American Express has a lot of great transfer partners, but United isn’t one of them. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t book United flights with Membership Rewards. Furthermore, you can often get better value by booking United flights with partner airlines using Membership Rewards than with United miles. American Express often has transfer bonuses to select partners, making the already great award rates even better.

Another reason to use Membership Rewards for United flights is because Membership Rewards could be easier to earn than United miles. There are quite a few excellent Amex cards that come with very generous welcome bonuses and high-earning spending categories.

This is where getting to know airline alliances could save you lots of points. United and a few of the Amex transfer partners are members of the Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance in the world. That means that we can use partner program miles to book tickets on United-operated flights.

Let’s look at Amex partners you can use to book a United Airlines flight.

Air Canada Aeroplan

Aeroplan, Air Canada’s frequent flyer program, has recently undergone a thorough overhaul, and its award chart is now both distance and zone based. Aeroplan allows stopovers for 5,000 miles; one stopover is allowed on a one-way ticket, and two on a round-trip ticket. You’ll have to call Aeroplan to book an itinerary that involves a stopover.

Membership Rewards points transfer to Aeroplan 1:1 and the transfer is instant. You’ll need to create an account to search for award space, but the search engine is straightforward and easy to use.

United has moved to dynamic pricing, so you’ll see award rates that fluctuate wildly. Aeroplan, on the other hand, has an award chart, so you’ll know exactly what to expect. One of the sweet spots of the Aeroplan program is the ability to book short domestic flights for just 6,000 miles.

Best Ways to Book United Flights with Membership Rewards - Air Canada Aeroplan

And to get to Hawaii from the West Coast you’ll just need 12,500 Aeroplan miles one-way in economy.

And here’s another example where you can save with Aeroplan. You’ll need just 40,000 Aeroplan miles to fly from the East Coast to Israel one-way in economy.

Best Ways to Book United Flights with Membership Rewards - Air Canada Aeroplan

United charges its own members 42,500 miles and because it has a dynamic pricing model, that number might be even higher, especially if you don’t have a United credit card.

Best Ways to Book United Flights with Membership Rewards - Aeroplan

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Membership Rewards points transfer to KrisFlyer 1:1, but the transfer can take one to two days. So keep that in mind, as the award space you see today might not be there tomorrow.

You’ll need to create an account to search for award space.

Singapore’s KrisFlyer program has a separate award chart for flights on its Star Alliance partner airlines, including United.

Best Ways to Book United Flights with Membership Rewards-Singapore Airlines Krisflyer

One of the sweet spots is domestic business class. You can book a domestic business class one-way award for 23,000 KrisFlyer miles.

If Hawaii is on your list, then you’ll be able to save miles by booking your Aloha getaway with KrisFlyer miles. KrisFlyer has Hawaii as a separate region and you can get there for 17,500 miles one-way in economy or for 34,500 miles one-way in business class.

When you are searching for award space, don’t forget to toggle to the Star Alliance tab on the top left or you won’t get any hits.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer-Star Alliance-round-trip awards

Avianca LifeMiles

LifeMiles, the frequent flyer program of Colombia’s largest airline Avianca, doesn’t have the lowest rates for United flights, but because LifeMiles are easy to earn, it’s worth mentioning here.

Membership Rewards points transfer to LifeMIles 1:1 and the transfer is instant.

In order to search for award space you’ll need to create an account.

There are some really good deals to be had, such as 63,000 miles one-way in business class from the U.S. to Europe or even less if you add a short economy segment. Short-haul domestic United flights start at just 6,500 miles, which is less than United’s own rates.

Ways to Book United Flights with Membership Rewards-Avianca LifeMiles

The LifeMiles website doesn’t always show the same award space as other Star Alliance partners, so finding availability might be a challenge. But because the rates can be much lower, it’s worth a try.

ANA Mileage Club

ANA, the frequent flyer program of All Nippon Airways, only allows round trip bookings on partner airlines, but it allows stopovers and open jaw bookings. An example of an open-jaw itinerary would be flying from Chicago to London and booking a flight from Paris to Chicago on your return home.

Membership Rewards points transfer to LifeMiles 1:1 but the transfer can take one to two days.

The award rates are very competitive. For example, you can fly to Europe in economy for 55,000 miles and 88,000 miles in business round-trip.

You will need to create an account to search. ANA’s award search is a bit clunky, so check United or Aeroplan first and when you find availability for your travel dates search on ANA.

American Express Travel

Amex travel portal doesn’t always offer the best deals on flights and if you are booking the flights with cash, so it’s always better to book directly with the airline. However, there’s always an exception to every rule. One of the benefits of the Business Platinum Card® from American Express and the American Express® Business Gold Card is the ability to redeem points for flights with a substantial rebate.

If you have the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, you can get a 35% points rebate on flights in all classes of service on the airline you selected for your $200 airline incidentals credit, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year. First and business class tickets on any airline are also eligible for the 35% rebate.

Ways to Book United Flights with Membership Rewards-American Express Travel

The American Express® Business Gold Card holders get a 25% points rebate when they book a flight with Membership Rewards up to 250,000 points back per calendar year.

Because this is a rebate, you do need to have enough points to book the flight at the listed flight and you’ll get either 25% or 35% back later, depending on which card you have. The terms and conditions say that the rebate might take six to 10 weeks, but in my experience, the rebate was posted much sooner.

This option might make sense when you come across a good fare sale especially in a premium cabin. Always compare the price in points on the Amex travel portal with how many points the trip will cost if you booked through one of the transfer partners.

Cards to Help You Earn American Express Membership Rewards

American Express has a great lineup of Membership Rewards earning cards, both personal and business. One of our favorite cards is The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees). The $695 annual fee can be offset with a number of annual credits, such as the $200 annual airline incidentals credit.

For a small business owner, the American Express® Business Gold Card and the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express could be extremely valuable. Between the generous welcome bonus that comes with the American Express® Business Gold Card and the excellent rotating bonus categories, to the uncomplicated 2X earning rate on everything on the Blue Business® Plus card, all your business expenses earn a multiplier. You’ll be able to accumulate a considerable stash of points in no time.

Final Thoughts

It’s a bit ironic that booking United flights is cheaper when using a foreign frequent flyer program. All the partners we discussed here have better award rates than United’s own program. Lastly, booking through Amex Travel might also be a good option, especially if you come across a great fare deal.

Travel well,
Anna