How to Spend 80,000 Avianca Lifemiles
Updated: Jan 5, 2022
This Christmas/New Year, I'm doing a giveaway to past clients who I've helped purchase or sell a real estate property & present more active clients under buyer brokerage agreement or commercial agreement in the area. The grand prize of that giveaway is in the form of airline miles, 80,000 with Avianca Lifemiles to be exact. In this post, I wanted to go over some of the best ways to maximize 80,000 Avianca Lifemiles, whether flying on Avianca itself, United, or one of its many other partners as part of Star Alliance (the biggest airline alliance in the world) & having additional partners (AeroMexico, GOL, Iberia).
The value of 80,000 Avianca Lifemiles can vary substantially depending on how they're used. The Points Guy values them at 1.7 cents per point, so 80k miles at that value would be worth $1360. That said, there are options where you can get over $5k in value from those same miles.
At the moment, you can fly from the SE VA area or DC on United & other partners to many places, including but not limited to:
1. Northern Europe round trip economy for 2 from SE VA or DC (to Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, or the UK where it costs 20K in economy 1 way or 60K in business class 1 way per person)
2. 1 person to Northern Europe (as defined above) in business class and back in economy
3. 2 people in business class 1 way from JFK (NYC) to Lisbon flying Brussels Airways (& you could include 2 1 way economy class tickets to EWR if doing this option and arrange your own transit between NYC area airports (ideally with some time in NYC) as well as your own return travel. While it would be 35k for the business class tickets and 6500 for the economy tickets for a total of 83k, I'd make an exception for this option of going over 80k miles.
Domestic Options from Richmond (RIC) or Norfolk (ORF):
(top availability will be at hubs like IAD (DC), EWR (NYC area), SFO (San Francisco), LAX (Los Angeles), ORD (Chicago), IAH (Houston)
1. 5 people to Chicago (ORD) round trip (16k/person) in economy flying United or its subsidiaries
2. 6 people to the NYC area (EWR, a United hub on the Jersey side, which prices at 6500 1 way) round trip economy
3. 5 people to Toronto (YYZ) round trip economy
4. 5 people to certain other E Coast destinations like Burlington (near Stowe, VT, a top E Coast ski destination) round trip economy
5. 4 people to certain other E Coast destinations like Atlanta, Miami, Austin for 20k/person round trip economy
6. 3 people for certain other US domestic partners, i.e. Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Las Vegas, Seattle (SEA), San Diego (SAN), & many other distant options in economy (not including Hawaii & likely not Alaska). While SFO (San Francisco) would be 81k, I would make an exception for that.
7. 2 people business class round trip to certain East Coast destinations.
Other Foreign Western Hemisphere Options:
1. 2 people flying round trip economy on United from Richmond or Norfolk to Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean.
2. 2 people flying round trip economy on United from Richmond or Norfolk to Central America, the Caribbean, or much of South America (i.e. Lima, Peru; Bogota, Columbia). This option doesn't include some places in Southern South America like Rio De Janeiro or Santiago, Chile.
3. While Lifemiles doesn't typically allow stopovers within the program, if you wanted to do something like 2 people from ORF (Norfolk) to Miami (MIA) in economy (20k miles total), spend a few days there, then fly from there within 1 week after on Taca/Avianca to Lima, Peru (or San Salvador) (30k total or less), then from there to IAD, Dulles - DC (30k total in economy on sale) on Taca/Avianca economy on sale, and arrange for your own travel from DC back to SE VA (i.e. Amtrak), that's currently doable.
4. While pricing on the return isn't as good, I'm seeing 11k options from Dulles (IAD) to Montego Bay, Jamaica, so you could get 7 people there 1 way and pay the return cost in $.
You typically (but not always) can find availability on Lifemiles if it's available in saver availability on United for those who aren't credit card holders (which is helpful since Lifemiles will only show you 5 days of availability at a time while United will show you a full month).
