Here’s your guide to booking award tickets on Star Alliance partners using your miles to travel on any of the 27 airlines in Alliance — along with resources for people looking to book these Star Alliance partners, how to find the seats, how to book them, and how many miles they will cost.
These are the 27 Star Alliance partners that you can use your miles on.
Here are the three things to understand about your miles before we get started using them to travel the world using Star Alliance partner airlines.
- You can use miles you have in any Star Alliance program to book travel on any airline that belongs to the Star Alliance. You may have United miles, or Air Canada’s Aeroplan miles, or Asiana Club miles for instance or even miles in the EVA Airways Infinity MileageLands programs. And you can book travel with those miles on any airline that is a member of the Star Alliance, if the flight you want has award space available.
- You cannot combine miles from different Star Alliance programs towards a single award ticket, at least in any reasonable way. You can’t use some Aeroplan miles and some United miles to get one ticket (although you can book a one-way ticket using United miles, and book your return to the U.S. using Aeroplan miles — that’s perfectly fine).
- How many miles your ticket will cost, and how you go about making the award reservation, will depend on the frequent flyer program you have miles with. You will also go to United (whether their website or over the phone) to use United miles, no matter whose planes you want to fly. And you will pay the price that United charges for the travel you want. For instance, a roundtrip Chicago – Tokyo on All Nippon might cost 90,000 of ANA’s miles for business class. But if you are using United miles, you will book on United’s website or by calling United and you will pay United’s price of 150,000 miles roundtrip for those same All Nippon flights..
How Many Miles Do You Need?
The number of miles you need depends on where you’re going, and it depends on the frequent flyer program whose miles you are using.
For instance, a frequent flyer program like United has a zone-based award chart. That means you look up the region of the world you are starting from, and the region of the world you are traveling to, and that determines the number of miles you need.
Here’s a portion of United’s chart where you look up the region you start in and where you’re going to determine the price:
Star Alliance frequent flyer programs like Air Canada’s Aeroplan, Avianca LifeMiles, and Singapore Airlines Krisflyer also have zone- or region-based award charts.
On the other hand, some frequent flyer programs like ANA Mileage Club and Asiana Club have distance-based award charts. That means you calculate the total distance that you’re flying on the trip you want to take, and look up the mileage cost of your award ticket.
Here’s ANA’s award chart where you look up the total distance you’re flying on a roundtrip to determine the price of the award:
If you want to see how many miles you’ll be flying on a trip, two tools to check out are Webflyer’s Mileage Calculator and the Great Circle Mapper. Either will tell you the distance when you input the route you’ll be taking.
Note that this is the actual route flown and not the distance between your start and end cities. If you fly Los Angeles – Frankfurt – Beijing and back the same way that’s 21,318 miles flown…
… not 12,501 miles, the roundtrip distance just between Los Angeles and Beijing.
How Much Cash — in Addition to Miles — Your Ticket Will Cost
Generally US domestic award tickets just cost the security taxes. Prior to 9/11, an award ticket from, say, New York to Florida didn’t require you to come out of pocket at all. But when security taxes were passed early in the last decades airlines had to pay those even when your ticket was free, and they didn’t absorb the cost. Many people consider the amount too small to bother with, and a nuisance that the airlines collect it — but multiply $5 out by 5 million and they see it as real money.
Some programs will charge slightly higher taxes on US domestic award tickets, but you can still expect to pay less than $50.
A program may also have fees for booking a ticket close to departure. This is most common with US airlines, United brought back these fees in 2011 and they can be as much as $75 on top of taxes for tickets issued within 3 weeks of travel. (Years ago there was an ‘expeciting fee’ for last minute tickets that had to be printed and overnighted to you, now it’s just a revenue grab and a way to discourage you from using miles instead of paying cash.)
International award tickets are another matter. International taxes are higher, and can run from $40 – $200 or so on most itineraries (itineraries that involve certain European airports, like London Heathrow, can be even higher.)
Most international frequent flyer programs, including most members of the Star Alliance, also add fuel surcharges onto award tickets. They say the miles pay for the airfare only, and so whatever fuel surcharge would have been added to a paid ticket will be added to an award ticket. This might be ~ $450 roundtrip on a transatlantic trip, or it might be twice that flying via Europe to Africa.
United and Avianca’s LifeMiles do not add these junk fees onto award travel. Air Canada’s Aeroplan does, but only for some airlines you might fly. Here’s how to book Aeroplan awards without paying fuel surcharges.
What Star Alliance Partners Will the Airline Let You Book?
Many distance-based programs like ANA and Asiana will let you fly in a fairly relaxed, zig zagging way if necessary — if that’s what it takes to find flights that get you where you’re going. After all they don’t mind if you fly extra miles, you are going to be charged for the number of miles you fly.
