The best ways to redeem Chase points on Star Alliance airlines
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information. This post makes reference to a number of routes that are currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic but are expected to resume once travel picks up.
Star Alliance is the biggest airline alliance in the world, giving you a wealth of options when you travel abroad. And if you have a stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you’ll be happy to know that you can easily transfer your points to two Star Alliance partners: United Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Each carrier gives you a number of excellent award redemption options covering both domestic and international trips.
In this article, we’ll show you the best ways to use your hard-earned Chase points for Star Alliance flights.
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Earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points
Before we discuss redemptions, let’s take a look at the earning side of the equation. The easiest way to boost your Ultimate Rewards balance is by using credit cards, both for initial welcome bonuses and ongoing spending. Here are Chase’s current cards that allow you to transfer points to airline and hotel partners:
Annual fee: $500
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening.
Benefits: The Sapphire Reserve’s $550 annual fee is largely offset by a $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass lounge access and improved redemption rates on flights on flights booked via the Chase portal.
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Benefits: The Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee but carries a number of great perks and could even be a better option than the Sapphire Reserve.
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Earn rate: Earn 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases in these categories: Travel Shipping purchases Internet, cable and phone services Advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines.
Benefits: The Ink Business Preferred comes with perks like cell phone protection and earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent each account anniversary year on combined travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines (then 1x).
United Airlines MileagePlus
United’s MileagePlus program is one of the most well-known loyalty programs in the U.S. It’s also the only major U.S. legacy carrier that’s a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. Unfortunately, redemptions on United metal have gotten much more complicated since the carrier pulled its award chart in favor of dynamic pricing.
This makes it difficult to talk about award rates for United-operated flights in general terms, since the price can vary heavily day-to-day.
Take this example of one-way nonstop economy flights between Newark (EWR) and Los Angeles (LAX) in March 2021. Plenty of days price out at just 12,500 miles, but you also have many days coming in at nearly twice that cost.
The variation can get even more intense when you’re looking at international routes and/or premium cabin awards, but much of that volatility is muted right now as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to depress prices.
The good news is that United still uses fixed pricing for Star Alliance partner flights, though it did devalue most of these awards by 10% earlier this year. Since United doesn’t tack on fuel surcharges on these awards (unlike Star Alliance partner Aeroplan) you won’t always get the cheapest mileage rates but your cash outlay will be low.
Flights to Asia
One of my favorite redemptions is using 88,000 United miles to fly EVA Air’s world class 777-300ER business class from the U.S. to Asia. EVA flies from its hub in Taipei (TPE) to a number of U.S. cities, but I find award space to be easiest to come by on the Seattle (SEA) and Chicago (ORD) routes.
Flights to Europe
If you’re looking to travel in the other direction, there are plenty of Star Alliance airlines in Europe you can fly on: Swiss, Lufthansa, Turkish, TAP Portugal and Austrian are all popular choices, and one-way awards cost just 33,000 miles in economy or 77,000 in business class.
Speaking of Lufthansa, you can’t go wrong redeeming 121,000 United miles to fly the carrier’s first class from the U.S. to Europe. It used to be 110,000 miles until the 10% partner devaluation earlier this year. Still, the $132 in taxes on this award ($5.60 if you were departing the U.S.) is much better than the $800+ Aeroplan would charge you, so paying more miles isn’t the worst thing out there.
Take advantage of United’s Excursionist Perk
In addition to United’s award chart (or what remains of it), there are perks unique to the airline that you can use to help stretch your miles even further. Most important is the Excursionist Perk. Simply put, the Excursionist Perk gives you a free flight segment on select “round-trip” itineraries between two different regions, allowing you to explore another destination at no additional cost (just pay taxes and fees on the tickets).
Here are the core rules you need to be aware of to use this perk:
- The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates. (For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.)
- Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
- The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.
- The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
- If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.
The most common (and likely intended) use of this perk involves a flight from the U.S. to Europe.
If you were to fly from Chicago to Frankfurt (FRA), spend some time in the city and then fly Frankfurt to Zurich (ZRH) before returning to Chicago, the middle leg between Frankfurt and Zurich would not cost any additional miles. United makes it easy to book this award online by searching for a multi-city ticket, and will automatically show you the excursionist leg priced at 0 miles + taxes.
Of course, this is just one of the many ways to use this perk. If you’re into creative and complicated award routings, be sure to check out Richard Kerr’s complete guide for some of the hilariously creative and aptly named Excursionist ideas he came up with.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
From its fleet of A380s featuring an over-the-top first-class product better known as Singapore Suites to its ultra long-haul flights, Singapore Airlines is one of the most luxurious airlines in the sky. But beyond that, its KrisFlyer loyalty program can get you some solid value — regardless of whether you’re using miles to fly on Singapore Airlines or one of its Star Alliance partners.
One of the most important things to know is that with the limited exception of Alaska Airlines, Singapore KrisFlyer is the only program you can use to book long-haul premium-cabin flights on Singapore metal. That’s because Singapore does not release premium-cabin award space to most of its partners.
Despite adding the ability to book partners online in 2017, the site still doesn’t reliably show all Star Alliance carriers. There are much better sites for finding Star Alliance availability, so I’d recommend starting your search on United Airlines’ website and then calling Singapore KrisFlyer if you can’t find the award on its site.
