Using Amex Membership Rewards to Book Business Class Seats [Part One]

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Membership Rewards are probably my favorite reward currency. I’ve had such an easy time accumulating them via sign-up bonuses compared to Ultimate Rewards (although that’s starting to change with more Chase cards), and I’ve made some of my favorite redemptions with them like flying Singapore Suites.

There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to using Membership Rewards to book business class seats so to make things easier to digest, I’m going to segment this analysis into different parts. This segment, Part One, will focus on using Membership Rewards to book business class seats on Star Alliance partners. 

Membership Rewards partners 

As a refresher, here are all of the Membership Rewards airline transfer partners. 

  • Delta Skymiles
  • Club Premier AeroMexico (1,000 = 1,600 premier points)
  • Aeroplan Air Canada
  • Etihad Guest
  • El Al  (1,000 = 20 Matmid points)
  • Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)
  • MilleMigilia Club Alitalia
  • ANA
  • Asia Miles
  • Avios British Airways (250 points = 200 Avios)
  • Emirates Skyrewards
  • Hawaiin Airlines
  • Iberia Plus (250 points = 200 Avios)
  • JetBlue (250 points = 200 TrueBlue points)
  • KrisFlyer Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin America (200 points = 100 Elevate points)
  • Virgin Atlantic

For part 1, I’m going to be focusing on Star Alliance partners: 

  • ANA
  • Air Canada
  • Singapore Airlines

ANA 

ANA, or All Nippon Airways, is the largest airline in Japan and easily one of my favorite airlines for a number of reasons. Mostly, it’s because ANA offers exceptional sweet spots in award charts to just about every corner of the globe. While ANA often passes on surcharges, those can be avoided by booking with partners such as United or Air Canada. And even if you do get with surcharges, they sometimes aren’t even that bad. 

The biggest limitation to ANA is that you have to book roundtrip awards on partner awards. However, they allow stopovers and even open jaws on awards, so there’s a lot of flexibility to be had with them. 

Here’s a look at some great sweet spots. (You can read more about the ANA program here.)

North America to Europe

  • Business class: 88,000

Let me first show you what this type of flight would cost if you booked it with United Airlines.Take a look at the example below. It’s a round trip United flight from IAD to LHR. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 11.15.16 AM

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 11.14.37 AM
United offers flights from North America to Europe for 115,000 miles but only if you fly with United. Partner airlines require 140,000 miles!

Notice the mileage requirement at 115,000 miles if you used United miles to make the booking. Now, take a look below at how much this same flight would cost with ANA miles.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 11.09.55 AM
ANA requires only 88,000 miles and $183.70 to fly business class roundtrip to London from North America

With ANA it only costs 88,000 miles plus $183.70 in fees to fly business class from North America to Europe. So the total fees are cheaper than United’s and the mileage requirement is much lower, too. It’s an all around bargain and one of the best ways to use your Membership Rewards. 

But the deal actually gets even sweeter…. 

Take a look at the Air Canada flight below from YYZ to MAD — it only comes with $68 in fees! This is arguably one of the best business class redemptions to get to Europe out of any airline. 

ANA miles on Air Canada to Europe in business class is one of the top sweet spot redemptions.

North America to South America

  • Business class: 88,000

You can use United and other Star Alliance partners to get around fuel surcharges when using ANA to book tickets to South America. For example, Houston to Rio De Janeiro is only 88,000 miles in business class and the fees are only $62! Most other airlines will require 20,000 or more points for that same route. I’d try to only use ANA for lower South America countries, however, because you can find more competitive rates to get to northern South America countries

North America to Japan 

  • Business class: 75,000+ 

The rates for booking an ANA flight for only 75,000 miles roundtrip in low season in business class can come with fees as low as $86! That means with one Amex credit card and $86 in fees you could get a roundtrip business class to Japan and even stopover in Hawaii if you wanted. 

This is one of the most valuable sweet spot redemptions available. To put the sweet spot into perspective, consider that if you wanted to book a roundtrip in business class just to Hawaii with United miles, it would actually require more miles (80,000) than ANA requires to get to both Japan and Hawaii

Thus, if you’re planning a trip to Japan, definitely consider this option.

One of the top redemptions out there!

North America to Australia 

  • Business class: 105,000+
  • I found ANA flights to Australia with less than $200 in total fees. Keep in mind that you should be able to stopover in a place like Fiji or French Polynesia for no additional expense since they are all located in the same Zone for Oceania and Micronesia. For 105,000 miles roundtrip that’s just ridiculous and only a few other airlines like Virgin America or JAL offer such competitive rates.

