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Avianca is introducing new LifeMiles shorthaul awards for intra-U.S. flights. Given that there aren’t a whole lot of options for great deals on shorthaul flights (especially on United), this is fantastic news. In addition to already preferring to collect miles with StarAlliance airlines, here are 3 reasons I am super excited for these new LifeMiles awards:

LifeMiles shorthaul awards start at 7,500 miles…including connections!

This is the biggest benefit of the new chart. Avianca has broken the U.S. up into 3 regions, aptly named U.S. 1, 2, and 3. Any flights that are intra-zone only cost 7,500 miles each way! This even includes connections. 

lifemiles shorthaul awards chart

Also note that awards between U.S. 1 and U.S. 2 only cost 10,000 miles one-way. Unfortunately, there is no discount when traveling from U.S. 3 to U.S. 2. Awards to the rest of the U.S. and Canada are a pretty standard 12,500 miles each way. Here are the zone definitions:

  • United States 1: Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington (D.C.)
  • United States 2: Alabama, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin
  • United States 3: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming

Where is Washington? Looks like it got forgotten. But it should be in U.S. 3, given the definitions. You can view the full LifeMiles award chart here.

The only part that really puzzles me is why Montana is included in U.S. 2 and not U.S. 3.  Given that Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico are all in U.S. 3, this seems rather odd to me. I’d love to be able to visit friends in Montana cheaply.

In almost all cases, the LifeMiles shorthaul awards are a better deal than United’s shorthaul awards. United shorthaul awards have to be less than 700 miles.

I can fly out of my little regional airport

Sure, this is a pretty selfish reason. But right now United is the only carrier that serves Arcata-Eureka Airport, and prices are always sky-high for cash tickets. This means that I often end up burning my precious United miles for domestic trips. Now the new LifeMiles shorthaul awards provide an even better option.

As an example, a ticket from Arcata, California to Albuquerque, New Mexico costs approximately $520 cash. Now I can book the same flight for a mere 15,000 LifeMiles round-trip!

lifemiles shorthaul awards

If your main airport is a little regional airport like mine (or if you’re interested in flying into a tiny airport, such as Hayden, CO), these awards may come in very handy.

The LifeMiles Visa card provides an even better return

I had been planning to drop my Avianca LifeMiles Vuela Visa card this November (SEE: My highest credit limit ever came with…what new card?). The card carries a $149 annual fee, and it currently has a sign-up bonus of 40,000 LifeMiles. I used the promo code AVSPWE (not sure if still valid) when I signed up to receive an extra 20,000 miles for a total bonus of 60,000 miles after my first purchase.

Given that the card earns 2 miles per dollar at gas stations and grocery stores, you essentially have a free one-way flight after only $3,750 in spending, which is pretty incredible. Given that most round-trips go for $500+ out of my local airport, this over a 6% return on spending for economy tickets!

I’m going to look ahead at our travel plans for the next year, but I may end up keeping this card after all.

Dealing with Avianca LifeMiles

I’ve read a number of horror stories about people’s experiences with Avianca LifeMiles. They can be a huge pain. Among other things, agents don’t seem to be able to book awards that don’t show up in the online search. Even if you find flights in the United search engine that have award space, if the Avianca search doesn’t show them, you’re out of luck.

I had struggles on two fronts: First, the LifeMiles site itself wouldn’t price the tickets at 7,500 miles as expected. I finally realized that this was due to the fact I was logging in from Costa Rica. The site when logging in from the U.S. is different, better, and prices correctly.

Second, I couldn’t get tickets with two connections to price out. I only tried a few searches, but nothing ever showed, even when united.com showed available space. This is a bit of a bummer, as it prevents some regional-to-regional options.

A final thing to note is that all tickets are subject to a $25 booking fee. This even applies if you book the ticket online. Including the $5.60 TSA fee, you’re looking at $30.60 for a one-way award. Still, given the savings in miles, that’s not a bad price.

I’ve not yet redeemed any of the 85,000 LifeMiles I’m sitting on. But I may consider redeeming them soon for one of the new intra-U.S. Lifemiles shorthaul awards.

Conclusion

If you’re willing to work through the potential frustration of the LifeMiles program, these new awards could provide some amazing value.

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