7 great airline mileage programs for booking Star Alliance awards
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Editor’s note: At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information needed to make educated decisions about travel and rewards-earning strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route networks. But we are sharing this information to provide value for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.
With the growth of airline alliances and the proliferation of credit card points transfer partners, travelers enjoy more choices than ever for redeeming miles. Having a lot of options is generally a good thing when it comes to award travel. However, it can also make choosing a specific airline frequent-flyer program to focus on that much harder. That’s even truer with an airline partnership like Star Alliance, which counts over two dozen members. But the more airlines there are, the more types of points and miles you can mine for excellent value. Here are seven of the best Star Alliance mileage programs for booking award travel and the benefits of using each.
Remember that, even if you don’t fly Star Alliance carriers regularly, many are partners with transferable points programs like Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One Miles and Marriott Bonvoy.
For more information on how to search for award space with all three alliances, we have several guides available:
- The Best Websites for Searching Star Alliance Award Availability
- The Best Websites for Searching SkyTeam Award Availability
- The Best Websites for Searching Oneworld Alliance Availability
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Star Alliance Basics
First things first. Here are the current member airlines of the Star Alliance.
- Aegean Airlines
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- ANA (All Nippon Airways)
- Asiana Airlines
- Austrian Airlines
- Brussels Airlines
- Croatia Airlines
- Ethiopian Airlines
- EVA Air
- Juneyao Air (connecting partner)
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Shenzhen Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- TAP Air Portugal
- Turkish Airlines
There are some general rules of thumb to follow when booking Star Alliance awards that can save you a lot of time and frustration.
1. Never trust a single website
Although it’s getting rarer, both United.com and AirCanada.com sometimes display “phantom” award space so that it looks like there are seats available, but when you actually try to book, the system says there was an error and you’re back to square one. Before you transfer credit card points to reserve an award, corroborate that the seats you want are actually available by checking the itinerary with a second Star Alliance airline’s site or even just calling into your mileage program’s customer service desk to confirm the space.
2. Award space doesn’t always match up between carriers.
For instance, Singapore Airlines makes more business- and first-class awards available to members of its own KrisFlyer scheme than those of other airlines. Therefore, your best bet for locking in an award on a specific airline is usually to use that carrier’s own mileage program.
3. Be flexible.
We cannot say this enough. When it comes to airline awards, you’re going to have a lot more luck locking in seats if you can search over a range of dates and adjust your plans accordingly. Not only that, but some highly prized experiences, such as Lufthansa first class, are usually only available within a limited time frame in the weeks before you fly.
Now, on to the individual mileage programs you might want to use to book awards on Star Alliance airlines.
United Airlines MileagePlus
As the mileage program of one of the big three American legacy carriers – and one of the largest frequent-flyer programs in the world, for that matter – United MileagePlus is a top choice for many US flyers. That’s not only because United has such a robust route network in North America as well as an extensive international map that includes many of the longest flights in the world, but also because United’s website is an excellent tool for searching Star Alliance availability. Plus, MileagePlus is one of the travel transfer partners of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
Transfer partners: Chase Ultimate Rewards (at a 1:1 ratio) and Marriott Bonvoy (at a 3:1.1 ratio).
Credit cards to consider: If you want to rack up United miles in a hurry, your best bets are either one of the airline’s own co-branded cards, like the United Explorer Card and the United Club Infinite Card, or one of the Ultimate Rewards-earning cards from Chase, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Booking awards: Unfortunately, the MileagePlus program is no longer the bargain it used to be when it comes to booking awards. Like Delta, United has removed its award charts with set values for redemptions. Instead, many tickets are now priced dynamically, and the airline continues to raise those prices periodically and with little notice, especially on partners. While that has made calculating the number of miles you need for a particular itinerary ahead of time much more difficult, it’s still relatively easy to get a handle on figures by doing a few searches on United.com.
Just enter the cities between which you wish to fly and the dates. The award search engine should pull up all your possible options. From there, you can search by month and cabin to help narrow down your results. If the routing or airlines you want are not on there, chances are, calling an agent won’t help. Just a note of caution: the airline’s search engine can be buggy when displaying award availability. You might see saver prices listed on the calendar only to find higher-priced awards loading when you pull up specific days, so always double-check.
