Award Space Series Index
Part 5 | Maximizing Your Miles Through OneWorld Alliance
Star Alliance was founded in 1997 by Scandinavian Airlines, Thai Airways International, Air Canada, Lufthansa, and United Airlines. Since then the alliance has expanded to include 27 airline members.
Like any alliance, some Star Alliance airlines pass on fuel surcharges onto the passenger when booking award tickets and some do not. Below is a table showing which specific airlines pass on fuel surcharges on award. Within the table a (Y) = ‘Yes’ and (N) = ‘No surcharges’:
Star Alliance Members 2014
|Adria Airways (Y)||Air New Zealand (N)||Brussels Airlines (Y)||EVA Air (Y)|
|Aegean Airlines (Y)||All Nippon Airways (Y)||COPA Airlines (N)||LOT Polish Airlines (Y)|
|Air Canada (Y)||Asiana (Y)||Croatia Airlines (Y)||Lufthansa (Y)|
|Air China (Y)||Austrian Airlines (Y)||EgyptAir (Y)||Scandinavian Airlines (Y)|
|Air India (Y)||Avianca (N)||Ethiopian Airlines (Y)||Shenzen Airlines (Y)|
|Singapore Airlines (Y)||South African Airways (Y)||Swiss Air (Y)||TAP Portugal (Y)|
|Thai (Y)||Turkish Air (Y)||United (N)|
While each airline maintains their own award chart, there are award chart sweet spots with certain airlines whose miles can be accrued rather easily. My definition of “easily” simply means the ability to earn those miles through a flexible points earning credit card and/or the airlines co-branded credit card.
Taking these factors into consideration within this post, I will focus on these programs within Star Alliance and the most valuable ways to earn their respective airline miles:
- United | Earn Miles: Airline branded credit card + Transfer partner of SPG points (2:1 ratio) + Chase Ultimate Rewards points
- Singapore Airlines | Earn Miles: Transfer partner of SPG points + Chase Ultimate Rewards points + AMEX rewards points + Citi ThankYou points
- ANA | Earn Miles: Transfer partner of AMEX rewards points + SPG points
- Lufthansa | Earn Miles: Airline branded credit card + Transfer partner of SPG points
United | MileagePlus
United miles are fairly easy to come by because their co-branded credit card through Chase almost always offers a competitive bonus offer. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are also among some of the easiest flexible points to amass, and as United being a transfer partner you can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to United miles.
One of the most valuable aspects is that United does not charge fuel surcharges on any redemption that can be booked using United miles and they allow one-way redemptions for half the price of round-trip awards.
Apart from Star Alliance, United also partners with the following airlines:
- Aer Lingus
- Cape Air
- Great Lakes Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Island Air
- Jet Airways
- Silver Airways
The only partners worth considering are Aer Lingus, Hawaiian Airlines and Jet Airways. However there are route restrictions for these three airlines and only the following routes are bookable:
1. Aer Lingus - From Dublin, Ireland, (DUB) to other destinations in Ireland and the United States.
2. Hawaiian Airlines - Between Honolulu and the Hawaiian islands of Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and the big island of Hawaii.
3. Jet Airways - From Mumbai, India, (BOM) to other destinations in India; from Hong Kong, China, (HKG) to Mumbai and Delhi, India (DEL); and between Mumbai and London, England (LHR).
United Award Chart
United has gone through multiple devaluations, the last as recently as February, 2014. Premium cabin redemptions took the hardest hit with up to 2x increase in the amount of miles needed to book an award.
After the last devaluation United has two separate award charts for their own flights and for Star Alliance / Partner flights.
Maximizing United Miles
All the mileage rates shown above are for one-way tickets and you can see that for long-haul flights premium cabin rates fall short of United’s competitors, especially in other alliances. Between the two award charts nothing jumps out as a “MUST HAVE” redemption, but the fact that Star Alliance has many valuable partner airlines and United has such relaxed routing rules, all the while charging zero fuel surcharges, there are some gems to be redeemed.
Since you are allowed 1 stopover and 2 open-jaws per round-trip, you can build the following itinerary on one round trip award:
- San Francisco to Siem Reap via Seoul on Asiana
- Explore Cambodia like Well Traveled Mile.
- Use a low cost carrier to get yourself to Bali (open-jaw)
- Bali to the Cook Islands via Auckland (use the longest layover to get 23 hours in Auckland) on Air New Zealand
- Cook Islands to Los Angeles via Auckland (use the longest layover to get 22 hours in Auckland) on Air New Zealand
You can see the empty segment which is the open jaw covered by a low cost airline in Asia. Since you originated the trip from San Francisco and returned to Los Angeles, this will be the use of the second open-jaw. This trip using United miles will only cost you 80k for round trip in economy and 160k in business class!
