LifeMiles is an award program that has recently become a lot more accessible, so it’s also getting a lot more attention than it has in the past. While they’re best known for running periodic mileage sales (you can buy points for as little as 1.2 cents each), they recently became transfer partners with American Express and Capital One. Not only does this mean a lot more redemptions from people based in the US, LifeMiles currently has an exceptionally generous award chart for domestic US flights on United Airlines.
However, LifeMiles is also affiliated with Avianca, a South American airline that is currently experiencing financial turmoil in its Brazilian operation. While the agreements between different airline programs are secret, airlines do pay each other for award seats and redemption imbalances are a source of friction between programs. With several US credit cards suddenly becoming transferable to a generous award chart, it’s not too big a stretch to assume that LifeMiles members are redeeming a lot more seats on United for domestic flights within the US.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of United devaluing its award chart by shifting to a dynamic award chart. Dynamic pricing with other airlines who have implemented it (such as Delta) has resulted in cheaper fares in some cases, but fares much more closely track cash fares. Obviously, United (and its credit card partner Chase) are unlikely to want the devaluation undercut by a cheaper, easily attainable LifeMiles award chart.
Award Pricing: Current
Current award pricing starts at 7,500 miles and goes to 12,500 miles each way in economy class (given that LifeMiles’ US partner is United, and there is almost never partner availability in premium cabins, premium cabin pricing is largely theoretical).
Under the old chart, the country is split up into zones (in a fairly unusual configuration; Montana and Florida are in the same zone). Travel within the same zone costs 7,500 points; travel between adjacent zones costs 10,000 points, and cross-country travel costs 12,500 points. In addition to this, the booking fee is charged.
Award Pricing: Devalued
While details are currently slim, LifeMiles appears to be transitioning from a zone-based award chart to (more or less) a mileage-based award chart. Based on the examples LifeMiles has provided, flights up to 650 miles will cost 6,500 LifeMiles. Flights from 1,200 miles to 1,400 miles will cost 12,500 miles. However, some city pairs in these mileage bands will cost more and some will cost less; New York to Houston is cheaper than Washington, DC to Houston for example. Finally, long transcontinental flights (such as Los Angeles to Newark) cost 13,500 points.
Instead of only 3 award prices, there is a 6,500 point level, a 10,000 point level, a 12,500 point level, and a new, more expensive 13,500 point level. Many of the most popular coast-to-coast city pairs are getting more expensive, popular short-haul flights (such as the New York-Washington, DC shuttle or flights within California) are getting cheaper, and mid-haul flights are the sweet spot. The mileage levels aren’t changing, but the fees are.
Booking Fees: Dropping for Most Flights
LifeMiles doesn’t have close-in booking fees; they charge an annoying $25 junk fee called a “redemption fee” every time you redeem miles (the fee is the same whether you redeem your points one way or roundtrip, so it’s probably worth redeeming roundtrip). This has really been a sore point with short-haul LifeMiles redemptions because it sucks the value out of a lot of these awards.
Instead of charging a single $25 redemption fee, LifeMiles is adjusting the fee based on the tier of the award you book. For long-haul flights, it will remain $25. However, for flights at the 10,000 and 12,500 point levels, the fee is dropping to $15. And for flights at the 6,500 point level, the fee is dropping to $10. This means that overall, most flights will see lower fees when redeeming Avianca LifeMiles.
LifeMiles appears to have learned its lesson when it comes to devaluations. Rather than continuing its past practice of sudden devaluations, you have until July 15 to redeem awards at the current levels. This means LifeMiles has provided a full 3 months of notice. The changes are also not entirely negative; short-haul awards will be better value than before. LifeMiles is also maintaining its practice of not charging close-in booking fees and isn’t varying the price of award flights based on the cash price of a ticket. This means that LifeMiles may still deliver excellent value when redeeming last-minute, short-haul flights.
Have you used LifeMiles to redeem for United flights in the past? Will you going forward?