The Trouble With LifeMiles

For many of us in the points and miles “game,” LifeMiles, the frequent flyer program associated with South American airline Avianca, has been a great program to use for booking Star Alliance reward flights (Lufthansa, Turkish, United, Swiss, etc.) without additional surcharges and in many cases, at more competitive rates than the carrier’s own program. I’ve even used it to book business class Avianca flights to and from Peru in 2019.

How do you “earn” LifeMiles without paid travel on Avianca? You can easily and quickly transfer points from American Express, Brex, Capital One, Citibank and Marriott Bonvoy. You can also often buy LifeMiles at very low rates like 1.3c per mile, which can make sense if you are booking otherwise expensive business or first class tickets. Right now, there is even a transfer bonus of 25% from Capital One until April 30, 2022. That means you will receive 1.25 miles for every Capital One mile transferred to LifeMiles.

Should you build up a balance of LifeMiles? If you had asked me this question in early 2020, I would have definitely said yes. After using some of my balance to book those flights to and from Peru, I was able to book our return flights from Nairobi on Turkish Airlines for 78,000 LifeMiles per person via Istanbul with no surcharges. I ended up having to rebook this twice and managed to get the same flights each time. However, when I tried to rebook again this year, I was unable to book those Turkish flights and ended up booking KLM instead. It’s entirely possible that it’s Turkish not making those flights available to partners due to covid scheduling concerns or some other reason. Either way, it reduces the value of my LifeMiles when I am unable to use them for a trip far in advance.

Another reason why I am less bullish on LifeMiles these days is their website versus reality. I was trying to book round trip flights from Atlanta to Montreal on Air Canada right after they were announced. I could see both economy and business seats available. The business class seats at 36,000 LifeMiles round-trip were a particularly good deal as they would include Air Canada lounge access in Montreal and a meal on the flight both ways. Air Canada and United both showed these seats available at saver levels, making them, in theory, available on LifeMiles too. The website showed as much. However, every time I tried to book, I would get an error. I emailed the screen shots to LifeMiles support, with the hope they could fix the issue, but alas, they were unhelpful and said the flights were showing in error. The final response from them was that they could not book any Air Canada flights at all. Yet again, the value of my LifeMiles has been reduced when I could not use them at all for one of their partners. I have no idea if this issue has been fixed as I ended up booking cash economy tickets through Air Canada when the price dropped enough to where it was not worth using Air Canada or United miles, even for economy.

Earlier this year, I was able to use LifeMiles to book our return flights from Ireland on Air Canada in business class, so hopefully the issue with Air Canada is temporary and will be resolved. I was also able to book our outbound flights using LifeMiles for United economy flights.

LifeMiles can still be a valuable tool in your points and miles toolbox, but there are problems. I would not speculatively transfer points there or buy LifeMiles without a specific plan and (as best you can tell) availability for the flights you want. You should check forums like Flyertalk for the latest issues with LifeMiles before transferring or buying points.

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