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. 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.
I’ve written about searching for American Airlines and Oneworld alliance availability, but Star Alliance is sometimes a great alternative for those who do not live in an AA hub. In fact, I do live in an AA hub and sometimes Star Alliance airlines are a better way to book award tickets on certain routes. Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, and Capital One Venture each have multiple Star Alliance transfer partners.
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 partner in the same alliance. For example, if you are trying to book flights between the US and Europe that are operated by Lufthansa, 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).
This is sometimes called an indirect partnership and you can read more details here.
Earn transferable points to give yourself multiple redemption options
If you have transferable bank points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, or Capital One Venture miles, there are two different redemption methods you can use to book flights with either of these 3 types of points:
- Redeem miles/points at a fixed value for travel purchases. Each rewards program has different values, but basically this just means you’re redeeming your miles or points as cash to cover travel purchases. The fixed value is between 1 and 1.5 cents per point, depending on which card you have.
- Transfer points to airline or hotel partners. Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points, or Capital One Venture miles become airline miles or hotel points. You can redeem them according to the rules and redemption prices of the airline or hotel program to which you transfer. The redemption value varies, but this is how we’re often able to get 2 cents or more per point.
Within the second method comes even more options. There are multiple ways to book a Star Alliance flight with a transfer partner if you have Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards points, or Capital One Venture miles. This is because Chase UR, Amex MR, and COV miles each have more than one Star Alliance partner. The reason it is good to have options is because each airline program has its own redemption rules and pricing. Being able to choose which program you want to use to book gives you more potential for redeeming less miles and thus stretching your points!
Which points transfer to which airlines?
This post will cover Star Alliance transfer partners of Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, but a couple of these programs are also partners of Capital One. Capital One has a few additional Star Alliance partners that I won’t cover in this post, just because I’m not familiar with these programs yet. I do not collect Capital One Venture miles at this time, though it’s definitely something we’re considering after some recent improvements to the program.
If you have these points…
Chase Ultimate Rewards
American Express Membership Rewards
Capital One Venture Miles
You can transfer them to these programs…
Chase Ultimate Rewards
These are 1:1
- United Mileage Plus
- Singapore Airlines Krisflyer
American Express Membership Rewards
These are 1:1
- Singapore Airlines Krisflyer
- Avianca Lifemiles
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- ANA Mileage Club
Capital One Venture Miles
- Air Canada Aeroplan 2:1.5
- Avianca LifeMiles 1:1
- EVA Infinity MileageLands 2:1.5
- Singapore KrisFlyer 2:1
- TAP Air Portugal Miles & Go 1:1
- Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles 2:1.5
I’m not very experienced with the programs of EVA, TAP, or Turkish, so I’m not going to cover them in this post but I do know Turkish has some great sweet spots.
To book flights operated by any Star Alliance Airline
This is how it works
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.
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.
Tip: The great thing about transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards is that if you cannot find an award ticket with a Star Alliance partner, there are several other partners you may be able to use to book a flight on a different airline. When you earn miles from an airline co-branded card, you only earn airline miles with that program. For example, with a United co-branded card, you earn United miles. Those miles are not transferable, so you’re limited to the redemptions allowed by the United program.
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.
Partner programs sometimes have better redemption pricing
For example, with Chase Ultimate Rewards, you have the option to transfer your points to United or Singapore Airlines to book flights operated by United. This is subject to availability, but assuming there is award space, the intuitive thing to do is obviously to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United and redeem United miles if the flight you want is operated by United. But sometimes booking a United operated flight with partner miles results in a better redemption price than that of United.
A saver ticket between the continental US and Hawaii on a United operated itinerary would require 22,500 United miles each way in economy. But that same United operated itinerary could be booked with 17,500 Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles. On a roundtrip ticket, that saves 10,000 points. Saving 5k or 10k points here and there adds up!
Here’s the catch
Most airlines limit the amount of award tickets on any given flight. Even if a paid seat is available, you may not be able to book an award seat. Furthermore, award availability is usually even more limited when you’re trying to use a partner program to book. For example, United may make more seats available to United Mileage Plus members than they do to partner programs such as Singapore Airlines Krisflyer. Likewise, a flight operated by Singapore Airlines that is available to book with Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles may not be available to book with United miles or miles from other Star Alliance airline programs.
This is not unique to United; this is just how award travel works. That is why it is important to learn how to search for partner award availability.
