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Analyzing Amex Membership Rewards Star Alliance Partners: Should You Transfer to Aeroplan, ANA or Singapore?

by on July 17, 2013 · 23 comments

in Aeroplan, American Express, ANA, Singapore Airlines

The beauty of the American Express Membership Rewards program is having the ability to transfer points to valuable airline partners so you can snag the exact award you want, when you want it. All three alliances have transfer partners and in this post I’ll shed some light on the three Star Alliance transfer partners: Air Canada Aeroplan, All Nippon Airways Mileage Club and Singapore Airlines Krisflyer. Aeroplan transfers occur almost instantly, but transfers to Krisflyer and Mileage Club take about 48 hours. Still, with some simple planning you can maximize the value of each Amex point transferred and at the same time minimize the out of pocket cost of taxes and fees when choosing the best partner for your route.

Amex's airline transfer partners no longer include Continental.

One of the great things about Amex Membership Rewards is its numerous transfer partners.

Air Canada’s Aeroplan Rewards program is instituting some major changes to its program starting January 1, 2014, including a big overhaul (read: devaluation) of many redemptions. Business and first class awards to almost every continent are increasing 20% by 25,000-40,000 miles on top of the increase in award redemption levels that Air Canada put in place in 2011.

With that in mind, I thought it would be a good moment to compare the miles and taxes/fees breakdowns on various awards both in terms of Aeroplan’s current redemption levels and future levels, as well as posting them side-by-side with redemption options from ANA and Krisflyer, so that readers can plan their upcoming travel accordingly.

To help you at least do preliminary research and get a feeling for how many miles and how much cash you’ll be spending on certain awards, I chose four international routes and calculated out the miles as well as taxes and fees you would need using each program for a side-by-side comparison in Economy, Business and First Class. This is by no means a comprehensive study and I recommend you calling the transfer partner and checking availability and taxes/fees before transferring any Membership Rewards points.

The routes I chose were:
Los Angeles (LAX) – Sydney (SYD) on United
Chicago (ORD) – Frankfurt (FRA) on Lufthansa
Houston (IAH) - Lagos (LOS) on United
Washington-Dulles (IAD) – Tokyo (NRT) on ANA
Johannesburg (JNB) – Washington (IAD) on South African Airways

Here are the results. Bolded is my favorite choice for each route.

Route Class ANA Aeroplan Aeroplan After January 1, 2014 Singapore Airlines
 LAX-SYD (United)  Economy 65,000 miles plus $117.70 taxes & fees 80,000 miles plus $160 taxes & fees 80,000 miles plus $160 taxes & fees 110,000 miles plus $121 taxes & fees
 LAX-SYD (United)  Business 105,000 miles plus $117.70 taxes & fees 135,000 miles plus $160 taxes & fees 160,000 miles plus $160 taxes & fees 195,000 miles plus $121 taxes & fees
 LAX-SYD (United)  First 160,000 miles plus $117.70 taxes & fees 185,000 miles plus $160 taxes & fees 220,000 plus taxes & $160 fees 255,000 miles plus $121 taxes & fees
 ORD-FRA
(Lufthansa)
 Economy 43,000 miles plus $675.40 taxes & fees 60,000 miles plus $695 taxes & fees 60,000 miles plus $695 taxes & fees 55,000 miles plus $129 taxes & fees
ORD-FRA
(Lufthansa)
 Business 68,000 miles plus $1,015 taxes & fees 90,000 miles plus $1,043 taxes & fees 90,000 miles plus $1,043 taxes & fees 130,000 miles plus $129 taxes & fees
ORD-FRA
(Lufthansa)
 First 100,000 miles plus $1,015  taxes & fees 125,000 miles plus $1,043 taxes & fees 125,000 miles plus $1,043 taxes & fees 160,000 miles plus $129 taxes & fees
 IAH-LOS
(United)
 Economy 60,000 miles plus $90 taxes & fees 100,000 miles plus $130 taxes & fees 100,000 miles plus $130 taxes & fees 90,000 miles plus $93 taxes & fees
 IAH-LOS
(United)
 Business 90,000 miles plus $90 taxes & fees 150,000 miles plus $130 taxes & fees 165,000 miles plus $130 taxes & fees 145,000 miles plus $93 taxes & fees
 IAH-LOS  First  N/A  N/A  N/A  N/A
 IAD-NRT
(ANA)
 Economy 55,000 miles plus $666.00 taxes & fees 75,000 miles plus $688 taxes & fees 75,000 miles plus $688 taxes & fees 90,000 miles plus $644 taxes & fees
 IAD-NRT
(ANA)
 Business 85,000 miles plus $666.00 taxes & fees 125,000 miles plus $688 taxes & fees 150,000 miles plus & $688 fees 175,000 miles plus $644 taxes & fees
 IAD-NRT
(ANA)
 First 120,000 miles plus $691 taxes & fees 175,000 miles plus $688 taxes & fees  210,000 miles plus $688 taxes & fees 200,000 miles plus $644 taxes & fees
JNB-IAD Economy 65,000 miles plus $495 taxes & fees 100,000 miles plus $120 taxes & fees 100,000 miles plus $120 taxes & fees 90,000 miles plus $471 taxes & fees
JNB-IAD, Return from JFK Business 105,000 miles plus $589 taxes & fees 150,000 miles plus $120 taxes & fees 150,000 miles plus $120 taxes & fees 145,000 miles plus $568 taxes & fees

