7 Great Airline Mileage Programs for Booking Star Alliance Awards
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Once upon a time, if you wanted to find award availability on Star Alliance airlines, you search options were limited to a couple of websites like United.com and Aeroplan.
Now, however, you can book Star Alliance awards directly through many of its affiliated airlines’ mileage programs, including Aegean Miles + Bonus, Miles & More (the program of Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss, Adria, Croatia Airlines, LOT and more) and Singapore KrisFlyer, we figured it was time to take a look at various ways to book awards on Star Alliance airlines.
The good news is, even if you don’t fly Star Alliance carriers regularly, you have a lot of options for booking awards on its various member carriers thanks to their partnerships with transferable points programs like Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
In the meantime, you can check out related posts on:
- The Best Websites for Searching Star Alliance Award Availability
- The Best Websites for Searching SkyTeam Award Availability
- The Best Websites for Searching Oneworld Alliance Availability
Star Alliance Basics
First things first. Here are the current member airlines of the Star Alliance.
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- Brussels Airlines
- Croatia Airlines
- EVA Air
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Shenzhen Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- TAP Portugal
- Turkish Airlines
Then there are some general rules of thumb to follow when booking Star Alliance awards.
- Websites, including those of United and Aeroplan, regularly display so-called “phantom” award space. So before you transfer points or miles to book an award, always corroborate that the award you want is actually available by checking a second Star Alliance carrier’s site or calling into your mileage program’s agents to confirm the space.
- Award space doesn’t always match up between carriers. Your best bet for booking an award on a specific carrier is usually to use that carrier’s own mileage program. The best examples of this are Singapore and Swiss first-class space, which are only available for bookings using Singapore’s KrisFlyer and Swiss’ Miles & More (and having Senator status), respectively.
- Be flexible. Some highly coveted awards, like Lufthansa first class, are usually only available within a short time frame before you fly.
Now, let’s discuss the individual mileage programs you might want to use to book awards on these carriers.
As the mileage program of one of the big three US legacy carriers, United MileagePlus is a likely choice for many North American flyers. That’s not only because United has such wide coverage here in the US as well as an extensive international route network that includes many of the longest flights to/from the country, but also because its website is a decent tool for searching Star Alliance availability, and MileagePlus is one of the travel transfer partners of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
Transfer partners: Chase Ultimate Rewards (at a 1:1 ratio) and Starwood Preferred Guest (at a 2:1 ratio).
Credit cards to consider: If you want to rack up United miles in a hurry, your best bets are either one of the airline’s own co-branded cards, like the United Explorer Card and the United MileagePlus Club Card, or one of the Ultimate Rewards-earning cards from Chase, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Booking awards: Unfortunately, the MileagePlus program is no longer the bargain it used to be when it comes to booking awards. Along with the earning side of the program, the airline’s award charts have undergone a series of dramatic devaluations in recent years, with some redemptions doubling in price (or more) and many partner awards — especially those in premium cabins — costing much more than awards on United itself. Not only that, but United introduced something called “Everyday Awards,“ which replaced standard awards and now operate with variable pricing…meaning figuring out exactly how many miles you’ll need for your award has gotten that much harder.
United also overhauled its routing and stopover rules in 2016, including a new web interface and substituting its so-called “Excursionist Perk” for stopovers.
Once you get your head around the numbers, though, the process of booking awards using United miles is fairly straightforward. Simply go to United.com and enter the cities between which you wish to fly. The award search engine should pull up all your possible options. If it’s not on there, chances are even calling an agent won’t help.
However, the airline’s search engine is notoriously buggy when it comes to displaying award availability on a calendar, so even if the date range you’re looking at says there are no flights, like in the example below, click on individual days just to double-check.
Pros: Decent award search engine; good transfer options from Chase; no carrier surcharges.
Cons: Award chart devaluations mean partner pricing can be prohibitively high; Excursionist perk routing rules complicate some bookings.
Air Canada Aeroplan
Although Air Canada plans to launch its own mileage scheme in 2020, Aeroplan remains the airline’s frequent flyer program until then, and it pays to know about it if you want to book Star Alliance awards.
