The Avianca LifeMiles program is not extremely generous on its own. Sure, it doesn’t add any fuel surcharges to its flights or any of its partners’, and yes, it used to allow you to game the living hell out of it, but it doesn’t offer any truly outsized values, and Avianca miles were not too easy to get. Sure, there is a credit card, but it costs $140 and it’s reportedly a mess. All the above are the reasons why I haven’t been especially interested in Avianca. Then a few things have happened.
- American Express and Citi have added Avianca as their transfer partner.
- Citi ThankYou is running a 25% transfer bonus to Avianca LifeMiles.
- And Avianca is currently running its own awardsalefor its Star Alliance Asian airline partners.
Combined, the latest 2 promotions are creating an incredible, what I call unicorn-grade, value. If you’re interested in traveling in premium classes, especially to Asia, you owe it to yourself to at least look into this opportunity.
In my previous installments, I attempted to make the case why you should take Citi and Avianca up on their offers. This post will answer a few more questions: what to expect, how to book, and, most importantly, what to do when things don’t fall into place.
How to book an Avianca LifeMiles award online
When you’re looking for a simple itinerary, start with United. Find an award in the United calendar first, then try to recreate the same award on the Avianca website. Will you always be able to find it? No, and not just because of the phantom award space, which is a known United problem. In my experience, not all flights found on the United website will show on Avianca’s and vice versa. Still, in many cases they do.
Avianca LifeMiles Award booking: The Good!
- Unlike many other airlines’ booking engines, all Avianca airline partners are bookable online
- No close-in ticketing fees unlike United and AA, which add $75 for booking a flight within the next 21 days
- The Avianca booking engine allows you to choose the airline you want to fly
Avianca LifeMiles Award online booking: The Bad
- $25 for all award bookings (not just online, phone too)
- No stopovers or open jaws are allowed
- No real multi-city online award search (if you try, the third leg origin defaults to the second leg destination)
Avianca LifeMiles award online booking: The Ugly
Finding connecting flights online can be tricky
OK, let’s get the worst LifeMiles bug/feature out of the way, so you can decide whether or not you even want to deal with this program.
Avianca’s award booking engine is horrible for connecting flights! It will show you some connections, but not the others, even though they are available for each segment. In addition, a connecting flight might completely exclude one class of travel – for example, when you look for 2 segments individually, all classes of service may be available, but when you look for the combined itinerary, Economy Class will be out. There doesn’t seem any norm or reason to it, and it’s not the case all the time either.
In addition, searching for flights with connections between different regions can return an error if you want to route it a certain way. Here is what I mean.
Let’s say you’re looking for a flight from New York to Bangkok. The first search result must be like this (Star Alliance, or Smart search)
There is nothing wrong about that itinerary. In fact, Asiana, and especially EVA have excellent Business Class seats. But what if you want to route your flight via Europe? Why? I don’t know why, maybe because you’re a control freak. 🙂
Or perhaps, you just want to squeeze another city into your itinerary. I did a long layover in Dubai on my way to Bangkok and really enjoy it. Why not fly into Istanbul, for example, get a free tour of the city, spend some quality time at the awesome Turkish lounge before taking a red light to Bangkok? You should be able to do that because Turkish is a Star Alliance airline, and your layover at IST would be less than 24 hours.
Let’s see. New York to Istanbul is available. Check!
Istanbul to Bangkok is available too. Check!
So, both flights are available on Turkish, and all we need to do is fill the information and click, right?
OK, let’s “continuar.”
You might think, maybe Avianca doesn’t allow flying to Asia via Europe. Many if not most airlines have certain routing restrictions, ANA for example. But… nope!
As you can see, it’s not against the program’s rule to redeem an award to Asia via Europe, and there is a workaround that would allow you to get the routing you want (later about that).
You may not receive a confirmation screen or email
Screenshot everything and write down the confirmation number. Ticketing can take anything from a few minutes to a couple of days. Make sure you check your credit card authorization, and whether or not your miles have been deducted from your account. If so, you should be fine.
Avianca call centers are a joke
There is a possibility that you get connected to a competent agent, but it’s not a given. Not only might Avianca agents be clueless even with a simple award, they might have considerable language issues as well. If you can build your itinerary without calling Avianca, do so. If you can’t, prepare yourself mentally for multiple HUCAs (hang up and call again).
Avianca LifeMiles award booking: by email (the workaround)
As I’ve mentioned before, there is a way to book the award you want with the routing you want, but it’s a little bit convoluted, and it may not work out 100% of the time.
Book your award by sending Avianca an email. Actually 2 emails, as outlined in this Flyertalk Wiki.
So, on a date you are looking for in the future, there is availability for LAX-NRT and NRT-BKK. But not LAX-NRT-BKK. It may be a case of the LM system not offering the through connection.
Take three screen shots – two ‘available’ screen shots for LAX-NRT and NRT-BKK and the ‘not available’ screen for LAX-BKK. Send them all off with a scan of your passport page (PDF) and LM will make the booking manually for you.
Send to these two email addresses, and CC yourself (just for your records) firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Obviously, there are risks involved. First, that your flights will not be available by the time Avianca gets to work on your request. And second, your itinerary may not work because the computer still says no. Which means: give yourself plenty of time and don’t use this method when your travel dates are approaching.
Bottom line (for the whole series)
Avianca LifeMiles has become a super-relevant Star Alliance program, due to the ability to transfer points from AMEX Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou programs.
In addition, there are 2 amazing offers valid until December 12, 2018:
- 25% bonus for transferring Citi points to Avianca
- Additional up-to-48% bonus for booking Avianca LifeMiles award flights on the airline’s Star Alliance partners to Asia
- You can save even more if you use a trick called skiplagging, but do so at your own risk
Here are just a few samples of Avianca LifeMiles award flights you can book by taking advantage of these offers:
- Seoul, Taipei, or Beijing: from 48,000 Citi points in Business Class
- Hong Kong: from 52,000 Citi points in Business Class
- Seoul or Beijing: from 58,000 Citi points in First Class
Avianca LifeMiles allows one-way booking and doesn’t have close-in award booking fees. On the negative side, your connection options are limited when booking online, and some Avianca call centers agents might be inadequately trained and have language barriers.
There is a workaround to the connections issue, like the screenshot method outlined above, but it might require that you work harder for your award.
What’s the best Avianca LifeMiles award you’ve ever booked?
Photo by: Corona Mejora Tu Vida CORONA