This type of itinerary may not be suitable for everyone, however it highlights the fact that while the United award chart may not seem that lucrative on paper, when combined with their list of partners and routing rules, you can get some tremendous values!
There are simpler itineraries that can also maximize your miles as well. Consider the following example:
- San Francisco to Dublin on Aer Lingus
- Explore Ireland and some other European places using low cost carriers
- Make your way to Zurich (open-jaw)
- Zurich to Los Angeles on Swiss (open-jaw + stopover)
- Add on a Los Angeles to Aruba via Panama City on COPA for sometime in the future.
This itinerary will only cost you only 65k miles in economy! (145k in business class.) While the business class redemption is really high, you can consider flying economy class to Europe but return in business class which will cost you 105k miles (30k to Europe + 75k return). Plus you will get the extra free one-way in business class as well!
Since Europe to the Caribbean Islands is 35k (econ) / 75k (business) one-way, using Los Angeles as your stopover (up to one year) will only cost you 5k more miles than if you were to come back home directly from Europe.
Whether you choose economy, business or mixed cabin, you still get a very cheap one-way award to Aruba. Recall that United doesn’t charge any fuel surcharges on any redemptions made with United miles.
How to Find United Award Space
Although it has its quirks, United has one of the best award search engines in comparison to other major airlines. Most awards can be booked online saving you the $25 booking fee and if the website search crashes then you can call United customer service, tell them the problem with the website and they will waive the phone booking fee while booking your award!
United doesn’t require you to have miles present in your account in order to use their search engine, therefore all that is required is a MileagePlus account (it’s free).
1. Login to your United MileagePlus account and scroll over to click on ‘Book with Award Miles’
2. Enter the details as needed and make sure to select 50 as the ‘Number of flights to Display’. This will give you many more flight results than the default setting.
3. Look at that award availability for San Francisco to Dublin!
4. Now steps 1 - 3 have to be repeated for the rest of the itinerary, segment by segment. Once you have the dates and flights of choice for all the segments needed for the entire itinerary, you can build it using the ‘Multiple Destinations’ option on the search page so the website can price the award for you.
Drawbacks to Using United Miles
As stated previously, premium cabin awards have been devalued so much that one really questions whether its worth spending those hard earned miles on a single first class redemption. A round-trip to Europe in first class will cost you 160k miles!
Additionally, United does not have access to all the premium cabin award space on Lufthansa, and Swiss Air as these airlines hold more of those premium cabin seats for their own frequent flyer members.
Singapore Airlines | KrisFlyer
Although Singapore Airlines doesn’t have a co-branded credit card, they are a transfer partner of every flexible bank points earning program which makes their miles among the easiest to accrue.
A few keys things to know about Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer:
- Any award redemption on an airline that charges fuel surcharges will be passed onto you when redeeming Singapore miles.
- Singapore Airlines allows one-way award redemptions for half the price of round-trip awards.
Besides the Star Alliance partners, Singapore Airlines also partners with the following airlines:
- TAM Airlines
- Virgin America
- Virgin Atlantic
- Virgin Australia
The only restriction Singapore Airlines places on these non-alliance partners is that each of the Virgin branded airlines have separate award charts, and that means different award redemption costs. TAM on the other hand simply follows their Star Alliance award chart.
KrisFlyer Award Chart
Singapore has a separate award chart for flights solely on Singapore Airlines/SilkAir and their partners. If you book an award solely on Singapore Airlines and/or SilkAir, you will receive a 15% discount in the cost of miles!
All prices on the award chart are shown are for one-way awards unless otherwise noted.
The Singapore/SilkAir chart is broken into various zones including different zones for different parts of the same country. For example, West Coast of America is a different zone than the East Coast!
The Star Alliance award chart is a more traditional looking award chart as it doesn’t define so many zones with specific cities’ restriction. Also this award chart is shown in round-trip redemption rates
The following are the three award charts for the different Virgin branded airlines that partner with Singapore Airlines:
Maximizing Singapore Airlines Miles
Singapore Airlines’ award routing rules allow 1 stopover and 1 open-jaw per round-trip. An additional 3 stopovers are allowed if you are willing to pay $100 for each one. This means the value of your miles will be proportional to how creative you can get with the routing of your trip.
