Avianca LifeMiles is one of my favorite award programs because of the fact that there are no fuel surcharges and the “award chart” (in quotation marks because they no longer seem to publish the award chart) is very hackable: mixing a long business or first class flight with some segments in economy class on either end of the award can result in cheaper pricing than if you’d only booked the long-haul (See: Avianca LifeMiles’ awesome mixed-cabin award pricing. First Class for less.). However, a common area of frustration with LifeMiles is that, inexplicably, some Star Alliance awards that should be available just don’t show up in the LifeMiles award search engine. In planning for our 3 Cards, 3 Continents challenge, I recently ran into exactly that type of situation — and it turned out that there is a small trick you can use that might make LifeMiles show you the results you want to see.
An example flight that “isn’t available” via Avianca
As an example of the type of thing I’m talking about, take this economy class flight from Oslo (OSL) to Newark (EWR) via Stockholm (ARN) on October 11, 2022:
As you can see above, that flight is available via United Mileage Plus. It’s also available via Air Canada Aeroplan.
The Point.me tool shows that same flight is also available via Star Alliance program Asiana.
If you check out the “+20 add’l options” section, you’ll see that there are a number of ways to book this same itinerary, including via other Star Alliance programs like Singapore Airlines or EVA.
However, you don’t see “Avianca LifeMiles” listed at Point.me as a way to book that flight because even the Point.me tool knows that this flight won’t show up on LifeMiles.com. In fact, LifeMiles shows no availability at all at first search with the default settings.
Anyone who has done a lot of award searches with Avianca LifeMiles has run into this. However, we can get Avianca to show that award flight with a simple trick. Greg had mentioned this trick to me a few years ago, but it hadn’t been fruitful the first couple of times I’d tried it and I tossed that knowledge into long-term storage. In other words, this isn’t a newly-discovered trick, but it’s something I hadn’t used in the long time since it was first mentioned to me.
Smart Search vs Star Alliance vs Individual Airlines
When you log in to LifeMiles.com and you search for an award ticket, the award search engine has a small drop-down above the airport fields that you may have never noticed that defaults to “smart search”. If you expand that drop-down menu, the other options include “Avianca”, “Star Alliance” and individual airline names.
Presumably the “smart search” should search both Avianca and partner airlines to find available flights that connect your origin and destination airports. My further assumption is that the “Star Alliance” option tells Avianca that you’re looking to book on partner airlines (so perhaps it won’t search for Avianca availability?).
The solution to (at least some of) your award search struggles is the individual airline selection search. That makes the tool at least 9 times smarter in some cases. Here’s what happens when you select Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) for the same date shown above:
Lo and behold, that flight that was available to everyone else is suddenly available to Avianca LifeMiles, too — and in fact there were nine different itineraries available. Let’s call the individual airline selection Smarter Search.
On the sample itinerary above, it looks like the first leg is even available in business class if you want to fly up front for the short leg from Oslo to Stockholm. It would only cost you just over 3,000 miles more to fly that leg in business class than economy. I’ve always wondered whether booking that first flight in business would get you advantages like the business class checked baggage policy (I don’t know). At the very least, I think you should get priority airport check-in since you’d be checking in for a business class flight for your first leg, which could be worth it at times when demand is high and airport lines are long.
It’s frustrating that Avianca’s default search setting excludes these flights for no explicable reason, but it’s nice to know that you can still find them with a simple drop-down menu selection.
Still some situations where this doesn’t help
Unfortunately, this solution doesn’t work 100% of the time. Sometimes, Avianca just won’t show some award flights no matter what sorcery you try. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a way to use LifeMiles to book award flights operated on partner airlines when it just doesn’t want to show those flights even with the airline selection. I’m also not sure that this technique will work on complicated multi-partner itineraries.
For complex itineraries, you can try a manual booking
Do keep in mind that if Avianca shows availability on the individual legs you want separately but they don’t piece them together into the single itinerary you want, you might be able to make a manual booking. I wrote about that process in this post. The short version of the story is that if you can find availability via LifeMiles.com on the individual legs you want to book, you can email Avianca screen shots and they may be able to manually book it. Beware that this is a slow process at best (see the post linked above for more).
Avianca LifeMiles continues to be one of my favorite Star Alliance programs both for its hackable award chart and lack of fuel surcharges. The main area of frustration with LifeMiles is that it sometimes doesn’t show availability on Star Alliance flights that it should be able to access. Thankfully, there is sometimes an easy workaround where you simply select the airline on which you want to fly from the drop-down menu on the search page rather than “Smart Search”. This won’t solve all of your Avianca award search frustrations, but it should help you uncover at least some hidden availability.