Transfer partners: Aeroplan’s two main transfer partners are American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, though it does have several other partners whose points you can convert into Aeroplan miles, often at huge bonuses.
Credit cards to consider: If you want to stock up on Aeroplan miles fast but you don’t fly Air Canada and you’re a US consumer, your best bets are probably American Express’s Membership Rewards-earning cards like the Platinum Card® from American Express and Business Platinum Card® from American Express, or the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Card. You could also consider either the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express.
Booking awards: Here we come to the important part. Unfortunately, Aeroplan has undergone several devaluations in recent years that have caused some award redemptions to skyrocket in cost. At the same time, the program raised its award change and mileage redeposit fees. It’s also important to note that Aeroplan imposes surcharges on some awards, especially on Air Canada flights as well as on partners like ANA and Lufthansa (but not United), though you can redeem miles to cover these fees and some taxes.
You can find the program’s award chart here. You’ll see there are still some decent, if not amazing, values including from Canada and the Continental US to Europe for between 110,000-115,000 miles round-trip in business class and 140,000-160,000 in first class.
To search for awards, log into the Aeroplan site and click on the “Use Your Miles” tab and the “Travel” link.
Then input your origin and destination, travel dates and preferred class of service and that will pull up the award calendar with days with availability marked in yellow.
From there, just click on the specific day to see what your flight options are.
Pros: Good award search engine and availability display.
Cons: High redemption costs and fuel surcharges on some partner carriers; instant transfers from American Express; transfer bonuses from other partners.
Now, for some non-North American programs, in alphabetical order…
Aegean Miles + Bonus
This Greek Star Alliance carrier has a few things going for it, including generous mileage earning rates on partners and some good values in its redemption chart.
Transfer partners: Aegean became a Starwood transfer partner late in 2015.
Credit cards to consider: Your options are limited here, but both the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Amex are good choices.
Booking awards: Aegean was the focus of many points aficionados’ enthusiasm thanks to the fact that it used to offer lifetime Star Alliance status. That ended in 2014, though it’s still easy to earn and maintain elite status with the airline thanks to its low requirements. The airline deserves a second look for a number of other reasons too, though.
First, its award chart has some spectacular values…except for the fuel surcharges on some awards. Of particular note are round-trip business-class awards within North America (which includes the Caribbean) for just 42,000 miles, and from North America to Europe and Central or South America in business class for just 90,000 miles round-trip.
Second, you can now book Star Alliance awards directly through its website, which was not always the case. Before you try to, though, you need a Miles + Bonus account and you’ve got to have enough miles for an award already in it. So chances are you’re going to want to formulate a strategy around some specific awards before you even get started. The good news is, the program is lucrative for crediting partner flights, awarding 200-300% of miles flown for tickets in premium cabins on several partners including Air Canada, Air China and Lufthansa.
Pros: Some great award values; you can now search for Star Alliance awards directly on Aegean’s site; good mileage earning rates and easy elite status requirements.
Cons: Limited transfer partners; need enough miles in your account even to search for awards.
ANA Mileage Club
A favorite with points and miles fans thanks to both some great redemption values and its transfer partners, ANA continues to have one of the best mileage programs around.
Transfer partners: You can transfer points from Starwood Preferred Guest into ANA’s Mileage Club, as well as American Express Membership Rewards points. Just beware that both Amex and SPG transfers can take several days to go through.
Credit cards to consider: As with Aeroplan, your best choices are mostly with American Express. The Starwood Preferred Guest Amex or the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Amex are both good options. You could also consider Membership Rewards cards like the EveryDay Preferred, Platinum and Business Platinum cards. ANA actually offers a credit card in the US called the ANA Card USA from First Bankcard. It’s not that compelling, though, since the sign-up bonus is only 5,000 miles, it only earns 1 mile per dollar on every purchase and has a $70 annual fee.
