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Maximizing Amex Post 7: Star Alliance Transfer Partners

by on May 9, 2011 · 44 comments

in Aeroplan, Air Canada, American Express, ANA, Continental, star alliance

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Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.

This is another installment in my Maximizing Amex series where I examine the benefits of American Express cards and Amex’s Membership Rewards Program. The articles include; Post 1: Understanding the Card Offering. Post 2: Understanding Membership Rewards. Post 3: Understanding Transfer Bonuses. Post 4: Platinum Card Review. Post 5: SkyTeam Transfer Partners. Post 6: Oneworld Transfer Partners. Post 7: Star Alliance Transfer Partners. Post 8:Understanding Emergency Travel Assistance and Travel Accident Insurance. Post 9: Purchase and Return Protection and Extended Warranty. Post 10: Car Rental Benefits. Post 11: Gold and Premier Rewards Gold Card Comparison.

As I covered in the post on Understanding Membership Rewards, one of the most valuable aspects of having a Membership Rewards or Membership Rewards First Amex card is the ability to transfer points to 17 airline partners. The beauty of airline frequent flyer programs is that they allow you to redeem for flights on their alliance partners, so it is in your best interest to know which programs have the most flexible award rules and cheapest fees so that you can maximize the value of your American Express Membership Reward point transfers.

Today’s focus will be on the Star Alliance transfer partners Continental Onepass, Air Canada Aeroplan, ANA Mileage Club and Singapore Krisflyer.  The Star Alliance also includes United, US Airways, Adria (Ljubljana), Aegean (Athens), Air China (Beijing), Air New Zealand (Auckland), Asiana (Seoul), Austrian (Vienna), Blue1 (Helsinki), bmi (London), Brussels, Croatia (Zagreb), EgyptAir (Cairo), Lot (Warsaw), Lufthansa (Frankfurt), SAS (Copenhagen), Singapore, South African (Johannesburg), Spanair (Madrid), Swiss (Zurich), TAM (Sao Paulo), TAP (Lisbon), Thai (Bangkok) and Turkish (Istanbul).

What this means is that you can transfer Amex points to Continental, Aeroplan, ANA or Singapore and then redeem on any of the above Star Alliance partners, or to other partner airlines of each program. See below for more information on each program.

Continental

New Member Registration link. Membership Rewards -> Continental transfers usually post instantly.

1: The last day to make Amex-> Continental transfers is September 30, 2011.

2: Continental and United are merging, so you can now switch miles in between both programs, using this method. This essentially allows you to transfer Amex to United, which allows one-way Star Alliance awards since Continental currently does not have one-way awards (that changes June 15, 2011).

3: Continental has reasonable fees on awards. Expect $2.50 per domestic leg and $100ish for Europe/Asia (destinations like London and Paris will be more).

4: Continental has been a transfer partner of American Express for years, but they generally don’t run transfer bonuses and I don’t expect one to happen before they leave the program in October.

5: Continental has pretty flexible routing as well as a stopover and an open jaw. For example they allow Asia via Europe (even on partner airline Virgin Atlantic which has good availability).

6: Mixed cabin awards are priced rationally – for example if you fly the trip half in first class and half in coach, it will price as 1/2 first and 1/2 coach (unlike US Airways which would charge you the first class roundtrip price, as shown in the example above)

7: Continental.com does show a lot of partner award availability, but does not show Swiss, Singapore, TAM, Turkish or South African.

8: Continental allows redemptions on non-Star Alliance partners Virgin Atlantic, Eva Air, Copa, Hawaiian, Kingfisher, and Island Air.

9: Continental miles do not expire, however United miles do after 18 months, so once they become United miles be aware of that rule.

Aeroplan

New Member Registration link. Membership Rewards -> Aeroplan transfers are usually instantaneous.

1: Aeroplan historically had very a generous award chart, but most of the redemptions are increasing on July 15, 2011. Still, Aeroplan will be the key Star Alliance transfer partner after Continental leaves the program, so if you have Amex points, you should have an Aeroplan account.

2: Fuel surcharges are high when you redeem for Air Canada flights, so try to avoid that at all costs.

3: There have been no transfer bonuses in recent history, so I don’t expect them to happen.

4: Aeroplan does not allow one-way awards, but they do allow two stopovers on awards and there are extremely flexible routing rules. The routing rules allow both trans-Atlantic and Pacific routings for Asia awards.  So you can build, mini-round the world trips like I highlighted in this post.