Here are a few ways to get the most bang-for-your-mile when transferring Ultimate Rewards points to the KrisFlyer program.
Singapore Airlines first and business class
Singapore essentially locks you into using its KrisFlyer program to book long-haul first and business class awards. And while the rates are not as competitive as they used to be, the products have gotten even better with time. Singapore Suites is a bucket-list item for many travelers, with two different versions currently flying.
The new one is the most spacious first-class seat in the skies, and can be converted to a comfortable double bed if you’re traveling with a companion.
Only a handful of Singapore’s A380s feature this configuration, and before the pandemic struck you’d find them flying on the following routes:
Saver-level first-class award space on the long-haul routes is nearly impossible to find, but it’s much easier on the shorter flights. Ideally you’d want 10+ hours to experience everything that Singapore has to offer on board, but I flew the new Suites on the five-hour flight from Singapore to Shanghai (PVG) last summer and would not hesitate to do so again.
If you’re based in the U.S. but still looking to fly Singapore Suites, you can try catching a seat on Singapore’s fifth-freedom route between New York-JFK and Frankfurt. This route is operated by an A380 featuring the older (but still stunning) Suites cabin, and one-way awards cost 86,000 miles at the saver level or 140,000 miles at the advantage level.
The world’s longest commercial flight
Another highly-sought-after Singapore redemption, for bragging rights as much as for convenience, is the world’s longest commercial flight between Singapore and Newark (EWR). This route is operated by a specially configured Airbus A350-900ULR featuring just business and premium economy, no first class and no regular coach.
The economics of such a long flight are challenging, and so it’s no surprise that Singapore doesn’t make a lot of saver-level business-class award space available (though pricier advantage awards and saver-level premium economy are much easier to find). Here’s how much a one-way award would cost you in each cabin:
- Premium economy saver: 73,000 miles
- Business saver: 99,000 miles
- Business advantage: 140,000 miles
Krisflyer award holds
Another great aspect of booking Singapore awards through KrisFlyer is the ability to waitlist for a better itinerary. This is relatively simple. As long as you have the required amount of miles in your account and the waitlist is available on the flight you want, you can essentially put in a “request” for that flight.
Of course, this would involve transferring your points to KrisFlyer, but you can waitlist more than one routing at a time, and after waitlisting, you could even ticket a less-than-desirable itinerary and pay a small fee to cancel and rebook if a waitlisted flight opens. However, this option is only available on Singapore-operated flights and of course, there’s no guarantee that award space will open up.
Flights to Hawaii
Unfortunately when it comes to Star Alliance partner awards, Singapore KrisFlyer has been badly bruised by several successive devaluations. There are still decent values to be had, including round-trip tickets from the continental U.S. to Hawaii for only 35,000 miles on United, but on longer flights KrisFlyer is not as competitive.
A big advantage KrisFlyer has is that it partners with all five major transferable points currencies — Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One miles and Marriott Bonvoy — making KrisFlyer miles very easy to earn, but if we’re just thinking about the Chase Ultimate Rewards ecosystem, United normally offers a better value.
Bonus: Book ANA premium-cabin awards with Virgin Atlantic miles
There are good deals, and then there are sweet spots that are too good to be true — the kind where you have to pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t imagining things, even if you’ve booked them before. Virgin Atlantic’s partner award chart for ANA falls into this second category, so even though the London-based carrier isn’t a member of any of the three major airline alliances, it earns a spot on this list.
Virgin Atlantic’s ANA award chart is zone-based, so those flying out of the East Coast and central U.S. (D.C., New York, Chicago and Houston) will pay more miles than someone departing from the West Coast including Los Angeles, San Francisco or Honolulu. But regardless of where you depart, you’re in for an amazing deal.
As you can see in the chart above, a round-trip first-class flight from
As you can see in the chart above, a round-trip first-class flight from Chicago-O’Hare to Tokyo-Narita or Tokyo-Haneda (HND) is just 110,000 miles. If you want to book a round-trip business-class flight, it’ll only set you back 90,000 miles. That’s a steal for a transpacific premium-class award ticket.
The process for booking these tickets is a little bit strange, though. You can’t book online, so you need to call Virgin Atlantic to book. I’d recommend finding ANA availability on United’s website first and then calling Virgin Atlantic to verify that the agent can see the award space. You can then transfer your Chase points (which should process instantly) and finalize the reservation. Just note that you must book awards at least 48 hours before departure, and one-way awards are not allowed.
That said, if you find award availability, it’s totally worth pushing through this convoluted process — especially when you consider that a round-trip ANA first class flight would set you back 242,000 miles when booked through United. ANA has one of the world’s best first-class products, whether you’re flying on the “older” 777-300ERs that make up the bulk of the carrier’s long-haul fleet, the new 777s featuring “The Suite” (which are currently only flying to New York and London), or the flying Honu A380s which fly exclusively to Honolulu.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are one of the most valuable transferable points currencies, and it’s easy to see why. Whether you’re planning to fly Singapore Airlines’ long-haul routes from the U.S. or wanting a quick trip on United to Hawaii, there’s an array of awesome ways to use your points on Star Alliance partners.
Featured photo courtesy of Star Alliance.
Andrew Kunesh contributed to this post.
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