The Points Collector’s Guide to Avianca Airlines LifeMiles

Avianca's Star Alliance partner award chart makes this airline program useful no matter where you're flying.

JT GenterMay 3, 2021
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Even if you don't have plans to fly Colombia’s national airline, you may want to know about the Avianca LifeMiles mileage program. From 6,500-mile award flights on United to 60,000-mile business class awards to Europe, there is a variety of ways to redeem Avianca LifeMiles.

Even better, you don’t need to fly Avianca to earn LifeMiles. Instead, you can transfer points from 10 different loyalty programs — including AmEx, Citi, Capital One and Marriott — to take advantage of reward sweet spots.

Here’s your guide to Avianca Airlines and what you need to know about Avianca LifeMiles.

About Avianca Airlines

Avianca traces its roots back to 1919 and continues to operate as Colombia’s flag carrier. It operates extensive routes throughout Central America and northern South America. Beyond that, Avianca stretches its wings into North America, southern South America and even a few European routes. Before diving into the loyalty program, let’s do a quick guide to Avianca Airlines:

Fare types

Avianca recently rebranded its fare classes using a (somewhat obnoxious) size-based naming scheme.

  • XS is the airline’s basic economy-style fare, offering no changes or mileage earnings.

  • S, M and L are economy fares with varying fee, bag and seat selection policies.

  • XL and XXL are business class fares, with XXL fares being freely changeable and fully refundable.

  • Avianca doesn’t offer a premium economy or first-class product.

avianca airlines fare types nerdwallet

Main U.S. routes

Avianca currently operates flights to 10 U.S. airports in four regions:

  • California: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ontario.

  • Florida: Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando.

  • Northeast U.S.: New York-JFK, Washington-Dulles.

  • Texas: Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston-Bush.

Most U.S. routes are to Avianca’s hubs in San Salvador, El Salvador, and Bogota, Colombia.

Points currency and loyalty program

Avianca’s mileage program and mileage currency are called LifeMiles. Unlike many U.S. airlines, LifeMiles is a separate legal entity from Avianca. This structure helps provide some separation, which is especially useful now as Avianca declared Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy in May 2020.

How to earn Avianca LifeMiles

There are three primary ways to earn LifeMiles: flying, spending on Avianca credit cards or transferring points from other programs. Let’s explore these and other ways of earning LifeMiles.

Earn by flying

The most obvious way of earning LifeMiles is by flying on Avianca. As of Jan. 31, 2021, LifeMiles switched to a revenue-based earning method for Avianca flights. Non-elite LifeMiles members earn 5x LifeMiles per U.S. dollar spent on airfare (before taxes and fees). Elite members earn 1x-6x bonus LifeMiles on top of that, depending on status.

Avianca is a member of the Star Alliance. That means you can earn LifeMiles when flying on any of the other 25 alliance-member airlines. However, the earning rates are going to depend on which airline you’re flying and the fare booking class.

For example, you’ll earn LifeMiles when flying on United based on an accrual chart.

A United flight between Newark and San Francisco is 2,565 miles in length. So, you’ll earn at least 1,282 LifeMiles when booking the cheapest United economy fare on this route (50% rate). The lowest business class fares will earn 2,565 LifeMiles each way (100% rate).

You can also earn and spend LifeMiles on three non-alliance partners: AeroMexico, GOL and Iberia. However, earning and redeeming on each of these partners are limited to certain geographic regions.

Earn by spending on credit cards

Avianca LifeMiles offers two co-branded credit cards to U.S. travelers: the Avianca Vuela Visa and the Avianca Vida Visa. Both cards are issued and managed by Banco Popular de Puerto Rico.

The $59 annual fee Avianca Vida Visa offers a 20,000-mile sign-up bonus just for signing up and using the card once. Then, you’ll earn 2 LifeMiles per dollar spent on Avianca purchases and 1 LifeMile per dollar spent on all other purchases. The card offers a few perks — such as a 15% discount on Multiply Your Miles purchases — but little else to be excited about.