There are black out dates, and if going to Europe, it's not a bad idea to check options locally (Richmond [RIC] & Norfolk [ORF] since PHF doesn't serve United). It's also a good idea to check driveable more distant options, especially Dulles in the DC area (IAD) that's a United hub & serves some international destinations directly (whereas you'll be flying indirect from any local airports). Typically, the higher the number of flights and the more complex the itinerary, such as flying from SE VA to an obscure airport served by United or other Avianca partners, the better the value, but the worse the award availability. In some cases, you'll find cheaper options with points going from DC than you would going from SE VA, especially if flying from DC on an international carrier. Mixed cabin itineraries are also a great way to get solid value (i.e. economy & business class instead of 1 or the other)
For instance, consider Oslo, Norway, which is within driving distance of one of the top ski destinations in Northern Europe, Trysil. There's currently availability for 2 in January from Dulles (IAD - around a 3 hr drive from Newport News with no traffic) on the 4th (13h 35m 1 stop on United & SAS)
Here's a relatively low-value per point example using points to fly 5 people to the closest airport to Stowe, Vermont. In case you're unfamiliar, Stowe is the only ski destination on the East Coast in US News top 12 ski resorts in the US.
That would be 7500 per 1 way from Norfolk (ORF) in economy:
Or it would be 15000 per 1 way in business if there's availability:
Here's the value on economy if there's availability:
Here's a relatively low-value per point example of using up to 80k points, flying 6 people from Norfolk direct to Newark (the Jersey side of the NYC area):
Here are the same itineraries except in $:
With that it would be 6500 miles per 1 way:
Here's an example of high value with a lot of flying if you really want a lot of business class air time:
With that itinerary, you'd be getting around $6k in value if based just on the cheapest business flights (& much more costly if based on the actual cost due to air time & mix of carriers), not to mention that Lufthansa business is #14 in the world:
One of the top options is going to be found for a 1 way on business class soon before departure on Lufthansa for 63k miles, and you can fly direct to Germany or indirect to other parts of Germany or other parts of Europe:
Here's the same booking in $:
For another way to get high value, you wouldn't actually be flying (at least not 1 of the people with Avianca Lifemiles) from SE VA or DC. Instead, you would take a positioning flight, or arrange other positioning travel, to NYC. You could drive, fly, take a train, or even a bus (though it'd be kind of odd to take a bus for what's next). You could get one person to NYC via 8k Lifemiles since what's in NYC only requires 70k for 2 people 1 way.
In NYC, you'd fly from JFK to Lisbon in business class.
To put things into perspective, the cash cost for 1 person for that same itinerary on that same date is $7302, so it's like $14,604 in value if basing it strictly off the cash rate for the same flights.
That said, even though Tap Air Portugal isn't as well-rated as Brussels Air (TAP being ranked 77 in the world while Brussels is ranked 69), if it was me, I would much prefer to fly the #2 rated business class airline in the world, Singapore Airlines, for the primary flight leg for a similar time itinerary.
Because of that, let's peg the value here closer to that figure of $2200ish per person for 2 people, so $4400ish total.
This route seems rather uniquely priced with Brussels Air as well as supposedly TAP Air Portugal.
Lifemiles also routinely runs deals where they publish miles requirements below their typical requirements, whether with Star Alliance carriers (which include United) or with Avianca itself. Here is their deals page & here's a recent example of 30% off select redemptions.
Flexibility for the redemption includes:
1. These are giftable, so if you are not in a good position to fly over the course of the next 2 years, consider a donation to a non-profit, family, etc. for others to be able to take advantage of it.
Restrictions for the redemption include:
1. 2-year expiration
2. I will be covering the miles portion and any standard taxes and fees for the flights. If you wanted to add checked bags for a domestic economy flight on United and don't have a credit card or status that would get you that for free, for instance, you would need to cover that if you wanted to check bags (international flights, conversely, typically have 1 free checked bag). That said, even in a situation like that, I may be able to show you a way to avoid something like that. For instance, at the time of this writing, the United Explorer card provides a first checked bag free, a strong sign-up bonus after spending has a $0 intro annual fee, 2 United Club passes per year, priority boarding, and a solid downgrade path if you don't want to keep it around at the end of that 1st year but want to keep it as a credit card for your credit and some minor perks with United in the future (the strongest being expanded United miles award availability & 25% back on United inflight purchases.
3. We need to use as many miles as you're planning on using on a single trip, even if 2 itineraries along the same route in a time frame of under a month.
4. These miles will be coming directly out of my account for the booking so I will need details at the time of booking to accomplish that.
5. The program changes over time, and what's available at time of authorship may not be available in the future. Some generalities above are shared. If something mentioned above isn't available at time of booking, whatever is actually available for 80k points or less is how we can use the points.