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Best ways to redeem Amex points on Star Alliance airlines

Jan. 08, 2021
36 min read
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American Express Membership Rewards points regularly appear as one of the most valuable currencies in TPG's monthly valuation, thanks in large part to the incredible flexibility of these points.

Not only can you transfer points to airlines in all three of the major alliances (Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance), but you have multiple transfer options to choose from within each alliance. However, determining which transfer partner to use within a single alliance can be a bit tricky.

We've already explored this topic for Oneworld and SkyTeam carriers, so we'll wrap up this series with a look at how to get the best deal when redeeming Amex points for travel on Star Alliance airlines.

Here, we'll give you an overview of each worthwhile Star Alliance partner — this includes an overview of the award chart, stopover rules, fees and more. Plus, we'll show you a few sample bookings with prices.

If you're looking for tips to redeem your Amex points with other alliances, check out the following articles:

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Earning Amex Membership Rewards points

The best way to quickly rack up a large number of Membership Rewards points is through welcome bonuses on the issuer's top credit cards. Some of the best current offers include (terms apply):

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the card in the first six months of card membership.
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 120,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Terms apply.
  • American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months of account opening.

These cards also offer lucrative bonuses on different categories of purchases, allowing you to boost your balances even further with your everyday spending.

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You may also consider a card like The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, which earns 2x points per dollar on the first $50,000 in purchases each calendar year (then 1x).

Related: Choosing the best American Express credit card for you

Redeeming Amex Membership Rewards points

(Photo by Alejandra Parra/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Although Amex gives you the option to redeem your points directly through the Amex Travel portal, you will almost always get more value by transferring them to a partner airline, especially for awards in premium classes.

You'll also want to keep in mind that not all Membership Rewards transfers are immediate, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to book. When it comes to Star Alliance partners, Singapore Airlines Krisflyer and ANA Mileage Club can take 24 and 48 hours to transfer, respectively.

Related: Redeeming American Express Membership Rewards for maximum value

Let's dive into some of the best ways to book Star Alliance airlines using your Amex points.

Air Canada Aeroplan

Air Canada's recently revamped loyalty program has a handful of award chart sweet spots. (Photo by Joel Serre/Shutterstock)

Air Canada recently reacquired the Aeroplan loyalty program and later announced huge plans to revamp the program.

Last November, these changes finally launched, bringing a completely revamped the program with a new award chart, amazing stopover rules and family points pooling. It also removed fuel surcharges, making booking awards on Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and other high-fee carriers much more affordable.

Aeroplan awards are priced based on region and distance. The airline splits the world into four regions: North America, South America, Atlantic and Pacific.

(Image courtesy of Air Canada)

Each region pair has its own award chart that's broken down by distance. Each distance category has standard award pricing, except for Air Canada awards. These are priced at the low-end of the spectrum for awards with Saver space, while other awards may be more expensive.

(Image courtesy of Air Canada)

You can maximize these redemptions by taking advantage of Aeroplan's generous routing and stopover rules. We have an entire article dedicated to this, but in short, you can add a stopover to any one-way ticket for 5,000 miles (as it's not wholly within the U.S. or Canada). This means you can book something like Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA) to Dubai (DXB) and stopover in Frankfurt for as long as you'd like.

(Image courtesy of Great Circle Map)

Note that stopovers add to the trip's total mileage, so longer itineraries will cost more miles. It's also worth noting that Air Canada adds a $39 CAD partner booking fee — equal to roughly $30.50 — to each ticket booked with a partner.

Related: Pros and cons of the new Air Canada Aeroplan loyalty program

Example Air Canada Aeroplan bookings

So, how does Aeroplan's pricing stack up? It's pretty good for many awards — especially when you factor in the lack of fuel surcharges.

For example, this Lufthansa flight from New York-JFK to Frankfurt (FRA) costs 60,000 miles and $55.54 in taxes and fees in business class. The flight is just under 4,000 miles, so it falls into the lowest Atlantic pricing tier. Again, you can maximize this ticket with a stopover for 5,000 additional miles, but longer tickets may cost more miles.

(Image courtesy of Air Canada)

Flights to Asia can be a great deal too. For example, this 6,469-mile flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Taipei (TPE) is only 75,000 miles with $55.50 in taxes and fees.