Lifemiles have become garbage for business class award flights and there is no “trick” that will solve it
Anyone run into this situation which is driving me crazy? UA shows LH First awards available. I got LM and search by LH. Only the economy and business columns will display. I cannot see First class on any LH flight originating in North America, even though I can find the flights. Any ideas what to do? An e-mail to the support desk? Can LM not see F availability or is it just not displaying it to me? Have been trying for hours.
I haven’t needed to look for this, but have you trie Star Alliance search instead of LH specific? Recently, when they had the Brussels Airlines sale, the business class availability did not come up when specifying Brussels Airlines or Smart Search, but did when choosing Star Alliance instead. I’d try that.
My itinerary CTG to MSP Doesn’t show up at all on Lifemiles, either on smart search or individually searching Avianca or Air Canada.
Does show up when searching United airlines or Air Canada sites.
[…] have frustrating little quirks that make finding award availability harder than it needs to be. Frequent Miler recently outlined a helpful tip for those booking flights with Avianca LifeMiles, and we thought it […]
Once again, TPG shamelessly steals and posts an article with the exact same content as Frequent Miler only days after with no H/T. It’s pathetic at this point.
[…] News and notes from around the interweb: Finding availability airline-by-airline using Avianca LifeMiles […]
How well is point.me functioning these days? I gave it a trial run months back and it glitched out all over the place on both simple and complex itineraries.I don’t remember the error messages I kept getting but it was spectacularly frustrating and also took a minute or two every time just to get that error. I tried mentioning my problems in comments on GSTP but my comments were repeatedly pulled. IIRC, GSTP has some ownership stake in point.me and if that’s how they treat people who have had bad experiences it doesn’t bode well. That’s left me notably gun shy about trying the system again.
I don’t know anything at all about the ownership structure of Point.me (or other blogs for that matter), but after typing out this response it did dawn on me that I did hear from Gilbert at some point about work he was doing with Point.me. I don’t know why your comments weren’t posted, but if your comments included a link, maybe they got caught in a spam filter? Same thing happens here — sometimes people wonder why their comment hasn’t displayed and it’s because the spam filter catches any comment with a link in it. I don’t know if that was it, just a possibility.
I’ve been using point.me a ton (not quite daily, but many days every week) since well before they launched publicly and apart from that first day or two when they launched, I haven’t experienced anything like “glitched out all over the place”, so I don’t know that I’m the right person to answer your question. I use it all the time without major issue (it has been the second most used tool in my planning for our 3 Cards, 3 Continents challenge behind FlightConnections; I’ve done tons of searches). Yes, searches do take a long time (usually about 2 minutes total I’d guess to search all partners). That’s been fine with me. If I just want a quick reference point on a specific alliance, I go to the best website for that alliance (like United for Star Alliance for instance). I use point.me when I want to cover all of the bases at once and make sure I’m not missing any cheaper award (than whatever my first thought would have been). That said, even with as much as they have, they don’t have every single program. There are times when they don’t show something bookable through program X or Y because their system recognizes that it isn’t easily available / bookable (like the example in this post). It’s hard for me to say whether it’s going to meet your needs, but at five bucks for a day pass it’s relatively easy to take it for another test drive. Without knowing more specifically what problems you were encountering, I think that’s the best I can answer.
I was pretty excited to try it out for a day but I kept getting errors on almost every search. As we’ve both seen, the couple minutes per search can add up but really becomes bothersome when almost every wait is followed by an error message. That’s what I meant by it glitching out all over the place. From your response, a lot of the error problems seem to have been addressed.
On the deleted comments aspect, my comments were there without links but were then removed. I know this because my comment was there for a bit but then was just gone. My followup comments asking about the removal vanished shortly after appearing as well.Other comments appeared during that period.
Thanks so much for the response and please keep up the good work.
It works great and has saved me hundreds of dollars and tens of thousands of points. I’ve had about 8 day passes so far and never seen an error message. It appears to be genuinely searching ask the sites it supports (rather than relying on cache. I often have six or eight searches going simultaneously.
It sucks about having your comments removed and kind of disappointed to hear it happened at a class site like GSTP.
Nick, I am seeing availability on Lifemiles (as well as United and Aeroplan) for LIS-BOS on TAP in J for 2 people on August 16. I keep getting an error when trying to book the flight, so I have sent over the details in an email as described above. I just called again and they said they don’t see any availability. I just bought the miles required for this specific flight; am I SOL?
