How to Use Amex Membership Rewards to Fly United Airlines [2019]

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone. Note: this article may contain expired offers. 

Many people who fly United might initially be interested in choosing Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards since Chase is a 1:1 transfer partner with United. However, some people don’t realize that you can still use your Amex points to fly with United. In fact, in some instances it’s even better to do this.

In this article, I’m going to show you how you could use your Amex Membership Rewards to fly United. And not just that — I’ll show you just how much better value you can get for your points when using your Amex points!

Scroll down to the bottom of the article you check out the YouTube video!


Amex Travel

Amex Travel will allow you to book any flight with your Amex Membership Rewards. If you see an open seat, you can snag it. This is great for those who don’t want to bother with transferring points and dealing with limited award availability.

However, it does mean you’ll often get less value for your points. With most Amex cards you can use your Membership Rewards to book United flights through Amex Travel at a rate of 1 cent per point.

This is not a good redemption rate as you’ll usually be able to get much more value when transferring your points out to other programs or when using different travel portals. Thus, I’d generally recommend not going this route.

However, with the American Express Business Platinum Card you get a 35% rebate on your points when you redeem them for airfare for premium fares (business and first class) or economy fares on a select airline. This allows you to redeem points for 1.54 cents per point which is actually quite attractive and even better than the Sapphire Reserve rate with the Chase Travel Portal

I’ll show you why it’s so attractive.

Let’s assume you wanted to use United miles to book a roundtrip economy flight from Houston to Orlando to go check out Disney World. That flight would cost you 25,000 United Airline miles.

Now, let’s say you wanted to use the American Express Business Platinum Card to book your flights using American Express Membership Rewards.

Let’s say you found the rate below for a $161 roundtrip in economy. Well, that flight would only require a net 10,455 Amex points to book versus the 25,000 miles required for United.

Even if you booked that rate at 1 cent per point the redemption wouldn’t be bad at 16,100 points compared to 25,000 United miles, but I’d rather just pay cash for such a cheap flight than redeem Amex points at 1 cent per point.

But you get the point — Amex points can be used to book United flights on the cheaper side and be a much more efficient use of points than United miles in those cases.


Booking with partners

Since United is not an American Express Memberships Rewards partner, you cannot transfer Amex points to United Airlines.

Instead, you’ll need to transfer your Membership Rewards to United partners in order to fly with United. Once those points are in your loyalty account for the partner, you can then use those points to book flights on United.

By the way, I’ve supplied the estimated transfer time for all of the partners below (some are instant).

When using the partners below, the best thing to do is to first search the United Airlines website for open Saver Awards and then try to locate those Saver Awards on the partner’s website (or call in if needed).

You can tell if an award is a Saver Award easily because the search results will state “Saver Award” as shown below.

Make sure that when you are searching for United awards you are NOT logged in to the United website because cards like the United Explorer Card can show you increased Saver availability at times (XN fares) and those awards may not be available to the partners below.


All Nippon Airways Mileage Club (ANA)

  • Transfer ratio: 1:1
  • Transfer time: 48 hours
  • Good for: Roundtrips to all destinations

The Japan-based carrier ANA is one of the best frequent flyer programs for ultra-low redemptions and is a fantastic use of your Amex Membership Rewards. With ANA, you can book United flights at some of the lowest prices around and you can also avoid high fees.

Let’s say you wanted to fly to Europe from the US. With United miles that would cost you 120,000 miles roundtrip in business class. With ANA you could get a roundtrip booked to Europe with only 88,000 miles roundtrip. That’s a savings of over 30,000 miles!

Here’s a look at a United roundtrip to London for a total of $183 in fees (fees might be outdated). Believe it or not, United wanted to charge $286 in fees for this same flight, not to mention over 30,000 more miles, so this was a much better option. So the total fees were cheaper than United’s and the mileage requirement was much lower, too.

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

You’ll find lower mileage requirements for other United flights, too. Using ANA miles to fly down to South America in business class for 88,000 miles roundtrip and around $50 in fees is fantastic, especially since United would require 120,000 miles!

Flying United to Japan roundtrip in business class would require 140,000 United miles but you could book that same route with only 85,000 ANA miles (55,000 fewer miles). However, the fees with United would be about $46 and with ANA they would be $340, so sometimes you’ll have to decide how you want to handle paying fees versus saving miles. 

Let me know in the comments below how you feel about using your miles versus paying fees!

And with ANA you can also book stopovers as well so you could hang out in a city for a while if you wanted to.

In order to use this program you’ll need to create an ANA MileageClub frequent flyer account. Then go here and click on “Award Booking” to get started and work through the search process.

The ANA search feature can be a bit glitchy at times and kind of annoying to deal with so you might need a little bit of patience. But once you find a deal, you’ll see that ANA could offer you some of the best redemption rates for United flights to places like Japan and South America, among others.


Aeroplan (Air Canada)

  • Transfer ratio: 1:1
  • Transfer time: instant
  • Good for: Domestic, Europe, South America, and Australia

Aeroplan was just purchased by Air Canada so it will no longer be a spin-off program in the future and some things might change. But for now it’s one of my favorite programs to use and it’s great that it’s also a Capital One transfer partner.

