Video SRQ: Trying To Use Amex Points to Upgrade United Flights

by on June 9, 2013 · 10 comments

in American Express, Chase, Sunday Reader Questions, Ultimate Rewards, United, Video Blog Post

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TPG Reader Jonathan asks:

“I was wondering if you had any tips on trading Membership Rewards points for either Chase Ultimate Rewards or United miles in particular. I have 75,000 American Express Membership Rewards points but I would like to score three upgrades on a United BOS-SFO flight in a couple months. My only other hope was trying to find the United MileagePlus Explorer Card with a 55,000-mile targeted offer, but even after getting some miles in my United account, that offer doesn’t appear.”

Unfortunately, there is no easy way that makes sense to transfer from American Express Membership Rewards to United MileagePlus. Back in the day, you used to be able to transfer Amex points to Continental miles, but nowadays your only Star Alliance options in terms of Amex transfer partners are Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, or ANA.

Amex's airline transfer partners no longer include Continental.

Amex’s airline transfer partners no longer include Continental.

If you want to upgrade on United, you can transfer to Air Canada’s Aeroplan and upgrade from there, but you do have to buy a full fare Y or B fare ticket, which can be extremely expensive economy fares.

The cheapest way to upgrade a United flight is to get United miles – either with one of the airline’s co-branded cards, or with a credit card that accrues Chase Ultimate Rewards and lets you transfer, like the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus. However, Chase Ultimate Rewards only transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio.

You can upgrade using United miles for a lot cheaper since all you need is a N fare, which is usually drastically less expensive than a Y or B fare. There is a $75 co-pay to upgrade with United miles, but you’ll save much more than that. So I know it doesn’t really help you too much with your Amex points, but if you are looking to upgrade on United or redeem for United flights my best advice is to go for Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

The Chase Ink Bold and the Ink Plus each have 50,000-point sign-up bonuses after spending $5,000 in 3 months, and the Sapphire Preferred is offering 40,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months. All three have the annual fee of $95 waived for the first year, so think outside the box and try to diversify away from Amex so you can build up your Chase and United accounts.

You also may want to sign into your United profile and see if you are targeted for any special United card offers. I just got the targeted 55,000 point United MileagePlus Explorer Card, which no longer has foreign transaction fees, and gets you a whole bunch of perks on United. I would try to get some United miles rather than going the Star Alliance route through one of their partners.

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  • flyinace2000

    Quick correction on the photo caption. It says “Amex’s airline transfer partners no longer include Continental”. Should probably read United now ;-)

  • Grant

    It seems like most people should get Chase UR cards instead of Amex MR cards. No one really knows what to do with their MR points.

  • Kacee

    Domestic mileage upgrades, especially from discount economy fares (40,000 miles + $150 copay RT), are imo not a good deal on United – and not much of an upgrade (except on ps in/out of JFK). Better just to buy into first on a saver award, which will have similar availability. Or just pick a decent E+ seat.

  • Moy

    Go and apply at any Chase branch in person and they have the 55k miles promo. You will need to spend $2k in 3 months.

  • Jonathan P.

    Thanks for using my question! While I’ve mostly given up on upgrading our flight next month, you provided some helpful info regarding using Air Canada for United redemptions which I was unaware of. Keep up the good work!

  • Hunter

    Can’t you transfer MR to SPG, SPG to UA, then upgrade that way?

  • boopa

    If he did that his 75,000 MR would turn into 12,500 UA miles.

  • Alex Reznik

    Hello,i have united miles and united upgrades ,i need amex points

  • Steven A


  • Steven A

    do you still need amex points ? I need united miles and upgrades

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