Once you transfer Chase or Amex points to an airline partner, your points become airline miles and they are subject to the policies of the airline program. Transfers are permanent and you cannot transfer miles back to Amex, Chase, or Capital One. For that reason, it is best to search for award availability and make certain your dates and route are available before you transfer any Amex, Chase, or COV points to an airline program.
Earn your first 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points
The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card welcome bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three month is worth at least $1250. But you can potentially get even more value out of those points by using transfer partners such as British Airways to book American Airlines flights. This card also earns 2 points per dollar on travel and dining spend. The annual fee is very reasonable at $95. Here are 36 great ways to redeem the bonus.
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:
- 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
How to search for United and Star Alliance partner availability
Most award tickets can be booked online with either of the Amex and Chase transfer partners that are in the Star Alliance. 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.
If you have an Expert Flyer subscription, you can search for award ticket availability for most Star Alliance airlines. But the best way to search for free is by searching United.com.
No matter which partner you want to use to book a Star Alliance award flight, United.com is my favorite way to search
***Im going to go ahead and give a little disclaimer here: I realize all of this partner and operating carrier talk is confusing. For about two weeks, I tried to simplify this as much as possible, but I’m still not satisfied after proofreading for the final copy. That said, this is very important if you want to maximize the value of your points. I promise it will make more sense as you get more comfortable with running searches for and booking award travel. My advice is to bookmark this post and read this section/follow the steps VERY carefully once you’re in the process of booking.
It is important to pay attention to the operating airline(s) when searching for Star Alliance award availability with United.com.
- If the entire itinerary is operated by Star Alliance partners other than United, anything you find on United.com should also be available to book with partner miles such as Avianca Lifemiles or Air Canada miles.
- If the itinerary has one or more segments operated by United, there is one little caveat to keep in mind. The only tickets that will be available to book with partner miles are saver tickets. For business class, this is usually easy to determine. Other cabins may require an extra step.
For itineraries with at least one United-operated segment, in order to book with partner miles, that segment must be available to book at the saver level
When searching United.com for flights operated by United, United’s award ticket pricing system makes it tough to distinguish between tickets that are available exclusively to book with United miles and tickets that can be booked with partner miles.
The capacity controlled tickets (also known as “saver’ tickets) are the tickets that will be made available to partners. The other type of ticket (also called “everyday” award) is not capacity controlled, but can only be booked with United miles. Everyday award tickets are not going to be bookable with partner miles.
If you are booking with United miles, saver tickets will require a lower amount of miles than an everyday ticket. Even if you have the United miles needed for an everyday award ticket, the redemption cost is usually so high that it is not a good value.
This would be the equivalent of AAdvantage milesAAver and AAnytime tickets. If you’re trying to use miles from British Airways or another American Airlines partner to book an AA flight, the only tickets that will be made available are milesAAver tickets. If you go to aa.com and find only AAnytime tickets, you would not be able to use partner miles to book that flight.
United has moved to a dynamic redemption pricing system and no longer publishes award charts. Award tickets are priced based on a number of factors.
Since United does not publish award charts, determining the “saver” price isn’t straightforward
You can sometimes get an idea of saver level pricing by looking at the calendar on United and finding the lowest possible price.
For business class, United usually shows the saver vs. everyday availability. For other cabins, if your itinerary is operated by United and you want to use partner miles to book, sometimes it’s best to just go straight to the partner to check availability.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some airlines will make more award seats available to their own frequent flyer members (ie United Mileage Plus members). United makes more award seats available to holders of certain United co-branded credit cards. For that reason, it is important to stay signed out of your United Mileage Plus account when searching for availability if you’re trying to book with miles from another airline.
How to search for United and Star Alliance award availability on United.com
Again, if you find a Star Alliance seat that you can book with United miles, you should be able to book that same seat with miles from any Star Alliance program. Unless you plan to redeem United miles, do not pay attention to redemption pricing when searching United.com. Your redemption price will be determined by the program which which you book.
Go to United.com
Make sure you are logged out of your Mileage Plus account (unless you actually plan to redeem United miles).
Type in the departure airport, the destination, select the number of passengers, and select a departure date. Be sure that the Book with miles button is selected.
If your dates are flexible, you can select “Flexible dates” and it will search the entire month. I’m actually going to search for business class, but even if you leave economy selected you’ll be able to see business class options.
You can also search roundtrip, but I prefer to search one way at a time. This is helpful for finding availability when you have flexible points. If a flight is only available for your outbound flight but not your return flight (or vice versa), you could see if a different Amex or Chase partner airline has availability for the other way.