Booking awards: ANA has some byzantine award rules. The most important of these is that award travel must be round-trip. Others include not stopping over in a zone that would require more miles for an award than your final destination, the fact that if your departure and return cities are different because of an open jaw, they must still be in the same country, and you can only connect via two cities outside Japan in each direction. You can combine multiple Star Alliance carriers on an award, but if your award includes non-Star Alliance carriers, the itinerary must be on a single carrier. ANA also adds surcharges to some awards, but has reduced those dramatically in recent years.
Despite all that, ANA has two major hallmarks in its favor. The first is that its award chart has some splendid redemption opportunities. For instance, a round-trip business-class award from North America to Japan starts at just 75,000 miles (on ANA, 85,000 on partners). Business-class awards from the US to Europe cost just 88,000 miles, and awards to Africa cost 104,000 round-trip, among many other potential sweet spots.
ANA has long had one of the best search engines for viewing Star Alliance availability, including awards that don’t always show up on other airlines’ websites. However, the interface can be clunky and hard to decipher. You also can’t search one-way awards, only round-trip or multiple cities as well as mixed-class awards.
To search for awards, go here and log in using your Mileage Club and click on “Award Booking.”
Then enter your search terms including origin and destination and class of service. I’d highly suggest checking the “Compare seat availability” button so you can see award availability across several days.
That should pull up seat availability.
Click Next and you’ll be taken to the flight options and from there, you can select an itinerary that will be priced out with miles and taxes/surcharges included.
Pros: Good transfer opportunities; low award redemption requirements; one of the best search engines for Star Alliance award availability.
Cons: Transfers can take several days; surcharges on award tickets; clunky web interface.
Lifemiles is the mileage program of South America-based carrier Avianca. Though perhaps not as well known as some other Star Alliance mileage programs, Lifemiles has some great usefulness and values, especially considering how cheaply the program sells miles periodically.
Credit cards to consider: Thanks to those partnerships, you might want to consider getting a card like the Citi Prestige or Citi Premier Card in order to earn ThankYou points that you can then transfer to Lifemiles. If you’d prefer to go the Starwood route, consider the Starwood Amex or the Starwood Business Amex. The Banco Popular de Puerto Rico also issues the Avianca Vida Visa and Avianca Vuela Visa cards, which earn Lifemiles on everyday purchases.
Booking awards: There are a several things to consider when booking Star Alliance awards using Avianca Lifemiles. TPG contributor Richard Kerr wrote up a detailed post on the program, but here are the key takeaways.
Avianca has a calculator for awards on its own flights and a chart for awards on its Star Alliance partners. There are usually two award types for each class of service: Limited Seats, or saver awards; and All Seats, or full-fare awards. Saver awards, especially in premium cabins, can be a relative bargain. For instance, a Lufthansa first-class award from North America to Europe will cost you just 87,000 miles each way, as opposed to 110,000 United miles.
To search for awards, go to the Lifemiles site and log in with your credentials. From there, you can search for flights on Avianca itself or on its partners. Just beware that, though the program does not levy fuel surcharges on awards, it does charge a $25 booking fee. Stopovers are not allowed.
The search engine is not perfect. It has trouble with some partner award availability and pulling up awards with mixed cabins (for instance, if one flight has a business-class seat availability but the next segment only has economy awards available), though that seems to have gotten better lately.
One bright spot for folks who might not have enough miles or transferable points for the award they want: Lifemiles will let you redeem miles and cash to cover an award flight if you don’t have enough miles. You do need at least 40% of the required miles.
Pros: The ability buy miles cheaply and price out awards combining both miles and cash based on your needs, no fuel surcharges even on premium tickets, relatively low redemption rates for many awards.
Cons: Wonky search engine that has trouble pricing some awards, terrible phone customer service.
Lufthansa Miles & More
Miles & More is actually the mileage program of several airlines including Lufthansa, Austrian and Swiss, so it deserves some consideration if you’re thinking of earning or redeeming miles on any of these carriers. The program is going revenue-based in 2018, at least on the earning side, so stay tuned for changes to come.
Transfer partners: You can transfer points in from Starwood Preferred Guest at a 1:1 ratio.