The Avianca Vuela Visa Card charges a $149 annual fee and offers more valuable perks. You’ll get 40,000 bonus miles the first time you use your card. Avianca purchases earn 3 LifeMiles per dollar spent. You’ll get 2x LifeMiles at gas stations and grocery stores and 1x LifeMiles everywhere else.

The card grants you a free checked bag when flying Avianca between the U.S. and Central America. Cardholders can also spend their way to a 50% discount on award redemptions between the U.S. and Central America or Colombia, and there are no foreign transaction fees. Still, the Vuela Visa Card is only going to be a good fit for die-hard LifeMiles users and Avianca travelers.

Earn by transferring

LifeMiles wouldn’t be a very relevant program if the only way to earn them was through flying and spending on Avianca-branded credit cards. However, Avianca LifeMiles can effectively be earned on many other credit cards thanks to LifeMiles’ partners.

You can transfer points to LifeMiles from three different U.S. bank programs:

This gives you a wide range of ways to earn LifeMiles. For example, you can effectively earn 5x LifeMiles at restaurants and on air travel by using the Citi Prestige® Card. Earn 4x LifeMiles at U.S. supermarkets through the American Express® Gold Card. Or, earn 1.5x LifeMiles on all purchases through the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Terms apply.

Also, you can convert hotel points from seven different hotel loyalty programs into LifeMiles:

  • Marriott: 3:1 transfer ratio, with a 5,000-LifeMile bonus for transferring 60,000 Bonvoy points.

  • Hilton: Transfer 10,000 Hilton Honors points to get 1,000 LifeMiles.

  • IHG: Transfer 10,000 IHG Rewards points to get 2,000 LifeMiles.

  • Accor: 2:1 transfer ratio for transferring Accor Live Limitless Rewards points.

  • Best Western: Transfer 5,000 Best Western Rewards to get 1,000 LifeMiles.

  • Radisson: Transfer 2,000 Radisson Rewards Points to get 200 LifeMiles.

  • Wyndham: Transfer 6,000 Wyndham Rewards to get 1,200 LifeMiles.

Other ways to earn:

  • Buying LifeMiles: LifeMiles is famous for its significant mileage sales of up to 200% bonus miles — for a purchase rate of just 1.1 cents per LifeMile.

  • Hotel stays: Earn up to 20 LifeMiles per dollar spent at LifeMiles hotel partners.

  • Rental cars: Earn up to 5 LifeMiles per dollar, 50 per day or 500 per rental through LifeMiles’ rental car partnerships.

  • Shopping: Earn up to 5 LifeMiles per dollar spent through LifeMiles’ shopping partners. However, many are located in Central and South America.

  • Dining: Members can earn up to 3 LifeMiles per dollar on dining partners, but this is only available in certain Central and South American countries.

How to redeem Avianca LifeMiles for maximum value

LifeMiles uses an award chart to price award flights on Star Alliance partners, plus a separate chart for its non-alliance partners AeroMexico, GOL and Iberia. The Star Alliance chart splits the world into 21 different regions, including three regions for the contiguous United States.

That award chart is enough to make any traveler’s eyes glaze over. But, if you dig into this overly complicated chart, you’ll find plenty of sweet spots.

Domestic U.S. award flights

Domestic U.S. flights on United start at just 7,500 LifeMiles each way as long as you stay within the same region. However, LifeMiles will price some award flights even cheaper than this.

Award flights to other regions inside the contiguous U.S. cost 10,000 to 12,500 miles in economy. Business class awards cost a reasonable 15,000 to 25,000 LifeMiles each way.

For flights between the mainland and Hawaii, the award chart lists the rate as 22,500 miles in economy or 40,000 miles in business class. But again, LifeMiles will sometimes price economy awards at less than the award chart price:

Award flights to Europe

Award flights to Europe start at just 20,000 LifeMiles in economy or 60,000 LifeMiles in business class. However, this great pricing is only for flights between United States 1 (generally the U.S. East Coast) and Europe 1 — which includes the British Isles and Scandinavia.

Other contiguous U.S.-Europe flights cost 30,000 LifeMiles in economy and 63,000 LifeMiles in business class. This includes flights from the far side of one region to the far side of the other.