Flying strictly on Singapore Airlines, there is a solid value in redeeming 182,750 miles (107.5k x 2 x 0.85 since they offer a 15% discount) for a San Francisco to Bali trip with a stopover in either Seoul or Hong Kong, in their Suite class! As it is highly touted Singapore’s Suite Class might just be one of the greatest luxury products, if not the greatest, in the skies today.
You can even sneak in almost a full day in Singapore by booking a flight with a really long (~22 hour) layover there before you depart to Bali since you can cover Singapore fairly quickly! You can take public transit (MRT) and be in central Singapore within 30 minutes or tour the city on the free Singapore tour bus that is offered to travelers transferring through.
For people on the east coast, the same trip to Singapore with a stopover in Frankfurt from New York would cost 187,000 miles!
Although the cost in miles may seem steep, if you want to make a once in a lifetime trip that covers Europe as well as South East Asia then there isn’t a better way to do it than Singapore Suite Class.
Singapore Airlines also opens up more premium award seats for their own frequent flyers than other partner mileage members, so you’ll have a better chance an booking their flights using their miles.
Singapore also offers great round trip award options to Europe. From the award chart, you can see that the JFK to Frankfurt flight will only cost 17,000 miles one way in economy (with the 15% discount) or 48,875 miles in business which is far better than what United charges.
Recall that on all these redemptions Singapore Airlines charges fuel surcharges and when going through Europe these will be very high! This is likely the biggest drawback to using Singapore Airlines miles on partner airlines.
The Star Alliance award chart is where you can get really creative because Singapore Airlines treats Hawaii and Central America (including the Caribbean) as the same zone and round-trip awards within this range price out at 35k miles in economy, 60k miles in business, and 80k miles in first class.
Some routing rules to consider when planning a Star Alliance trip are the following:
“One origin or destination open-jaw is permitted for a round-trip award (e.g. fly Singapore to San Francisco, then LA to Singapore; or fly Seoul to Singapore, then take a return leg to Tokyo). Open-jaws are permitted across different award zones but the higher award level will apply. En route open-jaws are not permitted.”
In order to maximize this award, you will have to build your itinerary in a non-traditional way. You will start from outside the US, in either Hawaii, Central America or the Caribbean and work your way through mainland US (your hometown as a stopover) and end in Hawaii, Central America or the Caribbean.
For instance, here is a sample itinerary you can book:
- Maui to San Francisco
- Stopover in San Francisco
- San Francisco to The Bahamas
- Return to San Francisco
- Stopover in San Francisco (Since it’s the 2nd stopover you will have to pay $100)
- San Francisco to Los Cabos
The first leg will be the return portion of a Hawaii trip (where you already booked a one-way going from SFO to OGG on a separate ticket using any miles of your choice). After a few months or so you will be on your way to The Bahamas which completes the 1 stopover permitted per round-trip and the outbound portion of this trip.
Once you’re done soaking in the sun in the Atlantic Ocean, you will come back home to S.F. This stopover will cost $100 according to the rules but it’s well worth it!
After a few months or so you will fly out from S.F to Los Cabos thus completing the round-trip!
This may seem very confusing as to how this is considered a round-trip ticket with a stopover and a open-jaw so lets think about it from the airlines perspective.
Singapore Airlines sees this as a round-trip fare within the Hawaii and Central America region.
The outbound flight is:
Maui to The Bahamas with a stopover in San Francisco and connection in Newark.
The return flight is:
The Bahamas to Los Cabos with a stopover in San Francisco and connection in Houston.
Since Hawaii and Mexico (Central America) are under the same region, you are allowed to have an open jaw without any penalty of paying more miles. This is why, although the journey started in Maui, it can end in Cabo.
This entire itinerary won’t have any fuel surcharges as all of these flights will be on United Airlines. The only “cash cost” will be the $100 for the extra second stopover, and the total award cost is only 35k miles for economy or 60k miles for business class!
How to Find Singapore Airlines Award Space
For Singapore and SilkAir flights, the Singapore search engine is your best bet. Recall that the only way to get a 15% discount is to book those awards online. Here is a quick walk-through of how to book awards online using Singapore Airlines website:
1. Login to KrisFlyer account and click on the ‘Book a Flight’ tab. Ensure to check ‘Redeem award flight(s)’ while searching one-way segment by segment. The Singapore itinerary in Suite Class discussed earlier was from San Francisco to Bali via Seoul and Singapore therefore search for the first segment.
2. Results look good with the exact flight of choice (non-stop suite class).
Notice that despite the Saver award price on top showing as 87,500 miles, when you click ‘Display total cost’ it automatically adjusts it to show the discounted price for booking on Singapore metal.
