Book United Award Flights Without United Miles

Jan 23, 2015

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The other day I got a question from a reader that I thought might be of interest to some of you, too.  This reader likes to fly United, and wanted to know what credit card programs they should focus on next since they already had the United card, as well as various cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards (that transfer into United 1:1).

I can totally relate to flying United awards more frequently than the others, not just because of my United hub location in Houston, but because their award availability is still very good at the saver level compared to some other programs.  If you are in a similar situation, and are looking for programs to fly United and Star Alliance carriers outside of the usual Chase suspects, one non-obvious good program to consider is actually Amex Membership Rewards via cards like The Amex EveryDaySM Preferred Credit Card, American Express(R) Premier Rewards Gold Card, and others that earn Membership Reward points.

Amex Membership Rewards is a non-obvious choice for earning United operated award flights because United isn’t actually a Membership Rewards transfer partner, however three other Star Alliance airlines are transfer partners.  This means that you can still utilize United award availability and fly United operated flights using Membership Reward points without United being a transfer partner.

Amex Membership Rewards Star Alliance Transfer Partners:

Aeroplan (Air Canada)


KrisFlyer (Singapore Airlines)

Each one of these programs has their own pros and cons, and their own award charts.  I’m not going to highlight every nuance of the three programs in this post, but will give a few highlights to get your wheels turning.

Using Aeroplan to Fly United:

This program is a good one to start with as their zone based award chart is somewhat similar to United’s award chart in that domestic/Canada round trips are 25,000 miles per round trip, Hawaii is 45,000 miles per round trip, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America are 40,000 miles per round trip, and Europe starts at 60,000 miles per round trip.  Premium cabins are priced higher, but for some regions (such as Europe), premium cabins are actually cheaper than booking directly with United.  You will not be charged fuel surcharges for United operated flights.

Their website is relatively good and easy to navigate and transfers from Membership Rewards are pretty much instant.

Using ANA to Fly United: 

I personally am a huge fan of using ANA to fly United operated award flights as they currently use a distance-based award chart that has some very good values for flights between different zones that aren’t actually very far in terms of distance.  They are also pretty generous with stopovers, even on domestic flights (read this post for more details).

Flights start at 20,000 miles for flights of 2,000 miles or less in round trip distance and go up from there based on the total mileage flown.  This distance-based chart means that flights to the Caribbean or Mexico for those originating in the southern/eastern part of the country can be had for just 22,000 miles round trip.  In fact, that is exactly how we booked our upcoming United operated award flights to Jamaica as United would have wanted 35,000 miles for the exact same flights.

Premium cabin flights United operated awards to Europe start at just 68,000 miles, and will cost 85,000 – 90,000 miles for many, again based on total distance flown.  There are no fuel surcharges for many United operated fights, including domestic and transatlantic awards.

Do note that the award chart will be changing to zone based in April, and you can get some more info about that here.    Transfers to ANA from Membership Rewards can take a couple of days to process.  You can book awards online, and their award booking site is very good, though it is a bit awkward to navigate at first so be patient with yourself.  If you want to use it to search without having any miles in your account, read this post for tips.

Using Singapore KrisFlyer to Fly to United:

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program also uses a zone-based award chart similar to United’s, but with some more favorable prices for certain zones.  They offer 25,000 round trip economy flights in North America just like United offers, but their domestic first class awards are just 40,000 miles compared to 50,000 directly with United.

Hawaii prices are also more favorable than United’s at 35,000 miles round trip in economy and 60,000 miles round trip in business class (domestic first).   You can book one-way awards for half the cost of a round-trip.  You do have to call in to 1-800-742-3333 to book United operated flights, but that process isn’t bad at all.  They do have what is called “redemption groups” where you can only have five people nominated you can book for at any one time.  One complimentary stopover is allowed for round trip awards, but not for certain trips, like purely domestic itineraries.

You won’t be charged fuel surcharges for United flights for domestic flights.  Also know that Singapore Airlines also partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards and the Citi ThankYou program, so you can really rack up miles quickly.

Foreign Programs Offer Great Values, More Options:

I know it can be a little bit scary at first to branch into using foreign frequent flyer programs to book awards, but it can not only give you more options for earning miles and points to use for award flights, but some of the programs mentioned also offer even better values for certain awards than United would directly.

Do you use other Star Alliance programs in order to earn earn miles and book United operated flights?

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