The real winner here is ANA thanks to its distance-based redemptions and a mostly decent taxes/fees schedule (though there are some routes like those to Europe and Japan where these fees get quite high). However, I’d rather pay an additional $900 in fees to save 62,000 American Express Membership Rewards points, because that is like “paying” just shy of 1.5 cents for each point, which I’d personally do. However, if your goal is to minimize out of pocket spend, then you may want to avoid ANA and instead go for Singapore in certain circumstances (like Lufthansa Business/First to Europe). Another reminder: this was a just snapshot of sample itineraries from the US – there are many other itineraries/routes that may make more sense to use another partner, so always double check your options when booking.

ANA pulls most Star Alliance award availability in the online search engine

ANA pulls most Star Alliance award availability in the online search engine.

ANA also has one of the best Star Alliance search engines, pulling in nearly every single partner in their online search and allowing you to book multiple segments on different partners. Check out this post on using the ANA search tool. Click here to sign-up for a Mileage Club account.

ANA is far from a perfect program – they require you to have a some sort of relationship for everyone you redeem miles for (though I hear this is rarely enforced) and they do not allow changes to an award once it has begun. I recommend reviewing the program/award rules here and their refund policy here.

I did an entire series on ANA Award Taxes and Fees analyzing the costs of award with each partner. In Part 1 I priced out itineraries on Air Canada, ANA, Lufthansa, Singapore, SWISS, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines, United and US Airways. In Part 2, I looked at Adria, Aegean, Air China, Air New Zealand, Asiana, Austria, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa and Virgin Atlantic. In Part 3, I found the taxes and surcharges on partners: Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, SAS, Shenzhen, South African Airways, TAM and TAP. In Part 4, I found the taxes and surcharges for itineraries on ANA’s non-Star Alliance partners (I found Virgin Atlantic in Part 2 since it’s a popular carrier) including: Air Macau, Etihad, EVA (intra-Asian only), Hawaiian Airlines (inter-island only), Jet Airways and Qatar Airways. In the final post, I included a roundup of all the awards I’d found including taxes and fees for side-by-side comparison.

Aeroplan

I also wrote a series on pre-devaluation (good until the end of 2013) Aeroplan Award Taxes and Fees.  In Part 1 of my series, I priced out awards on Air Canada, United, Lufthansa, Brussels Air, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, ANA and South African Airways. In Part 2, I looked at some other popular Star Alliance carriers including: Air China, Asiana, EgyptAir, LOT Polish Airlines, SAS, Swiss, TAM, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines and US Airways (for now). In Part 3, I examined the rest of the 27 Star Alliance partners including: Adria Airways, Aegean, Austrian, Avianca/Taca, Copa Croatia, Shenzhen and TAP, and the final installment: Aeroplan Star Alliance Taxes and Fees Overview Roundup.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Kelvin

    Thanks for showing the comparisons. This data confirms what I was already planning, which is to dump my AMEX once the annual fee is due and focus on my Chase Ultimate Rewards and my United Club card. I see very little value in Membership Rewards when compared to Chase Ultimate Rewards.

  • Will

    I may have overlooked it, but have you done a post on what airlines allow open jaws and/or stopovers on award flights (particularly AMEX MR partners as I’m heavy on those!)?

  • Dieuwer

    The AMEX Gold Reward card annual fee is just too high. Not to mention the foreign transaction fee.

  • DBest

    Each has its strengths and weaknesses, which would probably be better to point out, rather than this random comparison. For example, Aeroplan charges fuel surcharges on Lufthansa, but not Swiss, but your chart arbitrarily picks LH.