For booking and finding Star Alliance award space, United has one of the best websites, along with Aeroplan and ANA. ANA will be discussed later in this post and Aeroplan will be discussed later in this series.
Drawbacks to Using Singapore Airlines Miles
While there has been a lot talked about regarding the tremendous value with Singapore miles, it cannot be forgotten that fuel surcharges on some itineraries can be quite significant, especially on Singapore metal flights.
Many Star Alliance partner premium cabin redemptions are even higher than United! U.S. to South Asia, for example, is 195k miles for round-trip in business class whereas United only charges 160k miles.
All Nippon Airways | Mileage Club
ANA is a transfer partner of two flexible bank point programs including Amex Membership Rewards and SPG. While SPG cards may not have bonus spending categories, Amex makes it relatively easy to accrue ANA miles with their various cards. ANA miles therefore may not be as easy to Singapore or United miles to earn but if you put in the right amount of time, then you can amass these valuable miles as well.
Besides the Star Alliance partners, ANA also partners with the following airlines:
- Air Dolomiti
- Air Macau
- Garuda Indonesia
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Jet Airways
- Virgin Atlantic
ANA has two restrictions when it comes to redeeming non-alliance partners:
1. Cannot book round the world tickets using non-alliance partners.
2. Cannot book on more than 1 non-alliance carrier besides ANA.
In most cases restriction #1 can be ignore by most people, so ANA really has only one restriction but it’s a BIG ONE! Given that ANA doesn’t allow one-way award redemptions, if ANA doesn’t fly a single segment in your itinerary then which ever airline you choose from the list above will be the airline you need to complete the entire itinerary with!
This makes their non-alliance partners most useful on medium haul routes, such as flying Hawaiian Airlines from cities that have a direct flight to Honolulu and other destinations since they’re likely to have multiple flights a day increasing your chance to find a saver seat.
ANA Award Chart
ANA has a distance based award chart that is especially useful for Medium to Long haul flights. However, do keep in mind that ANA charges fuel surcharges on any partner that would charge such fees on a normal paid ticket.
Unlike other Star Alliance airlines, ANA only has one award chart that is used for both ANA awards and partner awards.
Maximizing ANA Miles
It’s vital for anyone trying to take advantage of distance based charts to familiarize themselves with Great Circle Mapper. This one of the best ways to quickly calculate an estimate of the distance flown before planning a complex trip based off a distance based award chart.
ANA allows 3 stopovers and 1 open-jaw per round-trip! However there are some restrictions:
1. You cannot stopover in the same city more than once.
2. You cannot have a stopover in the country of origin on international awards.
3. Open-jaw can be either at the origin or destination and the two cities involved in the open-jaw must be in the same region.
Even with these rather prohibitive rules, with a little creativity you can find ways around them. Lets tackle them one at a time.
Rule #1 Unlocked!
This rule doesn't allow a stopover in the same city more than once, however a city that is extremely close by won’t break this rule. For example, San Francisco and San Jose are considered two different cities therefore you can have the following itinerary as one award:
- San Francisco to New Orleans
- New Orleans to San Jose via Houston
- San Jose to New York via Denver
- New York to San Francisco
The total miles flown here are 8977 which means it only costs 43k miles in economy and 68k miles in business class!
Since all these routes are flown by United, there won’t be any fuel surcharges!
This shows how powerful ANA miles can be for domestic redemptions where you can get a coast to coast round-trip flight in business class for only 18k miles more!
The ideal cities to be based out of in order to take advantage of this would be:
- San Francisco - San Jose
- Washington DC - Baltimore
- Los Angeles - Long Beach, Ontario, Orange County, Burbank
- Miami - Fort Lauderdale
- Chicago - Milwaukee (Wisconsin)
- Boston - Providence (Rhode Island)
Rule #2 Unlocked!
This rule states that on international travel, one cannot have a stopover in the origin country which kills the concept of a free one-way. The work around here will be to use the back leg of a current / upcoming trip as the starting point to essentially get a extremely cheap round-trip elsewhere. Consider the following itinerary:
- Toronto to New York
- New York to Paris
- Paris to Zurich
- Zurich to Toronto via New York. However don’t board the New York to Toronto Flight.
Total flown distance is 8591 miles, so it would cost only 43k miles in economy and 68k business class!
United would charge over 140k miles for this same trip!
