MileValue is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as CreditCards.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Note: Some of the offers mentioned below may have changed or are no longer be available. You can view current offers here.


I looked at the upcoming reservations in my United account. There are three trips:

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 2.46.58 AM

  • Honolulu to Sao Paulo
  • Frankfurt to Los Angeles
  • Honolulu to Chicago

One trip was booked with United miles, one with US Airways miles (before US Airways lost United as a partner), and one with Lufthansa miles.

The award booked with United miles flies Asiana, Lufthansa, and Air Canada. The awards booked with the other types of miles both fly United planes.

These three awards illustrate two simple and counter-intuitive truths about frequent flyer miles that I want everyone to understand.

1. Where you search for award space is NOT related to the miles you are using to book the award.

There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, all of an airline’s partners have equal access to its Saver award space.

What that means is that you can search the easiest-to-search website for Saver award space even if you are not using the miles associated with that website.

To give a concrete example, I just booked Honolulu to Chicago on a United plane with Lufthansa miles, but I searched for the award space on united.com.

(I booked with Lufthansa miles because they are much cheaper to Hawaii than United miles and because I have 73,000 Lufthansa miles since getting the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® with 50,000 bonus Lufthansa miles after spending $5k in 90 days.)

I searched united.com because it is the easiest place to search award space on United planes. It shows you a two-month calendar of award space and lets you manipulate the search to show only direct flights.

Search wherever is the easiest to find award space without regard to the miles you plan to use, and then call the airline whose miles you want to use to book your award (or better yet, book on its website if you can.)

To finish my Honolulu-to-Chicago-on-United example, I searched on united.com then called Lufthansa to book the award since I was using Lufthansa miles and United flights are not bookable at milesandmore.com (the Lufthansa site.)

The obvious follow up question is: where is the easiest place to search for award availability for each airline.

Broadly:

  • For Star Alliance airlines, it’s almost always united.com.
  • For oneworld airlines, it’s aa.com if they show up there and ba.com if they aren’t on aa.com.
  • For SkyTeam, it’s delta.com or airfrance.us or Expert Flyer.

If you have a specific question about where to search for an airline, leave it in the comments or google your question with the word “milevalue” at the end.

2. The miles you should use for an award are not related to the carrier you plan to fly.

If you want to book a United flight, you can use:

  • United miles
  • Lufthansa miles
  • Singapore miles
  • ANA miles
  • Aeroplan miles
  • and on and on, basically any Star Alliance carrier’s miles

The best miles to use depends on how many miles of that type it costs, whether using that type of miles incurs fuel surcharges, the ease of earning those miles, how many of those miles you have, and more.

As I said about my three upcoming awards booked with Star Alliance miles:

  • One trip was booked with United miles, one with US Airways miles (when US Airways was still in Star Alliance), and one with Lufthansa miles.
  • The award booked with United miles flies Asiana, Lufthansa, and Air Canada. The awards booked with the other types of miles both fly United planes.

In each case, I weighed a lot of factors that are explained in the posts I wrote about the redemptions (linked above) and used the best miles to book the flights I wanted. And it just so happened that I always used a different type of miles from the airline I flew.

For instance, Lufthansa miles were better for the United flight to Chicago because Lufthansa’s chart is cheaper for an economy redemption from the mainland to Hawaii than United’s–20k Lufthansa miles versus 22.5k United miles.

US Airways miles were best for my redemption from Hawaii to Sao Paulo because they were the only miles in which I had a big enough balance at the time to book the trip, and they offer a great deal at 125k miles roundtrip in First Class.

United miles were great from Seoul to Los Angeles in First Class because at the time I booked, the one way award was only 70k miles plus government taxes with no fuel surcharges. (The miles price has since skyrocketed.)

A lot of folks say to me:

I want to earn Alaska miles because I fly Alaska a lot. Or I don’t want to earn United miles because I had a terrible experience flying United.

Those folks are missing the point. British Airways Avios are better than Alaska miles for most Alaska flights, and United miles can be used on over two dozen partners.

Recap

1. Where you search for award space is NOT related to the miles you are using to book the award.

2. The miles you should use for an award are not related to the carrier you plan to fly.

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 60,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months, 5x points on travel booked through the Chase Travel Portal and 3x points on restaurants, streaming services, and online groceries (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs), this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the 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.