AviancaTaca LifeMiles is the Most Generous Program in Star Alliance, and How You Can Use It

AviancaTaca joined Star Alliance just joined Star Alliance this summer. Most folks have never even heard of the Columbian-Salvadoran airline, let alone realize its potential even if you never fly to Bogota, San Salvador, or Latin America more broadly.

The airline frequently offers 100% bonuses on purchased miles (eg here, here, and here.) Last month they ran a 100% bonus on transferred miles.

Brand new accounts can’t usually participate in these bonus offers, so it makes sense to join their LifeMiles program to be prepared for when one of these offers comes back.

Here’s why the program is really valuable.

  • The award chart is pretty reasonable
  • One-way awards are available for half the cost of roundtrip
  • They offer cash and points awards bookings. As long as you have at least 40% of the miles needed for an award in your account, you can buy the difference in miles for US$12.75 per 1000 miles. That’s less than 1.3 cents per mile.
  • No fuel surcharges on awards
  • Online booking of Star Alliance partners

They have a pretty generous elite program, but it’s not the best for folks who don’t actually fly the airline. The point of this post is to underscore just how valuable this program can be for people that don’t fly the airline. It’s like british midland in that regard — I spent quite awhile as a british midland Gold member even though I never sat foot on one of their planes — they were exceptionally lucrative for crediting premium cabin awards to (after re-qualifying for Gold, paid first class travel — even first class domestic US — would credit 625% flown miles, and though I never did this I understand that they would also credit award flights flown on several of their Star Alliance partners to).

But most importantly and for the purposes of this post their miles stretched farther than anyone’s because of their cash and points options. And coupled with one-way awards and generous routing rules you could get tickets for fewer miles and less cash than through anyone.

With british midland you could fly between two regions, and if the only way to get there was to connect in a third region, that was fine. Back when Scandinavian was offering Greenland service, what some folks did was book an award between he US and Greenland, connecting anywhere they wanted in Europe — and from there connect up to the SAS flight to Greenland. But never take the flights beyond their European destination. Since the US and Greenland were in the same zone, you could get a US-Europe one-way award for the price of a US domestic flight. AviancaTaca acts similarly on its website.

Another feature of the program is that their cash and points awards function just like Priority Club’s — when you cancel a cash and points award reservation, you get the miles purchased at 1.25 cents apiece back and not the cash. So once you have some miles in your account, you can buy more miles at 1.25 cents apiece (and a $50 cancellation fee) when you book and then cancel an award. Reports are that mileage redeposit takes a few days and must be done by phone.

If you don’t want to wait until there’s a mileage purchase bonus to get started, there’s an AviancaTaca LifeMiles credit card from US bank that comes with 20,000 miles after first use and no fee the first year.

After that I wouldn’t put spending on the card. Since you’d be better off getting a 2% cash back card like the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express, and then buying points for less than 2 cents apiece. You can then get about a point and a half per dollar instead of just one point for your spend.

There’s a long and complex Flyertalk thread discussing the ins, outs, and tricks of the program but some of the folks there are doing their best to communicate ‘in code’ and keep folks who aren’t already ‘in the know’ out. There’s a similarly long but much more accessible discussion at Australian Frequent Flyer where things are much more open. (To folks who would prefer to keep this all secret, there are over 550 public internet posts between just those two threads, it already isn’t a secret, I’m simply directing folks to a public resource on the internet, just sayin’.)

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, You speak with such distain for the people trying to preserve a deal for those who want to put in the effort. Lest you forget that you were part of these communities at one time. Now that you have many followers on twitter and here you have to know its different for you now on how you post deals. You are too smart a guy to pretend ignorance of this fact.

  2. @Ken – I’m sorry you feel I am no longer ‘part of the community’. I very much consider myself to be.

    And I am VERY careful never to post about ANYTHING that is shared with me in confidence. I never have and never will.

    But deals that are being openly discussed on the internet, and in this cases in places with MUCH MORE traffic and visibility than I get, are not secret at all. These very public deals do not belong to anyone in particular, the best deals are never around forever, and ought to be exposed to newer folks as well as the ‘insiders’.

    The only deal that I have ever ‘killed’ was the Travelocity $200 off vacation package offer — that very few people even knew about, which is why the additional exposure here made travelocity aware of it.

