Colombian air carrier Avianca might not be on your radar, but its loyalty program, LifeMiles, should be. It’s got pretty solid award redemption rates (when you can find ’em) and no fuel surcharges on partner bookings.

The program is a transfer partner of several flexible reward programs, which means your account can be topped off at any time.

LifeMiles uses a region-based award chart, yet still offers opportunities to book awards at promotional rates.

Avianca Partners

Avianca is a Star Alliance member, the largest airline alliance in the world. With LifeMiles, you can book award flights on the following airlines:

  • Adria Airways
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines
Avianca Partners

It’s important to know that although award seats on the aforementioned airlines can be booked with Avianca miles in theory, it isn’t so in reality.

For one reason or another, the LifeMiles program doesn’t always display the same availability as you see with other Star Alliance partners. It can be rather frustrating seeing space with United MileagePlus or Aeroplan, for example, but not seeing the same award on the LifeMiles website.

What’s more frustrating is Avianca’s customer service phone line. Wait times are longer than this pandemic, and its agents aren’t the most knowledgeable. You might get lucky and find a competent agent, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

LifeMiles’ Expiration Policy

Unfortunately, Avianca’s mileage expiration policy isn’t flyer-friendly. The miles will expire after 12 months of inactivity, and the only way to reset the clock is to earn more miles. Redeeming them won’t extend the expiration date.

How to Earn Avianca LifeMiles

Unless you’re crediting your Star Alliance flights to LifeMiles, another way to earn them is by transferring them from a bank’s rewards program.

LifeMiles is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards (1:1), Citi ThankYou Points (1:1) and Capital One Venture Miles (2:1.5). It also partners with Marriott Bonvoy (3:1), but be careful transferring hotel points as you lose quite a bit of value.

Another way to earn Avianca LifeMiles is with its co-branded airline cards: the Avianca Vida Visa Card and the Avianca Vuela Visa Card issued by Banco Popular de Puerto Rico.

How to Earn

Mileage Buying Promos

Another way to get your hands on LifeMiles is to buy them. Generally, we don’t recommend purchasing miles, especially when there’s no immediate use for them.

However, Avianca runs promos from time to time and sweetens up the deal by throwing in extra miles as an added bonus. In the past, we’ve seen bonuses as high as 200% for every Avianca mile you purchase.

LifeMiles Buy Miles Promo

Avianca typically sells LifeMiles in packages of 1,000 for $33, or roughly 3.3 cents apiece. It’s possible to get them down to as low as 1.1 cents apiece during a promo like this.

As a reminder, buying miles is a bad proposition in most cases, but there are circumstances when purchasing miles can make sense, such as booking a last-minute business-class flight. Make sure to calculate your costs before pulling the trigger.

How to Book Avianca LifeMiles Flight Awards

LifeMiles uses a region-based award chart. What this means is the world is broken down into regions, and award rates to fly between two countries are set based on where they fall in those regions.

A few rules to be aware of:

  • One-ways are bookable with miles.
  • Stopovers aren’t permitted.
  • There’s no close-in booking fee.

When you first go to the website, you’ll notice that it’s in Spanish, but don’t fret. You can easily change the language to English in the upper right corner.

The search tool is rather intuitive. Simply enter your city pair, number of passengers, your preferred class of service and wait for a calendar to load. Then choose your dates and view your options.

LifeMiles calendar

LifeMiles displays a nifty calendar with blue dots that mark the dates with higher availability probability. To be honest, it’s not the most accurate representation of award space. A date with a blue dot might not show any award seats, and vice versa — an empty calendar square might show space. Long story short, don’t get discouraged and click on your preferred date of departure anyway to view options.

LifeMiles select dates

If the itinerary isn’t available using miles, the calendar will notify you and display five days’ worth of availability. Some dates might not have options and will say, “Unavailable.” You’ll be able to click on dates that show redemption rates and select your flights. The function helps find an alternative for travelers who are flexible with dates.

Be Aware of an Online Booking Fee

Although Avianca doesn’t pass fuel surcharges on any of its awards, it charges a $25 award booking fee, which applies to both phone and online reservations.

Place Award Flights on Hold

Lock and Fly is a feature of the LifeMiles program that allows you to put award flights on hold. The feature is available for Avianca-operated flights only, which means partner awards aren’t eligible for the hold.

Domestic flights can be held for three to 15 days. International flights can be held for up to 30 days. Flights to Europe can be placed on hold for up for up to 60 days. The fee to lock in your award rate is $8 to $95, depending on the itinerary and length of the hold.

LifeMiles Lock and Fly

The Lock and Fly feature is especially useful to flyers who don’t have enough miles in their account and need time for them to post from credit card activity, an eligible flight or a transfer of flexible currency.

Redeem Fewer Miles to Book Mixed-Class Awards

One of the unique features of the LifeMiles program is that you can book mixed-class flights for fewer miles on one ticket. This feature helps you allocate your miles the way you want.

Say you want to go from the United States to Turkey in business class. The system will allow you to book a domestic segment in economy class and a transatlantic segment in business class. In the example below, it’s actually all that’s available on this particular date, but you can book these itineraries on purpose.

LifeMiles Mixed Cabin

There are a few reasons why you want to use this feature. First of all, you can save a few thousand miles by booking mixed-class itineraries as long as you’re fine flying in economy on the short leg of your journey. It’s a good mile-saving strategy, especially if you book round-trip tickets for multiple people.

Second, you might be short on miles for an entire trip in a premium cabin. Booking a mixed-class award sure beats staying home.

Economy / Business Class on Sale

In some cases, award flights require fewer miles than standard redemption rates. You’ll see those awards labeled as “Economy on Sale” or “Business on Sale.”

LifeMiles Economy Biz on Sale

Obviously, redeeming fewer miles is better than redeeming more miles for the exact same flight. This works on partner flights as well. The flight below from Denver to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is listed at 7,500 LifeMiles under Economy on Sale.

LifeMiles United

The same flights on United’s website are going for 12,500 MileagePlus miles. Redeeming LifeMiles is clearly your best bet here.

United vs. LifeMiles

Final Thoughts

As you can see, LifeMiles has many advantages over programs like United MileagePlus and Aeroplan. The ability to hold an award on Avianca-operated flights combined with lower redemption rates on partner flights should make you take note.

Of course, being unable to book certain awards because they’re not showing is a downside of the program. It sort of hinders the whole experience of traveling on points and miles. Still, sign up for an account, run a few searches and get familiar with the program because you never know when you’re going to use it next.