Buying Star Alliance Premium Cabin Fares On the Cheap

When Mileage Programs Sell Miles They’re Taking Over the Mantle of Old School ‘Consolidators’

Airfare discounters also used to be called bucket shops. But not the kind from Boiler Room or The Wolf of Wall Street.

eponymous coward long ago dubbed US Airways “the official consolidator for Star Alliance premium cabin seats.”

Back in the day consolidators bought blocks of seats cheap and resold them at a discount relative to going prices. This helped airlines fill their planes, and price discriminating consumers in search of a bargain travel.

The idea was that those seats that would otherwise go empty get offered up as awards.. and US Airways sold access to those seats cheap by offering to sell miles most of the time with a 100% bonus.

Of course, US Airways has since raised the price of their miles twice and raised the price of their awards. And US Airways has left the Star Alliance. But they continue to sell miles with a 100% bonus.

As a result, the title of ‘official consolidator for Star Alliance premium cabin seats’ has passed to Avianca’s LifeMiles program.

100% Bonus on Purchased Miles from LifeMiles… Again

LifeMiles is selling miles with a 100% bonus through May 30th.

That makes the price of miles 1.5 cents apiece. As long as your account was open before the launch of the promotion should be eligible to buy up to 75,000 miles and receive 150,000.

Buy miles and receive the double!

Buy miles 2×1 is back! The promotion that has been recognized as the best in the Americas at the 2014 Freddie Awards.

LifeMiles often accompanies their promotion with a picture of two happy people, and says they’ll give you ‘the double.’ English is not their first language..

They offered a similar bonus most recently in March (for transferred miles)… and Decemberand October (for transferred miles).

This is an Intentional Strategy

As with US Airways, they very much know what they’re doing. A week and a half ago Matthew Vincett, the President of the LifeMiles program, spoke at a conference and dubbed miles earned from flying as their ‘bad’ miles and those earned from other transactions such as partners ‘good’ miles for the program. They make money on these sales, and manage their costs even with a lucrative Star Alliance award chart.

LifeMiles Points Are Very Valuable, But…

When Avianca joined Star Alliance I declared LifeMiles the most generous in the alliance. Since United’s devaluation, that’s likely true. They are part of my “Devaluation Plan B” which is to look to international frequent flyer programs for value if and when US programs devalue further.

The program has no fuel surcharges, offers one-way awards which are priced reasonably, and as with this offer they sell miles cheap. They also offer ‘cash and points’ which means that as long as you have 40% of the miles needed for an award you can buy the rest at the time of redemption for just over 1.5 cents apiece.

That said, their call centers are frustrating and they don’t permit “mixed cabin” redemption — so if you are redeeming a transatlantic business class award, all segments need to be in business class (including domestic US flights, and intra-Europe flights). And back in May they tweaked some award prices without notice and increased the cash cost of cash and points awards to its current pricing as well.

So it’s far from a perfect program!

Many folks have benefited from the 100% purchase bonus. If you don’t already have an account, open one so that you have the option to take advantage of this in the future.


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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. I opened a LifeMiles account a few months ago (probably due to your recommendation!), but have never used it. I recall they have online award booking (avoiding their difficult call center): is that correct? If so, without miles in my account, can I check their system to see if they’re showing award availability for flights I’d want to take? And, if so, when I buy miles, will they post immediately so I could book the award travel? Thanks.

  2. Is the call center at least tolerable if one speaks Spanish? Or is it simply horrible regardless of the primary language one speaks?

  3. Good luck booking anything with a UA segment in it. They tweaked something and now nothing with UA will book.

  4. to iahphx, yes to all three of your questions. The best bet is to buy 40% of the miles or all of the miles you will need for the trip. If you use cash and points to buy less than 60% of the miles, the cost is greater than 1.5 cpm on the remaining miles.

  5. Thanks Gary! Is availability pretty good? I tried to find business class flights from ATL or JFK to several destinations including Bombay, Dubai and Panama pretty much for any time this year and couldn’t find anything.

  6. Thanks, Harold.

    Glad this offer is good for a few weeks, so I have plenty of time to fiddle around with learning their website.

  7. @Anon256 there are several programs mentioned in the Plan B post, but within Star I do like both the ANA and Asiana programs despite fuel surcharges

  8. @iahphx – there is online booking, it’s reasonably good given caveats about their having some issues currently with United flights, no mixed cabin awards, etc.

  9. Small complaint – This has nothing to do with buying cheap fares. Cheap tickets definitely, cheap premium seats sure, but not cheap fares as fares only relate to, and are only filed for, revenue tickets.

    The difference being that cheap premium fares on *A are a very interesting topic given that they are so hard to find compared to OW (and the reason I clicked on the post in my feed), while talking about LM selling miles for the hundredth time is quite boring.

  10. @Ryan – Sorry to be boring! My point is actually that whether you’re buying a ticket with miles that you paid for in money or buying the ticket with money directly, is immaterial. You’re getting a heavily restricted inventory class here that doesn’t earn miles in exchange for a deep discount. Conceptually that’s all this is. Sorry if you expected something different from the post.

  11. @Gary – No problem. I’m certain there are loads of people interested in it, I just found the wording a little off. Merely a small critique of an otherwise awesome blog.

  12. Can someone please explain how to easily search for available routes and dates on the Lifemiles site? I have played around a few times by just entering random dates/routes, but the site says the entered route is sold out almost every time. What am I missing? I would consider using Lifemiles if I knew how to easily work the site.

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