An Avianca LifeMiles pitfall: the website displays inaccurate taxes & fees in search results (sometimes)


I love Avianca Lifemiles. I recognize that many don’t, but I do. I wrote an Avianca LifeMiles sweet spots post and I have written about the secret LifeMiles award chart and trying to crack the LifeMiles secret code. I have often noted my affinity for LifeMiles (and I’ll briefly mention it again on this weekend’s podcast), but it is a program that comes with caveats.

This week, a member of our Frequent Miler Insiders shared an experience that highlighted a big problem with the LifeMiles website: it doesn’t always display accurate taxes & fees in the initial search results, but rather you need to have at least 40% of the miles to ticket an award to be sure you’re seeing the full picture in terms of cash costs. Thanks to reader Marek for bringing this post to my attention because I see the potential for confusion and how this could turn off a beginner from a program that I assure you has more positives than negatives (it just does have some sizable negatives, and this is definitely one of them).

a man taking a selfie

Avianca doesn’t show the full taxes & fees in the search results

A member of our Frequent Miler Insiders Facebook group posted this week about the fact that the Avianca LifeMiles website does not include all taxes and fees until you get through to the final steps of booking. Sometimes the difference is minor, but sometimes it isn’t. This is hugely problematic and something that I hope they fix sooner rather than later.

Here was the post in our Facebook group:

Hi 👋 Long time reader, first time poster here.
First time using Life Miles. After lots of research, I found a flight that suited our needs for 12,500 miles and $12.91. As we have lots of travel coming up, we just wanted to keep our cash input minimal and I was happy to spend $38.73 out of pocket on 3 tickets. I thought I did my due diligence in confirming that the spaces available are not phantom awards and United wanted 16,500 miles for the same flight.
I transferred 38,000 amex miles to Life Miles and I was giddy when they instantly transferred.
Just went to add travelers and the taxes and fees are INSANE! The taxes are NOT $38.73, but 374.40!! There was no way for me to see them prior to transferring the AMEX miles.
What did I do wrong?!? 😢

In one of the many responses to this thread, another group member said:

google lifemiles scam. Lots of pages talking about the drawbacks of their program

I am glad to report that this isn’t a scam at all. The problem here is just that Avianca’s website stinks. And that’s a big problem (in more ways than just this). Note that I say this as a big LifeMiles fan, but I recognize that this is something that they should (and should be able to) fix.

Again, the problem here is that Avianca doesn’t show the full taxes & fees until the final booking screen and you can’t get there without enough miles to ticket the award. Of crucial importance: they don’t add any surcharges apart from their own $25 booking fee per passenger, but if you haven’t searched your itinerary elsewhere, you could be in for a big surprise when you get to the final payment page as described above.

Let’s start at the beginning and in a few minutes we’ll get to an example that mirrors the one described above.

If you search the Avianca LifeMiles website for an economy class award within the United States, you’ll see that the total shows $5.60 in taxes on the search results page as shown below.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

However, I know that Avianca has a $25 partner award booking fee. That flight will really cost $30.60 in taxes and fees in total. Unfortunately, you can’t see the full taxes & fees until the final payment step of the booking process. If you don’t have at least 40% of the miles required to book the award ticket (at least 5500 miles in this case), you can’t get that far in the process.

a screenshot of a flight registration

You need to have at least 40% of the miles required to book the award in order to get through to the payment page (because Avianca allows you to use 40% of the miles required for the redemption and you effectively buy the rest of the miles during the booking process). Only on the final payment page can you see the price with all taxes and fees.

Again, in the economy example above, the difference is relatively minor. I transferred enough points into my account to have 40% of the miles necessary for that award to show what that looks like here. Note that the breakdown below assumes that I’d only use 40% of the miles required (5500 miles) and effectively “buy” the additional 8,000 miles I’d need. Ignore the LifeMiles + Money (Money Adjustment) part (that $199.17 is basically just the chance to buy the rest of the miles necessary at a discount, but it isn’t relative to the point of this section). The piece that’s relevant here is the Estimated taxes, fees, and LifeMiles/Airline charge for $30.60. That’s the total taxes & fees on this award — not $5.60.

a screenshot of a website

Again, the initial search results showed taxes of $5.60. But the final payment page has taxes and LifeMiles charges of $30.60 because you get charged the $5.60 US tax and a $25 booking fee per ticket that is added by Avianca on every award ticket.

