Since Avianca’s LifeMiles joined Star Alliance, it has been one of the most lucrative frequent flyer programs in the world.
They’ve announced a new award chart starting October 15th, and have now released the details of the chart. Are there some great hidden gems? Are the increases bad? Will they change how to play this program?
Here’s what the program had going for it:
- Reasonable award chart
- One-way awards
- No fuel surcharges
Not to mention that they’ve:
- Sold miles cheaply (something they did for years)
- Offered a cash and points award option
- Had all sorts of ‘glitches’ (like airports categorized in the wrong region) that made some awards super cheap.
There were drawbacks, of course.
- A requirement that all segments be in the same booking class – if you wanted a transatlantic business class flight, you needed a domestic business class flight to connect to it. No coach (i.e. no mixed cabins) permitted.
- Their call centers were very frustrating, although email service is better
Several things have eroded the value of the LifeMiles program, although I’m going to argue it is still useful – though just not nearly so useful as it was where it made sense to buy their miles.
First, they made several program changes without notice. For the most part these were small changes, but lack of notice degrades trust (so I didn’t want to hold the miles long-term, I wanted to buy and burn – I knew they could pull the rug out any day).
Second, they raised the price of buying miles.
Third, they closed many of the loopholes and glitches that reduced award prices and also have recently been unable to book Lufthansa first class (though I’ve seen occasional reports of success).
And now – fourth – they’ve announced they’re making changes to their award chart effective October 15.
At first they said the changes were coming but shared very little detail on those changes. I gave them a hard time for this.
Now they’ve come out with the actual award charts. The awards I care most about are more expensive. They’re not offensively so compared to other airline charts. In many cases Aviaca Lifemiles is quite superior to United MileagePlus.
But the increase in price of miles, and the increased mileage cost of awards, make it no longer such a good value that I’m a LifeMiles buyer except in the most limited of circumstances.
Here’s the new Star Alliance award chart: (Click to enlarge.)
The fewest changes happen to coach awards, and to awards within North and South America. That’s consistent with what United did.
On the whole though the rest of the chart gets more expensive, especially in premium cabins, but not that much more in a world where my senses have been dulled by United.
- North America – Europe goes up 10,500 each way in business class (from 105,000 to 126,000 roundtrip) and 14,500 each way in first (from 145,000 to 174,000 roundtrip).
- North America – Middle East/North Africa and South Africa goes up 13,000 each way in business class (from 130,000 to 156,000 roundtrip) and 17,500 each way in first (from 175,000 to 210,000 roundtrip).
- North America – North Asia goes up 12,500 each way in business class (from 125,000 to 150,000 roundtrip) and 15,000 each way in first (from 150,000 to 180,000 roundtrip).
- North America – Central Asia goes up 13,000 each way in business class (from 130,000 to 156,000 roundtrip) and 18,500 each way in first (from 185,000 to 222,000 roundtrip)
- North America – South Asia goes up 13,000 each way in business class (from 130,000 to 156,000 roundtrip) and 16,500 each way in first (from 165,000 to 198,000 roundtrip)
- North America – Oceania goes up 12,500 each way in business class (from 135,000 to 160,000 roundtrip) and 17,500 each way in first (from 185,000 to 222,000 roundtrip).
This chart is still better than United’s for Star Alliance premium cabin awards, and still doesn’t have fuel surcharges. They’re still frustrating to work with of course. So I won’t be a buyer anymore.
That said, there are some bright spots. For instance, North Asia – Oceania in first class for 50,000 miles each way. What’s odd is that South Asia – Oceania is 60,000 miles. Fly Sydney – Bangkok – Baijing for 50,000 or Sydney – Bangkok for 60,000. That makes sense… And Europe – Central Asia has dropped to 60,000 miles in first class each way.