Business class awards to Asia

If you want to head to Asia in style, business class award flights from any contiguous U.S. region to South Asia costs a quite reasonable 78,000 LifeMiles each way.

That beats the 99,000-mile award rate that United is charging for the same flights.

Other ways to redeem (that you should pass on)

Using LifeMiles for hotel bookings

As we covered above, LifeMiles members can earn miles by booking hotel stays through LifeMiles Hotels. Alternatively, you can redeem LifeMiles for hotel stays. Avianca elite and co-branded credit cardholders can even use 10% fewer miles than other members.

The exact redemption rate is going to vary on the property, but we're generally finding redemption rates under 0.7 cent per LifeMile. That means you’ll generally want to pass on this option and look for something travel-related, where you can get at least 1.1 cents per mile.

Using LifeMiles for Amazon Purchases

Generally, the best options for redeeming your LifeMiles are going to be for flights and other travel purchases. But, there are ways to redeem Avianca LifeMiles for non-travel purchases.

You can use your LifeMiles for Amazon purchases by installing a special Chrome extension. At checkout, you’ll be given the option to “Pay with LM” instead of paying with a credit card or Amazon gift card. However, the redemption rate is an abysmal 0.56 cent per LifeMile:

Avianca’s elite status program

As of Jan. 1, 2021, Avianca added a fourth tier to its elite status program. These tiers are Red Plus, Silver, Gold and Diamond.

Avianca has lowered the elite status mileage requirements for 2021 to the following:

Avianca LifeMiles elite status level

2021 requirements

Typical requirements

Red Plus

8,250

11,000

Silver

11,200

16,000

Gold

18,850

29,000

Diamond

28,800

48,000

These are quite reasonable rates for earning elite status. However, a crucial aspect to note is that Avianca requires that a minimum of 80% of these mileage thresholds are earned on Avianca flights. So, you should focus on earning elite status with another Star Alliance partner if you aren’t planning to primarily fly Avianca.

LifeMiles elite status members get a bonus of between 1 and 6 LifeMiles per dollar spent on Avianca. All elite members get priority check-in, priority phone line, advanced notice of LifeMiles promotions and an extension of elite benefits during maternity leave.

Starting with Silver status, elite members get:

  • Free upgrades to business class.

  • Access to Avianca lounges on international flights.

  • Priority boarding.

  • Additional checked baggage.

Gold elites receive all of the above, plus:

  • Earlier upgrades.

  • Lounge access whenever flying.

  • Preferential seat selection at booking.

  • Even more free checked bag allowance.

  • Star Alliance Gold elite status, which grants access to partner lounges.

If you make it up to Diamond elite status, you’ll also get:

  • LifeMiles upgrade certificates.

  • Access to Diamond VIP lounges.

  • Any seat selection at booking.

  • A LifeMiles redemption fee waiver.

  • A rollover of up to 16,000 qualifying miles.

Bonus: No expensive copays on award bookings

One thing that you need to know about Avianca LifeMiles is that it doesn’t pass along carrier-imposed surcharges on award tickets. That means you won’t have to pay sky-high cash copays to get a reasonable award rate.

For this reason, LifeMiles is the go-to mileage program for booking award tickets on airlines that charge hefty fees — such as Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines.

For example, Lufthansa first class is considered one of the best first class products in the skies. However, when you book this award using some Star Alliance partners, carrier-imposed surcharges can add up to several hundred dollars or more each way.

However, you won’t have to pay these fees when booking with Avianca LifeMiles. That means you don’t have to factor in how much an airline charges in carrier-imposed surcharges; instead, you’re just paying taxes and other government fees when booking an award.

The bottom line

As it’s a mileage program of a Colombian airline, it’s easy to ignore LifeMiles; however, by doing so, you’re missing out on some excellent award rates with minimal out-of-pocket costs.

One of the great parts of LifeMiles is that you don’t need to build up a mileage balance over time. You can simply transfer points from one of four major transferable point programs (AmEx, Citi, Capital One or Marriott) to LifeMiles just before you want to book an award flight.

Make sure to price out an award on LifeMiles the next time you’re planning to book an award flight on United or another Star Alliance partner. You may be pleasantly surprised by just how affordable the miles and cash prices are.

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