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My Frustrating Experience with Ivanka, err… Avianca LifeMiles Program

Continuing with my series of posts of piecing together an epic trip around South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia…

So, as I’ve mentioned in my last post, our flights to and within Australia are mostly booked.  However, there was an issue of covering five tickets for my in-laws/kids flight from Queenstown to Melbourne. Unfortunately, the only decent option was Air New Zealand, which happens to be part of Star Alliance.

I was planning to cover the cost for my kids, but my SIL still had to get the other three tickets. She didn’t really want to apply for any card with a significant minimum spending requirements. So, I suggested Avianca Vuela Visa. Oh boy, if only I knew what awaited us. You can see  all the details on the offer on this page.

Basically, you can collect 60k miles after paying $149 annual fee and making a purchase of $1. One-way ticket from Queenstown to Melbourne runs at 21,000 miles, so one bonus can almost cover three award tickets. Avianca does give you an option to co-pay with cash if you are short on miles.

The flight was running at $260 per person, so when factoring in tax, she would be getting close to 1 CPM. I explained to her that after paying the annual fee, she would save $350-$400 max, and she was OK with that. It’s not a mind-blowing return on your mileage redemption, but it’s savings nonetheless. Any little bit helps.

She was approved for the card and  made the purchase about a month ago. Last week she called me and said that  her 60k Ivanka miles were finally deposited in the account. Ivanka what? I think you mean Avianca.

The rigamarole begins

I went to LifeMiles website and was happy to discover that the flight appears to be bookable online. Everything was going dandy. Well, there was a small problem. Avianca wanted $99 for 3,000 miles. I thought it would cost $45 max, but you would have to use less miles and co-pay a higher amount in cash in order for that price to kick in. Basically, LifeMiles lets you book your award ticket as long as you have at least 40% of the required mileage in your account. That is hugely helpful…if you can actually book it, that is.

I decided that I would transfer 3,000 miles from my account instead and my sister-in-law would pay the $45 fee. I wasn’t sure that I would be utilizing all of my miles, so this seemed like a better option. OK, done. We are ready to book the tickets. I started on this page after selecting “English” at the top:

I then filled out all the details and clicked “Search”:


After selecting the flights, I clicked “Book” and  then we got this message:

 

If you get this pop-up, brace yourself. Calling probably won’t do you any good, as you will see shortly. Instead,  you may want to click on “LifeMiles Support” and this will come up:


Don’t use this email address! Change “soporte” to “support” first. I was told that’s the one they actually monitor. Describe your issue and wait for them to respond. Of course, I didn’t use email option but instead decided to first call their soporte, I mean, support center.

HUCA fail, rant(s) in Spanish and more!

First of all, the phone number is not listed anywhere on the website, so we had to Google it. It’s 1-800-284-2622, in case you are interested. After following some prompts, I was connected to an English-speaking rep. She sounded annoyed right off the bat. When I mentioned the issue with our Air New Zealand award tickets, she immediately said I would have to pay  $25 phone booking fee per ticket. What?!

The cheapskate in me would not put up with this sort of injustice. So, I just hung up. Little did I know, they only have a few English speaking agents at Avianca Colombia office. So, guess  who I got the next time I called? Oh yes, she remembered me. She then proceeded to tell me she can’t hear what I’m saying (doubt it) and hung up!

Trust me, you do not want to pull HUCA with Avianca. So, I called (again) and selected “English” option…again. I was connected to a Spanish-speaking rep who proceeded to give me a lecture. It went something like this: “Señora, blah blah blah, Ingles, blah blah blah, Dos, blah blah blah.” I don’t speak Spanish, but I knew he was telling me I should have pushed “2”, which I DID.

Anyway, he did eventually connect me to English speaking department and I was now talking to a guy instead of annoyed Colombian gal. Phew. I told him about the problem and he said he would look into it. He then comes back and says he can not help me. I ask him why not?! He says and I quote: “If you can’t book it online, how do you expect me to be able to book it?” I’m not kidding. One of my friends is originally from Colombia and she said this is very typical when it comes to customer service. Come to think of it, it’s very typical for my country as well.

Our only option was to do it via email. At least he gave me a tip to use support@lifemiles.com address instead of soporte@lifemiles.com. He said they don’t actually read the latter even though that’s where the website points you to. Oh brother. Well, I wasn’t about to give up now, not after my SIL paid $149 annual fee plus $45 to transfer the miles.

So, we sent out the request. We got a response the following day saying they wanted screenshots of first passport pages, mileage and even website error message. My sister-in-law’s response: “I’m not sending my passport info and photo  to Colombia!” So I reached out to Avianca via Twitter and they said we could black out the photo and the passport numbers. Yes!

I called my sister-in-law and she said she is OK with it, but I have to handle everything. Fine. After three days I got an email saying the tickets are on hold and that we have till the next day to call and pay the taxes. Apparently, they added a $25 Star Alliance fee per ticket, so it was $65 per person total. I didn’t want to involve my SIL unless absolutely necessary, so called Avianca to see if I can pay the fees instead.

I selected “English” option and  guess what? The same Spanish speaking dude answered the phone and proceeded to tell me off angrily again: “”Señora, blah blah blah, Ingles, blah blah blah, Dos, blah blah blah.” Whatever, amigo. I felt like I was in an Avianca Twilight zone. After the rant was finished, he went ahead and transferred me. As you have probably guessed, they told me my SIL would have to be the one to call since the account is in her name. This is actually a reasonable policy for a change, so no complaints there.

