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If you want to fly on an award ticket with United Airlines but don’t have the miles, you may be able to use your American Express Membership Rewards® points to get a free flight.
American Express® doesn’t allow you to transfer Membership Rewards points to United. However, you can get around that by transferring your points on a one-to-one basis to an American Express partner airline that is part of the Star Alliance with United, such as Air Canada, Avianca, All Nippon Airways and Singapore Airlines. You can then use your transferred miles to redeem an award flight on United.
Since United isn’t an American Express transfer partner, Membership Rewards points aren’t usually the best currency for United flights. Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, for example, are typically a better option since you can transfer them on a one-to-one basis directly to your United MileagePlus® account. However, there are some times when your Amex Membership Rewards points might come in handy, such as when you’re short on United MileagePlus miles or you’re having trouble finding an ideal flight.
You may even be able to snag a better deal through one of American Express’ transfer partners than if you tried booking directly with United MileagePlus.
In this article:
- Booking United flights with Air Canada Aeroplan
- Booking United flights with ANA Mileage Club
- Booking United flights with Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer
- Booking United flights with Avianca Air Miles
- Booking on the American Express Membership Rewards website
Booking United flights with Air Canada Aeroplan
Since Air Canada and United are both Star Alliance members, you can use Air Canada’s Aeroplan miles to book United flights.
Air Canada is also an American Express transfer partner, so you can move your Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan.
The cost to book an award flight with Aeroplan miles is often pretty close to what you’d pay if you used United MileagePlus miles to book a United flight. However, there are some occasions when Air Canada offers a better deal.
For example, you may be able to book a trip to Europe or other far-flung destinations with fewer Aeroplan miles than United MileagePlus miles — especially if you can’t find a United Saver Award. Air Canada, for example, charges 60,000 to 75,000 Aeroplan miles to book a round-trip economy flight to Europe. United, by contrast, charges 60,000 miles to 140,000 miles.
Similarly, a round-trip economy flight to the Caribbean costs 40,000 Aeroplan miles. With UnitedPlus miles, by contrast, the same trip will cost you 80,000 miles if you can’t find a Saver award for 35,000 miles. Aeroplan also offers a generous routing policy, allowing you to see more cities for less. For example, Aeroplan allows you to book one free stopover and one open jaw on international round-trip flights.
As a result, you can visit two cities for the price of one (or three if you’re willing to pay for the open-jaw flight, which allows you to fly into one city and fly out of another). You can also book a Round the World trip — with multiple intercontinental stops — on United and other Star Alliance partners for the price of one award.
The following chart shows the round-trip prices to certain destinations for flights departing the continental U.S., Canada and Hawaii.
Here’s how to search and book United flights with Aeroplan miles, as well as how to transfer your Amex Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan:
- Create a free Aeroplan account. You’ll need to log in to search and book award flights.
- Go to the Aeroplan homepage, hover over “Book travel” and click on “Flights.” You will be prompted to log in if you haven’t already.
- Enter your destination, travel dates and class of service. You can check “My dates are flexible” if they are. Click on the search icon.
- You’ll get a calendar of dates with awards available and their prices. If the date you want is unavailable, you will have an option to choose another one. Click on an available date and then click “Search with new dates.”
- The next screen will give you a list of flights from which to choose. Click “Select” next to the flight of your choice.
It’s important to not transfer the Amex Membership Rewards points to your Aeroplan account until you have found availability.
Your transfer is usually instant, so you probably aren’t going to lose your seat. But if you do transfer your points and your flight is unavailable, American Express won’t take them back.
Once you’re ready, go to American Express to transfer your points.
Keep in mind:
- Air Canada doesn’t add fuel surcharges to United flights.
- You can book one-way flights through Air Canada for half the price of a round-trip flight.
- If you prefer to book over the phone, call 800-361-5373.
Booking United flights with ANA Mileage Club
Depending on where you fly, you may also be able to get more value from your miles booking through the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) than if you tried booking through United. Unlike United, ANA does not allow you to book one-way award tickets. However, if you have enough Amex Membership Rewards points to buy a round-trip ticket, then ANA offers a solid amount of value on select flights.
You can check ANA’s award chart for United and other Star Alliance partners.
For example, you’d only have to spend 40,000 ANA Mileage Club miles to book a round-trip economy flight between the continental U.S. and Hawaii or 68,000 miles to book a business class ticket. An economy ticket in UnitedMileagePlus miles, by contrast, would cost you 45,000 to 90,000 miles. A first-class ticket would cost you 80,000 to 180,000 United MileagePlus miles.