One wild card is that United has something called the Excursionist Perk, which allows you to add a one-way flight to a round-trip award ticket without any additional miles. To do so, though, you’ll need to perform some advanced, multi-city searches within the perk’s parameters.
Pros: Powerful online award search engine; good transfer options from Chase; no carrier surcharges.
Cons: Constant award chart devaluations mean partner pricing can be prohibitively high.
Air Canada Aeroplan
Transfer partners: Aeroplan’s three main transfer partners are American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles, and Marriott Bonvoy, though Chase might join the fray later this year. The program has several other partners whose points you can convert into Aeroplan miles, often with big bonuses.
Credit cards to consider: If you want to stock up on Aeroplan miles fast, but you don’t fly Air Canada, and you’re a U.S. consumer, your best bets are probably American Express’s Membership Rewards-earning cards like the The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, or the American Express® Gold Card. You could also consider either the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
Booking awards: As part of the recent changes, Aeroplan completely overhauled its award charts, so there are now 10, yes 10, of them, including those for Air Canada flights as well as partners. The program divvies the world into four regions and then also determines pricing based on flight distance. Sound complicated? It is. But there’s an easy-to-use points predictor tool you can consult to price out your flights. While many premium-cabin flights on partners like SWISS and ANA are now pricing out higher because of the new distance-based formula, some routes are actually cheaper. One advantage is that you can now add a single stopover to a one-way ticket and two stopovers to a round-trip ticket, with each costing just 5,000 points. So you can really string out an award and see several destinations on a single redemption. Just note that stopovers aren’t allowed in North America.
Aeroplan’s award search engine has improved recently. What’s more, the program has removed most carrier-imposed fees on awards, so you won’t get hit with a surprise surcharge of hundreds or even thousands of dollars on some tickets. That said, there’s a new $39 CAD ($29 USD) partner booking fee, so budget for that.
To search for awards, log into the Air Canada site using your Aeroplan credentials and search for flights like you would normally, only make sure that the tab labeled “points” is highlighted.
That should pull up award availability on Star Alliance airlines in all available classes.
You’ll probably find a mix of mileage that might not make a ton of sense due to Air Canada’s dynamic pricing on its own flights – you might even find some business-class itineraries pricing out lower than premium-economy ones!
Pros: Good award search engine and availability display; a wide variety of transfer partners including Amex and Capital One.
Cons: Hard-to-predict mileage pricing; and higher redemption costs with some premium and long-haul flights than before.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Like many other frequent-flyer schemes, Singapore’s KrisFlyer program has undergone devaluations lately, with some awards jumping tens of thousands of miles in price. On the positive side, the airline discontinued fuel surcharges on its own flights, and the Singapore Airlines site is (a bit) easier to search for Star Alliance awards these days.
Transfer partners: Here’s where KrisFlyer really stands out from the crowd. The program is a transfer partner of all five major programs: Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One Miles and Marriott Bonvoy.
Credit cards to consider: Because of all those transfer partners, you’ve got tons of choices for stocking up your KrisFlyer account, including the Amex Platinum Card or Amex Gold Card; the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred; Citi’s Prestige® Card or Citi Premier® Card; and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card or Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card.
The information for the Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Booking awards: If you want to search for awards, go to Singapore’s site and log in with your KrisFlyer number. Enter your origin, destination, and dates, then be sure the button for “Redeem Flights” is checked before you click “Book Flights.” From there, you should be able to see results tabbed under Singapore Airlines/SilkAir/Scoot, Star Alliance Airlines and Other Partner Airlines.
A few things to note about booking awards using KrisFlyer: first, the airline’s search engine displays results day by day (though it does show prices for a week at a time) rather than offering a full award availability calendar, so finding the itinerary you want might be a slog. Second, you can add a stopover on one-way awards and two on round-trips for $100 each, but you have to call in to do so. Finally, the airline rarely makes business-class awards on its own flights available to partner programs, and never for its incredible first-class suites. So if you want to book one of those experiences, you’ll need to use KrisFlyer miles.
