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 united.com. Here is a basic post on how to search on united.com.

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

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 united.com, write down the flight date, time, and number to book it on ANA.com.

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.)

Recap

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.

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