5: Aeroplan.com does show a good amount of partner availability. Aeroplan.com -> Use your miles ->Travel. Results sometimes show compressed, so you have to scroll down after all of the economy options and expand the business/first tabs. Additionally, a lot of times partners will show just as “Star Alliance” and you have to click to expand to see which ones. Overall, the information is all there – you just need to know how to find it. As a general rule of thumb, I recommend searching leg by leg for availability and then piecing it all together in the multi-city search engine, which is fairly smart. Otherwise, you will have to call to book the award, which will cost you extra.

6: Aeroplan does not have many non-Star Alliance partners, but there are a number of regional Canadian partners like Air Creebec and Bearskin Airlines.

7: Aeroplan miles expire if the account has no activity for 12 months.

ANA

Since ANA is a Japanese airline, many people get discouraged with their website, which I admit can be tricky to navigate. However, they actually have a decent US customer service line and the website isn’t hard to use once you bookmark the award booking engine (which is this link). ANA mandates that you have points in your account to search for awards, so the easiest thing to do is to transfer 1,000 points. There are other workarounds, like first searching ANA availability and then searching Star Alliance, but I find the easiest thing is to do is transfer the 1,000 miles (the minimum amount allowed).

New Member Registration link. Membership Rewards -> ANA transfers usually take about 48 hours.

1: ANA’s award chart is distance based, so you need to know how many miles your trip is to figure out how many ANA miles are required for the award. I personally use gcmap.com to figure out distances between city pairs, like JFK-LHR-JFK is 6,903 miles so it comes in just under the 7,000 mile threshold so business class awards are only 63,000 miles, which is great because Virgin Atlantic is a partner airline and they have a lot of availability.

Award Chart

2: Fuel surcharges are high- I once paid $450 for a business class JFK-Germany trip on Singapore and Lufthansa. Considering I only used 68,000 Amex points, I didn’t mind paying that fee, but it’s something to take into consideration. Another annoying thing is that you can’t tell how much fees will be until you have the miles in your account.

3: There have been no transfer bonuses in recent history, so I don’t expect them to happen.

4: ANA does not allow one-way awards, but they do allow up to four stopovers. Per their award rules:
“Your entire itinerary may have no more than 4 stopovers (a stay exceeding 24 hours). (Only 1 stopover in Japan is permitted for itineraries departing from overseas. Stopovers in Japan are not allowed for itineraries departing from Japan. 2 stopovers are permitted within Europe.) Only 1 stopover is permitted for each city. Ground transportation during an itinerary is regarded as a stopover.

No stopovers or ground transportation within the country of origin are permitted on international routes (itineraries that include 2 or more countries).

In the case of Round-the-World tickets only, up to 8 stopovers are permitted between the origin and final destination. However, only 3 stopovers are permitted within Europe.”

While ANA allows flexibility with routing and stopovers, a major thing to take into consideration is that you cannot make any changes to an award after departure.
Also, with mixed cabin awards, you need to redeem the amount of the higher class of service.

5: ANA’s search engine shows near perfect Star Alliance availability, so you should familiarize yourself with the engine even if you never intend to use ANA miles. While it is extremely accurate, it is not “smart” at piecing together itineraries and thinking up connections. You need to manually tell it to search leg by leg, which can be time-consuming. There is no calendar feature, so you need to click day by day, but in the end it has the best picture of actual Star Alliance availability.

6: ANA also partners with Air Macau, Etihad, Eva, Jet, Malaysia, Qatar, Shenzhen and Virgin Atlantic.

7: ANA miles expire 3 years after they are earned.

Singapore

New Member Registration link. Membership Rewards -> Krisflyer transfers usually take about 24 hours.

1: Singapore generally charges a lot for awards, though some are reasonable, like US domestic business class roundtrip for 40,000 miles. Note: Only Standard and Full awards are available for redemption in First and Business Class on B777-300ER flights. On B777-300 flights with the same First Class seats that are fitted on B777-300ER flights, only Standard and Full awards are available for redemption in First Class. Only Standard and Full awards are available for redemption of flights on the all-Business Class A340-500.
On the A380, only Standard and Full awards are available for redemption in Business Class.
To redeem your miles for an award flight in the Singapore Airlines Suites, please contact KrisFlyer Membership Services.
Go here to use their award calculator or reference their award charts.

2: Fuel surcharges can be expensive. US to Europe awards on Star Alliance partners can be $500+. The good thing is that you can price out awards at singaporeair.com and it will show you how much taxes/fees are before you transfer miles. For JFK-FRA in Economy, total charges were $504

3: There have been no transfer bonuses in recent history, so I don’t expect them to happen.

4: Krisflyer does allow one-way awards for half the price of a roundtrip

5: Singaporeair.com has decent functionality, but does not have full access to Star Alliance inventory, like ANA.

