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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.
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.
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.
RELATED: Earn 35,000 welcome bonus points with the American Express® Gold Card after spending $2,000 in the first three months.
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 photo by Jason Leung/Unsplash.
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