    MANY many more deals have been made accessible to more people whose travel lives were made better by my posting. Are we going to rehash this same tired argument again?

    And are we going to get more people purposely posting misinformation in the comments to dissuade people from taking advantage of deals that I post, too?

    All the hating about posting deals, and all of the false information posted meant to mislead people so that they do not take advantage of deals, probably makes me even stronger and more resolute in my desire to be transparent and share.

  3. Share as much as you like. But you are not on the same side as people who post on Flyertalk or Milepoint. It doesnt matter to me that you cant see that. But its a fact. In a different forum I would be happy to explain to you why that is true. However you are in this to make money not preserve the close knit communities of FT and MP. Its a cannibalization of the forums.

  4. Your claim that I’m somehow being selfish when you’re the one trying to keep information out of the hands of travelers strikes me as a bit strange, to say the least.

    I’ve been writing this blog now for over 10 years. During the first four years there were not even any ads (other than the ones up at the very beginning on blogspot, that they put there). For the first two years that there were ads, I didn’t even receive a dime from the advertising. So to suggest that my motives in writing this blog are my own gain is also unfair.

    I spent many years working very hard for the Flyertalk community, and these days I work very hard for the Miltpoint community, I put in TONS of uncompensated hours planning Frequent Traveler University, the MegaDOs, helping to get travel benefits for members of Milepoint through the Milepoint Premium initiative. I also put in tons of hours on the Freddie Awards, which are the voice of the frequent traveler. In full disclosure, the Freddies did cover the cost of my flight to New York and my hotel room in April. That’s it. (And I believe the room itself was just a comped part of the room block.)

    Think what you will about my motives, I think yours are pretty clear, yes?

  5. Two questions:

    1. Will you please give us a heads-up whenever there is a new 100% bonus on purchased/transfered miles?

    2. Their website cannot book an award in business if one of the legs is in economy. Any way around that?

  6. No, I share plenty as well with the communities. Some private some public. How you started and where you are ending up in this blog are two different stories brother. While it took you a few yrs to gain traction sure you didnt make any money. But thats not the case now as the barrage of CC offers proliferate your account. I am not advocating for “keeping info” out of others hands. As I have done the opposite since starting thsi hobby. I am for not publicly outing deals that would otherwise remain working. I think we both know the difference between a deal that can/will last a long time when not openly discussed and ones that have a finite expiration.

  7. Seems like getting the most out of this program requires some hidden city ticketing. Is there any significant risk of having a problem with the airline (the operating carrier or Avianca/Taca) over that?

  8. Gary, most of us greatly appreciate what you do and the info you share. It’s certainly clear to me what your intentions are, and informed readers like Ken should know that this is NOT one of the blogs that’s written just for the money (we can all name a few).

    And please, it is foolish to think that Gary posting a few links is somehow going to “kill” this deal. The loopholes that people are exploiting today are going to get closed with or without this “exposure.” And in any case, the barrage of noobs that Ken fears are not going to partake in those loopholes anyway. The true values in the program will remain for a time, just as they did in BMI and elsewhere.

  9. Andrew, Im not concerned at allthat a “noob” will ruin a deal. I’ve helped many along the way in getting up to speed. But with these loopholes on google and such these companies getting exploited can easily find the “glitches”. Gary isnt going to stop posting these because there is no financial gain to post less. More posts = more hits = more followers = more money.

  10. I wouldn’t worry too terribly much about hidden city ticketing on partner award travel personally. And to the folks who feel like I shouldn’t have shared, I didn’t post a bunch of pictures taking folks through the booking process. I didn’t list Enter City A and City B. I linked to a thread on Flyertalk and a thread on Australian Frequent Flyer, where those interested can go if they want to find out more about hidden city ticketing and awards.

  11. These loopholes were already on Google. I’m an ant next to the behemoth of Flyertalk. Companies have designated representatives whose job it is to monitor Flyertalk. I do not know why people think they are posting in a closed community when they post there?

  12. I appreciated Gary for sharing some of the deals, it would be hard for me to find it myself. I would also say even if you know the tricks you still have to do some diligence yourself. The problem seems to be many people are just simply abusing the system, rather than being creative.