6: Krisflyer also allows redemptions on Virgin Atlantic and Air India.

7: Krisflyer miles expire 3 years after they are earned. Simply triggering account activity will not extend miles, so you need to use or lose them (or pay a fee to extend for 6 months.)

If you don’t have an American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points, you can currently get the Platinum card, which has a 25,000 points bonus after $1,000 points in spend and a ton of other benefits. Amex is also waiving the $175 annual fee on the Premier Rewards Gold card for the first year and offering 15,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $1,000 in three months. I’ll be writing a full review of that card as part of this series.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Brian Hood

    Brian,
    thanks for this, I will have to check out the ANA site.
    Question about AMEX vs BA – based on your site I now own both, and thank you for that. When considering my daily spend I am eyeing the $30,000 spend bonus that each have. BA, after $30,000 spend in a calendar year a companion voucher. AMEX, after $30,000 spend in a calendar year 15,000 points. Because BA awards 1.25 miles per dollar you get an extra 7,500 points on the $30,000 spend, so that is 1/2 the AMEX bonus right there. But the companion voucher must be used with an award, must be used in BA metal which means you get to pay all the YQ fuel surcharges, taxes, fees, etc. Given all that, do you think I would ever use the BA award? Last time I tried the YQ from SEA to CDG was about $700 each, yikes! Perhaps I am missing something though.

  • The Points Guy

    @Brian- if you like flying BA and can afford the fuel surcharges, the companion cert can save you over 100,000 miles. Theres no way to get around those fuel surcharges, so you need to look at it like “I got this credit card for $95 and spent $30k and now I have 137,500 miles and $1,500 later I have two business class seats to Europe with miles to spare”.

    I’d personally go BA, but I can see why you might want to reach the threshold on the Premier Rewards card. It all depends on what you value.

  • Drew

    Brian,

    Since Aeroplan increased their awards, what do you now see as the best value when redeeming with them?

    Thanks!

  • http://www.mommypoints.com Mommy Points

    I have no experience with Air Canada rewards, but am thinking of redeeming three reward tickets next summer from IAH to Montreal on Air Canada (since it’s the only direct I know of). Any idea how high a fuel surcharge we are talking here?? Thanks!

  • gpapadop

    Aeroplan miles expire in 12 months. Other than transferring Amex MR points what is the easiest way to renew these miles if you are based in the US?

  • The Points Guy

    @Drew- I think more and more people will realize that ANA makes the most sense for awards- especially if you are west coast and going to Asia or east coast and going to Europe.

    @Mommypoints- Its annoying because they make you have points in your account to see how much the charges will be on your flight, but you can see a master list of charges in this flyertalk thread to give you a sense of what to expect http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/air-canada-aeroplan/926708-please-list-your-ap-taxes-surcharges-ap-reward-tickets.html. It seems like $150ish might be reasonable to expect per ticket.

    @Gpapa- Aeroplan has tons of partners, so keeping the account active is easy. They also have an Estore https://www2.aeroplan.com/estore/

  • Philip

    Nice overview. Worth adding that Continental – I think uniquely – allows you to mix Star Alliance and other partners on one award. So for me living in a non Virgin city for example could do RDU-EWR-LHR-ORD-RDU with say RDU-EWR on CO, EWR-LHR-ORD on Virgin and then ORD-RDU on United. ANA only allows you to mix non * partners with ANA itself.

    Very curious how this will all pan out when it gets merged into United

  • The Points Guy

    @Philip- good point.

    Everyone else- I also added Singapore Krisflyer- not sure how I left that one out originally!

  • Sam

    Any chances of Continental having a bonus for converting AMEX points? Excellent summary of the programs.

  • HoKo

    @TPG What about this AC transfer bonus that you yourself recently covered haha: http://thepointsguy.com/2011/03/up-to-5000-bonus-air-canada-aeroplan-miles-for-hotel-transfers/ (not the greatest transfer bonus by any means but a bonus nonetheless)

    Also I had a basic question for you since I’ve never used distance based award charts before: Do they calculate distance as the actual distance flown or the distance between your origin and destination. For example, if I am trying to go IAD-BKK but there are no direct flights so I have to connect in ICN, do I calculate the miles as distance from IAD-BKK straight up or do I calculate IAD-ICN-BKK distance?