In that case, the additional $25 fee would certainly be annoying if you were comparing against a United MileagePlus ticket that cost a similar number of miles. You wouldn’t want to pay a similar number of miles and $25 in fees with Avianca, particularly when you consider the more painful cancellation policy (in this case a cancellation would cost $50 via Avianca or $0 if you had booked through United).

However, this becomes far more problematic in countries with higher taxes and fees. And after playing with this for a bit, I think the main problem is itineraries involving more than one carrier.

Avianca itineraries with more than one carrier don’t display taxes accurately in initial search results (and the difference can be significant)

For instance, the member of our Facebook group that reported running into this was booking an itinerary from Germany to Croatia. Here is a look at flights from Frankfurt to Zagreb as an example:

a screenshot of a computer

If you look closely, you’ll notice that some itineraries are listed with $77.85 in taxes (which is correct) and others with just $12.91 in taxes. The $12.91 rates are not correct. (and remember that the itineraries showing $77.85 will also be hit with the $25 Avianca award booking fee for a total of $103.85 on the checkout page).

Almost every country has a departure tax. Back in the day, I remember paying the departure taxes for Ecuador and Peru in cash at the airport (in fact, a friend who came to visit us in Ecuador was awfully thankful that he had set a cash advance PIN on his credit card when he realized in the airport that he needed cash to pay that departure tax and he had no working cell phone and his only debit card had been eaten by a machine during the visit!). These days, departure taxes are typically collected by the airline and included in the cost of your ticket.

You can read about Germany’s departure taxes here. Since Croatia is in Band 1 (European Union), I believe that the German government would charge 12.88 Eur in taxes on a ticket departing Germany. However, a bunch of the example itineraries shown above connect in another country — and when you connect in another country, you will often be subject to additional taxes in that country (and perhaps a higher tax rate for departing Germany to get to that third country?). I’m not an expert in how taxes & fees are applied, but I know that in my experience booking award tickets, almost any ticket I’ve booked (for travel between the US and Europe) that departs or connects in Germany comes with about $100 in taxes & fees per passenger.

Sure enough, that’s the case here.

Take for example one of the itineraries above that initially shows $12.91 in taxes & fees. When you expand this itinerary, you see that it includes Frankfurt to Zurich on Lufthansa and Zurich to Zagreb on Croatia Airlines. Whether you select the segments in economy or business, the taxes show $12.91 in the initial search results. I immediately know that this is wrong, but I think it is perfectly understandable that most people would expect this itinerary to have $12.91 in taxes at first glance.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

When you click through to the final payment page, the total taxes & fees jump up to $100.80.

a screenshot of a coupon

If you expand the estimates taxes, fees, and LifeMiles/Airline charges, you’ll see the following:

a screenshot of a website

You’ll immediately notice the $25 redemption fee at the bottom (by now you expected that part). That means the total taxes on this route are $75.80. I assumed that “DE” stands for “Deutschland” and “CH” stands for “Switzerland”. I didn’t know what the other letter combinations were (but you’ll see in a minute). Suffice it to say that those are normal taxes & fees for a route like this.

We can confirm as much by looking at other Star Alliance carriers that we know do not impose or pass along surcharges but rather only charge mandatory taxes on awards. For instance, United MileagePlus offers the same award (for a different number of miles) with the same $75.80 in taxes per passenger.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

Oddly, I don’t see that same itinerary via, but I would generally expect to be able to cross-reference there as well (and it would be a closer approximation since Air Canada also adds a 39 CAD partner booking fee on all awards, which is just a bit more than Avianca’s $25 partner redemption fee).

The main point here is that Avianca LifeMiles is not trying to pull a fast one on you: they aren’t adding additional hidden fees (apart from their $25 partner booking fee), they are simply charging you the same fees paid by every single passenger who flies that route. In fact, even if you bought a cash ticket you would pay those fees, you just don’t typically look at the breakdown. Here is the same itinerary for sale for $442 at Google Flights:

a screenshot of a flight schedule

If we pull up that same itinerary on ITA Matrix, we can see the breakdown of the fare and taxes & fees.

a screenshot of a computer screen

You’ll notice that those numbers and associated letters in the red boxes look awfully familiar. Any ticket sold on this route will include those taxes. Some airline programs will additionally tack on YQ / YR carrier-imposed surcharges amounts. For instance, if you booked the same ticket via Turkish Miles & Smiles, it would include an additional 45 EUR in carrier-imposed surcharges.

a screenshot of a flight ticket

Don’t ask me where Turkish gets 45 EUR instead of about $100 in surcharges seen at ITA Matrix, but that’s neither here nor there: the point is that Avianca LifeMiles does not pass on those junk fees.

