Unless you’re a business traveler with a corporate account, there really is no reason for you to be flying United and crediting your miles to them. It’s just foolish to do that. Ever since they went revenue-based, mileage earning and gutted their award chart, I have been struggling to find another airline to fly and credit my miles to. But I just can’t stay away from United. They have an incredible route network and awesome fare sales throughout the year. And as much as I try, it’s so hard for me to stay away and not fly them once in a while. But how can I earn more miles when flying United when they have gone full revenue?
I recently saw a fare sale (H/T The Flight Deal) that I couldn’t pass up. United was doing a sale from Los Angeles to Taipei, Taiwan for about $520.00 (tax/fees included). Now, I have never been to Taiwan nor have I ever had any desire to go but for that price, I couldn’t say no. The adventurer in me wanted to book the trip, explore the country and add another pin to my travel map. And for $520, that was an incredible deal to pass up.
Earn More Miles When Flying United
Doing the math, Los Angeles to Taipei is about 13,588 flight miles. At $520, that would be 3.8 cents per mile. For a mileage run, that’s a pretty damn good deal. Looking through the available flights, I found a combination of both United and ANA flights with all ANA segments being United codeshare flights. The flights were all deeply discounted, K fare class.
I got so excited, I actually booked three. I know. I probably went a little overboard but they were too cheap to pass up. With my schedule being so busy recently, I haven’t done much flying and I needed to get some butt-in-seat miles in if I wanted to make Star Alliance Gold for next year. After it was all said and done, the flights all priced out a little differently at $518, $542 and $550 ($1610 total). And when completed, I would earn approximately 40,853 flight miles for a cost of 3.9 cents per mile.
Which brings us back to our original dilemma. Where should I credit all these miles to? If I credited all these flights to United, I would earn 40,853 Elite Qualifying Miles but only 6,585 award miles (base fare of $1,317 x 5 miles for MileagePlus general members). That’s a negative difference of 34,268 award miles that I should be earning! And top-tier elites don’t fare much better either. Even their Premier 1K members will only earn 14,487 award miles on these three flights combined. Ouch!
Note: The only flights that will earn full or partial mileage when credited to MileagePlus are partner flights that are NOT United codeshare flights. If you want to credit your Star Alliance partner flights to United MileagePlus, make sure you don’t buy the ticket from United and your electronic ticket does not start with “016.”
So what’s the cheap mileage-running, non-business, casual traveler supposed to do? The only answer is to credit those miles to another airline. But where?
Wanting to find an alternative to United’s MileagePlus, I looked at several Star Alliance airline programs including Aegean’s Miles+Bonus, Air Canada’s Aeroplan, EVA Airways’ Infinity MileageLands, Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer and Turkish Airlines’ Miles and Smiles. None of them were perfect but a couple of them came out better than others for someone like me looking to earn more miles when flying United. Here are some facts about each program:
I’ve listed some basic information for Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. My complete guide to the KrisFlyer program can be found here.
- All United economy fares, operated on UA metal (except N fares) will earn 100% of actual flight miles when credited to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. That includes the deeply discounted economy fares such as L, K and G. In my example above, I will earn 40,853 miles if credited to Singapore Airlines.
- Miles can be accrued by flying Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, Star Alliance partner airlines and other non-alliance partner airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.
- You need 50,000 flight miles within a 12 consecutive month period to qualify for KrisFlyer Elite Gold (Star Alliance Gold) status.
- Elite status lasts for 12 consecutive months.
- Award miles expire after three years, regardless of activity. As a KrisFlyer member, you can extend your miles for six months for a nominal fee. KrisFlyer Elite Silver and Gold members may extend their miles for an additional year.
- You get a 15% discount on miles when booking awards online. Unfortunately, you cannot book partner awards online.
- Singapore Airlines’ award chart is not the cheapest and they do add fuel surcharges on award tickets (except on domestic United Airlines flights). Even flights on their own metal can have hefty fuel surcharges. However, there are some sweet spots like a North America to Hawaii economy award on United for only 35,000 miles with no fuel surcharges.
- Award miles can also be redeemed for Virgin America flights. VA flights up and down the west coast only cost 18,000 miles. That’s cheaper than paying the standard 25,000 miles for a domestic North America award.
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer members have access to premium cabin awards (such as first and Suites class seats) not released to other partner airlines.
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer is a transfer partner for American Express Membership Rewards, SPG, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi Thank You Rewards.
