photo by mike boudreaux
- Lifemiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca, a Star Alliance member. It runs quarterly promotions where miles are sold at a 100% bonus, bringing down the cost to 1.65 US cents per mile
- This provides an arbitrage opportunity whereby it is cheaper to buy the miles and redeem a first/business class ticket as opposed to buying the ticket itself
- In order to participate in this promotion, your account must be open before the promotion is announced. Open an account here https://www.lifemiles.com/eng/mya/myp/mypfasenr.aspx
- Lifemiles has several drawbacks- it doesn’t allow mixed cabin redemptions, it has some issues regarding phantom availability and changing/cancelling tickets can entail long wait times (EDIT: mixed cabin redemptions now allowed)
You’ve probably never heard of Lifemiles or Avianca, for that matter. But it’s the single best way of getting huge discounts on first and business class Star Alliance tickets and one of the loopholes I mentioned in the introduction to this site.
Lifemiles is the FFP of a small South American airline known as Avianca. Lifemiles normally sells miles at US$30 per 1,000 miles, but 4 times a year they would have a promotion with a 100% bonus on purchased miles, thereby reducing the cost to US$15 per 1,000 miles. The going rate for a one way business class ticket from Singapore to North America was 65,000 miles. Plus, Lifemiles didn’t tack on fuel surcharges, so you could be looking at a one-way business class ticket from Singapore to San Jose on ANA for 65,000 * 0.015 (cost of buying those miles) + 46.01 (taxes) = US$1,021.
Let’s pause to think about that for a while. US$1K for a one-way business class ticket is unheard of. Heck, if you were so inclined you might find it difficult to get an economy revenue ticket for that amount of money. And yet, Lifemiles was opening up this sort of opportunity to anyone who was aware of it. I’ve had some amazing redemptions with Lifemiles- business class on EVA from Singapore to San Francisco, first class on SQ from Singapore to Mumbai, business class on ANA from Tokyo to New York…
What was even better was that Lifemiles didn’t classify some zones correctly. Guam, for instance, is technically a territory of the United States, but is located wayyyyyyy West of the USA. The closest US state to Guam is Hawaii, 3,950 miles away. Guam is closer to Japan, and to get to Guam you typically need to take a stopover in Tokyo. What this meant, however, was that from Lifemile’s point of view, someone flying from New York to Guam was taking an internal domestic flight, which priced out at 25,000 miles for business class (or US$375). Yup, this meant that you could book a one-way ticket to Guam, get off the plane in Tokyo and not fly the last leg, thereby flying from New York to Tokyo, on business class, for US$375.
As with all good things, that had to end. Guam was eventually recategorised correctly (though there still remain other airports which have not been zoned in their “correct” region), and in 2014 Lifemiles both increased the cost of buying miles by 10% and devalued their award chart. The extent of devaluation varied, but that same business class Singapore to San Jose ticket I mentioned earlier would now cost 78,000 miles, up from 65,000 before. The total cost would be 78,000 * 0.0165 + 46.01 =US$1,333 (versus US$5,075 if you bought a revenue ticket)
Has this reduced the value of Lifemiles as a tool for travel hacking? Yes. Has this made Lifemiles useless? Definitely not. A 30% increase in the cost of an award ticket stings, but it’s still a lot cheaper than buying commercially.
How to use it
You can purchase a maximum of 150,000 miles per calendar year. Transactions will process as airline-coded, so combine this with your DBS Amex Altitude card and get 4.5 miles per S$1!
So, how do you get in on this? The thing about the quarterly sales events that Lifemiles has is that you need to have a Lifemiles account that was active before they announced the sale in order to buy miles with the bonus included. That is, if they announce the sale on 1st June and your account was opened on 1st June, you’re not eligible to take part.
The more astute of you will have surmised that this means you should open an account right this minute. And you’re right, do that here (https://www.lifemiles.com/eng/mya/myp/mypfasenr.aspx).
A few things to note about Lifemiles
- Mixed Booking Classes: Lifemiles does not allow mixed booking classes. This removes some otherwise viable itineraries (eg I may want to fly SIN-BKK-NRT on first class, but since SIN-BKK does not have a first class product the highest class available to me on the entire itinerary is Business (notwithstanding the fact that BKK-NRT does have first class. This would not be an issue with other FFPS which allow mixed bookings, ie business from SIN-BKK and first from BKK-NRT) [EDIT: Mixed cabin bookings allowed effective 20 Jan 16!]
- Phantom Availability: Lifemiles sometimes shows phantom availability, ie award space that isn’t really there. To avoid getting duped, click all the way to just before the final confirmation screen before deciding whether or not to buy miles (sometimes the transaction errors out halfway which means the space was phantom)
- Lufthansa/SQ Blocking: Lufthansa has recently started blocking First class award space available to partner programs, Lifemiles included. You won’t be able to access SQ’s latest products through Lifemiles either. Note that this isn’t a limitation with Lifemiles per se, other FFPs would have the same issues trying to redeem these products
- Changing/Cancelling Tickets: Lifemiles is great to use when everything goes according to plan. But when you need to make changes/cancel tickets that’s when the process can get a bit tricky. It actually costs less to cancel an award (US$50) than to make changes to it (US$150), so you’re actually better off cancelling and rebooking. They do have an English call centre but wait times may be long, and cancellation can only be done here. You’ll have to read off your entire billing address and credit card number to support staff, and the process can take anywhere between 20 to 60 minutes
- Buying additional miles: Lifemiles only requires that you have 40% of the miles you need to make a redemption- the rest can be purchased during the final stage of the transaction. In other words, suppose I need 100,000 miles. So long as I have 40,000 in my account, I can buy the other 60,000 miles when booking. The more miles you buy, the lower the total cost- the first 1,000 miles is US$33 but that comes down to as low as US$15 when you buy more. Where this sweet spot kicks in varies depending on transaction, but in general to get the 1.5 cents per mile cost you should purchase between 45-55% of the miles needed at time of ticketing
I don’t recommend buying Lifemiles pre-emptively. What you should do is when a sales event is announced, go on the Lifemiles site and search their award booking tool to see if there’s any flights that meet your fancy. If there are, buy the miles (they’re deposited instantly) and confirm your booking.
That said, if you can make it work for you, Lifemiles is a great way to experience other Star Alliance products/routes for cheap