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United, Lufthansa, US Airways, Air Canada, ANA, Singapore, and TACA/Avianca are all members of the Star Alliance.

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With few exceptions, all of their miles can be used with equal access to any Star Alliance carrier’s Saver award space.

You cannot transfer one type of miles to another. For instance, you cannot transfer your Lufthansa miles to your United account.

But you can combine the power of your miles by using miles from several different accounts to book awards on the same flight. For instance, if there are six economy Saver award seats on a roundtrip from Newark to Paris on a United flight, you can book one seat from each of your United, Lufthansa, US Airways, Air Canada, ANA, and Singapore accounts. (And you can select six seats together by calling the operating carrier of each flight.)

This ability to combine the power of partner miles is paramount for families or other large traveling groups. It’s fairly difficult to amass 360,000 United miles, the number you’d need for six roundtrip awards to Europe. But it’s not so hard to earn the number of miles you need for one roundtrip in each of several programs.

How do you plan a trip for six? What routes have good award space? How do you book many seats from many different accounts?

The first–and perhaps most important step–should take place well before you’re ready to book the awards.

1. Make sure you are earning compatible miles.

The easiest Star Alliance programs for Americans to earn miles in are:

  • United
  • US Airway
  • TACA/Avianca
  • Lufthansa (Miles & More)
  • Aeroplan (Air Canada)
  • ANA
  • Singapore

The key is that all types of miles can be used on the same award flights. The listed programs all have equal access to Saver economy space on all the Star Alliance airlines.

2. Search for all the seats together as if you were booking everyone on reservation.

Let’s imagine a roundtrip award from Newark to Paris for six passengers.

Go to the best search engine for the search you want. For this search, I would recommend united.com, which I explained how to search here. Search as if you were going to redeem United miles for all six passengers. Here is the search result for six passengers from Newark to Paris in March–pretty excellent space.

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As a bit of an aside, almost all of the space is on Lufthansa flights. When they release award seats on a flight, they often release a lot of seats.Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 1.48.11 AM

Lufthansa award space is not ideal for this exercise because all the Star Alliance programs except United and US Airways collect fuel surcharges on Lufthansa-operated award flights.

We’d prefer the United direct flight because only Lufthansa collects fuel surcharges on United-operated award flights to Europe.

Space isn’t as good on the United flight, but there are a few days with six saver award seats on the same flight.

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Select an outbound and return and go to the payment page. Note the taxes per person. These will be the same regardless of the type of miles used to book the award, since they are imposed by governments not airlines. Other fees and whether fuel surcharges are imposed will vary by the type of miles.

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After noting the flight information of the flights with award space–date, time, flight number–and the taxes, I am ready to book. But since I am not booking all six seats with United miles, I abort the booking in progress to move on to the actual way I’ll book the awards.

3. Book while using holds advantageously.

The goal is to get all six people booked on the same flights. The second best scenario is to book nobody on any flights and to start searching again. The worst outcome is to book a few people on the flights and then have award space disappear before the the rest are booked

To maximize the chances of one of the first two scenarios, we’ll use hold rules to our advantage. Each airline has different hold rules. For example:

I would start with the airlines that allow holds and put all the seats I plan to book with those airlines’ miles on hold. Then I’d move to the airlines that don’t allow holds and book tickets one by one, circling back to book the held tickets last.

4. Get seats together online or by calling the operating carrier.

For icing on the cake, you can easily get seats together. Call the operating carrier of each segment and select seats.

Give your confirmation number, and if they can’t find your ticket that way, give your flight date, flight number, and name. To find the operating carriers’ numbers, google “contact phone [airline]“.

Explain to the agent that you have six passengers on the same flight on several record locators and that you want seats all together.

One More Thing

If you’re not on the same reservation, you may run into problems during irregular operations. For instance if one of your flights is cancelled, you may be automatically rebooked separately on different flights and need to go through some phone agent agony to get it all straightened back out.

I consider this a pretty minor concern, but it is one to be aware of.

Recap

Booking several award tickets from several Star Alliance airline accounts is common and easy. Pay careful attention to the types of miles you’re earning and to the hold policies, and you’ll be traveling with your companions in no time.

Right now several Star Alliance carriers have a great credit card offer with miles that are easy to rack up.




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