Avianca sent out an email this week announcing upcoming award chart changes. While Avianca is a smaller airline, they frequently sell their points inexpensively and many readers hold Lifemiles as part of their point portfolio. The changes included many reductions and a few increases, here are the details.
Award Chart Changes: Good
There are a lot of positive changes in Avianca’s new award chart. So many, in fact, that I will refer you there directly to have a look for yourself. While neither the email I received announcing the changes nor the website itself displays those that are affected and the reduction in cost in relation to each other, it’s not easy to compare and contrast. The broader award chart can be found here.
The reduction in mileage cost appears to vary between 500 and 5,500 Lifemiles each way. Some highlights include a reduction of 5,000 Lifemiles each way from Washington DC, Boston, and Los Angeles to Colombia saving a total of 10,000 miles roundtrip in coach.
Avianca has announced the changes will go into effect starting on June 8th, providing ample notice for those who may want to plan a trip but are not ready to do so today. I predict they will also hold a few sales on Lifemiles (outright purchase with bonuses, increased credit card bonus offerings, or transferring from one account to another with bonuses) between now and then to drive up demand for those about to pay more for an award. However, as most of the changes positively affect the award chart, this is mostly beneficial even if the amount of reduction is just a few hundred points.
Routes reducing in cost: 129
Award Chart Changes: Bad
Most of the increases are slight and appear to be distance-based. For example, Los Angeles to Lima, Cali, Bogota, and Medellin are just 15,000 while the slightly farther San Francisco is priced at 16,500 miles instead. Miami, slightly closer than LAX is a little less expensive as well.
I prefer this approach to adjusting an award chart more than the variable chart that Delta and American have employed. Delta took away their award chart altogether with no listed prices. This allows Delta to change the price for an award as load factors allow. American has taken a different approach. They continue to post an award chart showing saver level awards that they rarely release, although that’s been getting better as of late, and charge variable rates at will or release no space at all. Avianca’s change feels much more honest.
When I explain miles and points to a beginner for the first time, the difference between distance-based awards and region-based awards makes the advantages of each clear. The reason region-based award charts are great is also their downfall. With region-based award flights, a traveler from San Diego, flying to Istanbul can price out a one-way award for the same price as Boston to Shannon despite the former covering a distance of 6900 miles and the latter just 2850. If you’re in San Diego, you’re getting a great deal, if you’re in Boston not so much. Distance-based charts help Boston-Shannon travelers and hurt San Diego-Istanbul travelers.
In most cases with the changes Avianca has made, they have been fair and have moved to charging more for flights that are further, and less for flights that are closer. Unlike American and United who increased some award prices in the last five years more than 70%, these increases are minor and instead of a broad brush approach, Avianca has zeroed in on exactly the routes that cost them more to fly and charged accordingly.
Routes increasing in cost: 54
Lifemiles Can Be Cheap To Acquire, Difficult to Spend
Frequently put on sale, I now no longer look at buying Lifemiles unless the bonus is near 135%, meaning that for every 10,000 miles you buy, you would get a bonus of 13,500 for a total acquisition of 23,500 for the price of 10,000. Why? Because they are so frequently on sale with that level of incentive that I would be a fool to buy them at anything lower. There is also a personal penalty when buying Lifemiles. In the past Lifemile program managers have changed regional definitions (thus affecting the price), did not allow mixed cabin bookings (they now do), have a poorly designed website and even a tougher call center unless you are a native Spanish speaker with incredible patience.
I hold a small amount of Lifemiles and considered getting the credit card. I enjoyed flying with them when we flew to Cartagena last year from Miami direct. Their product in the back was above average, the flight left on time, and arrived early, and the equipment was new. Their route network with multiple hubs spread across Central America and Northern South America make them unique and offer a variety of direct flights all over North and South America. I have recently looked at flights from the Northeast to points in Northern South America and their prices are excellent in business class from many departure points.
As a result of their award chart changes, I was forced to examine their chart more closely and found that there are a ton of great deals and more departure points in the US than I realized. I am personally targeting direct flights from DC to Colombia direct for 30,000 roundtrip simply because of how inexpensive the miles can be acquired (sometimes as little as $.01375/Lifemile) with a decent credit card offer out of 40,000 Lifemiles – in the past, it has awarded as many as 60,000 for the card. Note: We don’t sell credit cards at LiveAndLetsFly – this is just my personal opinion.
Overall the changes are positive 2 to 1. If anything, the chart gives a reason for travelers to acquire Lifemiles as part of their loyalty point mix but with caution given the challenges of redeeming their miles. I welcome wholesale changes to award charts that allow travelers to plan ahead. Reductions are not life-changing but neither are the increases, however, on balance, there is more to like than to dislike. One drawback is that this creates an awful lot of exceptions to their chart and makes it more confusing if the tech fails. Which it often does.
Do you welcome these changes? Do you prefer this approach to award chart changes or does it make it too complicated?