Pros: The most transfer partners and credit card choices; great availability on Singapore’s own flights.
Cons: Recent devaluations; time-consuming to search availability over long periods of time.
ANA Mileage Club
A favorite with points and miles fans thanks to both some great redemption values and its transfer partners, ANA Mileage Club continues to be one of the best frequent-flyer programs around.
Credit cards to consider: As with Aeroplan, your best options are mostly with American Express, including the Amex Gold Card, the American Express® Green Card and the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express.
The information for the Amex Green and Amex EveryDay Preferred cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Booking awards: First, the positive. ANA Mileage Club has some of the best award pricing of any frequent-flyer program anywhere and its award surcharges are much lower than they used to be. A few sweet spots include round-trip business class between North America and Europe or South America for just 88,000 miles, from North America to most of Asia for 95,000-136,000 miles, and from North America to Africa for 104,000 miles. That said, there are nine award zones to contend with, and flights on ANA itself are subject to different prices. ANA also requires you to book round-trip awards, and building in stopovers can be complicated, so you might eventually have to call in to book your ticket.
ANA has long had one of the best search engines for viewing Star Alliance availability, including awards that don’t always show up on other airlines’ websites. However, the interface can be clunky and hard to decipher and seems .to go down for maintenance frequently.
To search for awards, go to the ANA site and log in using your Mileage Club credentials. Click on the “International” tab and then enter your search dates and cities. Instead of hitting “Search,” click “Award Booking.”
That should bring up the following page, on which you can enter the particulars of your trip, including the class of service you’re searching for. Definitely click on “Compare seat availability +/- 3 days” to improve your odds.
That should pull up seat availability.
Click “Next” and you’ll be taken to the flight options and from there, you can select an itinerary that will be priced out with miles and taxes/surcharges included.
Pros: Fantastic award redemption requirements; decent transfer options; one of the most comprehensive search engines for Star Alliance award availability.
Cons: Transfers can take several days; clunky web interface.
Related: Ultimate guide to ANA Mileage Club
Lifemiles is the frequent-flyer program of South America-based carrier Avianca. Though perhaps not as well known as some other Star Alliance mileage programs, Lifemiles can be really useful, especially considering how cheaply the program sells miles periodically and that it sometimes offers discounts on award bookings. It might just be one of the top choices to book business- and first-class Star Alliance awards thanks to its relatively low pricing and no carrier-imposed charges, either.
Transfer partners: Lifemiles is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.
Credit cards to consider: Thanks to those partnerships, you might want to consider getting a card like the Citi Prestige® Card or Citi Premier® Card to earn ThankYou points that you can then transfer to Lifemiles. If you’d prefer to go the Marriott route, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card, or the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless. With Amex, you need a product like The Platinum Card or the Amex Gold Card to earn transferable points, while miles earned with the Capital One Venture and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card will also do the trick.
Booking awards: To search for awards, log into your account and then click “Fly.” That should bring you to the search page, and if you’ve got a specific airline in mind, you can choose Avianca, Star Alliance, or individual carriers from the “Smart Search” dropdown.
That should pull up a calendar with dates that have saver award availability listed.
Click on the date you’d like, and you’ll see the saver options listed for partner airlines.
Among the awards that are fantastic bargains are business class between North America and Europe for 63,000 miles each way, or first class for 87,000 miles. The program also has some great short-haul awards that are great for domestic economy hops on United, starting at 7,500 miles. One bright spot for folks who might not have enough miles or transferable points for the award they want: Lifemiles will let you redeem miles and cash to cover an award flight if you don’t have enough miles. You do need at least 40% of the required miles in your account to take advantage of this option, though.
Pros: The ability to buy miles cheaply and price out awards combining both miles and cash based on your needs; no fuel surcharges even on premium tickets; relatively low redemption rates for many awards.
Cons: Quirky award search; spotty phone customer service.