Unfortunately, when I told her that, she said she doesn’t feel like calling and instead, will  pay cash for tickets. She said she is fed up with these guys and will just let the miles expire. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? After all that I went through. I pitched a mother of all fits and she finally reluctantly agreed to call. The award tickets were booked at last.

She did complain that the taxes were too high, and redeeming miles was hardly worth it. Hello? You were going to let them expire. I’m not kidding when I say that planning this whole trip probably took off a few years from my life span.

To skip or not to skip?

If you are not willing to deal with nuisance, don’t get Avianca credit card. Things may go smoothly online, but if they don’t, this is what you can expect. Waiting four days to book an award may not work out if you are looking to redeem on a highly-competitive United route. I’ve also read reports that few months ago Avianca Lifemiles has pulled ALL United awards from its website for no reason. The glitch was eventually fixed, but there is no guarantee that you won’t face the same issue.

That being said, the 60k offer is a good deal under certain circumstances and I don’t regret applying for it in mine and my husband’s names. After all, I was able to cover our one-way United tickets from Sydney to San Francisco at the cost of 40k Avianca miles per person, plus $113 tax. So no regrets. The process was not without a few surprises, but I’ll save that story for another post.

Readers, please share your own Avianca horror stories!

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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13 thoughts on “My Frustrating Experience with Ivanka, err… Avianca LifeMiles Program

  1. Although I can’t remember the details exactly, I had a terrible time booking online with the Avianca website – using cash! It was weirdly antiquated and didn’t work, erroring out, then requiring a phone call (my sister’s bf received an email requesting more information). Hold times were horrendous, I had to pretend to be my sister (though she also ended up having to call) and it turned out the ticket had been booked twice. It was so frustrating I did consider canceling the whole thing.
    Glad you got right through at least! Twilight Zone describes it perfectly.

    • @Audrey Oh my goodness! Sorry to hear about your experience. For years I’ve heard that Avianca is frustrating to deal with. Boy is that an understatement of a century. Honestly, I’m glad I got the cards because they subsidized my tickets from Sydney. But that too was an interesting experience. If I knew how ridiculous this program is, I’m not sure I would have signed up. This rigamarole is not for the faint of heart. I hope I persuade someone not to buy Avianca miles speculatively during one of their half off sales.

  2. You convinced me to avoid this program at all costs. Award booking in general is not for the faint of heart but this is definitely not for me! I’m glad you got your tickets though.

    • @Jennifer I definitely think it’s important to make folks aware of the “quirks” of any particular program. When people see posts telling them to buy Avianca miles for 1.5 cents apiece, I hope they remember this post and decide whether it’s something they want to deal with. Personally, I wouldn’t speculatively buy Avianca miles for 1 cent each. That said, getting Sydney-San Francisco tickets was definitely worth it, so I’m happy overall.

  3. Never had one ounce of interest in this program…for all the reasons you mentioned above. Sure there have been some aaahhhhh-mazing “buy miles” deals (like the current 140% OMAAT bonus) but unless you have huge amounts of free time to argue with people or you speak Spanish fluently, it’s not worth it IMHO.

    • @Erik I don’t blame you! I am a very persistent person, so when I saw folks ranting about Avianca, I thought to myself “It can’t really be that bad!” Right. You are correct, speaking Spanish most definitely helps. But buying these miles without specific reason is just nuts, IMHO.

  4. Haha, I hope you don’t mind me finding thus hysterical. Avianca is definitely frustrating. It’s hard to find many awards United pulls up with ease. But the miles are super valuable due to lack of fuel surcharges. That card is an awesome deal. Hope you don’t lose all interest in the program!

    • @Ian I figured this whole experience might be entertaining to some, so I don’t mind at all! I agree that Avianca miles are quite valuable in certain situations. In fact, I decided to keep them rather than redeem towards the fourth ticket on Air New Zealand. It’s my emergency stash in case I need to fly to Belarus last minute. Lufthansa is the best option, and Avianca doesn’t pass along fuel surcharges on that airline (for now). Of course, I hope I don’t actually end up using the miles anytime soon, but it’s nice to know that in emergency I can at least *attempt* to burn them with no close-in booking fee.
      I just hope my experience will benefit others, so they know what to expect in case things go wrong. You almost have to have the patience of a saint when online system messes up. 🙂

  5. OMG Leana!!! I would have been hitting my head on a wall after all of those conversations. I know some Spanish, and probably would have went off on them (unfortunately, I know all the bad words). So glad you got things squared away. I hate when Award bookings go all wrong.

    Mine was minor….I had applied for the British Airways card a few years ago thinking I would easily find AA saver award flights to Hawaii in summer — haha, yeah right!!!! I was finally able to use them for 2 RT flights to Boston (non-stop). I was starting to think I would never be able to use them.

    • @Stephanie It really was crazy! I promise, I wasn’t exaggerating this whole experience in my post. I know I tend to be a bit of a drama queen at times, LOL.
      We didn’t get great value out of miles on this Air New Zealand route, but something is better than nothing. At that point I wanted to get rid of them at all costs because I knew my SIL would just let them expire.
      Redeeming miles requires patience and knowledge. Some programs are easier to deal with than others, but in general, if you don’t understand the cons, you are sunk. Many collect miles so they can fly the day before Christmas at a saver level. Ain’t gonna happen. And then there are programs like Avianca, which are in the league of their own.

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