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Promotions to buy frequent flyer miles are pretty common these days, but even when the promotions include a bonus of some sort it is rare to see the price per mile within major alliances like Star Alliance and OneWorld dip significantly below two cents per mile (though it does happen from time to time). That is kind of the magic threshold at which miles collectors like to redeem miles and airlines like to sell miles (presumably since most don’t get redeemed for that amount).
One airline within Star Alliance has gained a bit of a reputation for selling miles pretty inexpensively, and they are at it again. Through April 30th the AviancaTaca LifeMiles program is offering a promotion where you can get a 100% bonus on purchased miles. For the sake of easy math, if I purchased 50,000 miles during the current promo I would receive a total of 100,000 miles with the 100% bonus. My cost would be $1,500 at a cost of 1.5 cents per mile. That is a good cents per mile cost for those who are in a position to want to buy frequent flyer miles. Even better, when you go to redeem your miles you can pay just 40% with the miles you already have and then essentially buy the other 60% at the time of booking at a rate of 1.275 cents per mile (see screen shot below for a visual of how this works). Why is all of this a good cost? Let me give a couple examples…
US – Europe in business class for 105,000 miles round trip at a cost of $803.88 + 42,000 miles that could be purchased for $630. That is a total of about $1434 round trip from the US to Europe in business class (+ taxes and booking fee). That is still a ton of money, but it is certainly cheaper than you can usually buy a business class ticket for – especially last minute.
Domestic US round trip tickets for $191 + 10,000 miles that are purchased for $150. That is a total of $341 (+ taxes and booking fee) for a round trip ticket within the continental US. Often times you can do better than that price is many markets, but when you are shopping for a very expensive ticket or especially shopping at the last minute when tickets can be close to $1,000 this can be a huge savings.
I’ll be upfront and say I have only purchased a small number of miles and have not tried this program out for an actual booking myself. As much as I want my garden to be full of trees that grow expendable cash that I can spend on “cheap” miles, it still isn’t. So, even though it might be a good value to buy $1,500 worth of miles, it just isn’t always realistic for most family budgets. I bought 5K miles (10K with the bonus) mostly as a test so I could speak personally to how that process works. I will not be going in huge on this right now as I don’t have a specific redemption in mind, and I have only started to grow tomatoes and strawberries in my garden, but still have no cash trees.
My purchase did post instantly, there were no additional taxes or fees charged to buy the miles, and I used a credit card that didn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
There are also a few downsides to this program that I read about that I want to mention including: no mixed cabins (in others words, if you want biz class all segments must be available in biz class), no stopovers or long connections, difficulty changing awards, a challenging call center, and no infant awards. It is also always possible the award chart can change quickly and without notice. However, they do have a pretty good online booking engine for awards, they allow for one-way awards for 50% of the miles, and they don’t charge fuel surcharges or last minute booking fees (though there is a $25 booking fee on all awards). You can view their award chart here. So, there are some very good uses for these miles, but I would not stock up on a pile of miles “just because”….unless of course you do have a money tree.
Here are all the terms and conditions for this offer (bolding mine):
- This promotion is available through Avianca and TACA’s Call Centers, LifeMiles.com and Avianca and TACA’s Information Centers, except Colombia where is available only through the Call Center and LifeMiles.com
- This promotion is available between April 8th, and April 30th, 2013, as the last date of purchase
- Maximum miles to buy per transaction: LM75,000
- Minimum of miles to buy per transaction: LM1,000
- Maximum miles to buy during a calendar year: LM150,000
- Miles must be purchased in multiples of 1,000
- Maximum number of transactions: 1 transaction
- At LifeMiles.com, the purchase can only be done through Earn/Buy LifeMiles. Does not apply to the Flexible Redemption (miles + money) during the payment process of air ticket redemption
- The amount for purchase of miles is not refundable
- Each package of 1,000 miles costs USD 35,40, including all taxes applicable to each country*
- For Venezuela residents: each package of 1,000 miles costs USD 40,oo plus local taxes of 12% IVA, for a total cost of USD 44,8o. The values are settled at the current exchange rate to Bolivares Fuertes.
- Form of payment through Call Center and LifeMiles.com: International credit or debit card. Cash payments are only allowed at Avianca or TACA’s Information Centers
- The cost per block of 1,000 miles may vary according to the country or channel of purchase
- Applies only to members enrolled in the program prior to April 8th, 2013
- The miles purchase transaction receipt will show the total of miles credited to the customer’s account, including bonus, and the total amount charged for the transaction
- The miles bought and earned with this promotion do not apply to achieve Elite status
- The amount paid for the miles’ purchase is not refundable
- The miles are not endorsable
- Miles purchased, once accrued, can be redeemed in accordance with the conditions specified in the LifeMiles’ Program Terms and Conditions and the portfolio of products and services available for redemption.
- LifeMiles Terms and Conditions apply
- * The price may be lower depending on the country of residence registered in the members account in the database
Even if buying miles doesn’t make sense for you right now, it can be a good idea to go ahead and join AviancaTaca so you are positioned for a future sale as they like to put new member clauses in the terms for these bonus miles. If you have had success (or failure) with this program, I’d love to hear about it!