Credit cards to consider: As with many other airline programs whose only major transfer partner is SPG, the Starwood Amex and the Starwood Business Amex are good options. Barclaycard actually offers a Miles & More Premier World Mastercard in the US, too, which offers a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus, 2x miles on airline partners purchases, two Lufthansa business lounge vouchers annually and has an $89 annual fee.
Booking awards: Miles & More basics are laid out in this post, but the key things to keep in mind are that you can only have two stopovers and two open jaws on round-trip awards, that you can score deals like 30,000-mile economy awards between select cities in the US and Europe, and that its award chart is not the best deal overall, but there are some interesting redemptions like North America to Hawaii for 40,000 miles round-trip in economy, domestic business- and first-class awards for 35,000/50,000 miles respectively, and business class to Central and Southeast Asia as well as Australia/New Zealand for 135,000 miles. The program does add fuel surcharges to some awards, so beware high prices.
To search for awards, go to the Miles & More website and log in (you can get 500 bonus miles just for signing up). Then click on “Flights” under the “Spend Miles” tab and then “Book award flight.”
If you don’t have any miles in your account, the best you can hope to do is see the mileage calculator for flights you’re interested in. However, if you have at least 7,000 miles (the minimum for an award), you can search for awards.
Pros: Lots of airline partners in Europe; a US credit card option.
Cons: Not that many great redemption values; high taxes/fees on some tickets.
Singapore’s KrisFlyer program has undergone some seismic shifts recently. Unfortunately, they were mostly negative. The program raised award rates on its own flights and got rid of its 15% online booking discount. On the positive side, the airline discontinued fuel surcharges on Singapore and SilkAir flights. You can also now use Singapore’s site to search for Star Alliance awards, which was not always the case, though the program raised award rates for many of these flights as well.
Transfer partners: Here’s where KrisFlyer really stands out from the crowd. The program is a transfer partner of all four major programs: Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
Credit cards to consider: Because of all those transfer partners, you’ve got tons of choices for stocking up your KrisFlyer account, including the Platinum Card or EveryDay Preferred from Amex; the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred; Citi’s Prestige or Citi Premier; and the Starwood Amex and the Starwood Business Amex.
Booking awards: We have a post on using Singapore to book Star Alliance awards, so I won’t go into tons of detail here. If you want to search for awards, go to Singapore’s site, log in with your KrisFlyer number and click “Book Flights.” From there, enter your origin and destination and dates and you should be taken to your search results.
You should be able to see results tabbed under Singapore Airlines/SilkAir, Star Alliance Airlines, and Other Partner Airlines.
A few things to note about booking awards using KrisFlyer. First, its search engine is…not great so far at finding Star Alliance availability. For instance, there is plenty of award availability both on United and other Star Alliance carriers between Melbourne and Los Angeles in both economy and business class the last week in January…
But Singapore’s search engine didn’t see any of it…
So keep in mind you might still have to call in anyway to book partner awards.
Second, the site makes you look day by day for awards rather than offering a handy availability calendar.
Third, if you want awards on Singapore itself, KrisFlyer miles are your best bet by far, especially in premium cabins. That’s definitely the case for first-class awards, including in the airline’s new suites, because the airline doesn’t make these awards available to partners.
Pros: The most transfer partners and credit card choices; great availability on Singapore’s own flights.
Cons: Recent devaluations; time-consuming to search availability over long periods of time; taxes and fees can be high.
Your options not only for searching Star Alliance awards, but for booking them too, are myriad. Which program you end up using will depend on what works best for your needs.
Perhaps Singapore’s many transfer partners and excellent award availability on its own metal are winning factors in its favor. ANA’s redemption levels might sway some travelers, while the ease of using United’s search engine and instant transfers from Chase are strong arguments in favor of MileagePlus.
Whichever program or programs you end up using, though, just take all your options into account, have a strategy for transferring points or miles in place, and nail down the availability of the awards you want before committing. By being prepared, you can snag some downright bargains, even on hard-to-get awards, and end up maximizing your points for your specific travel goals.
Featured image shows Singapore’s latest first-class product.
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