It’s pretty easy to use the Aeroplan search feature (though it can be rather slow). With Aeroplan you’ll find the same redemption prices for non short-haul flights in the US for economy and business at 25,000 and 50,000 miles roundtrip respectively. And what is great about Aeroplan is that you can book one-way awards. 

For flights to “Europe 1,” you can get there for 110,000 miles roundtrip in business class versus the 120,000 United miles required for a United flight. So it’s an easy way to shave off some miles there.

Europe 1 consists of:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain (incl. Balearic Islands; excl. Canary Islands)
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

Europe 2 consists of:

  • Albania
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Georgia
  • Greece
  • Greenland
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Macedonia
  • Malta
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Russia (Western)
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine

We used Aeroplan to book business class fights on SAS to check out the northern lights and the fees only came out to about $12 and the value in cents per point was extremely high!

If you’re booking other airlines with Aeroplan you do need to be mindful of fees because those can get quite high with some other carriers but the following airlines typically do not carry surcharges when you book them through Aeroplan:

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

To use this program join Aeroplan and then log-in and then log-in and select “Book Travel” and then click on “Flights.”

Business class on SAS.

Avianca LifeMiles

  • Transfer ratio: 1:1
  • Transfer time: instant
  • Good for: Domestic, Europe, South America, and Australia

Avianca is the new transfer partner for American Express Membership Rewards and it has a lot to offer. Avianca joined Citi as a transfer partner in November 2017 and also joined Capital One recently so it’s very easy to rack up miles with them.

Here are some of the highlights.

  • Some pretty competitive redemption rates
  • Allows you to avoid surcharges
  • Allows you to book one-way awards
  • Allows you to make your bookings through their website (though sometimes not all open partner awards show and there’s a $25 booking fee)
  • Allows you to avoid close-in fees (booking a United award ticket less than 21 days before departure incurs a fee of $75 per ticket).

Avianca breaks down the US into three separate zones and this allows you to book short-haul flights for as low as 7,500 miles one-way with United in economy or 15,000 miles one way in business class.

Their medium-haul flights can be a nice sweet spot, too. For example, I could book a roundtrip economy flight from Houston to New York for only 20,000 miles roundtrip for 30,000 miles in business class. 

And if you book a standard domestic flight outside of the short-haul zones you’ll be spending the same amount of United miles in most cases: 25,000 miles for a roundtrip in economy and 50,000 miles for a roundtrip in business class.

Avianca has a few other good redemptions but one stand out redemption is their business class to Brazil. You could get from the US to Brazil for 100,000 miles roundtrip while United requires 120,000 miles.

To use this program, simply create an account and then log-on here. Click on “Use” and then “Airlines” and you’ll be taken to where you can search and book your flights. I’ve found the search feature to work pretty well other than dealing with missing Saver awards not showing up.


Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

  • Transfer ratio: 1:1
  • Transfer time: up to 24 hours
  • Good for: Domestic, Canada, South America, and Middle East.

Singapore devalued their partner award charts semi-recently and after that some partner awards are no longer as lucrative as they once were but there are still some great uses for their miles. Also, Singapore is a transfer partner of Amex, Citi, and Chase, so it’s very easy to rack up their miles.

You’ll be able to book domestic United flights at familiar rates of 25,000 roundtrip in economy and they do allow one-way flights to be booked. 

You’ll also be able to find domestic United business class flights for 20,000 one-way, 40,000 roundtrip which is 10,000 miles cheaper than United. 

Award prices from the US to Europe in economy are pretty good at 55,000 miles roundtrip but they are on the higher side for business class at 130,000 miles (this is still lower than the partner award rate for United).

If you ever want to fly United Airlines in business class to Canada from the US, Singapore offers some of the best redemptions you’ll find at 40,000 miles. Also, Singapore Airlines is great for heading down to South America in business class, as flights are only 100,000 miles for a roundtrip! 

To use this program simply create a KrisFlyer account and then log-in here and enter in your search details but be sure to select “Redeem Flights.”


Aer Lingus (the hidden option?)

  • Transfer ratio: 1:1
  • Transfer time: instant

Aer Lingus has always felt like the red-headed step-child of the Avios family but this Irish carrier might be able to be used to book United flights at times. It could have been a glitch in the past but at least one person had the option to use Avios to book a United flight.

You’ll likely need to call in to book [try: (855)585-8264] and they should waive the phone booking fee since you can’t book online.

I tried to call in for domestic flights but Saver awards could not be booked. This makes me think that only international United flights to/from Ireland might show up from time to time? 

I definitely wouldn’t count on this method to work but it’s something to be aware of. In case you were curious, here’s the Aer Lingus award chart.


The drawbacks

The biggest drawback to not transferring your points directly to United Airlines from Chase is that you cannot take advantage of the increased award inventory if you have the Explorer Card. Sometimes, I struggle to find open saver awards but when I log in I find many open awards as a United Explorer cardmember.

Also, you have to deal with the added hassle of going through these partners which sometimes can be annoying when they cannot locate the same open awards that you find on the United Airlines website.

So while it is still very doable to use American Express points to fly on United Airlines, it is not without its drawbacks.


YouTube Video

Final word

As you can see, there are quite a few ways to utilize your American Express points to fly on United Airlines. Many of these methods offer more efficient uses of your points. And what’s great is that they almost all have pretty easy to use search and booking features online. It might take a little bit more patience to do this but it’s great to know you have so many options for flying United.

One comment

Comments are closed.