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If you're collecting Star Alliance miles — either by flying on one of the 26 Star Alliance member airlines, using a co-branded credit card or transferring points — you might be wondering which program should be your focus.
While which airline is best for you to earn your miles ultimately comes down to the redemption options you intend to use, these are our choices for the best Star Alliance airline to earn miles:
Here's why these are our picks for the best miles program in the Star Alliance.
» Learn more: The best credit cards for Star Alliance airlines
Top Star Alliance airline to earn miles
Most miles collectors will want to earn Star Alliance miles in a program that offers a balance of usability and opportunity for awards in premium cabins. With an eye to both U.S. domestic and international travel, you likely want flexibility in how you use your miles (after all, flexibility is the secret to affordable travel).
Our top Star Alliance carriers to earn miles all offer a solid combination of usability and value for domestic travel within the United States and internationally.
Air Canada is a solid bet if you are looking for great award opportunities within North America, coupled with affordable options for premium cabins when flying long-haul. That's why it's our choice for the top Star Alliance airline to earn miles.
Air Canada's loyalty program, Aeroplan, publishes an award chart, making it easy to understand how many miles flights on partner airlines will cost.
The airline also offers several highly-usable sweet spot redemption opportunities. These include awards within North America starting at 6,000 miles each way and flights to Hawaii starting at 12,500 each way. In addition, business class awards between North America and Europe can be found starting at 60,000 miles each way.
The Aeroplan program also features one of the most robust sets of non-alliance partners of any Star Alliance airline, allowing you additional flexibility when using your Aeroplan miles.
All of these value opportunities make Air Canada Aeroplan miles worth 1.9 cents each according to NerdWallet valuations.
» Learn more: The points collector's guide to Air Canada Aeroplan
A familiar name to U.S.-based flyers, United is a great choice to earn miles, especially if you value your miles being highly usable for travel within the U.S. or prioritize cancellation flexibility.
NerdWallet values United MileagePlus miles at 1.2 cents each — about average compared to competitors — partially because United doesn't offer the most attractive award prices. But if you're looking for a program with easily usable miles, United is a great choice.
United wins kudos for flexibility because the airline allows free changes on all non-basic economy tickets within the U.S. or that originate in the U.S. This change fee waiver applies to all United tickets, including award tickets. In addition, United currently waives all change and redeposit fees for award travel, including award travel with an international origin.
Finally, United offers expanded award availability to its MileagePlus members who maintain elite status or hold one of its co-branded United Airlines credit cards other than the $0-annual-fee United Gateway℠ Card.
Avianca, with its LifeMiles frequent flyer program, is a mainstay for Star Alliance awards because it doesn't pass fuel surcharges on to any of its partner award redemptions. The program is also a transfer partner with most of the major transferable points programs, including:
The combination of good value awards and the ability to top off your account from multiple transferable points programs is why Avianca earned a spot on our list.
If you book mostly simple one-way or round-trip awards, Avianca LifeMiles' website works well enough. It even includes a calendar view that can help search for award availability. Some routings may require you to try searching for awards by specific carriers, but with a modest effort, the Avianca website is functional for redeeming simple award flights.
The LifeMiles program does come with some downsides. Unless you have activity in your LifeMiles account, your miles will expire after 12 months of inactivity.
You can easily prevent miles expiration by periodically transferring points to your LifeMiles account.
Keep in mind that if you're impacted by a schedule change or cancellation and need to interact with Avianca, the airline doesn't have a great reputation for customer service. So be prepared to follow up multiple times by phone and email.
» Learn more: What are your points and miles worth this year?
Other Star Alliance frequent flyer programs worth considering
The above airlines will provide easily bookable awards, program sweet spots and "gotcha-free" travel for most points and miles enthusiasts.
However, if you're looking to maximize your miles truly or are after niche awards — like round-the-world airline tickets or the chance to experience the Lufthansa first-class terminal in Frankfurt — there are a few more airline programs worth considering.
» Learn more: The pros and cons of Star Alliance
ANA Mileage Club
ANA Mileage Club is a great option if you're after long-distance travel or a round-the-world trip, especially in a premium cabin. It offers some of the best redemptions for long-distance travel, which is why the ANA program's miles are valued at 2 cents each. The program's sweet spots include travel between the U.S. and Japan, the U.S. and Australia and its round-the-world tickets, which can offer a great deal depending on your itinerary.
Be forewarned that earning ANA miles isn't for the faint of heart. The miles expire 36 months after they are earned and their expiration date can't be extended. However, the airline currently allows a temporary extension of mileage expiration until March 31, 2023. Still, if you hold ANA miles, you must use them by their expiration date or be prepared to lose them.
Finally, ANA's most valuable redemption, the round-the-world trip, must be made by phone.
» Learn more: ANA sweet spots to maximize the value of your miles
Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles
If you're Hawaii-bound, Turkish Airlines' Miles&Smiles program should be on your radar for its most famous sweet-spot redemption — flights between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii cost only 10,000 miles each way in economy or 15,000 miles in business class.
Another useful redemption option for North America-based travelers is business-class seats for 45,000 miles one-way to Europe. This particular award costs fewer miles with Turkish than comparable redemptions with other Star Alliance airlines such as United, Lufthansa or Air Canada.
Typically, you should be able to get 1.4 cents out of each of your Turkish Airlines miles, according to NerdWallet valuations.
Booking Turkish Airlines award flights can be challenging despite the good deals. While the airline allows award bookings online, many itineraries don't appear on the Turkish Airlines website. As such, many itineraries must be booked over the phone or via email.
Like ANA, miles in the Miles&Smiles program expire 36 months after they are earned. The airline does allow members to extend the validity of their miles, but at $10 per 1,000 miles for a three-year extension, it's best to have a plan to use them before they expire.
» Learn more: What to know before flying Turkish Airlines
Lufthansa Miles & More
The biggest reason to collect miles via Lufthansa Miles & More is to fly Lufthansa first class. Lufthansa's premium cabin is widely regarded as one of the best experiences in luxury travel, particularly if you originate in Frankfurt and can take advantage of the first-class terminal.
If you want to book an award ticket in Lufthansa first class more than two weeks before departure, you will need to use Miles & More points. The airline only allows members of its frequent flyer program to book first-class tickets this far in advance.
While you might be able to secure an award seat in Lufthansa first class, you'll pay for the privilege. Lufthansa charges fuel surcharges on award redemptions between the U.S. and Europe, meaning you'll likely be paying several hundred dollars for a one-way award ticket.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
TAP Air Portugal Miles&Go
If your objective is cheap redemptions in economy class to Europe, TAP Air Portugal offers tickets from North America to Europe and North Africa for as little as 29,000 miles each way. In addition, the airline offers a stopover of up to five nights in Lisbon or Porto for no fee. If you can remain within TAP Portugal's limited set of good redemption options, Miles&Go miles are worth apiece, according to recent NerdWallet analysis.
» Learn more: How to make the most of first class on TAP Portugal
The best Star Alliance airlines to earn miles, recapped
For most people, Air Canada, United and Avianca will provide the best options for earning and redeeming miles on Star Alliance carriers.
However, if your travel patterns have you flying to one specific destination over and over, or if you want to earn miles in pursuit of a particular travel experience, you can customize your strategy to fit your goals.
ANA, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa and TAP Air Portugal offer more streamlined access to specific awards. However, other Star Alliance member airlines might better match your frequent routes and desired travel experiences.
Ultimately, the best Star Alliance program will be the one that offers redemptions that match your travel ambitions.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card