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During the first week of November LifeMiles (Avianca’s loyalty program) was rolled out as the latest American Express transfer partner and I’ve just realised that I never wrote a blog post about it.
It wasn’t a conscious decision not to write about the Amex/LifeMiles news at the time so the omission is almost certainly a result of the fact that the announcement wasn’t actually something I cared about….and there’s a very good reason why I didn’t (and still don’t) care.
I should state from the outset that I’ve never really trusted the LifeMiles program – last year I called the program “one of the riskier loyalty systems” and compared the way LifeMiles is printing miles to the way Germany printed Marks between the two world wars – so you may wish to keep in mind my bias as you read on.
To my mind LifeMiles is ripe for a devaluation but that’s not the reason why I don’t care that it’s now an Amex Transfer partner – my reason is all about current valuations.
American Express Membership Rewards Points
I value American Express Membership Rewards points at 1.5 cents each and, by most people’s standards, that seems to be a pretty conservative valuation so I don’t think I can be accused of exaggerating their value.
American Express Membership Rewards points are useful because they’re versatile (they can be converted to numerous other loyalty currencies) and they’re also good for keeping you insulated from a devaluation in one single loyalty program. I’m definitely a fan.
Avianca LifeMiles, on the other hand, aren’t as versatile as American Express Membership Rewards (they can only be used for flights on Star Alliance airlines) and, much more importantly, LifeMiles loves a good sale.
Around this time last year (Cyber Week) we saw LifeMiles on sale for just 1.35 cents each and that raises the following question:
Why would I (or anyone else) want to transfer a currency valued at 1.5 cents(Amex Membership Rewards) into a currency you can buy from 1.35 cents?
Before you rush to your keyboards to point out that Cyber Week sales only come around one a year allow me to point out another fact – LifeMiles has very frequent sales throughout the year and although they’re not always as good as the Cyber Week sale they’re usually still pretty good.
Between 9 and 12 November (last week) Avianca was selling miles with a 140% bonus which valued the miles at 1.375 cents each and One Mile At A Time frequently posts deals where that valuation is matched.
There is absolutely no way that anyone can possibly argue that LifeMiles are worth more than 1.35 – 1.4 cents each so it’s very hard to make an argument for transferring American Express Membership Points over to Avianca on the basis of valuation.
The “Buying Miles Costs Money While Transfers Do Not” Argument
Some may argue that their Amex Membership Rewards points have been accrued over time (organically) and so haven’t cost any real money while buying LifeMiles would see cash flowing out of their account….but that’s not a particularly good reason to transfer Membership Rewards points to LifeMiles.
If you’re set on transferring Membership Rewards points (instead of buying miles) why not transfer them to Aeroplan?
Aeroplan is also an Amex Membership Rewards partner to which points transfer over in a 1:1 ratio and you can use Aeroplan Miles with exactly the same airlines as LifeMiles.
Also, the award prices you’ll find on the Aeroplan award chart are pretty similar to the prices you’ll find through LifeMiles with some Aeroplan premium cabin awards actually pricing out cheaper.
A negative aspect of Aeroplan is that its awards incur surcharges (LifeMiles awards don’t)…..but then Aeroplan has access to a broader range of award inventory than LifeMiles and booking awards through Aeroplan is painless while booking awards through LifeMiles can make root canal work seem preferable.
With Aeroplan you can book most of the awards you’re looking for via an easy to use website while with LifeMiles you almost always have to engage with a call center that is notoriously hard to deal with – a lot of people report the staff to be staggeringly incompetent and often deliberately unhelpful.
Paying a surcharge on an award booking can often be preferable to having to deal with LifeMiles agents.
I really value my American Express Membership points balance and cannot envisage a situation where I would transfer it over to LifeMiles – it would be cheaper for me to buy the LifeMiles in the first place.
I appreciate that this is just my opinion (I’m sure others may think differently) but I would urge anyone considering transferring over their Membership Rewards points to LifeMiles to consider if Aeroplan (for long-haul) or British Airways Avios (for short-haul) wouldn’t be a better option (all things considered).
Featured image courtesy of Avianca