(Image courtesy of Air Canada)

South America is similarly priced to European awards. You can fly from Houston (IAH) to Sao Paulo (GRU) — a 4,902-mile flight — for 60,000 miles and $55.50 in taxes and fees.

(Image courtesy of Air Canada)

Flights to Central America fall under the North America award chart, and there are some solid deals to be had. A flight from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Panama City costs 12,500 miles in economy and 25,000 in business class. Both flights are subject to $57.10 in taxes and fees.

(Image courtesy of Air Canada)

You'll also find great deals on some domestic U.S. award tickets too. Short-haul flights that are 500 miles or less cost just 6,000 Aeroplan miles in economy. Those between 501 and 1,500 miles cost 10,000 miles, which can also be a reasonable deal. Unfortunately, these tickets are still subject to the partner booking fee.

(Image courtesy of Air Canada)

Related: Why Air Canada’s promise to not remove award charts is such a big deal

When to transfer Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan

While Aeroplan offers good pricing on most awards, it isn't the best program across the board. That said, some of the perks of the program make it intriguing when booking certain types of tickets. Here's when you'll want to transfer Membership Rewards points to Air Canada Aeroplan:

  • Booking tickets with high fuel surcharges: Some Star Alliance partners pass fuel surcharges on to the traveler. So if the price is right, you'll want to book your Austrian, Lufthansa, LOT Polish, Turkish and SWISS tickets with Aeroplan points.
  • Tickets with stopovers: Aeroplan offers the most flexible routing and stopover rules of any Membership Rewards' Star Alliance transfer partners. Remember, you can add a stopover to each one-way ticket for 5,000 miles apiece. The restrictions are loose, so you can use this to score some excellent awards.
  • East Coast to Europe: Flights from North America to the Atlantic zone under 4,000 miles cost a reasonable 35,000 and 60,000 miles in economy and business class, respectively. This value is increased even further if you can add a stopover and stay under the 4,000-mile limit.
  • Flights under 500 miles: 6,000 miles one-way is — most of the time — your best bet for sub-500 mile flights.
  • Flights to East Asia: Most flights from the U.S. to East and Southeast Asia can be booked for 55,000 or 75,000 miles in business class. The best deals are sub-5,000 mile flights from Seattle (SEA) and Vancouver (YVR) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) on ANA.

Related: How to avoid fuel surcharges on award travel

Avianca LifeMiles

Avianca LifeMiles can be great for domestic awards, flights to Europe and more. (Photo by Markus Mainka/Shutterstock)

Over the last few years, Avianca LifeMiles has risen from relative obscurity to quickly become one of the most popular Star Alliance loyalty programs out there. While Avianca's customer service leaves a lot to be desired, its award chart has some hidden gems, including some great Star Alliance options.

Like Air Canada, the program also doesn't pass on fuel surcharges on award tickets (unlike several other members of this list). Unfortunately, it also has a $25 partner booking fee.

The program has a traditional zone-based award chart. The award chart is pretty standard, but it's worth noting that the U.S. and Europe are split up into three zones, but this doesn't always affect pricing. The cost of flying from U.S. 1, 2 and 3 to Europe 2 and 3 is the same price across the board. You will, however, save points by flying U.S. 1 to Europe 1.

Here's a look at the LifeMiles award chart at the time of writing this article. There's a lot of data here, so check out the full award chart (with zone definitions) on the LifeMiles website for more info. Scroll to the "How to Redeem" section and click the "Review Now" button for the PDF.

(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

LifeMiles usually offers the best deal on domestic Star Alliance award tickets. That said, it doesn't always follow the pricing listed in the above award chart. Sometimes you'll find that awards actually price lower than what's listed here.

Take Newark (EWR) to Pittsburgh (PIT), for example — this ticket should cost 7,500 miles in economy. Instead, it actually costs 6,500 miles, saving you a cool 1,000 miles on your booking.

(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

You can reduce the cost of connecting award tickets by flying the shorter leg in economy class. For example, a flight from Washington-Dulles (IAD) to Prague (PRG) via Brussels (BRU) costs 63,000 miles if all legs are in business class. This price drops to 58,620 miles if you fly Brussels to Prague in economy class.

