How to Save Thousands of Miles Booking United Flights: Use Membership Rewards on ANA


American Express Membership Rewards are valuable because of their ability to be transferred to dozens of partners. But they have a glaring weakness: they don’t have a top-tier Star Alliance transfer partner–US Airways or United.

Membership Rewards can be transferred to Singapore, which is great because this is the only way to get into Singapore business or first class.

Membership Rewards can also be transferred to Aeroplan and ANA. The problem with all three is that they charge massive surcharges on Star Alliance award tickets, making our “free” ticket cost several hundred dollars–even in economy.

That’s the main reason I called US Airways and United the top-tier Star Alliance partners; neither charges surcharges on awards booked with their miles. Both charge just the miles and the government taxes and fees.

But as recently reported by Dan’s Deals, ANA is no longer charging fuel surcharges on United or US Airways flights. This is huge news for a few reasons:

  • ANA has an award chart with some incredible values.
  • ANA is a Membership Rewards transfer partner. With all the great Membership Rewards earning cards’ sign up bonuses lately, many of us are flush with Membership Rewards.
  • United and US Airways fly a lot of convenient routes for Americans. If ANA had to pick two partners on which they wouldn’t charge surcharges, these are ideal.
  • United and US Airways both have world-class business class beds. (United business review.)

What You Need to Know to Take Advantage of the Deal

The deal involves booking with ANA miles. That means you need an ANA account. (Sign up for one here.)

Don’t transfer your Membership Rewards yet. You can do that after you find space. You don’t want to transfer them and then not find space. ANA miles expire after 36 months regardless of activity.

This deal involves flying United or US Airways flights. The best place to search for award space on those airlines regardless of the type of miles you’ll be using to book the award (in this case ANA miles) is Here is a basic post on how to search on

On, you must find Saver award space for it to be bookable with ANA miles. Saver space shows up as a blue button on

For instance, in the above screen shot of a flight from San Francisco to Sydney on December 2, 2013, there is Saver space in business class, but not in economy or first. ANA miles could only book this flight in business class.

If you find flights with Saver space on, write down the flight date, time, and number to book it on

ANA award bookings cannot be made oneway. You have to book roundtrip awards. If you really only want a oneway, Dan has screen shots of what to do. Book your oneway award and any short hop other oneway on United or US Airways together as a “roundtrip.” Make sure the short dummy leg “return” is the second flight. If you make it the first flight, you will have the whole itinerary cancelled when you don’t show up for the dummy leg.

The mileage needed for your ANA award booking is based on the award’s distance. This is one of the key sources of value. Use the Great Circle Mapper (as explained here) to add up the distances of all segments of your itinerary and check its cost here.

Here are some sample itineraries to show you the incredible value of ANA awards. Remember that ANA and United would charge the exact same government taxes. US Airways would charge those plus a $50 award processing fee.

The best deals are from the east coast to Europe, but there is a discount to every continent.

Of course I cherry-picked this list. Adding connecting flights from your home airport may drive up the price.

In general this deal is best for those who live in United or US Airways cities with international flights: Newark, Dulles, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Philadelphia, and Charlotte.

When you find the award space you want, initiate the Membership Rewards transfer, which will take at least two days.

When you book, you will not pay any close-in fees like United and US Airways charge ($75 within 21 days of departure.)

If you want to change your date, you can do that for free.

If you want to change anything else, you have to cancel. There is no cash cost to cancel, but you lose 3,000 miles. This beats the US Airways and United cancellation fee of $150 per ticket.

Open jaws are permitted. Double open jaws are permitted. Sticking two unrelated segments together and never planning to fly the second one in an attempt to get a oneway pricing is permitted. (See the Dan’s Deals post for examples of this.)


Now that ANA no longer charges fuel surcharges on awards that fly on US Airways or United, we have an incredible new use for Membership Rewards and a way cheaper way to get onto United and US Airways flights.

This deal is great for those with a mountain of Membership Rewards and who live at an airport with direct international flights on United or US Airways. People who don’t live at such an airport may get a slightly worse deal because the distance-based ANA chart adds up the distance of all segments.

The deal is best if you want to fly from the east coast to Europe.

Pad your Membership Rewards balance with:

American Express Mercedes-Benz Platinum (personal) with 50k Membership Rewards after spending $1k in three months. $475 annual fee.

American Express Platinum (business) with 25k Membership Rewards after spending $5k in three months. $450 annual fee.

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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  1. I want to book a trip from IAD to India….I see great Business class availability on United (although 2 stops – BRU and FRA on the outbound; AMS and FRA on the inbound). However, I can’t find these flights on Should I just call in that case? How is their US desk in terms of service? The whole trip is about 16,700 miles….at 105k MR, it’s great value! Any tips on finding better availability on ANA?

  2. That’s great news that you can now use ANA miles on United and U.S. Air without the fuel surcharge. Membership Rewards points were always less valuable to me because most of the airline partners had fuel surcharges, so this just made my Membership Reward points much more valuable.

