Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Keri Stooksbury
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Aircraft: Airbus A320
Flight #: AV529
Route: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to El Salvador International Airport (SAL)
Date: August 8, 2023
Duration: 5 hours
Cabin and Layout: Economy cabin with 3-3 configuration
Seat: 31A (window seat)
Typical LifeMiles Cost: 10,500 LifeMiles + $33.20 in taxes and fees
Typical Cash Price: $100
I’ve flown Avianca multiple times previously, but those were all short flights within South America before the pandemic. Thus, they all occurred prior to Avianca’s recent bankruptcy and the ensuing reduction in services, as well. How would this flight compare to previous experiences? I was curious.
While I wasn’t crazy about the routing and travel time, it was my best option for getting to Bolivia, the only country I had yet to visit in South America. And booking with Avianca LifeMiles provided a deal I couldn’t pass up, especially when compared to the price I would have had to pay for better scheduling offered by other loyalty programs.
For the most part, it felt like a typical economy flight with other airlines. However, the lack of complimentary drinks or snacks (forget about meals) on a 5-hour international flight was a bit surprising. That said, I’d be willing to take this flight again in the future if it served my travel goals.
Here’s what it was like flying in Avianca’s economy cabin from Los Angeles to San Salvador on the A320.
I booked using Avianca LifeMiles, the airline’s loyalty program and currency. Avianca provides additional award availability to LifeMiles bookings, which means you may find seats available through LifeMiles that wouldn’t necessarily be available through other programs.
While LifeMiles has some pretty atrocious fees for changing/canceling award bookings and often frustrating customer service experiences when flights are canceled, I knew what I was getting into. And I knew I wasn’t going to change this flight.
If you were flying just the LAX-SAL segment, you could expect costs to range from 10,500 LifeMiles + $33.20 in taxes and fees or $100 in cash. For my 3-segment flight, I paid 29,500 LifeMiles + $28.20 in taxes and fees. Considering the cash cost of these 3 flights ($390), I got a redemption value of 1.23 cents per mile — a tad lower than our valuation of LifeMiles. I paid the taxes and fees with The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x points per dollar on the payment (the card earns 5x up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, then 1x).
This booked me into an “S” fare, which is a saver fare that doesn’t include checked bags. If I’d needed to check luggage, the first bag would’ve cost me $95.
I checked in online 24 hours in advance, hoping that would help me get a more desirable seat, given that I’d get a random seat assignment during check-in. After checking in, Avianca emailed a boarding pass to me.
Even though I had a boarding pass on my phone, I played it safe and went to the check-in counter to show my passport. I got turned away by an employee controlling access to the queue — even with no passengers in the line. I was directed to get a printed boarding pass from a kiosk near the entrance.
There was still no one in line when I returned, so I quickly showed my passport and proof of onward ticket and then went on my merry way. All of this took less than 5 minutes. The employee who checked my passport was super friendly; the one controlling the entrance to the queue? Not so much as a smile.Hot Tip:
For late-night departures, lounge options are limited. To see what lounge you might have access to, check out our complete guide to lounges at LAX.
My flight departed from the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. We used gate 137, which was at the far end of the terminal.
Boarding started at midnight for our 1 a.m. departure, and it began on time. While my previous flights with Avianca have included disorganized boarding processes and delayed starts, the ground crew here did a great job. They made regular announcements of what group was boarding and where people should line up.
This helped things move smoothly, and having 2 employees scanning boarding passes/checking passports at the boarding door also sped things up.
We boarded through the front door, and flight attendants helped people find their seats and overhead bin space to clear the aisle efficiently. Everyone was on board early enough that we pushed back from the gate a few minutes early.
There were 32 rows of seats on this aircraft. My randomly assigned seat was 31A — a window seat in the next-to-last row. Seats in the last row don’t recline, because of the wall behind them, so I was happy to get a non-middle seat in anything but that row. Having a seat at the window meant I could look outside prior to departure and then lean against the wall to sleep during the flight.
The padding on the seats was not luxurious by any stretch, but I didn’t find them uncomfortable for 5 hours. I wouldn’t want to take a 10-hour trip over the Pacific in this seat, but it was sufficient for the trip at hand.
Each seat had a fair amount of spacing (pitch), standard armrests with a button for reclining, and … not much else.
A bar running under the seats made it difficult for passengers to push their bags all the way under the seat, however. I noticed other passengers also struggling with this, and the bar prevented me from getting my backpack into a spot that didn’t eat up my foot space entirely.
There was a coat hook on the side of each seat.
The seatback pocket held emergency instructions and the inflight menu. Mine also held some trash that the cleaning crew had missed.
Turning a latch on the back of the seat released the tray table.
The tray table was a decent size. It came down as 1 piece, rather than a table you had to unfold.
Under the seats, there were USB-A ports for charging.
I took a flight on another A320 with Avianca later in the day, and that aircraft had USB-C ports only, so you might want to bring both types of cords if you want to charge your phone during the flight.
Windows in the economy cabin had pull-down plastic shades like most other planes.
For those in premium economy seats at the front of the plane, snacks and drinks were included. For those of us in economy, nothing was included.
Since this flight departed at 1 a.m. and arrived at 7 a.m., I wasn’t concerned about eating during the flight. However, if you fly with Avianca around lunch or dinner time, make sure you know whether there’s a meal included on your flight or whether you’ll need to buy something.