(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

You can also mix and match cash and miles at some very attractive rates through Avianca's program. In some cases, this can work out quite well. This flight from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA) costs 63,000 miles. Alternatively, you can use 26,000 miles and $611.64 (after the partner booking fee) for the same ticket — a steep discount over booking wholly with cash.

(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

Unfortunately, LifeMiles doesn't allow stopovers, so it's hard to maximize connecting flights.

Example Avianca LifeMiles bookings

So, how does LifeMiles' pricing stack up to the competition? Here's a look at some sample bookings to various regions around the world.

Starting with Europe, you'll find that a one-way ticket from the U.S. to the majority of Europe costs 63,000 miles in business class, 30,000 in economy and 87,000 in first class. Again, you can reduce the cost of connecting tickets by adding a leg in economy.

(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

The exception to this rule is flights from U.S. 1 to Europe 1. U.S. 1 is largely made up of the East Coast. Meanwhile, Europe 1 is comprised of Scandinavia (including Denmark and Iceland), Russia, Ireland and the U.K. These routes cost 20,000 miles in economy, 60,000 in business and 87,000 in first. Interestingly enough, you can connect in Europe 2 or 3 to a Europe 1 country for the same cost. The price drops even lower on mixed cabin itineraries.

(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

Tickets to Asia are a pretty solid deal, too — especially when compared to Aeroplan. A long-haul flight from New York-JFK to Seoul (ICN) costs just 37,000 miles in economy and 75,000 in business class. Flights to Central and South Asia cost marginally more miles at 78,000 miles in business class. Economy awards to these regions vary based on where you depart in the U.S.

(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

Unfortunately, flights to Central America aren't a great deal. This Copa flight from New York-JFK to Panama City (PTY) flight costs 17,500 and 30,000 miles. This is more expensive than Aeroplan and other programs on this list, so you'll generally want to skip it.

(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

That said, flights to South America are quite reasonable. This flight from Miami (MIA) to Sao Paulo (GIG) via Bogota (BOG) is just 50,000 miles in business class and 25,000 in economy. This is a solid deal on this route, especially when you consider business class prices with other Star Alliance partners. You cannot book this as a mixed-class award since Avianca operates it.

(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

We've already discussed domestic deals with Avianca. Generally, you'll find the best deals on short-haul routes that price below the 7,500-mile award chart tier. That said, you can find solid transcontinental deals too. For example, this United flight from New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) costs 12,500 miles in economy and 25,000 in business class.

(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

When to transfer Membership Rewards points to LifeMiles

LifeMiles is one of the most powerful Membership Rewards transfer partners — here's when to book with them:

  • Domestic flights over 500 miles: Domestic over 500 miles are best booked with Avianca LifeMiles — especially when you can find a deal not listed on the award chart. Flights shorter than this can be booked with Aeroplan for fewer points.
  • Flights to Europe with fuel surcharges: You'll generally find the best deal in terms of surcharges and miles with LifeMiles. This is especially true when flying from U.S. zone 1 to Europe zone 1 and using mixed-cabin awards to connect tickets. These flights can be booked for as little as 53,440 miles with minimal taxes and fees.
  • One-way flights to Asia: Generally, you'll find the best deal on one-way flights from the U.S. to Asia with LifeMiles. That said, you'll get a better deal on round-trip flights with ANA Mileage Club.
  • First-class flights: True international first class is slowly being phased out, but carriers like Thai Airways and Lufthansa continue to offer it. You'll generally find the best deals on these tickets when booking with Avianca. For example, you can book Lufthansa first class from the U.S. to Europe for 87,000 miles.
  • Discounting a cash fare: Don't want to use all your miles on a single booking? The Miles + Cash option is great if you have 40% of the miles required for a redemption. This feature lets you buy miles for as low as 1.5 cents apiece to top up for a booking, giving you major discounts overpaying for a cash ticket.

Related: Everything you need to know about Avianca LifeMiles

Singapore KrisFlyer

Want to fly in Singapore Airlines business or first class? You'll have to book with Krisflyer miles. (Photo by Fasttailwind/Shutterstock)

The Singapore KrisFlyer program has undergone several changes in the last few years. While these were mostly devaluations, the program did add a few minor improvements (like the ability to book some partner awards online).

