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Ryan and I launched this blog a little over 4 years ago with the intention of documenting how we use miles and points to book all of our trips. Friends and acquaintances who knew about our award travel hobby were constantly asking about how it works, and while we enjoy talking about it, putting it “on paper” seemed to be a better method to help people understand. We had plenty of material from personal experience since we had already been traveling on miles and points for years. We will continue to keep the personal travel posts coming, but I’m always looking for ways to improve user experience. Give the people what they want.
Our blog traffic has continued to increase and we now have an audience made up of folks from all over. Because our home airport, DFW, is a major AA hub, our archive of posts is heavy on AA and Oneworld alliance material.
While our favorite currencies to earn, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards points, are universally the best (meaning no matter where you live or what your goals are, we recommend these currencies), the best redemption options with either of these currencies varies based on a variety of factors.
- For example, neither Chase UR or Amex MR transfer to the American Airlines AAdvantage program, but both transfer 1:1 to Oneworld alliance partner British Airways.
- This means we can transfer Chase or Amex points to British Airways and then use British Airways avios (miles) to book flights operated by AA* (subject to availability).
- This is possible for any AA route, not just flights to Europe.
- The way that British Airways prices award tickets has the potential for a lower redemption cost than that of other Chase and Amex partners for several routes. For example, DFW to Cabo on a nonstop AA operated flight would require 18,000 Avios roundtrip in economy. Again, this is subject to availability, but 18,000 points roundtrip is lower than any other redemption possibility with Chase or Amex airline transfer partners for an award flight between DFW and Mexico.
- That low redemption cost is only possible on nonstop AA flights, which means that if your home airport (or destination airport) isn’t an AA hub, you are not likely to find a nonstop AA flight.
- This means that other Chase and Amex Airline partners will likely have better redemption pricing than British Airways when the itinerary includes a connecting flight.
*This is sometimes called an indirect partnership and you can read more details here.
We often use British Airways to book American Airlines flights and you can read more about how to use British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights here. British Airways is a great way to book several routes on American Airlines, but it’s not always going to be ideal. Additionally, British Airways’ award ticket pricing is not favorable to premium cabin award tickets, especially on long-haul flights.
We obviously value Oneworld alliance airline programs such as British Airways (and other AA partners such as Etihad, another program that can be used to book award flights operated by AA), but sometimes, the methods we use to redeem points/miles for a flight may not be the best method for someone with a different home airport.
Also, the method we use for one route may not be ideal for another route. For example, ironically, you’ll likely want to avoid British Airways if you’re trying to book award flights between the US and Europe. British Airways collects fuel surcharges on their own flights and on flights operated by AA for transatlantic routes. This means that in addition to redeeming miles/points, you’ll also have to pay some high out of pocket fees.
Star Alliance is sometimes a great alternative. Avianca, a Star Alliance airline program, was a great way to book business class award seats between the US and Thailand. I explained how I redeemed Avianca miles to book business class award seats to Thailand on flights operated by EVA Air, an airline based in Taiwan, in this post. I did this by transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to Avianca after confirming award availability for my date and route. Then I used the Avianca miles to book the flight.
The AA/AA partner/Oneworld posts won’t stop, but we are making an effort to produce more pieces that are focused on airline programs outside of the Oneworld alliance.
Back to giving the people what they want
The messages, emails, and our most read posts over the years leave little doubt that Europe is the most common award travel goal, at least for those who read here regularly. Star Alliance has some great airlines to get you from the US to Europe with miles and points. In fact, Star Alliance even works well for DFW-Europe despite DFW being an AA hub.
One of our most visited posts is this one about redeeming Amex points for AA flights, which tells me we need more posts like this but with other airlines/alliances.
If you have transferable bank points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, or Capital One Venture miles, learning how to redeem with airline transfer partners is the best way to maximize the value of your points.
I’ve spent the past few months researching frequent flyer programs of Star Alliance airlines. More specifically, these are Star Alliance airline programs that are airline transfer partners of Chase, Amex, or both. Now that Capital One stepped up it’s game on the Venture miles ecosystem, I’ll also mention when Venture miles can be transferred to a program I’m discussing.
