Update: Deal is dead

TACA/Avianca is a Star Alliance carrier with a loyalty program called LifeMiles. LifeMiles are sold for 3 cents per mile, but frequent 2 x 1 sales–like the current sale through December 30, 2013–bring the cost down to 1.5 cents per mile.

Even better, LifeMiles are sold directly by TACA, not a third party website. That means buying them looks the same as buying airfare, which means you can redeem Arrival miles (here’s how) from the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® for free LifeMiles.

LifeMiles has a solid award chart that is broadly in line with other Star Alliance carriers. It’s worse than US Airways’ chart, but better than United’s new chart.

LifeMiles has four incredibly flyer-friendly award policies that combine for some attractive deals like

  • a $190 one way flight from the US to Japan
  • a $190 one way flight from the mainland US to Hawaii
  • or a $340 one way in business class from Europe to Asia

The four awesome policies that combine to allow those prices are:

  • Cheap Miles. US Airways is currently “selling” miles for 1.13 cents, but other than that sale, you never see miles for as cheap as LifeMiles routinely sells them (1.5 cents per mile.)
  • One way awards for half the roundtrip price.
  • Not charging the award price for the most expensive region transited. You can route from North America to Japan to North America in one direction and pay only the “within North America” price instead of the more expensive price some airlines would charge for transiting a more expensive region.
  • Treating Guam as North America. Guam is part of the US, which is a big part of North America, so I understand LifeMiles’ thinking. Other airlines’ award charts treat Guam as part of Oceania, which is often a more expensive region.

How can you put it all together to get incredibly cheap economy and business class tickets to and within many regions worldwide?

I’ll focus on two examples of using LifeMiles’ rules to our advantage. There may be others that you are welcome to share in the comments.

Guam via Japan or Hawaii

Guam is a US territory located in the Western Pacific (with Honolulu, San Francisco, and Tokyo given for reference):

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 11.43.20 PM

As you can see, Guam is a bit of a hike from the mainland US, and Japan and Hawaii are both reasonable places to connect when going from the mainland to Guam.

United flies from Australia, Japan, China, Hawaii, and several Pacific islands to Guam:

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LifeMiles considers Guam to be part of North America and allows transiting Hawaii or Japan on the way from the mainland US to Guam, which it treats as an intra-North America award.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 9.10.11 PMScreen Shot 2013-12-04 at 11.30.00 PM

Intra-North America awards cost 12,500 miles one way in economy and 25,000 miles one way in business.

That means you can book the mainland to US to Japan to Guam for 12,500 miles in economy or 25,000 miles in business class.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 11.55.30 PM

I would recommend Tokyo or Osaka as the Japanese city to transit because each has direct flights to Guam and to the mainland US.

Or you can fly the mainland US to Hawaii to Guam for 12,500 miles in economy or 25,000 miles in business class.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 11.57.49 PM

Both of the awards above show trips originating on the west coast and flown in economy class. Neither is a requirement. In fact, most people would probably get far more value flying in business class for only 25,000 miles ($375 at 1.5 cents per mile.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 12.10.30 AM

And if you live on the East Coast, a 12,500 mile award that transits Hawaii is a fantastic value ($187.50 at 1.5 cents per mile.)

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Hidden City Ticketing

The hidden-city ticketing idea comes into play if you don’t plan to go to Guam, if you instead plan to skip the last flight and stay in Japan or Hawaii.

There are always risks to hidden city ticketing:

  • Your checked bag will be checked to the destination. (Don’t check a bag!)
  • A mis-connection could cause a re-routing that doesn’t transit where you want to end the award. (There aren’t a lot of ways to get to Guam, so this is a remote concern in my mind. If offered a different routing, decline.)
  • You might raise the ire of an airline. (Hidden city ticketing doesn’t break any laws.)

I’d personally be willing to book one of these awards for myself, but you should always play the miles game at your comfort level.

Europe to Asia to Khabarovsk, Russia

Russia stretches from Eastern Europe to Eastern Asia. But all award charts that I know treat the whole country as part of Europe.

The Eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk has 3x weekly air service from Seoul, South Korea on Asiana, a Star Alliance partner.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 9.23.28 PM

If your one way itinerary starts in Europe and ends in Khabarovsk, Russia, LifeMiles treats it as intra-European even if the award transits Asia.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 9.10.11 PMScreen Shot 2013-12-04 at 9.10.26 PM

The one way intra-Europe rate is an incredible 12,500 miles in economy and 22,500 in business.

That means you can book Istanbul to Seoul to Khabarovsk in business class for 22,500 miles ($337.50 at 1.5 cents per mile).

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 9.07.57 PM

You could probably use other European cities and transit other Asian cities on your award, but you may have to call LifeMiles to ticket more complicated itineraries.

Searching

I like LifeMiles’ booking engine, but it isn’t the best at searches. For all the awards listed here, I searched united.com then booked on lifemiles.com.

For instance, I searched Seoul to Khabarovsk on united.com and found the flight is 3x weekly with award space in both cabins almost every flight.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 9.16.10 PM

LifeMiles will have access to all Star Alliance Saver award space on united.com that is denoted with a blue button in Saver column.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 9.16.17 PM

Then when searching on lifemiles.com, I specified the airline I wanted to search from the dropdown menu. For instance, here is how I searched for the award space from Istanbul to Khabarovsk, note that Asiana is selected from the dropdown menu as my preferred carrier.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 9.07.34 PM

Booking

Ideally you can book this at lifemiles.com. If the award you want is too complicated for that search engine to find, you can call LifeMiles at 800-284-2622 then menu choices 2-3-1-2-1 to get to an agent to book an award.

Five Caveats

1. You can only skip the last leg(s) on a hidden city ticket. If you ever miss a flight, the rest of your itinerary is cancelled.

That means you cannot buy Guam to Tokyo to San Francisco, planning to skip Guam to Tokyo.

That also means that in practice, all the great awards in this post can only be flown one way. If you want to make a roundtrip, the other way will be at full price on the LifeMiles chart (or with United/American/British Airways miles or with cash.)

2. None of these itineraries price cheaply with United miles.

United allows a routing from the US to Guam via Tokyo or Honolulu, but it charges the normal US to Oceania price in either case.

United treats the Istanbul to Seoul to Khabarovsk award above as an open jaw roundtrip Europe to North Asia and quoted a price of 130k miles to me!

3. Mixed cabins are not allowed on LifeMiles award. You cannot mix first and business or business and economy class on an award under any circumstances.

4. The English of most phone agents is poor. Te recomiendo hablar castellano.

5. Proceed with caution, YMMV, disclaimer, disclaimer. I’ve mentioned some specific caveats of LifeMiles awards and hidden city tickets.

But even more than that, all of these awards represent outsized value, and outsized value tends to disappear.

While respectable companies remove outsized value only with notice, I don’t trust foreign airlines to do the right thing as much as I trust domestic airlines.

Don’t invest thousands of dollars buying LifeMiles that you can’t afford to lose. This post has not recommended any courses of action until now:

Proceed with caution, and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Recap

LifeMiles is selling miles dirt cheap that are ultra-valuable for certain hidden city tickets like the mainland US to Guam via Japan or Hawaii and Europe to Eastern Russia via Asia.

Are you going to book yourself a LifeMiles award?

Hat Tip to Sky via MileValue’s own Bill

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