You may also be able to fly for substantially less to Europe or South America, especially if you prefer business class. For example, you would need 55,000 ANA Mileage Club miles to book an economy flight to Europe or South America or 88,000 miles to book a business class flight. If you went through the United mileage program, by contrast, you’d need to spend 60,000 to 140,000 miles for an economy seat to Europe or southern South America, or 120,000 to 310,000 miles for a business class seat.
ANA’s routing rules are also fairly liberal, allowing you to book open-jaw tickets and one long stopover per trip. That somewhat mitigates the airline’s one-way travel restrictions and makes it a good option for certain trips.
Here’s how to book United flights by transferring your points to ANA Mileage Club:
- If you don’t have an ANA account, visit its enrollment information page and click “Join the ANA Mileage Club.”
- Return to ANA’s homepage. On the left, you’ll see the booking form. Don’t fill in details yet. Instead, click on the blue button that says “Award Booking.”
- Log in to your account if you haven’t already.
- The next page will present you with a few options. If you are interested in a simple round trip, fill out your travel information, choose the class of service and click “Search.” If you are interested in a more complex itinerary, click “Multiple cities/mixed classes.” If your dates are flexible, also click on “Compare Seat Availability +/- 3 days.”
- If your dates are available, click “Next.” If not, choose other dates that are available.
- The next page gives you several options for your flight. Choose the schedule that suits you, then click “Next.”
- You can only book round-trip tickets, but you can opt for an open-jaw ticket. You can also get one stopover.
- You are allowed to mix United flights with other flights from the Star Alliance.
- ANA does not add fuel surcharges to United flights.
- If you’d rather call for help, contact 800-235-9262.
Booking United flights with Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer
Besides being able to book United flights with Air Canada Aeroplan and ANA Mileage Club miles, you can also use your Membership Rewards points to book with Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program. As with Air Canada and ANA, you may be able to find a better deal through Singapore Airlines than if you booked directly through United MileagePlus.
Singapore Airlines is an especially great choice if you’re looking for a cheap business class flight in the U.S. or an economy or business trip to Hawaii. For example, you can fly in a business class seat between New York and Los Angeles for 23,000 KrisFlyer miles one-way or 46,000 KrisFlyer miles round trip. You would have to spend 50,000 to 100,000 United MileagePlus miles for the same first-class flight.
Similarly, a round-trip business class seat to Hawaii from the continental U.S. would cost you 69,000 KrisFlyer miles. If you booked the same trip through United, you’d have to spend 80,000 to 180,000 MileagePlus miles for a first-class seat. If you are craving some shut-eye in comfort, KrisFlyer miles are priceless.
If you aren’t interested in a business class seat, booking United domestic flights with KrisFlyer is still OK, since the award levels are on par with United.
Always make sure to call Singapore Airlines to confirm it can accommodate your award miles before you initiate a transfer. Transfers to the airline can take two to four weeks.
Singapore Airlines is in the process of adding Star Alliance partners to its online booking system, so you may not be able to book your ideal award flight online. In that case, research United availability on United.com. When you find the lowest Saver availability, call Singapore Airlines to book at 312-843-5333.
Keep in mind:
- Transfers can take between two to four weeks.
- Singapore Airlines does not add a fuel surcharge to United flights.
- One-way tickets are available for half the price of a round-trip ticket.
Booking United flights with Avianca Air Miles
You can also use your Membership Rewards points to book United flights with the Colombian airline Avianca. As with other Star Alliance partners, you may be able to book a flight through Avianca for fewer miles than you would need booking through United.
For example, a one-way domestic economy flight booked with Avianca LifeMiles costs up to 12,500 miles. If you tried booking the same flight with United MileagePlus miles, you could be charged up to 32,500 miles if a 12,500-mile Saver Award wasn’t available.
Keep in mind:
- Membership Rewards points convert to Avianca LifeMiles instantly.
- Avianca does not add a fuel surcharge to United flights.
- You can purchase a one-way ticket for half the price of a full-priced ticket.
- If you prefer to book by phone, call 800-284-2622.
Booking on the American Express Membership Rewards website
You may not always be able to get the best deal booking travel on the Amex Membership Rewards website. However, you can get more value from your Amex membership miles if you use the The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. Cardholders who use Membership Rewards Pay with Points for all or part of an eligible fare get a 35% point bonus — up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year.