The problem is that they just don’t accurately show the full taxes & fees in the initial search results. I don’t mean to minimize that problem: it is certainly a problem. If you were booking 4 passengers on that route and you expected taxes of $12.91 x 4 = $51.64 and instead you were confronted with $403.20 (the actual $100.80 that is taxes + $25 redemption fee per passenger), that’s a big difference and an unpleasant surprise. I am showing above that you’d pay most of that four hundred bucks no matter which way you booked your ticket, but it could nonetheless present some sticker shock if you had planned for fifty bucks in taxes and fees and got hit instead with four hundred.

The solution here is two-fold: if you notice a significant difference in the taxes being shown at Avianca versus other flights connecting the same two airports and/or versus what you see for the same awards at United and/or Air Canada, you know the LifeMiles total is wrong. Take the taxes you see at and add $25 and that’s what you can expect you should pay for the award taxes & fees with Avianca LifeMiles. Alternatively, use an award search tool and it may display the correct taxes & fees. For instance, I use and it was close. accurately showed $76 in taxes through Avianca, Air Canada, or United — it just missed Avianca’s $25 partner booking fee.

screens screenshot of a flight schedule

Bottom line

Avianca’s website kind of stinks. If you’ve spent much time booking (or trying to book) awards through Avianca, that much isn’t news to you. But if you don’t have a ton of award booking experience, you very reasonably might not recognize when the initial search results are displaying inaccurate taxes & fees. The general rule of thumb is that Avianca won’t have lower taxes than any other program since those fees are government-mandated. Whatever you see in terms of taxes & fees for the same or similar itineraries at is what you should expect to pay at Avianca – plus the $25 partner booking fee. In the end, the total you’ll pay is most certainly par for the course — but it stinks that Avianca isn’t doing a better job to maintain that course so you know what to expect before you transfer points.

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Cody Marasco

Like others, I found this article *after* running into this issue 🙂

I’m well versed in the art of earning and using points, but this was my first time using Lifemiles. I knew about the $25 redemption fee, but no other blogs ever mention the other fees you must pay when booking via Lifemiles. So after weighing my options for booking a flight from Europe to USA, in business, I concluded that Lifemiles is worth a try, from a total cost (points and fees) perspective.

Well, it turns out that the $12 booking fee listed by Lifemiles, and the $25 redemption fee, were just a fraction of the total fees I had to pay: $150. Times three, since I’m flying with my family. Well done, Lifemiles, you got me this time. What else could I do after transferring points and purchasing a substantial amount of Lifemiles?

Nick, thank you very much for offering these details.


This exact thing literally just happened to us! We transferred our hard earned 80,000 miles to purchase two international tickets thinking the USD ticket cost would only be $12.91 per person. Only to find out at checkout it was $225. Super misleading and inaccurate. Customer service is no help, they tell you to make a claim and the response is inaccurate and unhelpful. I’m sure if you’ve been booking award tickets for a long time and know the pitfalls its no biggie, but for someone who just saved up all their miles and meticulously compared flights and tranferred all their miles, this is a huge deceit. Do you recommend continuing to book through them or is there a way to pay less with miles through United? or another partner?


Unfortunately, I didn’t see this post until after transferring miles to LifeMiles. Does the $25 partner booking fee result in U.S. tax being payable because on a ticket paid for with entirely by redeeming miles there is no U.S. tax due.


Nick, I wasn’t referring to the $5.60 TSA Security fee which is charged on all award tickets. I was referring to the $21.10 U.S. International Transportation tax which I was charged by Avianca on a LifeMiles redemption. No U.S. tax is payable on a ticket paid in full by redeeming miles. The $25 partner redemption fee is a service charge. Because the fare is zero, it should not result in tax being charged. Alaska charges a fee ($12.50) for travel on partners, however, it does not charge the $21.10 international tax. A few years back, Lufthansa was fined by the DOT for improperly charging U.S. Tax on award tickets and similar action should be taken against Avianca.

Bob M

Is it true that if you book an Avianca flight through United using United miles you don’t get a seat assigned until checkin, but if you book the same flight with Avianca using Lifemiles you can get a seat at time of booking? Plus, I can’t get the Lifemiles website to actually work; it just spins and spins and spins.


Maybe these hidden costs are minor in most cases, but I just booked two tickets on United from California to London and there were more than $500 in undisclosed fees and taxes.

Had we known about these we would have booked the exact same itinerary through ANA and saved $150 plus 10k points. But we used Amex points, which can’t be transferred back once they’re sent to the airline partner. Lesson learned – I’m never booking through Avianca again.


