How to Save Miles by Flying United With Other Airlines’ Miles

If you have a credit card that earns transferrable points, you could book United flights for less.

Andy ShumanMar 25, 2021
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United is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance in the world. That means members of United’s frequent flyer program, MileagePlus, can earn and redeem miles not only on United flights, but also on more than two dozen other Star Alliance member airlines.

Why it's worth shopping around

United doesn’t add “fuel surcharges” (sometimes called “carrier-imposed surcharges”) to award ticket prices, no matter whether you redeem your miles for flights on United or its partner airlines. So you might think that it’s always best to use United miles to book award flights on United or its partner airlines. But sometimes it can make more sense to use another airline’s frequent flyer miles to book United, even if you do end up paying higher surcharges out of pocket.

The reason: MileagePlus redemption rates are quite high — especially for long hauls and premium classes, and even more so when you’re redeeming United miles on partner airlines. By booking award flights on United and its partner airlines using other programs, you can often save miles.

Whose miles to spend instead

One airline in particular stands out as a high-value alternative to using United miles: All Nippon Airways, one of Japan’s biggest airlines. Using miles from ANA’s frequent flyer program, Mileage Club, can often get you a better deal on the same United flight or a comparable flight on ANA or a partner.

As you’ll see below, you don’t necessarily have to fly ANA to earn Mileage Club miles. There are a lot of benefits — and a few drawbacks — to booking United flights through the Japanese carrier. Below, we look at some routes where you can save a bundle of miles by using ANA. We also look at two other airlines that deserve honorable mention as possible alternatives instead of spending United miles.

ANA

Best ANA alternatives to United redemptions

If you thought you’d never be able to afford an international business class ticket, think again. ANA offers unbelievable redemption values on United and other Star Alliance airlines, especially for long-haul flights in business class. Sometimes, round-trip business class flights booked with ANA miles cost less than one way with United.

United doesn’t publish an award chart (ANA does, so pricing on its flights is more predictable). The only way to know how much a flight costs in United MileagePlus miles is by searching for your dates and route.

Below are some rates we got searching United flights for the Saver redemption rate in business class. These examples show either the cheapest Saver rates on United’s own flights or the cheapest partner flights when United flights are not available. Be warned that prices can change at any time.

U.S. to Europe

A United round-trip business class flight between the U.S. and Europe would cost you 120,000 United miles at the lowest Saver award rate.

But if you use ANA Mileage Club miles and book through ANA, this same United flight would cost you 88,000 ANA miles. You save at least 32,000 miles (27%) over United.

U.S. to SOUTH AMERICA

ANA offers the same business class redemption rates (88,000 per round trip versus 120,000 United miles) to South America, including such faraway destinations as Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Santiago.

U.S. to the Middle East

Per round trip in business class:

  • United MileagePlus: from 165,000 miles.

  • ANA Mileage Club: from 104,000 miles.

Savings: 61,000 miles (37%) or more.

U.S. to Africa

Per round trip in business class:

  • United MileagePlus: from 164,000 miles.

  • ANA Mileage Club: from 104,000 miles.

Savings: 60,000 miles (37%) or more.

U.S. to the South Pacific/Oceania

ANA has seasonal rates for flights to Oceania on its own planes (not on partners).

U.S. to Oceania:

  • Low season: 105,000 miles.

  • Regular season: 115,000 miles.

  • High season: 120,000 miles.

So this is what an award flight would cost you:

  • United MileagePlus: from 198,000 miles.

  • ANA Mileage Club: from 105,000 miles.

Savings: as much as 93,000 miles (up to 47%).

U.S. to Asia (except Japan)

ANA has seasonal rates for flights to Asia on its own planes. Here are some examples.

U.S. to South Korea and Asia 1:

  • Low season: 80,000 miles.

  • Regular season: 90,000 miles.

  • High season: 95,000 miles.

U.S. to Asia 2:

  • Low season: 100,000 miles.