Of the three major airline alliances in the world, Star Alliance is the largest and there are currently 26 member airlines.
Learning about airline alliances and redemption partnerships is important because the frequent flyer program of any alliance partner can be used to book flights operated by another airline in the same alliance. For example, if you are trying to book flights between the US and Europe that are operated by Lufthansa, a Star Alliance airline, you do not necessarily need Lufthansa miles. Instead, you can redeem United miles, Air Canada Miles, Avianca miles, or miles from any other Star Alliance program to book a Lufthansa flight (subject to availability). The best program to use for any given route depends on a number of factors.
In this post, I’m going to go through the steps of determining the best way to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards points for a flight between DFW and Zurich.
I initially planned to keep this focused on business class flights, but I also have the economy redemption pricing information so I’ll include that as well.
Earn your first 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points
The card_name welcome bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months is worth at least $750. But you can potentially get even more value out of those points by using transfer partners. Here are 25 great ways to redeem the bonus.
Bonus categories and benefits have recently been added and/or improved!
- Earn 5 points per dollar on travel purchased via Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Earn 2 points per dollar on other travel purchases
- Instead of the old earn rate of 2, you can now earn 3 points per dollar on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout)
- 3 points per dollar on online grocery purchases (this excludes Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
- 3 points per dollar on select streaming services
- Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
The annual fee is $95, but the welcome offer alone is worth a lot more than that.
Also, receive credit of up to $50 annually on hotel stays purchased through Ultimate Rewards. New cardmembers will receive this credit immediately and existing cardmembers will start earning after the next anniversary.
Each anniversary, you’ll receive bonus points equal to 10% of total purchases made the previous year. This excludes any welcome bonus points, so it’s only on points earned from spending.
Before transferring any Amex, Chase, or Capital One Venture miles to an airline program, the first step is to find availability
Redeeming airline miles is almost always subject to award availability and learning the best ways to search for award space will save time and frustration.
Most award tickets can be booked online with either of the Amex MR and Chase UR Star Alliance partner programs. But sometimes it’s easier to use a different program to find availability, especially if your dates are flexible. Then once you find dates that work for you, you can sign into your Avianca, ANA, etc. account to confirm availability. After that, you can transfer your points and complete the booking.
I like to use United.com to search. You can read instructions and more details about how to search for award space on Star Alliance airlines here.
- If the itinerary is operated by Star Alliance partners and there are no United segments, the availability you see on United.com should match availability if you’re trying to redeem miles with Avianca, Air Canada, or any other Star Alliance airline program.
- If United operates any part of the itinerary, award space made available to book with partner miles such as Avianca Lifemiles or Air Canada Aeroplan miles isn’t as clear-cut. United may make award seats available to those booking with United miles that are not available to book with miles from partner programs.
The rest of the post is going to assume there is availability for the US-Europe flights we are discussing. I’m using flights operated by Lufthansa that I found for August. The itinerary is DFW to Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to Zurich.
Once you confirm a Star Alliance operated flight is available to book with partner miles, the next step would be to check your redemption options with any types of points/miles you have.
Neither American Express nor Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Lufthansa
You can use Amex Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book Lufthansa flights indirectly, though.
Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards Star Alliance transfer partners
Chase Ultimate Rewards
- United Mileage Plus
- Singapore Airlines Krisflyer
- Air Canada Aeroplan
American Express Membership Rewards
- Singapore Airlines Krisflyer
- Avianca Lifemiles
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- ANA Mileage Club
Important reminder about redemption pricing
The program with which you book determines the redemption pricing. If you book a Lufthansa flight with with Avianca Lifemiles, Avianca determines the redemption price, not Lufthansa. Or United. So even though I recommend using United to find availability, do not pay attention to their redemption pricing if you’re using another partner.
Each airline program has a different way of pricing award flights, so if you have Amex or Chase points, I suggest checking redemption pricing with each partner to determine the best way to book.
Important: You cannot transfer miles between airline programs. For example, United miles do not transfer to the program of Lufthansa or any other Star alliance program. Instead, you can redeem United miles for flights operated by Lufthansa or other Star Alliance partners.