Didn’t work for me. Found a very simple United-only itinerary that explicitly shows up as saver on United. Lifemiles shows blue dots on all calendar days, but when I click on them, nothing.
Nick, last week I booked 2 biz on Aeroplan NRT-KUL for 45k each. Lifemiles did not show this flight availability no matter how I searched (smart, *a, ana). After rearranging my wifes flights to NRT so she arrives on mine & Teenager P3’s schedule, Lifemiles showed the biz availability on the same flight for 36k this morning. Lifemiles is the ultimate YMMV award engine. Try booking anything with more than two segments. Ha! It’s real value is – and the reason to put up with them – no partner fuel surcharges, lower redemptions on mixed itineraries, partners with AM & Latam (YMMV) connecting to Latin America & the miles are easy to acquire.
I actually hadn’t noticed that most itineraries they show are two segments, but I certainly have seen and booked itineraries with 3 segments on their website (and I recently came across some four-segment ones). I booked a 4-segment itinerary (with a ~10hr layover and a ~8hr layover I think) via email for that post about manual bookings. I do think you’re right though that they must have the site set up to prioritize fewer segments.
In my experience, most of their multi-segment itineraries include AV metal through SLV, SJO & BOG. I’m sure there are exceptions booked online & if you’re calling & getting the right agent. The typical seems to be a lack of onward connectivity past partner hub cities, even with known availability via expert flyer, Aeroplan, etc. A good example lately for me was known onward availability on the new TK SEA-IST route on their 787. I couldn’t see anything onward past IST for a month +/- my ideal travel date to ZNZ, DAR, JRO or NBO. There was plenty of availablity on Aeroplan, UA & expert flyer for many dates. Nothing on LM, no matter how I searched. The exception this past year seems to be LH to CAI & onward with Egypt Air in economy.
Cheers Nick. Keep up the hard work!
I booked a three segment one-way Lufthansa award via LifeMiles a month ago.
Was the middle segment FRA-MUC or vice-versa?
Itinerary was BIL -> FRA (overnight) -> MUC -> JFK.
I also had a trip that I was looking at and LM was giving a lot of FRA-MUC connections
LifeMiles has a thing where they sometimes zero out inventory temporarily (see my comment elsewhere on this post). If someone booked one of four seats available, LifeMiles will not have the other three seats available for some variable amount of time.
Time variable is likely partner dependant, along with added latency to account for LM’s own cobbled together IT.
To be fair to them, if their system was dynamic, I’m guessing these award prices would be as well.
Thanks for the tip, but I am still finding virtually no availability for nonstop transcon UA flights even after selecting United as the airline. Except for a few close in flights in July, there is virtually no availability of nonstop flights from SFO to BOS or IAD. While there are occasional 12 hour connecting itineraries, I would rather just buy a nonston ticket. I’m probably going to let my 88K Lifemiles expire at the end of the month; better than being constantly frustrated whenever I search for awards.
Are those United flights showing up for other Star Alliance carriers? United has been very stingy with releasing availability on routes like those to partners for the past couple of years (especially at peak travel times).
Personally, I think it would be unwise to let enough miles to fly business — or *first class* — one way to Europe without fuel surcharges expire. In the current climate, saver awards are hard to find across the board. But in normal times, finding Star Alliance availability to/from Europe is very easy — and with 88K miles you could possibly fly round trip in business class if you’ve got some economy connectors tacked on at either end or if you’re able to make use of sweet spots like the business class to Lisbon for 35K deal. I wouldn’t let that expire over transferring over 1,000 miles. Obviously don’t let me tell you how to use your miles, I just encourage you to reconsider.
I can just imagine nick internally hyperventilating over the very thought…
…but props for being so gentle.
Is this another one of the “glitches” where this route is only 20k on Lifemiles but 40k on AC?
Good question! No, it isn’t. Back when there was an award chart, it was actually 20K from like Scandinavia to at least the east cost of the US in economy class (I can’t remember exactly which northern European countries were in this price band nor if it was only the zone with the Northeastern US, but regardless this 20K pricing band has long existed).
Just be absolutely sure you will take these flights. LM charges $150 for changes & $200 to cancel & refund the miles – both via the call center & it will be a slow process for multiple tickets. In my experience, the phone agents will not be very helpful with changes, even if you have an available itinerary ready. In fact, every time I have tried, I ended up paying the $200 cancel fee with my fingers crossed that the availability would still be there after my miles were re-deposited.