  13. I agree with Ken. Gary. What you have done is not fair to the folks that put significnat amount of time and efforts to research the web site themselves. But I do not think you are doing it purely for selfish reasons. You just can not see this from where you stand right now.

  14. I for one, and being a newbie at that, am truly glad that Gary shares these deals and information. We all have to start somewhere and platforms like Flyertalk are not the most accessible for newbies. So Gary, please keep up the good work and thank you for thinking of us

  15. @ken in phx, if you hate this blog so much, why do you even bother to read it, let alone reply to every single response that Gary has posted? Looks like YOU’RE the one generating lots of traffic for him today. *rolleyes*

    Haters gonna hate.

  16. @Joshua – most of this I posted on day one of program, some of it I put into a followup post, but very little comes from huge amounts of time and research by others. The reports of how long it takes for miles to credit back does, of course.

  17. Interesting read, you’ve shared quite a bit! FT thread is just under 30k views in 2 months. You can track your own stats for the post, I’m sure.

    It’s nice to share useful info with the community, even though it’s only the “Most Generous Program” for some regions and if you’ve got your 40% at less than 3cpm.

  18. It amazes me that people like Ken have such distain for Gary. For some reason some members of the apparently “exclusive” club that is MP or FT seem to believe that they are the guardians of some super secret society that is above all the rabble – those who read Gary’s blog or others’ – and who must be prevented at all cost of gaining access to such information as it will surely spoil things for all.

    Seriously, is that really the intent of FT and MP? Was that one of the founding principles? Or have we become so obsessed with ourselves and our importance that we now actively discourage anyone else from ever finding out the “tricks”? Or chastise those who stray from the fold and dare to prostitute themselves by making information accessible to others? Your comments are a very sad statement about the mindset of some folks IMO.

    Gary please ignore Ken’s pleas. I’m no sure why some people are so terrified of blogs like yours? Anyone who reads your blog knows what is what and what you are about. We appreciate all you (and others) are doing for the newer members of the community like myself. After all everyone has to start somewhere and having multiple sites that give guidance and advice can only be a good thing.

  19. This is a belief on open exchange of information. Some in FT community are too possessive of information they feels is “theirs”. It’s an open forum, if you don’t want anyone to know write it in your notebook and keep it off-line or create a closed forum.

  20. I dont think I’ve said I hated anyone or this blog. I am disappointed when Gary posts “killable” deals.

  21. Gary, joking aside. Could you please explain “Trick it / negotiate it” as well?

    It could be useful to a lot of people…

  22. I’d like to say thank you to Gary for posting all of the deals on the blog. As reader said, they belong to any one person and I find it incredibly helpful. If people want to keep deals to themselves, by all means do so–but if they’re posted publicly on the internet, you lose the right to criticize others for reposting them. Please ignore those who complain because they think that others shouldn’t have access to the same deals they do for some reason I can’t fathom.

  23. @ken, every deal is “killable” when it is posted on a blog. It’s even “killable” when posted on FT or MP.

  24. @Andre I actually have explained “fuel dumping” on this blog, though generically rather than offering up the specific city pairs used for a given itinerary. Come to Frequent Traveler University, ask in person, happy to offer up an in-depth conversation 😉

  25. @ken, this reminds me of the last time Gary was accused of killing a deal, by “stealing” it from FT. In that case it was OK for FTers to steal from a hotel chain in an obvious error, but not OK for it to be “stolen” from them by Gary’s post…hm

    Keep up the good work Gary, and thanks

  26. What I find ironic about this discussion about Gary killing “the deal” is that he didn’t even tell anyone what the actual loopholes are: he’s basically just told you there are loopholes, and you can go find them.

    Anyone want to incur the wrath of fellow commenters by describing what those loopholes actually are? It would save me some reading. 🙂

  27. Well if it makes you feel better i know which cities to use, but have not yet figured out the whole “trick”, in how using those cities makes a cheap trip.

  28. Unless you live outside North America, those “trick” cities are not very useful. I certainly wouldn’t plan my travel just so I could take advantage of them. Their are some other excellent features of the program, which I’m sure will be blogged about eventually (not necessarily here).