  • The Points Guy

    @Sam- fat chance, though I’d love to be proven wrong

    @Hoko- The promo you linked is for hotel transfers to Aeroplan and unfortunately Membership Rewards does not count as a hotel partner ;-)

    As for distance, I’m pretty sure they calculate the amount of miles for each and every leg, though someone correct me if I am wrong

  • HoKo

    @TPG Oh gotcha, I thought we were talking transfer bonuses in general, my bad

    As for the 2nd point, I had a feeling that was the answer but I was hoping that you would tell me otherwise! haha

  • Michael

    Yet another interesting twist to the flexibility of membership rewards. Tell me though, is it possible to combine Amex MR points redeemed with a Star Alliance transfer partner with some Asiana points I have from years ago, to get an Asiana award flight?

  • Stephen

    There was a Membership Rewards >> Aeroplan bonus transfer bonus offer late 2010 as I recall having taken advntage of it. As Aeroplan is my only frequent flier program, I’m awaiting the next bonus offer to transfer another bunch of MR points — unless a more exciting offer comes along first.

  • Philip

    @Michael – no

    Re Singapore Airlines note there is also a discount (can’t recall think it’s 10 or 20%) on the miles required if you can and do book the entire itinerary online. This can result in pretty good value.

    The key to the whole Star Alliance system in my view is looking across the reward table of all the various participants and finding the best values. So for ANA you quickly see it is by far the best for East Coast to Western Europe at 63-68k in J. When we went to Maldives last year I was stunned to see US Air puts MLE and SIN both in South East Asia thus making a round-trip in J 30k miles. And that is US miles – in my view the cheapest currency to accrue (even cheaper than DL miles). This is the beauty of Star. Find the cheapest way to get to where you want to go then work out how to accrue that currency. The negative it is a very hard alliance to find awards for 4 people on a single flight. For this the likes of Air France in ST and BA in OW make those alliances more palatable for me.

  • The Points Guy

    @Stephen- there have been hotel transfer bonuses to Aeroplan, but not Amex Membership Rewards (to my knowledge)

  • Stephen

    Took a while to figure out the details as my online Aeroplan activity only goes back to Mar 2011 (due to too many transacations). It would appear that I took advantage of the MR >> Aeroplan 15% bonus offer in Aug 2010.

    That said, it may have been a promo for Canadian Amex holders only but it was so long ago that details are sketchy.

  • Bill

    I am so confused. I hope you can help. Your site is awesome. I have 106,000 continental points and 136000 american express points with about 4-10 thousand not yet posted. My wife and I are wanting to go to Italy for our 20 year anniversary. If you have time, can you tell me the best way to go about booking so I could possibly get a business class ticket with points. Do I transfer points to continental, go with someone else and get bonus points. Very frustrated.

  • The Points Guy

    @Bill- don’t be frustrated- be happy- you have a good amount of points :-)

    The easiest route would be to transfer 104,000 Amex to Continental, which would give you enough for two business class awards to Europe (they are 105,000 miles each) and continental.com is one of the best online booking engines. I recommend making sure the award space is available, then put it on hold, then transfer the Amex, then redeem. That can all be done online without speaking to a rep.

    You could also use 105,000 Continental for one of the tickets and then transfer 80,000 Amex to Aeroplan to book the other ticket – thats probably what most mileage pros would do, though itll take a little bit more effort.

    let me know if you have any other questions!

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  • Julie

    Love your website! We were able to get an extra 50K Amex points because we followed your advice and asked… and then transferred the miles to Continental and then linked to United to book one-way reward flights home from Vancouver! Thanks to you, our flights were FREE!

  • Benny B

    the registration link under aeroplan isnt pointing to the right url i dont think

  • Steve W

    Hi TPG,

    I am overwhelmed on how to best use of our Amex points and don’t where to start.

    My wife & I would like to use our Amex Gold card points to fly to Europe (Paris & Frankfurt) for our 15th anniversary in early Oct. And if any left over, use for accommodation or car rental. We have 170k available points (and 15k advance points) available.

    In addition, my wife & I have 38k and 33k United Mileage Plus points, respectively.

    Any suggestions where to start would be greatly appreciated.

  • The Points Guy

    @Steve- Not sure where you are based, but I recommend transferring 160,000 points to Aeroplan because you can get 2 business class US to Europe roundtrip tickets for 80k each. They’ll even let you build in a stopover. So if you live in Chicago, you could do:
    Chicago to Paris (stop for 5 days), Paris to Frankfurt (stop for 5 days), Frankfurt-Chicago
    all in business class for 80k points a person. I wouldn’t even bother using Amex points for car rental – save them for your next trip!

  • The Points Guy

    FYI here is their award chart- miles needed for most awards go up July 15,2011 so book before then!
    https://www1.aeroplan.com/use_your_miles/travel/flights/air_reward_chart.do?p=staralliance

  • Steve W

    Sorry for leaving out this detail. We are in Los Angeles.