The best airline program for any given route will vary. This is exactly why I encourage people to earn transferable points rather than airline miles with one program. For example, United miles are great for Europe, but not so great for Southeast Asia. I used a different Star Alliance program to book flights to Thailand. If I only had United miles, the business class flights I just booked to Thailand would have required 31,000 more miles per ticket each way.
Once you transfer points to an airline program, your Amex, Chase, or COV miles become miles in that airline program. Any award tickets you book with those miles are subject to the pricing and policies of that program. For example, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United. You can redeem the United miles for a flight operated by Lufthansa. United Mileage Plus, the program of United, will determine your redemption price, not Lufthansa.
You cannot transfer the miles back to Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, or Capital One Venture miles.
How to determine which program is best
Once you find availability, the next step is to determine the pricing using each program. As you get more comfortable searching for/booking award flights, you’ll start to learn which programs work best for which routes.
Let’s start with Chase Ultimate Rewards Star Alliance partners
You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to the programs of United Mileage Plus or Singapore Airlines Krisflyer at a 1:1 ratio. Singapore Airlines is also a partner of Amex and COV.
United Mileage Plus
United no longer publishes award charts. The pricing of award tickets is dynamic and can vary based on a number of factors. The only way to confirm redemption pricing if you want to use United miles is to search United.com.
Several of the other Star Alliance programs do have award charts, so you can actually get an idea of the redemption total before you confirm. But the best way to confirm the redemption price is to go straight to the partner and search for the route and dates you found on United.com.
United’s redemption price for this DFW-Zurich route operated by Lufthansa is 77k United Mileage Plus miles each way in business class. This means that you can transfer 77k Chase Ultimate Rewards points (each way) to United Mileage Plus and then redeem the United miles for the flight.
Sidenote: When redeeming United Mileage Plus miles, saver tickets containing United segments are typically a lower redemption cost than that of partner operated itineraries. For example, both Lufthansa and United operate nonstop flights between Houston and Frankfurt. Assuming both are available to book with United miles, the redemption price of the United operated flight will usually be lower. Typically a saver ticket for this route would be 30k one way for economy and 60k one way for business class if United operates the flight, whereas the lowest for the Lufthansa nonstop booked with United miles is typically 33k each way for economy and 63k each way for business. Again, that’s the lowest saver prices and with United’s dynamic pricing model, a saver ticket could still require more United miles regardless of who operates the flight. My point here is that if you are trying to redeem United miles and you have a choice between a United operated itinerary and an itinerary operated by another partner, the United itinerary will likely require less miles. This is typical for any program, meaning if you use X miles to book a flight operated by X airline, the redemption price will likely be cheaper than an identical itinerary operated by Y (a partner airline).
United Mileage Plus does not collect fuel surcharges for flights operated by United or for flights operated by any partner airlines. The $134.95 in fees is mostly taxes that are imposed by Germany and Switzerland and are collected no matter which airline you use to book.
United’s grand total for this DFW-ZRH roundtrip business class itinerary would be 154,000 United miles and $134.95.
For an economy roundtrip ticket, this itinerary would require 66,000 United miles plus $135.
Singapore Airlines Krisflyer
Singapore Airlines Krisflyer has an award chart for flights operated by Singapore Airlines and then a different award chart for flights operated by Star Alliance partners.
For flights operated by Star Alliance partners, here are the redemption prices for a one-way when redeeming Krisflyer miles. Roundtrip would be double:
- Economy: 27,500 Krisflyer miles
- Business: 77,000 Krisflyer miles
- First: 107,500 Krisflyer miles
Note: Prior to the pandemic, Singapore Airlines actually operated 2 fifth freedom routes between the US and Europe. Those were JFK to Frankfurt and Houston to Manchester. I was unable to find any information about when or if those routes will return. But the prices for those routes were 22.5k/72k/86k each way (economy/business/first).