You should definitely take some time to understand the KrisFlyer program; in addition to Amex Membership Rewards, it's also a direct transfer partner of the other major transferable points currencies (Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One and Marriott Bonvoy). As you're about to see, the program has access to awards that other Star Alliance programs typically do not.

Singapore uses a separate award chart for flights on its own metal and for flights on Star Alliance partners. Currently, the program doesn't release premium cabin award space to partners with the rare exception of Alaska Airlines. So if you're looking to hop on the world's longest flight from Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN) or experience the carrier's award-winning Suites first class, you'll need to book with Krisflyer.

Both the Singapore Airlines and partner award chart are standard and zone-based. The Singapore award chart (PDF link) is pretty reasonable when you consider the standard of service you get on Singapore Airlines flights. Thankfully, no fuel surcharges are levied on Singapore Airlines, so you can fly for minimal taxes and fees.

Krisflyer has two types of award tickets: Saver and Advantage. Saver tickets are cheaper but generally have less award space. In addition, you can add one stopover to a round-trip Saver award ticket for $100. As a point of reference, a one-way flight from Newark to Singapore costs 99,000 miles in business class.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

Advantage tickets are easier to find but are significantly more expensive. The same Newark to Singapore ticket costs a whopping 140,000 miles one-way in business class, but you can add a stopover on a one-way ticket. We recommend staying away from these tickets when possible.

Unfortunately, Singapore's Saver award space can be hard to come by. You can check out our guide on how to waitlist a Singapore award, but one important thing to note is that you must have all the miles in your account to proceed. This means that if you transfer points to KrisFlyer and your waitlist request doesn't clear, the miles will be stuck there for a future redemption.

The airline's Star Alliance partner award chart (PDF link) is less exciting. On some awards — like flights from the U.S. to Asia — you'll pay more when flying on a partner instead of on Singapore Airlines. Here's a look at the chart:

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

One downside to booking partner awards with Singapore Airlines is that the carrier passes on fuel surcharges. So when booking tickets with Swiss, Lufthansa and other high-surcharge carriers, you may have to pay over $700 in taxes and fees on a one-way business class booking. Thankfully, United awards do not have fuel surcharges.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

One last thing: point transfers to Singapore Airlines take at least a day to process, so you’ll want to call and get Singapore Airlines to hold your award ticket before initiating a transfer.

Related: Maximizing Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer partner awards

Example Singapore Airlines Krisflyer bookings

Singapore Airlines has higher redemption rates than Aeroplan and LifeMiles for most awards. For example, a one-way flight from the U.S. to Europe costs 72,000 miles in business class. However, this can be worth it if you fly on one of Singapore's fifth-freedom routes from the U.S. to Europe. This includes New York-JFK to Frankfurt (FRA) and Houston (IAH) to Manchester (MAN). Service on these flights is far better than you'll find on a U.S. or European carrier.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

The New York to Frankfurt route is equipped with Singapore Suites first class. You can book this for 86,000 miles, which is a great deal for a first-class flight to Europe.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

Flights from the U.S. to Asia aren't the best deal, but they can be worthwhile on Singapore-operated flights. Going beyond its ultra-long-haul flights, you can fly from San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong (HKG) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) with Singapore Airlines. These flights cost 89,000 and 92,000 miles, respectively, in business class.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

Direct flights to Singapore cost 99,000 miles in business class from Newark and 95,000 miles from San Francisco and Los Angeles. These flights do not operate a first-class cabin.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

As discussed, partner flights generally cost more than Singapore-operated flights. A United flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) costs 115,000 miles in business class. Similarly, a United flight from San Francisco to Singapore costs 105,500 miles one-way in business class.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

That said, it's worth noting that partner flights to Europe cost the same as a flight operated by Singapore Airlines. That said, booking with select partners will levy large fuel surcharges.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

In terms of partner flights, flying to South America from the U.S. will set you back 30,000 miles in economy and 57,500 miles in business class. This is a better deal than Aeroplan but is more expensive than booking with Avianca LifeMiles.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

Transcontinental flights on United cost 23,000 miles one-way in business class and 12,500 in economy. This makes booking transcontinental business class with Krisflyer slightly cheaper than booking with LifeMiles.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

One of the best Krisflyer deals is booking tickets from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii. These flights cost 34,500 miles one-way in business class and 17,500 in economy. This includes connecting tickets and long-haul routes from Newark, Washington and Chicago. You'll also pay the same amount for flights from the U.S. to Central America.

