Using LifeMiles to Book Transcontinental Flat Beds for $400

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You can use Avianca LifeMiles to book domestic First Class or Business Class on United for about $400 one way, including United’s fully flat beds on its routes from Los Angeles and San Francisco to New York. (Currently these flights go to JFK. They go to Newark starting October 25, and award space is excellent after the transition.)

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This method of booking $400 one ways in United First and Business Class is identical to the method I showed to book $1,000 one ways in Business Class to Europe on Star Alliance carriers.

Both are great deals for people who routinely buy tickets in on the routes. In this case, you’d pay $400 for a domestic one way in Business Class when United charges over $1,000 one way for these flights.

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However the method in this post is not necessarily a good deal if you don’t ordinarily purchase these tickets with cash. And there are cheaper ways to book these flights with miles, specifically with 20,000 Singapore miles using a similar method to the one outlined in this post.

Three Steps

  1. Sign up for an Avianca LifeMiles account and select a country of residence in Europe.
  2. Buy 11,000 LifeMiles during the next 120% bonus for $165.
  3. Book a domestic Business or First Class one way on United, for 11,000 LifeMiles plus $241.

The Steps Broken Down

1. Sign Up for a LifeMiles Account

Sign up for a free LifeMiles account here. Do it now even if you don’t want your $400 ticket for months. Do it now even if there’s only a 10% chance you’ll ever book one of these tickets. Signing up before a sale (Step 2) starts is a prerequisite to be eligible to purchase miles during a sale.

When signing up, select a country of residence other than Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, United States, or Colombia. During the most recent sale (Step 2), accounts registered in these countries got a 100% bonus on miles purchased. Accounts from other countries got a 120% bonus.

Why sign up for LifeMiles? LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca, a Colombian airline that is a member of the Star Alliance. You can use Avianca miles to book awards on all Star Alliance members including United.

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Of the many types of Star Alliance miles you can use domestic Business and First Class, LifeMiles stand out for how cheaply it sells miles, allowing for ~$400 one way transcontinental Business Class tickets.

2. Buy 11,000 LifeMiles during the next 120% bonus for $165

You can always buy LifeMiles for 3.3 cents each. Every few months, LifeMiles offers a bonus on the purchase of miles of at least 100%. The most recent bonus was from May 5 through May 29 and was a 100% bonus for the countries listed above and a 120% bonus for the rest of the world. That made the price 1.5 or 1.65 cents per mile total.

If the next sale is identical–I bet it will be–you can buy 5,000 miles with 6,000 bonus miles (11,000 total) for $165. Or if for some reason you’ve signed up with an American address, you can buy 6,000 miles with 6,000 bonus miles (12,000) for $198.

Why 11,000 or 12,000 miles? Because a one way Business Class award costs 25,000 LifeMiles but LifeMiles allows awards to be booked with 40% of the necessary miles–10,000 in this case–by putting up cash to pay for your miles discount (Step 3). As I’ll show below, having at least 11,000 miles in your account is a better idea than exactly 10,000.

I will cover the next sale on MileValue, so check back daily or sign up to receive one free daily email with all of the day’s posts.

During the sale, you should purchase 11,000 miles for each one way Business/First Class ticket you think you’ll want to book in the next few months, since the sales only pop up every few months. There is a limit of 150,000 miles purchased per calendar year including bonus miles during sales, so you are limited to booking 13 Business Class one way tickets per account per calendar year. But you can always open multiple accounts, since LifeMiles accounts can always be used to book tickets in anyone’s name.

3. Book a Domestic Business/First Class Trip, for 11,000 LifeMiles plus $241

To book a LifeMiles ticket, sign into your account and click “Air Tickets” under “Enjoy.” Notice I bought 98,000 miles during the last sale.

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Search for your cities, date, number of passengers, and cabin. Ideally the search reveals award space on several options like this search for award space from Los Angeles to Newark in November reveals.

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However, award space is far from guaranteed (as I’ll discuss below in the caveats section.) Not all flights have award space in all cabins.

Once you’ve decided on your flight, select it and at the bottom of the screen, toggle “More Money” to the maximum. This will change the price from 25,000 miles and $0 to 10,000 miles and $236.04.

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Then toggle it back to 11,000 miles.

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The copay actually drops by $26 for using 1,000 extra miles, which makes using 11,000 miles and $210 the best deal.

Clicking “Continue” takes you to the screen that shows the total price, which will include all applicable government taxes and a $25 booking fee. One way flights within the United States have only $5.60 in taxes.

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We paid $165 for the 11,000 miles in Step 2, so for a one way Business Class flight from the Los Angeles to Newark in a flat bed, the all in price of this method is $165 + $240.60 = $405.60! How else can you consistently get transcontinental flat beds for about $400?

Caveats

I hope you’re excited, but don’t rush off to Step 1 without reading these important caveats:

  1. These are the current prices from LifeMiles, but the only thing certain with miles is eventual devaluation. One day, LifeMiles will charge more than 25,000 miles one way in United Business/First Class domestically. When that happens, you don’t want to be stuck with a lot of miles in your account. That’s why you should go slowly and only buy enough miles to cover your very likely trips. Even then, you cannot completely eliminate devaluation risk.
  2. There is not award space on every flight in Business Class. You could buy the miles and then not be able to use them when you want to use them. However, I think this is only a minor concern because there is great Business Class space on United’s transcontinental routes, and United consistently opens up award space as departure approaches.
  3. You must book LifeMiles awards at least 24 hours before the flight.
  4. Every flight of a LifeMiles award must be in the same cabin. United Business and First on domestic flights are the same cabin, but if you try to hook up economy award space to Business/First space, that is unbookable with LifeMiles. To see if your route is affected by this silly rule, go to united.com and search your award. Any award with a “Mixed Cabin” icon is off limits.

Bonus

Buy your LifeMiles in Step 2 and book your ticket in Step 3 with a Citi Prestige® Card for $250 off the first purchase and 3x points on all purchases. With the Citi Prestige® Card, the first $250 in award taxes, fuel surcharges, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the LifeMiles miles purchases and award purchases.

The card also comes with 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, worldwide lounge access, and a host of other features.

Bottom Line

For most people, the best way to get transcontinental Business Class is to open credit cards and use the sign up bonuses for the free flights.

For businessmen who fly the routes too often to get all free tickets and ordinarily pay $2,000+ for a roundtrip in Business Class, there is a back up plan. Buy LifeMiles and book Business Class awards for around $400 each way.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. As long as you’ll continue to use lifemiles and don’t mind having left over miles, it costs the same using 15k+cash as it would 11k+cash. You just have some miles leftover for usage next time. Makes for messier math, that’s all.

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