    One note, you mentioned the only way to get into Singapore Air business or first was through the Singapore Air mileage program, but for flights within Asia you can at least book business class with Star Alliance partners. I have flown Singapore Air business class several times within Asia using United miles.

  3. Have you confirmed this on trips you have booked recently thru ANA? I have read conflicting reports on Flyertalk that they are still charging YQ.

    • Dan has many screen shots without surcharge. I called up and confirmed it too on an itinerary. I can’t confirm online becasue I have 0 ANA miles at the moment.

  4. I just used ANA miles for a round trip IAD to AMS for a quick trip–easy 68k per person in business and around $65 which is mostly Netherlands departure taxes.

    One thing you don’t mention here (or perhaps only allude to by not saying it is permitted) is that one way awards are not permitted and there are stopover rules–for instance you can’t stop more than twice in Europe and can’t stop over in the country of origin (basically the anti-free one way rule).

    Another quirk that is sometimes a positive (since it prices correctly) and sometimes a negative (since it takes longer) is that United displays up to 50 itineraries per segment, but ANA displays only a handful. So sometimes you have to spoon feed the exact segments in a “multi city” search just to make sure you get the connection you want. ANA is also useful for confirming that the award space UA sees is correct, since it shows phantom space for partners all the time.

    ANA miles are a fantastic option that I’ve used with great success over the years. I don’t even really mind paying the surcharges, because for most itineraries the mileage cost is cheaper than the alternatives, and as you say, change “fees” are very reasonable.

    I would actually argue that Amex’s lack of a Oneworld partner with reasonable award pricing for long haul is a bigger problem than Star Alliance. Between ANA, Aeroplan, and the ability to funnel miles to US Airways at 0.85:1.0, I really think they have Star Alliance pretty well covered.

  5. You say that the transfer from MR takes at least 2 days. Can an award be held with ANA while the miles are being transferred, or do I just have to hope that it is still available when I have the miles to book it?

  6. You mention that this is great for intl flights but what about within the US? How does it compare with Avios as a distanced based awards program for domestic short haul travel?

    Thanks, great post!

    • The only possible value within the US I can see would be business class to Hawaii from some cities. Figure out the distance of your planned domestic trip and look at the ANA chart. The lower bands are very expensive.

  7. How is the united/us air award availability from the east coast to Europe when looking at saver award space? Are there ever 3 biz awards per flight?

  8. Thanks for this! I am actually planning PHL-FCO, so I may be getting that AX MB platinum sooner than later, since Amex seems to love me lately.

  9. This is so great to know. I’m a huge beginner in the world of miles, so hope this isn’t an obnoxious question. There’s no way to combine my US Airways miles and the miles from ANA that I would use to get my US Airways flight, correct?

    Thanks very much!

  10. Hi Scott, can I book a morning flight first and then change to a preferred afternoon flight (same route: A->B) on the same date for free?

    • That circumstance isn’t actually covered in the rules, but since you can change the date, I think you could change the time.

  11. I am so glad I found this article. So now I can fly
    BOS-AMS, FCO-BOS on ANA for only 43K in coach, whereas before I was going to use 60K on UA for the same route. With the AMX Premier Gold 50K bonus, I have enough for a round trip. Thanks so much.

    • Yes, buy you will need to route through Newark on United or Philly on US Airways to avoid the fuel surcharges.

  12. Can I add a free single trip BWI and still only need 43K? I think I read this somewhere
    bos-ams, fco-bos, bos-bwi

  13. I am finding saver award availability on the United website, but it is not showing up on ANA website. I called ANA and they said it was not available. Any ideas? This is happening on PHX CUN in July

  14. For short direct hops domestic US (IAH-XXX, YYY-IAH), 20k ANA via MR is the cheapest way to redeem MRs for a domestic open jaw, right?

  15. Scott – Can you verify that I’m looking at the award chart the right way… For a roundtrip redemption from IAD-SXM (3,346 miles) on United – this would only use 22k ANA Miles for the whole trip? If so, that’s one hell of a redemption in my book.

  16. Can I do the reverse? I have 40k in US Air dividend miles and want to fly from HNL to NRT in March 2014. Will I be charged fuel and booking fees?

  17. 38K vs 60K miles on a flight from NYC to LON makes quite a difference. However, is it possible to redeem ANA’s miles for an indirect flight? If I were to do that, I’d have more options from JFK rather than from EWR to the UK through FRA, DUB, etc. for 43K instead.

  18. I get that ANA has some great spots on it’s award chart – East Coast Business Class to Europe is an amazing deal! But I can find basically no availability in Business Class (Miami to Munich) on any date. Is low availability a problem normally East Coast to Europe on ANA?

    • Are you searching ANA has access to all the same space, and there should be plenty to choose from.

      • Ah I see now it has to be SUPER SAVER level on in order to see it on ANA, my mistake. I priced a flight out and it worked! But under Taxes and Fees it says:

        How do I know what the taxes/fees are before I put on hold and transfer miles in?

  19. i used ANA to search for a US domestic flight.
    -the results show “OK”, but the box above “OK” is gray. what does this mean please?

    -does ANA allow 1-way rewards?

    -does ANA charge YQ on SQ please?


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