(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

When to transfer Membership Rewards points to Krisflyer

As you can see, Singapore Airlines is a mixed bag. For the most part, you'll only want to book the following awards by transferring Membership Rewards to Krisflyer:

  • Singapore Airlines premium cabin awards: You don't have any other option for these awards — Singapore's premium cabin awards can only be booked with Krisflyer miles. Thankfully, you can score a good deal on most flights compared to booking an alternate carrier with another currency. Make sure to check out the carrier's network of fifth-freedom routes the next time you head to Europe or Asia.
  • Transcontinental business class: Krisflyer offers the best deal on transcontinental business class flights in United Polaris business class.
  • Mainland U.S. to Hawaii: You can't beat Krisflyer's pricing on flights to Hawaii. In our opinion, 34,500 miles from the East Coast to Hawaii in business class is an excellent deal.

Related: Watch TPG U.K. review all four classes on Singapore Airlines’ A380

ANA Mileage Club

ANA Mileage Club offers excellent deals to Asia — even in first class. (Photo by TungCheung/Shutterstock)

ANA Mileage Club uses a zone-based award chart and offers a few sweet-spot redemptions worth evaluating. However, there are a couple of important limitations to keep in mind: you can only book round-trip awards and ANA imposes fuel surcharges on many partner tickets.

Like Singapore, ANA has separate award charts for its own flights and partner flights. There are excellent deals to be had on the ANA award chart too.

Let's start with a simple one: round-trip flights between the U.S. and Japan on ANA metal. Prices vary by season, as shown below:

Low season40,000 miles75,000 miles150,000 miles
Regular season50,000 miles85,000 miles150,000 miles
High season 55,000 miles90,000 miles165,000 miles

These are excellent deals across the board — especially round-trip first class for as little as 150,000 miles (though it's possible to do even better on these flights, as we'll see a little bit later).

The prices only go up marginally if you're flying between the U.S. and Southeast Asia, with economy flights ranging from 55,000 to 70,000 miles, business class ranging from 100,000 to 115,000 miles, and first class ranging from 195,000 to 210,000 miles (all for round-trip pricing). In each case, these numbers aren't much more than what United would charge you for a one-way award ticket on the same flight.

ANA's partner award chart uses the same zone classifications at different price levels, and depending on the routing, you may be able to get some terrific value. For example, round-trip awards from the U.S. to Europe clock in at just 55,000 miles in economy or 88,000 miles in business. Unfortunately, the round-trip restriction and hefty surcharges on many partners may make this tough to swing, but if you can make it work, it's a terrific redemption.

One last thing: you can add stopovers to all your ANA Mileage Club bookings. You're entitled to one stopover per round-trip ticket, effectively letting you see two cities for the price of one. Just note that you cannot have more than two transfers (layovers) on the outbound or inbound portion of the ticket.

(Image courtesy of ANA)

Example ANA Mileage Club bookings

ANA Mileage Club has the lowest mileage cost for most round-trip awards, but you'll need to keep an eye out for fuel surcharges.

For example, this round-trip flight from New York-JFK to Geneva (GVA) on SWISS costs 88,000 miles round-trip in business class. Unfortunately, however, it has a huge $1,529.15 in taxes and fees attached.

(Image courtesy of ANA)

At the same time, a United flight from Newark to Geneva costs the same 88,000 miles round-trip in business class but only passes along $52.95 in taxes and fees. This is because United doesn't add fuel surcharges to its award tickets.

(Image courtesy of ANA)

We already discussed pricing ANA awards in the section above, so let's look at partner flights to Asia. You'll want to stick to partners like Asiana and EVA Air, who do not add high fuel surcharges to their award tickets.

On this business class Asiana flight from New York-JFK to Seoul (ICN), you'll pay 95,000 miles and under $350 in taxes and fees round-trip. Note that you could save miles by booking an ANA ticket via Japan during off-peak dates, but this route is far more convenient.

(Image courtesy of ANA)

One oddity of the ANA award chart is that it loops Central and South America into the same region. You'll pay 55,000 and 88,000 miles for an economy or business class round-trip ticket, respectively, between these regions and the U.S. This is a solid deal for flights to South America but lackluster for Central American flights.