Singapore Airlines requires less miles for the DFW-Zurich itinerary operated by Lufthansa than United does, but there is one little problem. When you redeem Singapore Krisflyer miles for flights operated by partner airlines, any fuel or carrier surcharges will be passed to you. Sometimes these are reasonable, but flights operated by Lufthansa are known for high fees, particularly in premium cabins. If an airline with notoriously high surcharges is operating the itinerary, you’ll want to focus on programs that do not collect fuel/carrier surcharges.
Singapore Airlines Krisflyer’s grand total for this DFW-ZRH roundtrip business class itinerary would be 144,000 United miles and $1723.36
For an economy roundtrip ticket, this itinerary would require 55,000 United miles plus $683.36.
When United is operating the itinerary, there are no surcharges if you book with Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles. This economy roundtrip from DFW-ZRH operated by United is 55,000 Krisflyer miles and $63.20 (those are taxes that are collected no matter which program you use to book ). If you were using United miles to book this itinerary, the roundtrip would likely be at least 60,000 United miles. So using Singapore miles would result in a slightly lower redemption cost than using United miles.
If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points, the best option for the Lufthansa DFW-ZRH business class itinerary is United Mileage Plus
Update: Air Canada Aeroplan is now a partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so that would be another partner to consider. Some Europe routes, including this one, have better prices if you book with Air Canada miles rather than United miles. There is more info below about Air Canada.
Booking the DFW-ZRH itinerary with American Express Membership Rewards points
There are two ways to redeem Amex points for flights. You can either redeem them at amextravel.com at a fixed value of 1 cent per point or you can transfer points to 18 airline partners. Most of the airline partners have a 1:1 transfer ratio. Transferring to airlines often results in a value higher than 1 cent per point.
Amex points do not transfer to United, but they transfer to 4 other airlines that you can use to book flights operated by Lufthansa.
Here are the redemption prices of Amex airline partner programs for the Lufthansa operated DFW-Zurich business class roundtrip:
- Singapore Airlines Krisflyer (Transfer from Chase or Amex): 144,000 Krisflyer miles plus $~1723
- Avianca Lifemiles (transfer from Amex): 126,000 Lifemiles plus ~$180
- ANA (Transfer from Amex): 88,000 ANA miles plus ~$1733
- Air Canada Aeroplan (Transfer from Amex or Chase): 140,000 plus ~$200 (no surcharges on this itinerary but Air Canada has a partner booking fee)
Here are the redemption prices of other Chase/Amex airline partner programs for the DFW-Zurich economy class roundtrip:
- Singapore Airlines Krisflyer (Transfer from Chase or Amex): 55,000 Krisflyer miles plus ~$683
- Avianca Lifemiles (Transfer from Amex): 60,000 Lifemiles plus ~$180
- ANA (Transfer from Amex): 55,000 ANA miles plus ~$680
- Air Canada Aeroplan (Transfer from Amex or Chase): 80,000 plus ~$200
These prices are specifically for the DFW-ZRH itinerary operated by Lufthansa. Some of the programs have ranges and pricing from another US city or to another city in Europe could vary slightly. I put together the chart below just for easy reference, but remember, redemptions with these programs (and at these prices) are subject to partner availability. I also noted partners of Capital One if you have Venture miles.
Amex star alliance partner programs that can be used to book flights operated by Lufthansa:
|Amex Star Alliance partner||Transfer from||Between the continental US and Europe|
|Fuel surcharges||Extra points required for connections?|
|Air Canada||Amex (1:1)|
Capital One Venture (2:1.5)
Chase is also a partner as of
|Sometimes||Sometimes, but within the range|
|ANA||Amex (1:1)||55k/88k/155k (roundtrip only)||Yes||No|
|Singapore Airlines||Amex (1:1)|
|27.5k/77k/107.5k||Yes, on Star Alliance||No|
Of the Amex options, Avianca is going to be the best redemption partner for the DFW-ZRH Lufthansa flight in business class
You can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points (or Capital One Venture miles) to Avianca at a 1:1 ratio.
