Avianca Lifemiles Planning BIG Changes to their Award Chart

No one sells miles as aggressively these days as Avianca’s Lifemiles, a member of Star Alliance and a program that has been strategically very useful.

I’ve viewed the program as the most generous in the Star Alliance because:

  • No fuel surcharges
  • Reasonable award chart
  • One-way awards at half the price of roundtrip
  • Cash and points option

The biggest drawbacks have been dealing with telephone customer service (they’re better by email), restrictive routing rules (like no mixed cabin awards, all flights must be in the same booking class), and that they’ve made changes to their program without notice.

Let me say that again. They have a history of making changes without notice.

That, to me, is the worst thing a program can do. Members save up miles and have the rug pulled out from under them. Members buy miles based on the value proposition presented to them at time of purchase, and then find themselves with a currency worth far less (“Just kidding! We’ll keep your money. Thank you, drive through.”).

Avianca LifeMiles may have kind of sort of but not really learned a lesson from the criticism they’ve received over no-notice changes.

They have announced they will be making changes to their award chart effective October 15. That’s 3 months’ notice, right?

Except they’re only sort of telling us what to expect, and I anticipate it will be worse than the announcement implies.

Here’s the table of new rates they give us:

If the table actually showed the changes they were making that would be great — economy roundtrip between the US and Europe isn’t exactly generous, but it would be good to know the changes were this limited.

Only they aren’t.

Here’s what they say about Europe redemptions on Star Alliance partners.

As for changes in air ticket redemption with Star Alliance member airlines, these include reductions up to 15.000 miles and increases up to 11.000 miles in Economy Class; also reductions up to 25.000 miles and increases up to 50.000 miles in Business Class. Both cases apply for roundtrip flights from Europe.

Award price changes will range from -25,000 to +50,000 miles roundtrip. For what routes? They don’t say.

This concerns me even more — they’re suggesting the award chart pricing is just a starting point (which is always is in the case of programs that allow you to spend more points for their own flights and spend additional miles for better availability, but almost never is on partner airlines otherwise).

The amount of miles required for a ticket redemption is calculated based on a specific origin and destination and could not match with the amount of miles shown on the table above, it could be higher.

…The amount of miles required could vary depending on the date, route and redemption product.

To know the exact amount of required miles for each origin and destination, it will be necessary to consult the amount through the redemption system at after October 15th, 2014.

The amounts listed by the redemption system shall prevail over those shown on the table above.

What in the world does this mean?

  • Will there be changes to awards in regions other than for flights originating/terminating in Europe?
  • Will award prices other than those in the award chart whose specific changes haven’t been shared actually vary on partner flights or just on Avianca flights?

Giving advance notice of changes is good, and in some sense an improvement for this program. But giving this little detail just raises my anxiety level, and reduces my willingness to hold Lifemiles.

(HT: Loyalty Lobby)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ Gary –

    “That, to me, is the worst thing a program can do. Members save up miles and have the rug pulled out from under them. Members buy miles based on the value proposition presented to them at time of purchase, and then find themselves with a currency worth far less”

    Hmm…having the rug pulled out from under them? Sort of – scratch that – EXACTLY what AA did when they eliminated the OneWorld Explorer tickets overnight with absolutely no advance warning? Or are you still going to try and say it’s not a big deal and AA did nothing wrong since “hardly anyone used oneworld explorer awards”?

  2. Yes, there are other changes. You get an email depending on the region you’re based. Mine did show the changes on flights from/to South America, but it was as lackluster as the one you got.

  3. @hmmm… I called changes without notice the worst thing a program could do in the context of American’s changes as well.

    Bolded and italicized I wrote about American on April 10, “No Notice Changes Are the Worst Thing a Program Can Do”

    “The worst thing they can do, on the other hand, is what they did — pull the rug out from members who may have spent years saving up miles for a specific award they’ve now not given any last shot for those members to book.

    There are going to be many more changes to come as American and US Airways align their policies and procedures over the next year. Most of those are going to be far more significant than the things announced this week.

    Members are flying all year this year, giving American and US Airways their loyalty in exchange for promises of benefits in the future. No matter what program terms and conditions say about a legal right to change rules at will, and notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s ruling that consumers have no state law remedy against frequent flyer programs, their is a basic offer and acceptance and moral obligation to deliver on promises which is fundamentally breached when changes are made without meaningful notice.

    And members save up for years for those dream trps on the basis of descriptions of what’s possible.

    Devaluations without notice are the last refuge of scoundrels and banana republics.”

    I get heat from readers for two things:
    * Saying the particular changes that American made aren’t huge, though they do sting some members
    * Saying that if American made another change without notice that would be the end of all trust (as opposed to saying that it was already gone).

    There’s no question the changes American made to the program on April 8th were devaluations.

    And to me the worst part was the lack of notice. I hammered on that, and I covered the changes more and more often than anyone else I believe.

    Subsequently changes have been announced in advance. That’s a good thing (though it won’t bring oneworld explorer awards back).

  4. Sounds like they are moving to distance based which would mean positive for East Coast-Europe and West Coast-Asia but otherwise bad………..

  5. @hmmm… Move on already. Such an old post and while Gary is a fan of AA, there’s nothing wrong with that. They still have the best award chart of the big airlines. He did mention all the negatives. Compared to regular award redemptions, Oneworld Explorer was not used as much. It’s factual. It hurts obviously, as I was saving up for that award. But Gary is the least of the problem we have.

  6. Have you also noticed LifeMiles no longer showing Lufthansa F? United and ANA can see see the seats but LifeMiles can’t…
    After no longer showing Austrian this is another major blow to this program.

  7. Sounds to me like either distance based or revenue based coming. Either a potential problem and potential opportunity (distance based like Avios), or an outright disaster (revenue based like Southwest). Really glad I never got into the Lifemiles game (unless, of course, they end up allowing short haul flights on star alliance at 4500 lifemiles!)

  8. Meh…I never had the feeling that Avianca could be trusted in the first place. When you consider the lousy call center to book the awards and possibly have trouble getting support later when things go wrong – it was never a game that I wanted to play. After reading all the horror stories, the only way that I would have bought Lifemiles was for an immediate use (buy, then travel in the next week or two).

  9. @Gary, you did eventually get up to speed and take AA to task properly for its perfidy, but your first post on the devaluation was, “Huge No-Notice Changes to American AAdvantage Awards You Probably Don’t Ever Book.” And your concluding take at that time was, “I don’t love these changes, but they’re restricted to the sorts of awards I don’t book or that are fairly obscure.” In your first post, you really didn’t actually remark on the “no notice” aspect beyond the headline. Undoubtedly you’d like a do-over on that initial response.

    Then after talking to Suzanne Rubin you comment that “She seemed a bit surprised by the reaction to the lack of notice.” Come on! A fool like me with less than 1% of the knowledge she has could have easily predicted the outrage. She cannot possibly be that naively out of touch, and I was surprised you seemed to give her the benefit of the doubt with respect to her play acting.

    I love this blog, and appreciate the many things it has done for me, but in that one incident I really felt you missed the boat for a time.

    With respect to LIfeMiles, it looks like they’re saying, “We’re making big changes, but we’re confused about them, so you can be too.”

  10. Does LM have a 24 hour cancellation policy?
    If so, book whatever flight you want on the 14th. If it turns out better on the 15th, cancel and rebook.

  11. @DaveS – I split reactions and topics on the “April 8 mAAsacre” into several posts, I really do think they need to be read together. It’s not like we’re talking about posts weeks apart! See my take on no notice changes and April 8 above.

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