(Image courtesy of ANA)

Thankfully, most U.S. to South America flights are operated by Avianca, Copa or United; these airlines do not add substantial fuel surcharges to their tickets. You can use them to score an excellent deal on flights to Brazil and other South American countries in business class.

(Image courtesy of ANA)

Another good way to use ANA miles is on trips to Australia and New Zealand. If you don't mind flying through Japan, you can book this Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) flight for just 115,000 miles and under $200 in taxes and fees during off-peak dates. A nonstop award on United would cost 120,000 ANA miles round-trip.

(Image courtesy of ANA)

Finally, you'll want to avoid using ANA miles to book domestic U.S. tickets. All domestic tickets cost 30,000 miles round-trip in economy and 55,000 in business class — even on short routes. You'll always get a better deal by booking domestic awards with Avianca LifeMiles.

(Image courtesy of ANA)

Related: How to book a round-trip business-class award to Europe for just 88,000 miles

ANA Mileage Club is great for booking round-the-world tickets

Further, ANA is one of the few airlines to still offer a "round the world" redemption option, and even better, it uses a lucrative distance-based award chart. The rules are relatively simple:

  • Travel must continue in an east or west direction.
  • A maximum of eight stopovers is permitted (maximum three in Europe and four in Japan).
  • Travel must touch all three ANA mileage zones.
  • Travel must originate and end in the same zone.

The mileage zones for the purpose of this redemption are as follows: 1) North America, Central America, South America and Hawaii; 2) Europe, Middle East and Africa; and 3) Japan, South Korea, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Southwest Pacific. Round the world awards cost the following amounts:

(Image courtesy of ANA)

You can get pretty creative with this, building an all-business-class journey from Los Angeles to Tokyo-Narita, on to Singapore, Addis Ababa (ADD), Frankfurt (FRA) and then ending in New York-JFK for only 125,000 miles plus taxes and fees.

(Image courtesy of Great Circle Map)

That's a lot of time in business class for a relatively small number of miles!

Related: How I booked a round-the-world ticket in business class for 170,000 miles

When to transfer Membership Rewards points to ANA Mileage Club

ANA Mileage Club is best-in-class for booking these awards:

  • Flights with low fuel surcharges: This is broad, but barring flights to Central America, you'll almost always get the best points deal when booking round-trip awards with ANA Mileage Club. That said, avoid carriers with high fuel surcharges like Lufthansa and SWISS. These high fees can eat into your award value.
  • United business class flights to Europe: If you can find United Polaris business class award space to Europe, book it with ANA miles. These flights are just 88,000 miles round-trip with very low taxes and fees.
  • Flights to Japan: ANA's award chart offers excellent deals on first and business class flights to Japan. You can further maximize by booking during off-peak dates and adding a free stopover.
  • Flights to South America: ANA Mileage Club has one of the best redemption rates to South America at just 88,000 miles round-trip in business class.
  • Round-the-world trips: ANA has the best award chart for round-the-world trips on Star Alliance carriers. Take advantage of this on your next multi-stop journey.
  • Round trip tickets with a stopover: If you're planning a stopover on your way to a final destination, it's hard to beat ANA miles. You can stopover in your destination region or in another logical region on your way to/from your final destination. This means you can stop in Frankfurt on your way to Casablanca, but not Hong Kong on your way to London.

Related: The best ways to travel to Japan with points and miles

Etihad Guest

Etihad is a powerful non-alliance partner of a handful of Star Alliance carriers. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The hidden value of the Etihad Guest loyalty program is very similar to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Since neither airline is a part of a major alliance (yet), they've instead struck up partnerships with individual airlines that range from not worth mentioning to very lucrative.

In the case of Etihad, there are three specific partners worth highlighting: ANA, Asiana and Air Canada. Etihad uses a distance-based award chart for both of these airlines, and stopovers are permitted.

Before we look at specifics, note that you can't book these awards online. Instead, use your favorite Star Alliance search engine to find award space and call Etihad Guest to book.

Booking ANA awards with Etihad Guest

Let's start with ANA. Here's a look at the award chart — all prices shown are for one-way awards:

(Image courtesy of Etihad Guest)

If you were to take the shortest route from the U.S. to Japan and fly San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo on ANA, a one-way ticket would cost 37,000 miles in economy or 63,000 in business class. If you built in a stopover in Tokyo before continuing to somewhere like Shanghai, you'd only pay 43,000 miles one-way in economy or 78,000 miles in business class.