  • Regular season: 110,000 miles.

  • High season: 120,000 miles.

Based on these numbers, here is how ANA miles stack up against United miles on these itineraries.

  • United MileagePlus: from 165,000 miles.

  • ANA Mileage Club: from 80,000 miles.

Savings: 85,000 miles (52%) or more.

U.S. to Japan

  • United MileagePlus: from 140,000 miles.

  • ANA Mileage Club: from 85,000 miles.

ANA business class award flights to Asia can offer amazing value. Here is a U.S. to Tokyo flight on ANA booked with United miles.

And here's the same U.S. to Tokyo flight with ANA miles.

Savings: 55,000 miles (39%) or more.

But it can get even better than this depending on when you fly. ANA has a seasonal chart for its own flights (not on partners).

If you’re planning to fly to Japan during the low season, the cost of business class travel will be only 75,000 miles.

That’s only 5,000 miles more for a business class ticket than what you would pay for an economy award ticket purchased with United miles.

Now you see why an ANA award ticket can be such a terrific value.

Not interested in business class? Flights to Japan in economy start at 40,000 ANA miles per round trip — way cheaper than 70,000 United miles anyway.

ANA Mileage Club downside: Fuel surcharges

Is ANA always good news? No. Many ANA partner awards include dreadful fuel surcharges. But some don’t. Here is the list of ANA partners you might prefer if you don’t want to pay fuel surcharges on your supposedly free ticket.

ANA partners with no fuel surcharges (subject to change):

  • United.

  • Air Canada.

  • TAP Portugal.

  • SAS.

  • Ethiopian.

ANA doesn’t add fuel surcharges to its own flights to Japan, but that can change if the price of fuel goes up high enough. Fortunately, ANA is very transparent about it. ANA does add fuel surcharges to some connecting flights via Japan.

ANA partners that have low and moderate fuel surcharges (values can change without prior notice):

  • LOT Polish.

  • Turkish.

  • Asiana.

How to collect ANA miles

With a lot of airlines, the best way to earn miles fast is to sign up for their credit card to get a big stack of miles as a welcome bonus, then keep earning miles by using the card. That’s not a good strategy here because the U.S.-based ANA credit card’s welcome bonus and earning rate are very low.

Instead, you can earn ANA miles by flying one of its partners and choosing to credit your ANA account with the miles. Or, you can get ANA miles by transferring points from the following programs:

Other airline programs to consider

Singapore Airlines Krisflyer

Singapore miles are especially valuable for first class seats between the continental U.S. and Hawaii on United. You will only pay 69,000 Singapore miles versus 80,000 (or even 100,000 United miles on some routes). That would be a good use of Singapore miles, especially since they’re so easy to collect. You can use several rewards programs to transfer points to KrisFlyer, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards®, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou, among others.

Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles

Turkish miles can offer an incredible value on United flights within the U.S., North America (including Mexico), between the continental U.S. and Hawaii, and more.

Here are some examples for one-way travel:

  • Within the U.S. (including Hawaii): 7,500 miles in economy, 12,500 in business.

  • Within North America (including Mexico): 10,000 miles in economy, 20,000 in business.

  • U.S. to Europe: 45,000 miles in business.

  • U.S. to the Middle East: 47,000 miles in business.

These are outstanding values if you can find availability.

Turkish award flights on partners are not always easy to book. The Turkish online booking engine is hit or miss and may not reflect actual availability. You might have to call or send an email request. However, when everything works, Turkish can save you a bundle compared to United. You can collect Turkish miles by transferring points from the Citi ThankYou or Marriott Bonvoy programs.

The bottom line

ANA Mileage Club can be the best airline program for round-trip United and Star Alliance international long haul in business class. In fact, if you never thought that you could afford flying in a lie-flat seat in the front of the plane, you might rethink that because ANA award flights are so affordable. And if you’re more interested in North American travel (including Hawaii and Mexico), you might want to look into Turkish or Singapore.

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