While its always nice to get an extremely cheap one-way and/or Europe trip, distance based charts like ANA’s are ideal for destination hopping. Consider the following itinerary visiting 3 Central American destinations:
- San Francisco to San Salvador
- Explore the El Salvador Coast
- San Salvador to Liberia, Costa Rica
- Explore Costa Rica
- Liberia to Aruba
- Enjoy the beautiful island
- Aruba to San Francisco via Houston
This “rather simple” itinerary will consist of 7,714 flown miles meaning the cost is only 43k miles in economy and 68k miles in business!
To top things off, all the legs are flown by United, Avianca, and COPA therefore there are no fuel surcharges!
How to Find ANA Award Space
Besides all the great redemptions we have discussed here, ANA also has the most accurate Star Alliance award tool. It is almost guaranteed that if the ANA website shows award space on a flight then it can be booked with your miles of choice.
ANA requires you to have mileage in your account before you can search for Star Alliance partners however there is a work around as illustrated below.
1. Login to your ANA account.
2. After logging in, click ‘Members Service’ and then click ‘Award Reservation’.
3. You will notice that ‘Use Star Alliance Member Airlines’ is grayed out (if you have less than 20k miles). Go ahead and click ‘ANA International Flight Awards’.
4. Enter a random route that ANA flies like JFK to NRT and choose random dates. Click ‘Next’ to proceed.
5. Once the results load, scroll to the very bottom of the page and you should see that the previously grayed out ‘Use Star Alliance Member Airlines’ option is now available. Go ahead and click that to proceed.
6. Notice the option on the bottom that reads ‘7-Day Availability (direct flights only)’ This lets you view all the direct (non-stop) flights between the specified locations over one week. Taking the itinerary discussed above (SFO-SAL-LIR-PTY-AUA) we will search segment by segment.
Therefore first up is the San Francisco to San Salvador flight.
7. As expected, it’s a Avianca flight which means no fuel surcharges!
8. Now that this segment has been taken care of, note down the date, time and the flight number. Begin the search again for the next segment. You will need to do this for each segment until you can piece together the entire itinerary and then use the multi-city search tool.
In order to get to the multi-city search, simply click ‘Flight Search’ at the bottom of the results page on your last segment search.
9. Enter the entire itinerary along with the correct dates. As always, if you encounter an error then call the ANA customer service and they will gladly complete the booking for you.
Drawbacks to Using ANA Miles
While there are a lot of great redemptions with ANA, a lot of go-arounds may be required to get the most from your miles. For instance, booking a flight that you won’t board just to complete the round-trip. If there is no availability on that last bogus leg ( the New York - Toronto return journey flight in the example above) then your entire itinerary cannot be booked because you would have used up all your allowed stopovers.
Open-jaws, although mentioned in the beginning of this section, haven’t been discussed because ANA counts that as a stopover in both the cities! In the Europe trip example, if you wanted to keep the Paris to Zurich leg as an open-jaw to save a stopover to use later, it wouldn’t work since both cities are counted as a stopover.
Intra-Europe, ANA only allows two stopovers! This means that in the Europe trip example, even if you started the journey in New York and wanted to add Madrid as the third stopover it’s not possible.
ANA doesn't consider Newark different from New York City which really restricts the ability to add an additional cheap domestic round-trip ticket as shown in the domestic example above.
Lastly, as mentioned earlier ANA charges fuel surcharges, which can limit your routing options to places like Europe since you HAVE to find award space on United Metal flights. (Codeshares do not count as those will incur fuel surcharges!)
Lufthansa | Miles & More
Lufthansa is a transfer partner for SPG and has a co-branded credit card that often comes out with a significant welcome bonus. The credit card details and the Miles & More program has been covered in detail. Check it out!
While there is a lot of information to digest, keep in mind that you might have to refresh your memory on the routing rules as well as award redemptions before planning a trip. This will help you realize what is the best way to maximize your miles as well as not get bombarded with high fuel surcharges.
United will be your best bet for trips to most places if economy class is acceptable, as they won’t charge surcharges and you can use their routing rules to your advantage to either get a free one-way or explore a more of cities at no extra cost. Premium cabin seekers may want to look elsewhere.
Singapore will be your best bet for trips to Hawaii, Central America and the Caribbean since it’s all within the same award. That entire route is flown by airlines who don’t charge fuel surcharges. Since Singapore miles are so easy to earn, you can spend earn and burn for premium cabin awards.
ANA is not bound by a specific region as it’s distance based award chart along with 3 free stopovers can add a ton of value. Although there are some go-arounds required to maximize your miles, there are great values to be had.
ANA will be your best bet for when you need to hop around different countries. However you are bound by the requirement of a round-trip award ticket. The fact that they charges fuel surcharges might also shy some people away but the sheer value is great enough to offset this.