  • The Points Guy

    @Steve- I recommend signing up for an Aeroplan.com account and using their search engine to find award space. Aeroplan.com -> Use your miles -> Travel

    Once you find the flights you want, just link your Aeroplan account to your Amex and transfer the amount of points needed. For a trip with a stopover, you will have to use the multi-city search.

    If you don’t feel like doing it yourself, email me and I may be able to help because I have free time this weekend- my fee is $125 a ticket. Otherwise, I recommend pointspros.com and bookyouraward.com who charge similar fees

  • Steve W

    Thank you for your thorough response. I will review info discuss with my wife and follow up, if needed.

    Do I correctly assume taxes/fees in $ are due in addition to the redeemed miles?

  • The Points Guy

    Correct. Taxes/fees will probably be around $150 per ticket in addition (though it depends)

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  • Steve W

    What is the best way to use our Amex Gold RP points [175k] to fly (non-stop preferably) from LAX to Sydney in Oct/Nov? In addition, we each have about 30k in United points.

  • Feza

    Hi, this is a great resource. I’m wondering if you can help me figure out how to help my Mom who lives in Turkey travel to the US (from Ankara to and from LAX or Las Vegas). She has quite a few Lufthansa miles but not enough to get a roundtrip business-class ticket. She needs about 25,000 more miles to ge the biz-class ticket. I have plenty of AMEX membership miles and would like to transfer some to her so that she can have enough to cover the ticket. Can I transfer miles directly to her (she has an AMEX)? Or do I have to do some kind of transfer via Star Alliance, and if so, do you have any suggestions? Thanks so much.

  • angrychef

    Hi Points Guy. Travel SFO to SIN (singapore) roundtrip, purchasing economy class and upgrade to business class using Amex points on Singapore Air. My question is whether it is doable and I know SIA is asking for 90,000 points per leg. Ouch! Any other suggestions

  • ela

    Help… I racked up 97,000 points on my Amex Rewards account and am looking to cash them in for a flight from LAX to DPS and then back from DEL to LAX…. Singapore airlines seemed to have the best flight, but when they total me the total for “taxes and fees”, my supposedly “free” rewards mileage ticket came to a whopping $1030. I feel like I’m getting completely taken advantage of… especially since I could’ve just bought a ticket out of pocket online for only $1300 round trip. I saved those mileage points for 2 years and not only will they be used up, but I’ll ALSO have to pay $1000+.
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • cliff

    i want to go from ny to heraklion crete over the summer. i have about 400,000 miles and want to fly business for 4 can you reccomend

  • ed

    OMG…. you just explained everything.. everything makes sense!!! i been trying to firgure out all the points in and out, and you hit right on the head. thank you

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  • dwild

    Can you (currently) transfer AMEX miles to United Mileage Plus? If so HOW? It’s so convoluted! thx

  • thepointsguy

    Not directly to United but you can transfer to Aeroplan and book United awards through Aeroplan.com

  • BenZ

    I’m trying to transfer my 25,000 sign up bonus into Miles & More with Lufthansa. I don’t see much on how to deposit the miles through one of the above Star Alliance members and then into Miles & More. Lufthansa has a promotion going on for 25,000 miles between many great destinations and the only option I can do right now is book through US Air Dividend Miles in which the same flight is 60,000.

  • Jessica

    How long does it normally take for your Membership Rewards points to show up in your ANA account? With other airlines, it is almost instant, but I’ve been waiting for almost a day and still there is no sign of the points in my ANA account. Does it take longer with ANA or should I be concerned that something went sideways in the transfer process? Thanks in advance!

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  • Kat

    I’m new so bare with me if this already been covered and I missed it. I have about 7,000 miles sitting in Turkish, and about 6,000 in avios, and 5,000 in lufthansa;I know a mess, anything I can do with them??

  • Linda

    Please help me!! I have what I consider the opportunity of my lifetime and have been invited to visit my neighbor in Serbia. I have never traveled to Europe and have never tried to use any rewards so the more I research the more confused I become. My friend has 300,000 + AX rewards and will give me whatever is needed for my trip. That being said, I am so grateful I do not want to take advantage. I want to travel in business class in late July 2013 from IAH to BEG and return mid August 2013, Dubrovnik to IAH. I think I Can use Lufthansa or Turkish Airlines IAHBEG. From Dubrovnik to IAH I can use Croatia Airlines to US AIrways or Lufthansa all the way back. My dates are flexible. What would be the best usage of these AX Rewards points and the least expensive as far as out of pocket costs ie: transfer fees and taxes, etc.? I have already enrolled in the Star Alliance Program thru Lufthansa, United, US Airways and SkyTeam. Thanks in advance for your guidance.

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