I haven't been able to uncover a pattern to these prices. You are also relying on saver award availability from United, which is far from consistent on some routes. It appears that certain shorter flights within a single US region (as defined by the LifeMiles award chart) are dropping by either 500 or 1,500 miles, while ones that cross a region are dropping by 1,500 miles to 6,500 miles.

And I simply have no explanation for the IAH-DEN pricing, a route that should cost 12,500 LifeMiles each way.

Since the pricing appears to be all over the place, you'll definitely want to check your desired route(s), and be sure to compare the rates you see through LifeMiles with those offered by United. United's dynamic award pricing can be devastating to those looking to travel internationally in premium cabins, but it can offer some low mileage rates for those booking within the US.

Earning Avianca Miles

Even if you don't have any LifeMiles in your account right now, you may have access to lots of them, as the currency is among the easiest to earn. You can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One and Citi ThankYou Rewards to LifeMiles. This means that those with cards such as The Platinum Card® from American Express, the American Express® Gold Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the Citi Premier® Card (among others) can transfer points to LifeMiles.

In addition, the LifeMiles program frequently offers sales or bonuses on purchased miles, like the current offer of up to a 125% bonus. This can be a great way to quickly pick up a large number of LifeMiles at relatively affordable rates, and while those can be most valuable for awards like Lufthansa first class, booking these lower rates on United-operated flights could be a great option, too. Just keep in mind that since we don't know why these awards are pricing at a lower than normal rate, we also don't know when this "sale" will end.

We'd also love to hear additional data points, so feel free to share your findings below.

Featured image by (Photo by Jason Leung via Unsplash)
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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  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
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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.
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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.
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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