Aegean Miles + Bonus
This Greek Star Alliance carrier has a few things going for it, including generous mileage earning rates on partners and some good values in its redemption chart.
Transfer partners: Marriott Bonvoy is Aegean’s only transfer partner. The good news is that the program is lucrative for crediting partner flights, awarding up to 200-300% of miles flown for tickets in premium cabins on several partners, including Air Canada, Air China and Lufthansa.
Credit cards to consider: Your options are limited here, but the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless, Marriott Bonvoy Business and Marriott Bonvoy Bold are good choices.
Booking awards: The reason you might want to consider Miles + Bonus is that its award chart has some spectacular values…except for the fuel surcharges on some awards. Of particular note are round-trip business-class awards within North America (which includes the Caribbean) for just 42,000 miles. You can also book North America to Central or South America in business class for just 90,000 miles round-trip. Awards from North America to Europe are available for just 110,000 miles round-trip.
Before you try to book Star Alliance awards through the Aegean website, you need a Miles + Bonus account. Log in and then go to the Miles + Bonus tab and click “Spend Miles.” From there, you should see an option for “Flights” down at the bottom of the page, which should take you to a booking page. Then enter your search criteria, including cities, dates, and class of service, and you should find results pulled up in calendar form.
Now for the one major pitfall: In order to see the specific options at that point, you’ll need enough miles in your account to book the award. It’s like looking at all the sweets in a candy shop through the window but not having any change in your pocket to purchase anything.
Pros: Some great award values; you can now search for Star Alliance awards directly on Aegean’s site; good mileage earning rates and easy elite status requirements.
Cons: Limited transfer partners; need enough miles in your account even to see specific awards.
Lufthansa Miles & More
Miles & More is actually the mileage program of several airlines, including Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and SWISS, so it deserves some consideration if you’re thinking of earning or redeeming miles on any of these carriers.
Transfer partners: You can transfer points in from Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 Marriott points at a time.
Credit cards to consider: As with many other airline programs whose only major transfer partner is Marriott, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless, Marriott Bonvoy Business and Marriott Bonvoy Bold Barclaycard are all good options. Barclays actually offers a Miles & More Premier World Mastercard in the US, too, which offers a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days of account opening and paying the annual fee, 2x miles on airline partners purchases, two Lufthansa business class lounge vouchers annually and has an $89 annual fee.
Booking awards: Miles & More basics are laid out in this post, but the key things to keep in mind are that you can only have two stopovers and two open jaws on round-trip awards, that you can score deals like 30,000-mile economy awards between select cities in the U.S. and Europe, and that its award chart is not the best deal overall, but there are some interesting redemptions like North America to Hawaii for 40,000 miles round-trip in economy, domestic business- and first-class awards for 30,000/40,000 miles respectively, and business class to Central and Southeast Asia as well as Australia/New Zealand for 142,000 miles. The program does add fuel surcharges to some awards, so beware of high prices.
To search for awards, go to the Miles & More website and log in (you can get 500 bonus miles just for signing up). Then click on “Flights” under the “Spend Miles” tab and then “Book award flight.” If you don’t have any miles, the best you can hope to do is see the mileage calculator for flights you’re interested in. However, if you have at least 7,000 miles (the minimum for an award), you can search for awards.
Pros: Lots of airline partners in Europe; a U.S. credit card option.
Cons: Not that many great redemption values; high taxes/fees on some tickets.
Your options not only for searching Star Alliance awards but for booking them are myriad. Which program you end up using will depend on what works best for your needs. Perhaps Singapore’s many transfer partners and excellent award availability on its own metal are winning factors in its favor. ANA’s redemption levels might sway some travelers, while the ease of using United’s search engine and instant transfers from Chase are strong arguments in favor of MileagePlus.
Whichever program or programs you end up using, it’s best to take all of your options into account. Have a strategy for transferring points or miles in place and nail down the availability of the awards you want before committing. By being prepared, you can snag some downright bargains, even on hard-to-get awards, and end up maximizing your points for your specific travel goals.
Featured image by Yu Chun Christopher Wong/S3studio/Getty Images.
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