North America to Africa and the Middle East

  • Business class: 104,000

This is yet another phenomenal redemption rate that blows away almost all of the competition. Don’t forget that Etihad is a partner of ANA. 

North America to Asia 1

  • Business class: 80,000+ 

North America to Asia 2

  • Business class: 100,000+ 

Both of these rates to Asia 1 and 2 are fantastic redemption rates on ANA’s own airline and you will find it hard to beat. 

Air Canada Aeroplan 

Aeroplan doesn’t have the same blow-you-away sweet spots like ANA but there’s still some great value to be had with this program. I really like that they now allow you to book one way awards because sometimes you just need the added flexibility.

Fuel surcharges can be an issue with Aeroplan but you can get around them by booking with the following airlines: 

  • Air China
  • Brussels
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian
  • EVA Air
  • Scandinavian
  • Singapore
  • Swiss
  • Turkish
  • United
  • LOT (has small surcharges)*

North America to Europe 

  • Business class: 110,000

I think one of the best ways to utilize Aeroplan miles is to book flights from North America to Europe. For Aeroplan, Europe is divided into two regions (Europe 1 and Europe 2), so I’ll use a booking to a country found in Europe 1 as an example.

“Europe 1” consists  of the following countries:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • The United Kingdom

I recently booked a flight from IAH to Tromsø flying business class on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and only paid $12 in fees for the one way flight and used 55,000 Aeroplan miles and got a whopping 14 cents per mile on that redemption! 

SAS business class.

Flights within the mainland US

  • Business class: 50,000 

While this isn’t exactly a sweet spot it’s the same mileage requirement that Untied requires. But considering that you can transfer Membership Rewards to Aeroplan, this basically opens up more opportunities for you to be able to complete United bookings for the same price, so it’s something to be aware of. 

Many other Aeroplan redemptions are more or less close to what United charges and so while you may not be able to beat what United offers, you’ll be able to have more miles to use on those same routes for the same prices. 

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines just dropped a devaluation on its own award chart although it came with the removal of surcharges, so it wasn’t a total loss. With Singapore increasing redemption rates between certain regions and eliminating its 15% online booking discount, some of the former sweet spots, especially those for business class, aren’t so sweet.

However, the partner award charts are still intact and they still offer great value, especially because you can book one way awards. So I’m going to focus on some of the best redemption rates with Star Alliance partners. Unfortunately, fuel surcharges will still be imposed on partner bookings, but you can always avoid or mitigate those fees by flying with United.  

Mainland to Hawaii 

  • Business class: 30,000 (one way)

30,000 one way to Hawaii in business class is definitely on the cheaper side of Hawaii redemptions. United, American, and Delta all charge 40,000 for a one way award. 

US to Canada 

  • Business class: 20,000 (one way)

Singapore’s Star Alliance chart offers probably the cheapest option for getting to Canada from the lower parts of the country (e.g., LAX to YYZ). 

Flights within the mainland US

  • Business class: 20,000 

Booking United flights with Singapore Airlines to get around the US in business class is actually cheaper than United and you’ll be saving 10,000 miles per round trip ticket. 

North America to South America

  • Business class: 50,000 (one way)

Singapore Airlines make no distinction in zones for South America in its partner award chart and so just like ANA, you get the better bargain when you book tickets to countries considered southern or “lower” South America. Typically, these are countries like Peru, Chile, Brazil, etc. 50,000 miles one way in business class is actually one of the best rates you’ll find and if you can book your flight with United you should expect minimal fees. 

North America to North Africa and the Middle East 

  • Business class: 57,500 (one way)

This redemption rate is one of the absolute best ones that even beats out Asiana, JAL, and Alaska, three programs that are usually are the leaders for lowest redemption rates in award charts. It might be tougher to get around surcharges, however.  

Intra-continental flights 

Singapore Airlines is also usually a leader with cheaper intra-continent flights in places like Australia/New Zealand, South America, and Asia. It’s not uncommon to find one way business class routes for as low as 20,000 miles in those places. 

Final word 

All three of these programs offer some solid ways to use Membership Rewards in business class. I think ANA definitely offers the most oppurtunity but both Aeroplan and Singapore Airlines can really come in handy when you need to book one way awards on Star Alliance partners. 

 

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