  29. @Gene I’ve mentioned the upgrade benefits, the low Star Gold threshold (though you have to fly 10k miles on the airline…). But i think the real benefit I blogged about isn’t hidden cities it’s cheap purchase miles and cash/points awards. With no fuel surcharges.

  30. This is a good program without the need for any loopholes. I am more interested in getting from HOME (point A) to point B (somewhere i want to go!). For this alone, the program is really good and I don’t need to exploit anything, I’m very happy with the published award chart and 40% miles plus cash option.

    This is a great blog and I agree with many others here regarding the attitude of certain flyertalk members.

  31. I think an appropriate response to the feedback Gary is getting for this post would be for all of Gary’s readers to join FlyerTalk and go into this thread and ask its participants why they have such disdain for bloggers and think FT is secret and all, when clearly by your comments you will make it clear that it um, isn’t.

    That’s what I’m doing right now…

  32. Hi Gary! I can only share my own experience. I tried to go on FT, to do my own due diligence. FOR THE LIFE OF ME, I could not understand what these BOYS IN THE BIG CLUB are talking about – they all talk in codes. How is one supposed to learn? (I have to think that they aren’t intentionally being selfish…or are they?) As with any trick, it needs to be taught to newer/younger people- bring fresh blood, so to speak, because the newbies might bring a new slant to this skill of mile/point earning vs. the same group of elites recycling their inside knowledge. Just my take…I don’t mean to disrespect the more seasoned ones. I have a lot of respect for their hard toil and vast amount of time put in honing these techniques. But on FT, it’s a dizzying read. The little knowledge I do know now has come from reading blogs like yours, Gary. So thank you! IT’S NOT THE EXPOSURE THAT KILLS THE DEAL, per se. It’s the ABUSE of the deals.

  33. Well, some story happening on some other forum maybe available to the public, but someone (who clearly mentioned that his blog is read by many in the industry) directly pointing out to the world that a deal can be had there is certainly going to contribute to the demise of the golden goose. bmi DC had to put in quite a few constraints after it became evident people were flying LH F for very little money. While the above blog entry is certainly pretty neutral, now the second and third tier travel hack bloggers will soon publish step by step instructions. Shame US Bank doesn’t offer referral credit for the LM CC 🙂

    Again, it was a matter of time, this deal will pass, others will appear. I’m sure the people attending the FFP loyalty event at SAN in November will exchange notes on us FFP freaks 😉

    PS: Regarding the tons of hours put in for MP and the Freddies, AFAIK you are part owner of these for-profit entities?

  34. @oliiver2002, I mention the following activities: Milepoint, Freddies, Frequent Traveler University, MegaDO. First, I have received no money from any of these activities other than some reimbursed expense (as I noted, for instance, the Freddies paid for my Newark airport hotel, and lowest cost airfare). The Frequent Traveler University events are run by the Frequent Traveler Education Foundation, it is a non-profit, and I am not a board member or officer at this time. I have no financial stake in MegaDOs, those are events that raise huge sums for charity. Every dime brought in by Milepoint and then some has just gone right back into the community — for benefits, for giveaways, for donations to the charitable efforts that members have undertaken. Milepoint isn’t arranged as a non-profit corporation, but there’s no money in it. 😉

    Would it be great someday if I made some money off that stuff? I wouldn’t complain! My point isn’t that I’m somehow “pure” and untouched by the material world. My point is that I’ve clearly not been doing all of this for the past 10 years for any reason other than it’s a passion of mine.

  35. @konawind – Bravo on your post. I completely agree. I wonder if Ken in Phx or MM have any thoughts on this post?

  36. Oh, come off it, Gary. Stop being so disingenuous about non-profit this and that. Why don’t you tell us how much money comes in from CC referrals and other inane referrals that you post (Jetsetter, Uber, etc.) We all know that’s where the real moolah is. Take all the CC referrals off and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get off your back.

    And actually add value by finding new stuff for a change (reader tips don’t count) instead of acting as a FT summarizer for the kettles. The first time you posted abt this program, you didn’t even realize that LM had a transfer promotion until someone posted on FT and then you had to write a new post.

