Some very exciting news was announced today: Avianca LifeMiles has been added as a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. This is great news as it makes Amex Membership Rewards an even more valuable reward program and makes booking Star Alliance partners even cheaper.
Avianca is a member of the Star Alliance which means that you can use their miles to book flights on partners like United, Singapore, Lufthansa, ANA, Thai Airways, and others. Avianca also joined Citi as a transfer partner in November 2017, so now you’ll be able to transfer points to Avianca from two major transfer programs.
Here is what the full list of Amex Membership Rewards partners looks like now:
- Aeromexico 1:1.6
- Air Canada (Aeroplan) 1:1
- Air France KLM (Flying Blue) 1:1
- Alitalia (Millemiglia) 1:1
- ANA 1:1
- Avianca (LifeMiles) 1:1
- Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles) 1:1
- British Airways 1:1
- Delta Air Lines (SkyMiles) 1:1
- El Al Israel Airlines 1,000: 20
- Emirates 1:1
- Etihad 1:1
- Hawaiian Airlines 1:1
- Iberia Plus 1:1
- JetBlue Airways 250: 200
- Singapore Airlines 1:1
- Virgin Atlantic 1:1
Hotel transfer partners:
- Choice Privileges Rewards (1:1)
- Hilton Honors (1:2)
- Starwood SPG (1000:333)
In my opinion, Amex Membership Rewards is starting to really pull away as the best transfer program when it comes to airlines, especially with the recent loss of Korean Air for Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Avianca LifeMiles strengths
What makes this news so great is that Avianca LifeMiles has:
- Some pretty competitive redemption rates
- Allows you to avoid surcharges
- Allows you to book one-way awards
- Allows you to make your bookings through their website (though sometimes not all open partner awards show and there’s a $25 booking fee)
- Allows you to avoid close-in fees
Those are things that make this program standout from many other award programs and why Avianca should be on your radar.
Avianca award chart
Here are some examples of roundtrip Star Alliance redemptions with this program.
Domestic flights (around the US/Canada)
- Economy: 25,000
- Business Class: 50,000
You can book short-haul flights for as low as 7,500 miles one-way with United in economy or 15,000 miles one way in business class. (LifeMiles breaks down the US into three categories based on the states you’re traveling between.)
Mexico and the Caribbean
- Economy: 35,000
- Business Class: 60,000
Upper South America : Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
- Economy: 40,000
- Business Class: 70,000
These rates to upper South America are pretty good although you can definitely find cheaper routes using Alaska miles and American Airlines, which can be as low as 30,000 roundtrip in economy and 60,000 roundtrip for business class.
Lower South America: Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia
- Economy: 60,000
- Business Class: 120,000
These rates are bit more competitive than the rates to Upper South America. However, when it comes to business class you can find much better deals. For example, ANA allows you to book Star Alliance partner United in business for only 80,000 roundtrip and only about $87 in fees!
- Economy: 60,000
- Business Class: 100,000
That 100,000 roundtrip in business class is one of the best rates out of any airline for getting to Brazil in business class and definitely a nice little sweet spot for this program.
- Economy: 40,000+
- Business Class: 120,000+
Europe is broken down into three different regions and economy redemptions start at 40,000. 40,000 roundtrip to Europe is great and 60,000 roundtrip to Europe isn’t that bad, although there are options for getting to Europe for 50,000 miles or under.
As for business class, 120,000 miles is a little bit on the expensive side for miles especially since once again, you could use other airlines to get to Europe in business class for much cheaper. For example, ANA only requires 88,000, JAL can be as low as 65,000, Korean Air only requires 80,000, and a few others can be at the 100,000-110,000 mile requirement.
Still, it is worth noting that 120,000 miles is still cheaper than a United partner award (140,000) and with no fuel surcharges, the higher mileage requirement isn’t as bad as it first appears compared to those other airlines.
- Economy: 80,000
- Business Class: 156,000
The economy rate at 80,000 roundtrip to South Africa is pretty competitive compared to most airlines and wouldn’t be a bad redemption. 156,000 for business class is not exactly on the cheap side although it’s on par with major US airlines like United and American.
Japan (North Asia)
- Economy: 70,000
- Business Class: 150,000
70,000 to Japan in economy isn’t terrible but considering how amazing the redemptions on ANA, JAL, Alaska miles can be to get to Japan, I would rather not go with Avianca when getting to Japan. For example, for just 5,000 more miles than what you would use for an economy roundtrip to Japan with Avianca LifeMiles, you could get a roundtrip on ANA in business class (75,000 miles off-peak with very little in fees).
- Economy: 90,000
- Business Class: 162,000
The economy redemption for 90,000 roundtrip is competitive with most other programs, although many programs offer roundtrips for 80,000 miles. The 162,000 for a roundtrip in business class is on par with American Airlines and United (partner redemptions) but business class tickets can be had for much cheaper with ANA or Alaska miles.
You can find their full award chart here.
Other strengths of the program
There are a few other strengths of the program as well.
Purchase miles for cheap
Avianca often sells their miles for very cheap. For example, in November of 2017 you could purchase their miles with a 145% bonus which allowed you to buy miles at a rate of 1.35 cents per mile. That’s very cheap considering the value that you could get out of those miles.
In fact, it’s so cheap that if often gives people pause before transferring points to Avianca since it often makes sense to just purchase the miles outright.
Strong credit card offer
There’s also an Avianca credit card that offers a sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles after making only a single purchase (you usually need a promo code for the 60,000 offer). The card is issued by Banco Popular which is a bank based in Puerto Rico, so if you need to give Amex, Chase, and other banks a rest for a while it can be a good option.
A major weakness?
One major potential weakness of this program is that it’s known for offering questionable customer service. Thus, if you have a complex itinerary you’re trying to book you might run into some issues.
Amex continues to make its program more valuable with new transfer partners and new credit cards. If you’re interested in flying on Star Alliance partners while avoiding fees then this news should make you very happy today!
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.