Flights to Europe from the USA typically cost around 30,000 points when booking with points and miles. But the maximizer in me is never satisfied with a good deal when the possibility of a great deal is right around the corner.
So let me show you how we used Avianca LifeMiles to hop across the pond for only 16,500 points per person!
The Avianca LifeMiles Hack
If you’re from the US, most of your flying experience is probably with American, Delta, United, and Southwest. (The first three fly to Europe.) And while booking flights to Europe on their airlines with their points and miles can be a great way to travel without paying too much out of pocket, better points and miles redemptions are available.
Avianca is a Colombian airline with flights to many destinations throughout South and Central America, and LifeMiles is the name of its frequent flyer program. While Avianca hardly flies to Europe at all, the good news is that you can use LifeMiles (and their website) to book flights on partners such as Lufthansa, Swiss, and United.
Most routes booked through Avianca still require 30,000 LifeMiles. But I just wrote that you can book for as little as 16,500 — so what gives?
Well, there’s a little quirk in the LifeMiles award program. I can’t explain why this works. To my knowledge, Avianca doesn’t officially acknowledge how it works, either.
But for whatever reason, there are certain one-way flights between the US and Europe available for fewer than 30k LifeMiles (as of April 29, 2021). Here are the ones I was able to confirm (let us know if you find any others!):
- New York (JFK) to Rome: 26k miles
- JFK to Paris: 25.5k miles
- Washington D.C. to Zurich: 25k miles
- Denver to Paris: 23.5k miles
- Denver to Brussels: 23k miles
- D.C. to Paris: 23k miles
- Denver to Zurich: 22.5k miles
- JFK to Brussels: 22k miles
- Newark to Copenhagen: 20k miles
- JFK to Zurich: 16.5k miles
But in order to secure a deal like this, you need LifeMiles to spend. So how did we earn our stack?
Earning flexible rewards points
The foundation of this strategy is built upon earning flexible rewards points that can be transferred to Avianca. Within the US, this means seeking ways to earn points in the following four programs:
- American Express Membership Rewards
- Capital One Venture Rewards
- Citi ThankYou Points
- Marriott Bonvoy Points
There are tons of posts across the internet dedicated to points-earning strategies. But the links above (brought to you by The Points Guy) will take you to in-depth guides about earning, maximizing, and redeeming points in each program.
Feel free to browse the guides above and enter the never-ending rabbit hole of points and miles. But don’t get distracted and miss out on the rest of this post!
Transfer flexible rewards points to Avianca
The next pillar of our strategy involves taking the flexible rewards points you’ve earned, and transferring them to gain Avianca LifeMiles. Below is a review of each of the programs that transfer to Avianca, along with their transfer ratio and speed of transfer (as of April 2021):
- American Express Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio, instant transfer)
- Capital One Venture Rewards (1:1 ratio, instant transfer)
- Citi ThankYou Points (1:1 ratio, instant transfer)
- Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 ratio, transfer in less than 24 hours)
Marriott obviously requires more points, because every 3 Bonvoy points will only yield 1 LifeMile after the transfer. But if you’re sitting on a stash of Bonvoy points, this can still be a solid redemption.
Also worth noting: last week Capital One increased the value of transfers to Avianca! Previously, every 2 points transfers only yielded 1.5 LifeMiles.
All this means that you should have no problem getting your hands on enough Avianca LifeMiles to use this strategy — because it requires so little anyway!
Important pre-transfer steps
So you’re sitting on a stash of LifeMiles, and you’re ready to transfer. But wait! Before you pass those precious points, there are a few things to take care of first.
PRE-TRANSFER STEP 1: Create an Avianca LifeMiles account
Visit lifemiles.com and click “Join LifeMiles for Free.” Complete the registration process, then navigate back to the homepage and click “Log in“
PRO TIP: When you join frequent flyer and award programs, you’re going to need a way to keep track of all your loot! That’s where AwardWallet comes in! We pay $30/year for AwardWallet Plus, but there’s a free version, too. (Though honestly, $30 is a steal for all the additional features you get.)
If you’re interested in creating a free or paid account, sign up here (affiliate link) using our coupon code freevmnbae for a free upgrade if you’re a new user (limited quantities).
PRE-TRANSFER STEP 2: Confirm availability for your desired route
The last thing you want to do is transfer points only to find that the flight you wish to book is full. So let’s get familiar with how to search for award space inside your LifeMiles account.
Click “Travel” in the header, and then the first link in the sub-heading that says “Book“
Choose “One-way,” select your departure and arrival airports, set the number of travelers and desired cabin, and then click the arrow button to proceed.
Your search will produce flights on all eligible airlines that can be booked with LifeMiles. My search for flights from Washington D.C. to Frankfurt, Germany yielded quite a few, including the two direct flights shown below.
But remember, you aren’t limited to one of those standard 30,000 point redemptions! See if you can find one of the routes listed at the beginning of this post for as little as 16,500 LifeMiles!
NOTE: Avianca charges a $25 booking fee for each ticket, and that amount is not included in the fees shown at this point in your search. This is still far less than the fees many airlines impose, but it’s better to know that going in. No matter how good of a deal you get, it’s always frustrating to pay even a little more than you thought you would!
Transfer, Book, and Save
Now you’re ready to transfer points to your LifeMiles account! The mechanics of the transfer will vary slightly between programs, so it might be helpful to consult the appropriate guide linked above.
But once you’ve processed the transfer, you’re ready to book your cheap flights to Europe and secure a killer deal!
(Credit to FrequentMiler.com, whose posts first turned me on to the potential of this strategy!)
Have you ever booked a flight from the USA to Europe with points and miles that felt like a better deal than it should have been? Tell us about it in the comments below!