    Also, comment #40 is like doctors saying that they were only reimbursed expenses for that ‘educational trip’ to the Bahamas – it’s not like they are being paid to push drugs, right… You guys are so beyond the pale – in that you have become whores for CC dollars – that is sad to see.

  37. Did you even READ my last comment that you are replying to? I never claim to be against profits. I hope that Milepoint and everything else become really successful. My point was simply that doing these things for the last ten years has hardly been about profits, but pursuing my passion.

    I also don’t think that your characterization of me or this blog in any way relates to reality, I think I am incredibly transparent, when there’s something that involves any kind of personal benefit to me I disclose it. When someone brings an offer to me I try to turn around and ask if I can give it away on the blog instead. I pay my own way to meet with programs, with credit card companies, etc even when there are offers of travel and lodging on the table. When I accept something, largely for convenience, like a sandwich in a conference room or cocktails at a reception I say so.

    Just as when someone asked me if I would provide an accounting of my charitable giving I declined, though… I give more away than I ever had before and I spend more time answering more reader questions — for free — than ever before. Because I’ve had the blessing of some success over the past few years. And as I’ve been trying to do since i started this blog, I’ve wanted to share it with other frequent flyers. But I do so as modestly and unobtrusively as possible.

    Thanks for reading!

  38. So if you are so charitable and doing this only to warm the cockles of our hearts, why don’t you get rid of credit card referrals? Or donate them to some worthy cause? Or rebate the $250 referral fee to people (I realize this is likely against the T&Cs). There are many ways to prove that the bloggers are doing what they do as a ‘public service’, but until you take referral income out of the picture, I call BS. After all, if you do it for love, you don’t need the money, right?

  39. I guess one referral = $100? Just curious. No offense Gary. Anyway, thanks for your great blog!

    @konawind you need to dig more…

  40. @abcx again you are misreading me.

    I do give away alot of what I make but I don’t brag about how charitable I am. And it is indeed against the rules to rebate fees.

    But I am not saying I do this out of charity, rather out of passion — to travel the world, catalogue what I’ve learned along the way, evangelize for what’s possible with miles and points. I’ve been sharing what I’ve been learning for 10 years now.

    I am not looking to prove anything to you, and I do hope that this love of travel also proves profitable but that’s beside the point, I was doing this long before there were banner ads on the site and I’d keep doing it if there was no remuneration still.

    That’s not about being charitable. It’s about caring deeply about what I do. Which is why I’ll keep doing it, whether you or anyone else approves of it or not!

  41. Gary – Keep up the great work. This is probably the most important, accurate and honest blog going!

  42. Gary provides a valuable service to his readers and if he can ethically profit from it, what’s the problem? There are some conflicts of interest and I trust Gary will do the right thing. He says he posts the best deals he knows of regardless of referral credit. I haven’t noticed anybody in the comments ever posting a better deal than what Gary posted. People shouldn’t expect Gary to work entirely for free, writing a blog takes time and effort and why should the readers be able to profit and not Gary?

    Gary organizes information that’s floating out there and puts in his opinion, which I find valuable because of his experience in this area. Not everybody is interested in reading through 200 FT posts on a topic, most of which are useless. By the way, FT is open, you don’t need a user account to see posts, and I’d imagine a big chunk of FT traffic never post and do not have accounts. It is open for anyone to scan through and find the so called loopholes.

  43. Classic problem of a Tragedy of the Commons. Airlines have FFPs to encourage revenue from flyers. A small percentage of those flyers seek to game the FFP system to maximize their own benefits. The larger that percentage, the lower each individual flyer’s maximization. The early adopters of any exploit are thus incentivized to reduce subsequent adoption. Like it or not, the blogs accelerate that adoption.

  44. @nycman and to be clear there have been a handful of times where there turned out to be better offers than i was aware of. I changed the links in the relevant post. Are there bloggers who don’t take that approach? Sure. But I really do my best to (1) lay out my ARGUMENTS for why I think what I think, not just offer a conclusion, so you can judge for yourself, and (2) make information as open and transparent as possible, again so folks can decide if they don’t want to rely on my arguments if they prefer, and finally (3) letting comments stand, no matter how tiresome, so that readers can judge those for themselves as well. I do not claim to be perfect however. And I welcome criticism — both warranted and unwarranted. 😉

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