Also be mindful that LM are not dependable to alert you to flight changes. Always get the carriers PNR &, if available, sign up for their flight change alerts. You can get a refund in full for free if there is a change.
email@example.com is your best friend to get partner PNR’s and any other rule/info. They’re quite quick to reply but ultimately you have to call for any refund or change.
Also, I found out the hard way that you do not have 24 hours to change/cancel a flight. I had gone ahead and booked a flight I found, without checking with the person it was for, thinking I could cancel if it they didn’t like it, and it became a big ordeal. I had just assumed that rule would be the same as on US airlines, and it wasn’t.
Recently ran into a situation in which a highly desirable award (JFK to VIE this August in business) was available only on Lifemiles and Turkish. Turkish had a $826 co-pay, Lifemiles was $25.30 plus the $25 booking fee. Booked, ticketed, confirmed, and seats selected.
Any idea what was going on here?
BTW, it was point.me that found this for me. I had thought that any possible Star Alliance saver space would show up on Aeroplan, but not so.
Having a somewhat similar conundrum with a Ethiopian airlines flight that is only showing on United.
Did you try the “trick” from this article on Lifemiles to see if the flight can be found that way (although it may be just as cheap on United?)
Actually I am trying to pull it up with ANA
In my (very limited) experience with ANA, for flights with connections, you may have to use the Multi-City tool and give it the connection(s) you want to make.
Ok I’ll try that. Thanks for the tip.
I had a similar situation… FRA-JFK flight in LH F was only available on LifeMiles.. neither United nor Aeroplan could see it… and it wasn’t even showing on Expert Flyer!
Something must be going on…
A quirk that I’ve noticed a couple of times on Lifemiles and someone on FMI reported they’ve also seen:
If you find a route with multiple seats available and book some, but not all, of the seats, then Lifemiles zeroes out the entire inventory for that flight. Some time later (three hours, the last time I saw this happen) they refresh the numbers and the missing seats reappear.
In my case, I found four seats JFK->VIE a week or so from now. Only Lifemiles and Turkish saw these seats, other Start Alliance carriers did not (as per point.me and Aeroplan searches). I booked two seats and then searched Lifemiles again and there was no availability. Three hours later, a search showed the two remaining seats.
This impacted me earlier in the year when I was booking two seats JFK->LIS. I booked one from my account, intending to book the second from my wife’s account but, presto, it was gone!
Both of the routes on which I experienced this are Lifemiles sweet spots (34K and 58K to Europe) but my bet is it applies to any tickets you book.
I’m trying to make my first Lifemiles award booking. I’ve followed your suggestions to the letter. My Austrian Air JFK/VIE business class flights are shown as available on both United and Lifemiles ( 4 seats left, 58k LifeMiles plus $25.30) When I go to book and get to the final page before hitting purchase after spelling out the flight number and correct business class miles required, the flight description says ” economy on sale ” I’m reluctant to hit purchase as I hear canceling a Lifemiles Award is horrific. Any thoughts, other than booking through United for 75k points ?
You can check out my post on FMI on exactly this situation. Lifemiles can be a little confusing in that, even in a business class search they will show Economy and Business Class columns. I recently booked 2 pax business JFK to VIE for the price you mentioned and saw the “Economy On Sale”. However, everything booked in I class (business award). You’ll need to use the PNR on either the Lufthansa or SAS web sites to select seats, but I was able to select business class seats.
Awesome! Thank you.
Also, the real cost will be $25 per ticket higher, there’s a per-charge booking fee.
Is the $25 partner award booking fee per ticket or per leg? Said another way, is it more advantageous to book a round trip award than two one-ways?
I don’t know — I’ve never booked a round trip with them! But I’m fairly sure that my three segment one-way on Lufthansa first had only one ticketing fee. If I had to guess, you’d save $25 per ticket booking round trip.
How did you know to select SAS specifically? In other words how did you know that there would be availability with that carrier?
by searching on united.com and/or aeroplan first of all
He checked other star alliance partners united and air canada (aeroplan) and found saver award avaiable on SAS which is a Star Alluance Partner as is Avianca. When a partner airline SAS in this case) makes a saver award available, it is available to all partners and then will price based on their terms. In Life miles, avianca’s case, there are no high cash surcharges on SAS flight awards. The point of this srticle is that sometimes Lifemiles doesnt display these saver awards when they should because of quirks in lifemiles awards search. He confirmed existence of the award with other Star Aliiance pwrtners and then was determined, and found a way, to get it to display for booking.