Note that if you want to redeem ANA miles for Star Alliance flights, ANA’s program only allows roundtrip bookings, but it still may be helpful to search for each way separately.
If you have Chase UR points, Amex MR points, or Capital One Venture miles, the best airline program to use to book any given flight varies and we will get into that in an upcoming post.
If for some reason you only want to search for flights operated by United, you can click on advanced search. You will then have the option to select “United and United Express only”
Click “Find Flights”
If you get a pop up prompting you to login, click the X. You want to stay logged out. This is because if any part of the award itinerary is operated by United, United may have better availability for Mileage Plus members, particularly those who have certain United co-branded credit cards. You do not want to see the availability as a Mileage Plus member, unless you plan to redeem United miles.
If you chose Flexible dates, the next screen shows available dates.
I like this calendar view. Some programs will only show you one date at a time so searching can be frustrating if your dates are flexible.
Click on the date you want to see the available options.
The next screen shows all available flights to book with miles from United Mileage Plus. The saver award columns are the flights that should be bookable with miles from partner programs.
You can sort by redemption price, duration, etc.
I’m going to choose the first option in the business saver award column.
Click “details” to see information such as operating airlines, length of flights, connections, etc.
Any Star Alliance flight that shows up here as available to book with United miles should also be available to book with other Star Alliance partner programs. BUT, remember that if any segment is operated by United, it’s possible that the United segment is not made available to partners. And if that is the case, the itinerary would not be made available to book with partner miles.
Once you find flights that work for your dates, you can write down the flight numbers and dates, and you’re done with the search. The next step would be to confirm availability and pricing with whichever partner you want to use by either going to that website (if online booking is available) or calling.
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 we’re 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. The best partner is going to vary for any given redemption. Any given airline program may be great for certain routes but terrible for others.
United’s redemption price for the DFW-Zurich route operated by Lufthansa from the example above is 77k United Mileage Plus miles each way in business class. Sidenote: saver tickets containing United segments are typically lower than that.
I’m going to end this here, but a few upcoming posts will get into more redemption pricing information for different Star Alliance airline programs
Here is a little teaser:
United’s grand total for this roundtrip itinerary would be 154,000 United miles and $134.95. Not the worst, but this exact same itinerary can be booked with less miles. The catch is that some programs that require less miles will collect fuel/carrier surcharges. Sometimes these are reasonable, but flights operated by Lufthansa are known for high fees, particularly in premium cabins. For that reason, 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.
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.
Here are the redemption prices of other Chase/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): 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:
- United Mileage Plus (transfer from Chase): 66,000 United miles plus ~$134
- 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): 80,000 plus ~$200
For this particular route (DFW-Zurich), Amex transfer partner Avianca appears to be a great program for booking the Lufthansa itinerary. I’ll get into redeeming Avianca miles for flights to Europe in the next post.
Transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Amex Membership Rewards points give several options when it comes to redeeming. Learning when to use which program is crucial if you want to make your points go further. But before you can consider using partner programs, it is important to learn how to search for award space. Learning how to search for partner award availability will save time and prevent frustration when you’re trying to redeem your miles and points.
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. When you use an airline co-branded credit card, you only earn miles for that airline program. For example, if you only use a United co-branded card, you only earn United miles. Airline miles generally do not transfer to other airlines; you cannot transfer United miles to other airlines. Your redemption options are limited to that of the United Mileage Plus program.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card welcome bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three month is worth at least $1250. But you can potentially get even more value out of those points by using transfer partners. This card also earns 2 points per dollar on travel and dining spend. The annual fee is very reasonable at $95. Here are 36 great ways to redeem the bonus.
Earn 60,000 Amex Membership Rewards
The American Express Gold Card earns 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines and on purchases at amextravel.com, 4 points per dollar at restaurants and, 4 points per dollar at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases annually. Also, earn 4 points per dollar on Uber Eats purchases. For restaurants and US supermarket spend, this is one of the highest earn rates available amount travel cards.
Welcome Offer: 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. The minimum spending requirement is $4,000 in the first 6 months.
The annual fee is a little steep ($250)[See rates and fees], but there are statement credits and benefits that help offset this fee. First, you can receive up to $120 annually in dining credit. Also, you can receive up to $120 annually in statement credit on Uber rides or Uber Eats. Enrollment required. Terms apply.
3 points per dollar on flights is as good or better than most of our other favorite travel cards, but the categories that really stand out here are 4 points per dollar at restaurants and US supermarkets.
You can choose between a gold or a rose gold card if that sort of thing matters to you!
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