SMF-LHR, 10/7/2023 to 10/20/2023, all United flights – outbound 411/262, return 263/1875. For two people, Avianca was 120k miles plus $544.30. ANA’s website shows the same itinerary available for 110k miles plus $409.90.


It seems that for most people, United is the best Star Alliance partner to book with as you can cancel with no penalty. All foreign carriers promoted for Citi, Capital One, and AMEX transfer partners generally have limited availability, booking fees, and additional charges for flights, especially for non-gateway cities (Gateways being NYC, IAD, ORD, MIA, etc.) – e.g. the smaller cities and towns. It would seem for Star Alliance flights best is to get a United credit card for additional availability, book on United, then if there is a better offer closer to departure or when you are nearly 100% sure, then book with the Lifemiles, Turkish, Aeroplan alternatives.


*Aviancas website stinks.There, fixed it for you. No charge


It’s hard for me to understand how anybody can be a big fan of LifeMiles. Yes they have their uses, but the mile savings is usually moderate. It’s not like they are delivering ANA sized value unless you’re doing the specific routes like JFK-LIS that are mispriced.

And then you have the negatives:

Miles expire after a year with no activity

Some awards available on Star Alliance partners are not available on LM

Bad customer service

Crummy IT

$25 booking fee

Change fees

And now we can add unintentionally deceitful pricing.

I transferred 30k points to LM and booked a ticket that got canceled due to Covid 3 years ago. My current LM balance? 33k, as I keep shoveling in 1000 points a year to keep my miles active. I haven’t found a single good use for LM in all that time. A lot of this is due to how dominant ANA is in the world of Star Alliance pricing but I have found reasons to use United, Aeroplan, and even my despised Turkish miles during that timeframe.

I’m confident I’ll be able to use my orphaned LMs at some point which is why I keep them from expiring. But they are like my 8th favorite airline transfer partner at best.

Thanks for the heads up on this though, Nick. I think I was vaguely aware of it but it’s a good reminder.


Excuse me, it’s “awful” customer service, not simply “bad”!



I’d agree with you if Turkish hadn’t set the bar so low.


LifeMiles is a train wreck from a customer service perspective and IT. I redeem the same route fairly frequently. The taxes/fees competent changes even thought it really hasn’t. LifeMiles is useless to work with becasue they simply wont do anything. That said, it is a United route and sometimes the value of Life Miles vs Cash ticket are pretty attractive. Better be sure you are going to fly it though.


DP: showed me $13 plus 30k OW to Europe completely operated by Lufthansa, connecting through FRA. I expected $38 due to familiarity with booking fee. It ended up being $93. Taxes/fees on United were $42 so even with the booking fee, this Avianca total was higher.


Lifemiles seems to be adding an extra $21.10 fee in addition to their $25 booking fee on many OW Europe itineraries. Seems like you see that too. Not sure what it is.

Ed S.

Avianca’s site is frustrating. They don’t seem to provide a multi-city search feature like most other airlines, frustrating for those who want to book direct while taking advantage of their free stopover policy by adding SAL and/or BOG on tickets to Brazil or Peru.

Jamon Rucker

This happened to me the other day as well but not as bad the gentleman in the post. I was looking for a flight (2 Tickets) from JAN (Jackson, MS) to SAT San Antonio, TX for May 19th, 2023 and there was a Untied flight for 7,500 Lifemiles available and taxes appeared to be $5.60 each ticket. So I transfer 14,000 Lifemiles points from Citi Thanks Points and because of the 10% transfer promotion going on at the time I received additional 1,400 Lifemiles. When I went to complete the transaction via the lifemiles website, the price of the taxes jumped to $30.60 each ticket. Even though it was more than I expected I still purchase the tickets because it still was a good deal and I had already transfer the citi thank you points over.


fyi, US DOT fined British Airways in the past for doing this:

it violates Title 14 CFR 399.84(a)

incredibly though, BA continues to do it even today, and DOT doesn’t seem to be powerful or resourceful enough to actually stop it

Alias Mathias

Just want to add another note of caution. Sometimes you can make it to the final booking screen with all taxes & fees shown and the price will still be higher. This happened to me with a partner booking and the final screen said “please call in to complete reservation.” When I called in, the total was marginally higher, and I am now stuck with a 22k Lifemiles in my account that I transfered for this specific flight. This was not just an airline price fluctuation as the original cost displayed as the same amount over the next few days as well.


Thanks for writing this detailed article so quickly! Exactly what I was hoping for and can now easily reference in the future.