How to Save 5,000 Miles on Many United Award Flights

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I think that there are a disproportionate number of articles and posts written on ways to save miles on award flights operated by OneWorld airlines compared to Star Alliance airlines.  From the BA distance based award charts, to the 10% back on American Airlines redeemed miles with certain credit cards, to the monthly Ciit AAdvantage discounted mileage cities, and the 5,000 mileage discount on US operated award flights with the US Airways card, there are really lots of ways to fly for less on various OneWorld airlines such as American, US Airways, and their partners.

There are fewer ways to save in similar ways on Star Alliance airlines, like United, but there still are some tips you should absolutely be aware of, especially if you favor Star Alliance awards as I do.  As you may already know, most domestic saver awards on United cost 12,500 miles each way.  However, that amount drops to 10,000 miles each way at the saver level if the flight is 700 miles or less.  That’s handy, and we just used it to fly last minute on United miles the 643 miles between Houston and Kansas City, but what if your flight is between 700 – 1000 miles in length?  That would include routes like Houston or Newark to Orlando, Chicago to Denver, or San Francisco to Albuquerque.

Spend Fewer Miles for United Flights via ANA:

There is a pretty easy way to pay just 10,000 miles each-way for those United operated flights (or really, 20,000 miles round trip) via one of my favorite programs, ANA.  ANA stands for Japan-based All Nippon Airways, but you don’t really need to know much about them in order to make good use of their award chart.  You can transfer your American Express Membership Reward points from cards like the The Amex EveryDaySM Preferred Credit Card or American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card to ANA at a rate of 1:1.  This means that when I am using the Amex EveryDay Preferred card to get up to 4.5x at grocery stores (get full details on how here), I am earning 4.5x miles I can use on United operated flights via an award chart that beats the United award chart for the same flights!  That’s a better earn and burn rate than you will often get dealing just with United miles.  Though I do very much love my United miles for other reasons. 

If you want a United operated flight that is longer than 1,000 miles each way (2,000 miles round trip), then keep in mind that you can still save by booking on ANA when your total distance is 2,001 – 4,000 miles as that will price at just 22,000 miles instead of the 25,000 United will likely want.

ana award chart

ANA Award Chart

Real Life Example of Stretching Miles:

I’m trying to put the finishing touches on a couple of ski trips for the upcoming winter season.  I much prefer flying directly into the smaller ski town airports in the winter rather than make the drive from Denver, especially for short weekend trips.  However, nonstop flights into airports like Vail Eagle, Aspen, Steamboat, or Telluride from places like Houston are pricey, often pricing between $500 – $600 round trip on winter weekends.  This is a situation where using miles can give a great return, even for domestic economy tickets.  Flying from Houston – Vail is 934 miles each way, or 1868 miles round trip.  That means that via the ANA chart you pay just 20,000 miles, instead of the 25,000 miles it would be if I booked directly with United.

ANA Award ChartIf you wanted to spice this up a bit, you could add in a stopover and open-jaw by flying Houston – Denver (stop for a couple days and go to a Bronco’s game), Denver – Vail Eagle (stop for a couple days to ski) then get to Aspen on your own via a shuttle or rental car and fly home Aspen – Houston as an open-jaw after hitting the slopes there.  Since you are still under 2,000 flown miles, it is still just 20,000 ANA miles even after adding in the stopovers and additional flight.  That should give you a decent taste for what ANA miles can do, even on domestic trips.

Maximize ANA Miles

How to Book United Flights with ANA Miles:

The ANA online booking tool is very good in some respects, but a little clunky and awkward in others.  If you have 0 miles, read this post for how to use their search tool.  I use it enough to warrant keeping 1,000 miles in my account to make searching a tad easier.  None the less, it is at least functional for searching and booking Star Alliance partners like United.  Availability should be the same for United award flights as United offers its own members at the Saver level (though not the extra availability that United sometimes gives elite members or those with the co-branded credit card).

Colorado Ski Time

Colorado Ski Time

Tips for Maximizing ANA Miles:

I recently ANA miles to book a ticket to the Caribbean for just 22,000 points, and in that post put together the following tips when booking ANA awards, that I will list again here.

  • Up to four stopovers (one stopover per city, two stopovers within Europe)
  • No stopovers or ground transportation within the country of origin are permitted on international routes
  • The departure airport and the final destination on the itinerary may differ, but must be in the same country
  • You cannot arrange an itinerary to go to a third country via the departure country
  • To use a different class within the itinerary, you can apply the mileage for the higher class to the entire itinerary
  • Itinerary is valid for up to 12 sectors/segments
  • Open-jaw is permitted
  • Awards cannot be issued for one-way travel
  • Award User Registration (up to 10 persons) is required for persons other than the member to use
  • Flight Awards Changes are accepted up to 4 days prior (excluding the boarding date).
  • The validity cannot be extended for award tickets, even if it includes unavailable periods If all of the sectors have not been used, a refund is permitted. However, 3,000 miles per passenger will be assessed as a refund fee ANA does charge fuel surcharges, but this is irrelevant for the Caribbean, domestic flights in the US, and other flights where the airlines themselves do not charge fuel surcharges
  • Mileage transfers from Membership Rewards are not instant, and in my experience take a few days

No program is perfect for every type of booking, but if you use the ANA award program for some short to medium length routes operated by Star Alliance partner United, you can likely save some miles over what United would want for the same flights.  This is a great way to move your family around the US, Canada, the Caribbean, and more for a smaller mileage outlay.

Have you used ANA to stretch your miles for United operated flights?


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  1. Hi MP,

    Thanks for this tip, however I’m having some trouble finding as much United award availability as you suggested there should be on the ANA tool. For example, looking at a pretty standard LAX-IAH route in early 2015, I’m finding very little available–especially on the return leg–whereas shows plenty of saver economy space without my being logged in.

    Am I missing something about what should be available through ANA?


    • Zach, if you aren’t logged into United, that is an issue I have not personally run into. If you want to give me dates I am happy to look and see if the issue replicates with me. If it does, my best advice would be to call ANA to see if they can book it manually over the phone. Happy to check myself though as I have had pretty good luck with the tool and availability thus far.

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