That doesn’t mean you can do whatever you wish. Asiana will allow you to make two stopovers in each direction in addition to visiting your destination, which is incredibly generous, but it’s not unlimited.
Zone- or region-based programs tend to be stricter.
United, for instance, will let you make one stopover on a roundtrip award and they will also allow you to have two open jaws (meaning you fly into one city and back from another).
You could, for instance, fly Newark to Frankfurt (stopover for a week) to Istanbul. And then fly back Athens to Munich to Washington Dulles. And that would be allowed.
On a one-way award United doesn’t allow stopovers.
There are also some additional, more complex rules — that United usually but doesn’t always follow — such as that flights between North America and Asia are allowed four connections in each direction but only three connections one a one-way ticket.
United’s web site errors out sometimes, sometimes shows flights that aren’t really available on points, in which case you have to call.
Nonetheless, United is fairly generous.
Singapore Airlines requires you to fly the most direct route, period, if redeeming their miles on one of their Star Alliance partners.
And Greek Star Alliance member Aegean Airlines’ Miles & Bonus program has a generous award chart — US to Europe and North Africa is 90,000 miles roundtrip in business class, and they allow one-way awards for half the miles. But they do not allow stopovers at all, and you are permitted to make only one connection each way. That makes it tough to get from anywhere that’s not a hub city to many places that aren’t hubs.
Finding Award Space
You should always:
- Know whether the program whose miles you’re using shows Star Alliance partners when you search for awards
- Do your own homework on an award before you pick up the phone to call and book an award
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.
(There are occasional exceptions, such as the Avianca LifeMiles program as of this writing isn’t able to book Lufthansa first class award tickets, but that’s the exception that proves the rule.)
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.
You can automate this process and do power searches with a tool like Award Nexus, but it isn’t free.
How to Actually Book the Award Once You’ve Found the Space
If you’re using United, Aeroplan, or ANA miles you can probably book your award online.
United doesn’t show all of their Star Alliance partners (for instance, Brussels Airlines may come and go and they purposely stopped showing award space with Singapore Airlines online), so you may have to call even if you’re using United miles. At the end of your phone call with United, ask them to waive the telephone booking fee because you couldn’t book the award online. Technically they aren’t supposed to, it isn’t their policy to waive the fee, but I’ve never been told no when making this request.
If your airline website won’t show the space on their Star Alliance partners, or won’t let you complete the reservation, you will need to call. Sometimes you get a helpful agent and that goes smoothly. Other times the agent isn’t especially predisposed to be helpful.
Agents don’t get paid a commission for the number of successful awards they book. There’s no built-in incentive to be helpful. So if you get an agent who doesn’t seem knowledgeable, who says that flights which you know (from your own research) have award seats available, or who is just plain grumpy — hang up and call back and speak to someone else.
In fact, even when you’re tempted not to (maybe telephone hold times are long), do it anyway.
What you want to do is:
- Win over the agent. Be friendly. Them you hope they’re having a good day.
- Be nice. Ask for their help.
- Tell them you actually did some of your own homework, you can choose to say it was with another agent on an earlier call to appear non-threatening (plus most agents will assume you don’t know what you’re talking about because most callers don’t).
- Ask for the specific flight you want, one flight at a time. Get them to build your itinerary, each flight they see that you ask about which turns out to be available will build their confidence and your relationship with them. And if they don’t want to do this with you, hang up and call back until you find someone that will.
Once they’ve put together all the flights you found and wanted to book, they’ll price it (in miles and cash) and it’s time to issue tickets!
- The Ultimate Guide: How to Construct Award Tickets Using American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
- American AAdvantage Revises its Award Rules With New Exceptions
- Using US Airways Miles to Book Awards
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This just came up in my RSS feed: a Krebs on Security write-up on HHonors accounts being drained by crooks, and the aftermarket in the stolen points. Thought you might find it interesting…
krebsonsecurity dot com/2014/11/thieves-cash-out-rewards-points-accounts/
My experience with star alliance ( using united miles site)
it is much better than the AA miles site for redeeming miles, much more to choose from ( without calling like AA) and booking is a simple task
used my united miles last month for san/bkk san for first on asiana and business on br.
booked san/bkk/san on AA for next august, got jal business after calling in. on site choice was ridiculous with routing thourgh dfw/hkg and very long travel times both ways.
Great informative article. One question: is it possible to book 2 tickets (myself + companion ticket) using Star Alliance partners? For example, I want to book AC award tickets for myself + wife using my TAP miles.
Gary, I’m not sure if I’m the only one who’s experienced this, but I get a spam ad at times for your links from twitter. “You must update flash now” replaces your post after a split-second. The address bar looks more like spam than legit.
This has only happened to me when I’ve clicked to your and Lucky’s posts via twitter. And it doesn’t happen all the time.
Has anyone else experienced? If not, I’ll just keep my luddite mouth shut.