If you’re interested in purchasing food and drinks, options on my flight were abundant. There was a printed menu in the seatback pocket, and it also could be accessed from the inflight entertainment. When buying, you could pay with Visa or Mastercard.Hot Tip:
Menus are different depending on your destination. Look for the flag in the upper right corner of menu pages and find the one that corresponds with your destination.
Ordering a combo could save $1 to $2 over the cost of the individual items, and you would get a hot item (sandwich or cup of soup), a snack, and a drink.
It was also possible to order items individually, such as hot sandwiches (from $7.50), sweet snacks (from $3.50), and salty snacks (from $2.50).
Wine and beer were also available starting at $6. The only combo with alcohol included a can of Pilsner with a salty snack for $8.
Click to view the full menu from this flight starting at page 12.
Avianca A320 aircraft don’t have seatback or drop-down entertainment screens. Instead, you’ll use your phone, tablet, or laptop for entertainment.
To access the inflight entertainment, I joined Avianca’s onboard network. Luckily, there were instructions for this on the back of the seat in front of me.
The home screen for Avianca ON AIR allowed me to choose between English, Spanish, or Portuguese.
The next page required some personal information. I always give fictitious answers here because I don’t want to get marketing calls/texts/emails after giving my real contact information. With the name Fake Person and the email firstname.lastname@example.org, I was still to join the network and watch movies.
The next page presented all of the options, such as viewing the menu, learning about Avianca and its destinations, flight information, or accessing the entertainment.
I didn’t find any options to filter or sort the movies by genre, new offerings, or language, but scrolling through the list presented several blockbuster films and a few lesser-known titles.
The TV tab offered a fair mix of reruns and current programs, and the lifestyle tab offered educational materials and guided meditation.
This flight didn’t offer inflight internet access. Even though you need to use a Wi-Fi network to access entertainment from your device, there’s no option to connect to the internet.
There were 2 standard lavatories available at the back of the plane. While they were on the small side, they were clean, functioned well, and had the basic necessities on offer.
Interestingly, the trash bin was on the back wall (near the flush button), not next to the sink.
Since this flight was during the middle of the night, the flight crew did a great job passing through the aisle quietly with the food cart. They didn’t make repeated announcements over the intercom system or loudly announce items for sale. This allowed those who were sleeping to continue doing so uninterrupted.
And despite having a full cabin, flight attendants did a superb job helping the boarding process run smoothly to get all the passengers on board quickly. They seemed much more attentive than flight attendants on a majority of flights.
Here’s what I mean by this.
On many flights, you’ll see the occasional passenger who gets lost and can’t find their seat or can’t find available overhead bin space near their seat. The flight attendants on this flight regularly asked passengers if they knew where to find their seats, allowing them to provide assistance immediately before anyone got lost. Flight attendants also pointed out available storage space and proactively offered to help those needing a hand putting their stuff away.
While the flight came without frills or complimentary drinks, service from the flight attendants was still good. They were friendly and helpful during boarding and deplaning. And announcements were kept to a bare minimum to allow passengers to sleep — that’s something other airlines could learn from. Well done on this aspect, Avianca.
We arrived in San Salvador on time and had a short taxi to our gate. During this time, the flight crew provided information about baggage claim and connecting flights.
Once the front door was opened and passengers could exit, they really cranked up the air conditioning in the plane, which created ridiculous clouds of mist and condensation that reduced cabin visibility. This picture absolutely doesn’t do it justice; the only picture that came out clearly was this one of the mist finally clearing up.
The clouds from the mist were at eye level for most passengers, and some people were crouching down to see clearly while moving toward the exit.
One of the flight attendants even made an announcement to say it was just condensation and not any kind of spray chemical (so there was no need to worry about breathing it or getting it in our eyes). That was good to know, but it was still strange.
Avianca got me safely from point A to B, the flight attendants provided good service, and the seat was comfortable enough for the journey. There were no extras included, but because this flight was through the night, it didn’t bother me. I would have definitely felt differently about this had it been a day flight, however.
The flight experience was good overall. It was punctual, I got a few hours of sleep, and I didn’t have any problems along the way. Avianca provides a good option for economy flights to numerous destinations. If you fly with Avianca, it will feel very much like economy flights on other airlines — and sometimes, that’s all you need.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
Avianca is not a low-cost carrier or budget airline like Spirit, Ryanair, or Frontier. However, it does sell multiple fare types, so you can save money with basic economy fares that don’t include any perks, or pay more for premium seats with extra space and checked bags included.
People’s opinions vary. Avianca has emerged from bankruptcy and is returning to more normal services, including bringing back business class and more meal offerings. However, the airline’s ratings on Yelp (1.1/5) and Trustpilot (1.2/5) tell you that the airline has areas for improvement.
Avianca stopped offering business class within the Americas in 2022, as part of its money-saving efforts while going through bankruptcy proceedings. As of August 2023, the airline is progressively rolling out business class once again on select routes within the Americas.
Avianca celebrated its 100th birthday in December 2019. However, it’s only the world’s second-oldest airline, behind KLM, which is just 2 months older than Avianca.
Taca Airlines (TACA) merged with Avianca in 2013 and began operating as Avianca El Salvador. Thus, you won’t see separate listings for TACA flights any longer, as it’s become part of Avianca.
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Ryan completed his goal of visiting every country in the world in December of 2023 and now plans to let his wife choose their destinations. Over the years, he’s written about award travel for publications including AwardWallet, The Points Guy, USA Today Blueprint, CNBC Select, Tripadvisor, and Forbes Advisor.
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