Strategy to Search for United Awards And Book Them for Less Using Amex Points

Reader Ryan asked,

I’m interested in using Amex MR points on ANA to fly United, but I can’t seem to understand how that works, or if there is YQ on those flights. And everyone raves about using ANA’s website to search, but I can’t seem to make it work without putting miles in my account, but I don’t see an easy way to put a few miles in the account. Any ideas?

Using the ANA Program to Book Star Alliance Award Tickets

American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to ANA’s frequent flyer program. But the process is not instantaneous. That means if you find award space and then move the points, that space could disappear in the 36-48 hours or so it can take for the points to turn up in your account.

ANA has a really attractive award chart. In general they do add fuel surcharges onto award tickets, when fuel surcharges apply on paid tickets. However most of the past two years they stopped collecting those fees on some United routes (mostly transatlantic, while still adding them to transpacific).

Using the ANA Website — and Other Sites — to Search for Star Alliance Award Space

Most Star Alliance airline frequent flyer programs do not show Star Alliance partners’ award space on their websites.

The exceptions, largely, are Japan’s ANA, Air Canada’s Aeroplan, and United.

The United website is incredibly easy to use, there’s a helpful award calendar. So even if you are using miles in a different frequent flyer program, it can help to start out at the United website. They do not even require you to be a member of MileagePlus or login to use their site.

One caveat, however is that they do not show all Star Alliance airline partners on their site, so searching at United.com might not be comprehensive. Some Star Alliance partners come and go from showing up. United even intentionally removed your ability to see award space on Singapore Airlines from United.com.

The other two sites are actually better. Aeroplan’s site is easy to use, but it won’t find all combinations of flights if you just enter where you are starting from or going. Find the flights that are available, then call up your airline mileage program and request those flights where you have already found award availability.

For the most part award seats that are available to one member of the Star Alliance are available to all. Now, some airlines like Lufthansa and Singapore will give more space to their own frequent flyer program members. But if you’re searching Aeorplan’s site, and availability shows up, you should be able to book the space with miles from the Turkish frequent flyer program.

Aeroplan is also an American Express Membership Rewards points transfer partner. Here’s a detailed discussion of booking Star Alliance awards using Aeroplan miles without any fuel surcharges.

The ANA Site Is Most Reliable – But Toughest to Use

The very best, or shall I say most reliable, data source is the ANA Mileage Club website. It is almost always correct in what it tells you about award space. If a seat is available there you should be able to use your miles for it.

It comes up with very few creative routings, you always want to search specific non-stop flights — so if you want to fly from Washington DC to Brussels, consider searching not just DC – Brussels but entering a search for Newark – Brussels, or Washington DC – London and separately London – Brussels, Wahsington DC – Frankfurt and then Frankfurt – Brussels, and so on. Search every combination of flights separately.

Four years ago the ANA website started restricting searches for Star Alliance award space to members of their program who had at least 100 miles in an account. But there’s a simple workaround (although you can also just transfer 1000 miles from Amex).

You can automate this process and do power searches with a tool like Award Nexus, but it isn’t free.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. to anybody who books numerous trips a year with different mileage currencies, I recommend to download and install KVS tool — it’s the best tool for mileage bookings since it searches all the websites of ANA, Air Canada, Singapore, KLM/Air France, Delta, JAL, BA etc for you.
    It does cost $75 a year but I just renewed it, it has been so worth it for me. If you’re like me, you have 5-10 award searches you want to run at least once a day, and it will take you 3 minutes, instead of 30 every day.

  2. The ANA award chart is going to zone based in a few weeks. So if you want to take advantage of short haul flights with non YQ charging *A partners, better book soon.

  3. Gary, 2 weeks ago i booked MNL-GUM-HNL, OGG-ORD (all on UA) – ORD-NRT-MNL on ANA metal for 65K ANA miles. Taxes & fees were only $135. I was expecting higher fees since the ORD-NRT-MNL were on ANA’s own metal. So it looks like theyve lowered their fees.

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