Avianca does not collect fuel surcharges. The catch with Avianca is that if you are transferring from Amex, it can take up to a day. This means that you risk losing the availability if someone else books it while you’re waiting for your Amex points to get to your Avianca Lifemiles account. If you found several options or if your dates are flexible, this might be a risk worth taking. We recently transferred Amex points to Avianca to book flights from Thailand, but we had a few date options so I was comfortable with the risk. Transfers to most other Amex airline transfer partners will show up immediately.
Data points suggest that Capital One Venture miles usually transfer to Avianca Lifemiles immediately.
If you aren’t comfortable with the possibility of waiting for your Amex points to show up in your Avianca Lifemiles account, Air Canada Aeroplan may be a good option.
Air Canada Aeroplan
Update: As of August 2021, you can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to Air Canada Aeroplan
For this route, Air Canada required 70k miles each way and while Air Canada does charge a partner booking fee, it is reasonable. The total out of pocket for fees for the roundtrip DFW-ZRH operated by Lufthansa in business class would be ~$200. Air Canada collects a partner booking fee, but there are no fuel surcharges.
This business class DFW-ZRH roundtrip would be 140,000 miles plus $249 CAD which is around $200 USD. Air Canada does have a partner booking fee of $39 per person, so that’s part of this cost, and the rest is likely just the taxes and fees you would pay on any award ticket, regardless of which type of miles you use to book.
I actually used Aeroplan to book flights for my brother and his wife for their honeymoon on their return flight from Greece even though Avianca would have been just 63k miles each way per person. Finding 2 business class seats during peak season was a challenge so as soon as we found availability on the dates he wanted, I knew we needed to make sure we booked immediately. I was more comfortable with the fact that his Amex points would show up in his Air Canada account immediately, so redeeming 70k per ticket rather than 63k per ticket didn’t bother us.
ANA actually has one of the best US-Europe business class redemption prices, but there are a few catches
Like Singapore airlines, there are fuel surcharges when you use ANA miles for partner operated flights, so booking Lufthansa with ANA miles results in charges of over $1700 for this DFW-ZRH roundtrip business class ticket.
Also, ANA requires roundtrip bookings on award tickets, so you’ll have to find availability both ways.
ANA miles are best for US-Europe if you can find an itinerary operated by United and/or other carriers with lower fuel surcharges than Lufthansa.
How to earn American Express Membership Rewards points
The quickest way to earn American Express Membership Rewards points is to open an American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points and earn a welcome bonus. You’ll also earn Amex MR points on your everyday spending with these cards. You can also take advantage of bonus offers to earn even more points by enrolling your card in specific Amex offers that match your spending habits.
The American Express® Gold Card is one of my favorites for everyday spending. It earns 4 points per dollar at restaurants, 4 points per dollar on up to $25,000 annually at US supermarkets, and 3 points per dollar on qualifying travel expenses.
Current Offer:earn 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. The minimum spending requirement is $4,000 in the first 6 months. (note: the link on the card name may bring you to a better offer than this public offer!)
The annual fee is a little steep ($250)[See rates and fees], but there are statement credits and benefits that help offset this fee. For example, you can receive up to $120 annually in dining credit. Enrollment required. Terms apply.
You can choose between a gold or a rose gold card if that sort of thing matters to you!
I’m going to end this here, but I’ll be posting about more Star Alliance routes using Amex and Chase partners soon!
Transferable bank points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards give you several redemption options, including a few different ways to book Star Alliance award flights.
If you have transferable points such as American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points (or if you have miles in a Star Alliance airline program) these are the steps to book with airline transfer partners:
- Search for availability
- Figure out which airline partner results in the lowest redemption cost (remember, Chase UR has 2 Star Alliance partners and Amex MR has 4 Star Alliance partners)
- Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards points to the airline program
- Use the airline program to book the ticket
Airline co-branded cards are great for welcome bonuses and for benefits, but for everyday spending, it usually makes more sense to accumulate transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards points.
Earn your first 60,000 transferable Ultimate Rewards points
The card_name welcome bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months is worth at least $750. But you can potentially get even more value out of those points by using transfer partners. 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points can be converted to 60,000 airline miles in 11 different airline programs.
Amex Rates and Fees:
- American Express Gold Card [See rates and fees]
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