The real value comes when booking short-haul routes. For example, you can book Tokyo-Haneda (HND) to Seoul (ICN) for just 8,000 miles in economy. This can be useful if you want to book a flight at the last minute or during a special event when tickets are expensive.

With that in mind, it's worth comparing the cost of using ANA Mileage Club, Etihad Guest and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (more on that soon) miles when booking ANA flights from the U.S to Japan. Depending on your origin, destination and the time you fly, you may be able to save miles by picking one partner over another.

Booking Asiana awards with Etihad Guest

Etihad Guest's Asiana award chart is a little less exciting than the ANA award chart. Here's a look:

(Image courtesy of Etihad Guest)

You can score an excellent deal on Asiana's nonstop flight from Honolulu (HNL) to Seoul using this award chart. This 4,557-mile flight costs just 29,000 miles in economy and 48,000 in business class with minimal taxes and fees. This can be a great way to travel from Hawaii to Asia in one of Asia's least-known business class products.

The carrier also flies to Seoul from San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), Seattle (SEA) and New York-JFK. The former three destinations cost 35,000 miles one-way in economy and 59,000 miles in business class. The New York flight costs 53,000 miles in economy and 88,000 in business class.

If you're looking for a one-way flight from the West Coast to Seoul, you can get a solid deal with this award chart. That said, we recommend staying away from the New York redemption as you can get a better deal with other carriers.

Like ANA, you can also score a good deal on short-haul flights with Asiana's Etihad Guest award chart. Flights 1,000 miles or shorter cost just 6,000 miles in economy and 10,000 in business class.

Booking Air Canada awards with Etihad Guest

Etihad and Air Canada started a non-alliance partnership in 2020 and immediately launched reciprocal mileage earning and redeeming.

Here's the current award chart as of the time of writing:

(Image courtesy of Etihad Guest)

Generally, you'll only want to use Etihad's Air Canada Canada award chart to book short-haul tickets.

Flights 500 miles or shorter cost just 5,000 miles in economy. This includes routes like New York-LaGuardia (LGA) and Detroit (DTW) to Toronto (YYZ) and Seattle (SEA) and Portland (PDX) to Vancouver (YVR). These routes can get expensive, so this is a great backup option to have.

Other than that, you can score a better deal using other Star Alliance partners.

Related: The 6 best airline award chart sweet spots

Virgin Atlantic

You can score an excellent deal on ANA awards with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. (Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock)

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles are some of the most underrated out there, but they can be a great value for Star Alliance partner redemptions. Virgin Atlantic has redemption agreements with several Star Alliance airlines, including Singapore, Air New Zealand, South African Airways and ANA.

The only partner with reasonable pricing is ANA — and it might be one of the greatest points and miles deals out there. While one-way redemptions aren't allowed, the chart below shows the cost for round-trip awards on ANA:

(Image courtesy of Virgin Atlantic)

That's right; a round-trip ANA first-class award from the U.S. to Japan will only cost 110,000 to 120,000 points, depending on your departure city. And ANA business-class awards will be either 90,000 or 95,000 points round-trip. This is an easy way to score cheap flights on a five-star airline that puts a laughably high sticker price on its premium cabins, and when you factor in frequent Amex transfer bonuses, the deal just gets better.

Like Etihad Guest, you can only book these tickets over the phone.

Related: Using Virgin Atlantic miles for mini round-the-world trips with ANA

Bottom line

When we talk about the flexibility that makes transferable points so valuable, it's more than just the ability to pick an alternate routing if you can't find award space. This also extends to programs you can use to book an award on the exact same flight(s). By being strategic, you can realize some significant savings in terms of money (taxes and fees), miles or both.

Here, we showed you the best ways to use your Membership Rewards points on Star Alliance flights. Remember, the American Express Membership Rewards program offers several solid ways to book just about any Star Alliance award you can find. Taking the time to pick your transfer partner carefully can result in a much less costly trip.

Feature photo by Bjoern Wylezich/Shutterstock

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg

Featured image by (Photo by Bjoern Wylezich/Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.