  • thepointsguy

    I have covered taxes on every single partner with ANA and Aeroplan. I “arbitrarily” picked Lufthansa because they release substantially more award availability to Star Alliance partners than Swiss

  • http://www.weflyfree.com/ Justin

    My biggest problem with ANA is the lack of 1 way awards (without throw-away segments) and inability to change awards after booking. You can’t book awards and then, for instance, switch to Lufthansa F when it becomes available. With United, you can change the return after already having flown the outbound.

  • Kelvin

    The foreign transaction fee is a big negative. That’s the main reason I canceled my previous AMEX years ago. Earlier this year I got the Premiere Rewards Gold for the 50,000 sign up offer and 15,000 bonus for spending over $30,000. Now I have about 150,000 points but see very few valuable ways to use them. I have a big stash of United miles, and have yet to travel anywhere that the Membership Reward points would be a better deal.

    When I cancel Premiere Rewards Gold, I may get the AMEX Starwood Preferred Guest card since you can transfer 20,000 points for 25,000 miles to many airlines.

  • Doug

    Just started moving some MR points to KrisFlyer and have booked a few domestic US tickets. It has seemed very random whether I am charged 1st or Business class mileage for F on 2-class domestic planes. Any experience with that?

    Also if I heard correctly, the change and redeposit fees for US awards booked with KrisFlyer miles are $20 and $30 respectively! Have to love that

  • Leon

    Brian,
    The chart is great but I think you’re missing a key flaw about booking award travel with ANA which is that they don’t allow one way bookings. Almost always when I’m booking travel I find my flights in segments. I may find outbound one day before departure but booked inbound a week before. Its not only about how many miles but how EASY it is to use those miles

  • bitzy

    are these point amounts roundtrip or one-way?

  • thepointsguy

    Roundtrip

  • disqust101

    ??

    For US based PRG card holders who do manufactured spend, it is one of the best cards to have, second only to Chase Inks. I gladly pay the $175 AF.

    PRG at grocery gets 2x. Plus you get 15K MR bonus after $30K spend. So $30K spend at grocery gets you 75K MR. If you don’t spend another penny on the card and add in the $175 AF, you’ll be generating points at 0.7c, which is almost the same as cost to churn on Inks at office supply.

    I plan to put about $60K on the PRG card and see average cost around 0.65c for 135K MR. Cost = ~$875 cost and gives what amounts to a r/t in F.

    Then consider some nice CC signup bonuses are available for the PRG card (I grabbed the 75K MR offer earlier this year, but 50K is more common/25K is standard). Then consider value of the occasional transfer bonuses from Amex to various partners (like recent 35% bonus to British Airways) and current (mediocre) 20% bonus to Hawaiian.

    With my signup bonus and manufactured spend, I’ll get about 210K MR this year, for less than $900 cost. (if I max out my Ink, I’ll spend $50K at office supply for 250K UR, but is harder to do as supply of gcs isn’t anywhere as plentiful as at grocery).

    I transferred 150K to BA with the 35% bonus, so have about 200K Avios that I am using for short haul flights where they offer excellent value (6666 MR converted to 9000 Avios for SFO-LAX is a steal as cost = $43)

    For those who don’t see value in PRG, I suggest they aren’t paying much attention…

  • Rick

    Hi disqust101, can you elaborate on the manufactured spend that you noted. I’m having the same dilemma as my PRG fee of $175 is due in August and was thinking of canceling it.
    Thanks, Rick

  • Jonatas Silva

    Great stuff Brian! I had not bother checking out ANA, because of their huge fees, but I’m going to sign up for a Mileage Club account this very second.

  • Neal

    Trying to check a few flights on ANA and can select the rewards and see the reward mileage, but getting this error message for the tax/fee/charge: “The total price is displayed as “***” due to the fact that taxes and fees, including Fuel surcharge and airport tax, for this itinerary cannot be calculated.” This is for a flight from Chicago to Munich.

    Any ideas? The reward mileage is 55k, which fits with your table above (also found Aeroplan was 60k) but it appears to be a United flight, so I’m wondering what the fees will be.

  • chris

    same here…same issue.

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  • duffman

    Hi – so if I am using SQ miles I can fly ORD-FRA on Lufthansa First class for 160k KrisFlyer miles + $160?

    Thanks in advance!

  • BFD

    I am a novie at this but want to book 2 flights for myself and husband on Aegean Airlines in October 2014: Prague to Santorini (7day stop) then Santorini To Athens?

    Who would be best to transfer membership points to . . . I am not frequent flyer or member with any of above 3 … Would love business class but can do economy? Do I need to do soon?

    Thanks for any and all help you can give?

  • lar

    Lar Gee

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