- All United flights will earn some miles with the lowest fares earning 50% of actual flight miles. In my example above, I will earn 20,426 miles if credited to Turkish Airlines.
- Miles can be accrued by flying Turkish Airlines, Star Alliance partner airlines and other non-alliance partners such as TAM, AnadoluJet and Jet Airways.
- Elite status lasts for two years and you will get a soft landing down to the next lower elite level if you do not re-qualify.
- To qualify for Elite Card (Star Alliance Gold) status, you must fly 40,000 miles within a 12 consecutive month period. To re-qualify, you only need to fly 25,000 miles within the first year of status or 37,500 within the two years of status.
- Award miles expire after three years regardless of mileage activity.
- Turkish Airlines has a great award chart for redeeming on Turkish Airlines flights. Saver business class awards from North America to Europe cost 90,000 miles roundtrip and saver business class awards from North America to South Africa cost 135,000 miles roundtrip.
- Turkish Airlines allows one stopover on roundtrip awards.
- Turkish Airlines adds fuel surcharges to their award flights.
- Turkish Airlines is not a transfer partner for American Express Membership Rewards, SPG, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank You Rewards.
- They have a decent mileage accrual chart for United flights:
Gone are the days of easy Star Alliance Gold status with Aegean. You now have to do twice the work to qualify for their Aegean Gold Elite (Star Alliance Gold) status.
- Most United fares will earn some miles. P (discounted business class) and N (lowest economy) fares will earn zero miles. Other fares will earn at least 50% of actual flight miles. In my example above, I will earn 20,426 miles if credited to Aegean.
- Miles can be accrued by flying Aegean Airlines, Olympic Air and Star Alliance partner airlines.
- You need to fly at least 48,000 miles (or 24,000 miles with four of those flights being on Aegean or Olympic Air) to qualify for Gold Elite (Star Alliance) status. To keep it, you have to fly 24,000 miles (or 12,000 with four of those flights on Aegean or Olympic Air).
- Elite status lasts for one year.
- Award miles expire after three years.
- Aegean is not a transfer partner for American Express Membership Rewards, SPG, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank You Rewards.
- Aegean considers North Africa to be part of Europe so a roundtrip North America to Europe/North Africa will only cost 90,000 for business class.
- A roundtrip North America to Asia award is 150,000 miles for business class.
- They have a very stingy miles accrual chart for United:
Air Canada Aeroplan should not be confused with Air Canada Altitude. Aeroplan is the mileage earning and rewards program and Altitude is the elite frequent flyer program. Air Canada Altitude manages benefits such as lounge access, upgrades and services such as priority boarding, wait-listing, etc. whereas Aeroplan only keeps track of how many miles you earn and how you can redeem them.
- All United flights will earn some miles with the lowest fares earning 50% of actual flight miles. In my example above, I will earn 20,426 miles if credited to Air Canada.
- Miles can be accrued by flying Air Canada, Air Canada Express, Air Canada Rouge and Star Alliance partner airlines.
- The problem with Air Canada Altitude is that you need a minimum number of flights on Air Canada metal to qualify for status. For example, to reach their Elite 50K (Star Alliance Gold) status, you need to fly 50,000 miles between January 1st and December 31st and at least 25,000 of those miles must be on Air Canada metal.
- Air Canada Altitude elite status lasts until December 31st of the following year.
- Air Canada Aeroplan miles expire after one year of inactivity.
- Aeroplan is a transfer partner for American Express Membership Rewards and SPG.
- Air Canada does add fuel surcharges to their award flights but NOT for flights on Air China, Brussels Airlines, Egypt Air, Ethiopian, EVA, SAS, Singapore, Swiss, Turkish, and United.
- Air Canada has a pretty good award chart. Business class fares from North America to Europe 1 costs 90,000 miles roundtrip and 105,000 miles to Europe 2.
- First class awards from North America to Europe 1 are 125,000 and 145,000 for Europe 2.
- Air Canada has a decent miles accrual chart for United flights:
EVA Airways Infinity MileageLands
I know this is one of the more obscure programs but they are a new transfer partner for Citi Thank You Rewards so I decided to take a look at them.
- All United flights will earn some miles with the lowest fares earning 50% of actual flight miles. In my example above, I will earn 20,426 miles if credited to EVA Air.
- Miles can be accrued by flying EVA Air, UNI Air and Star Alliance partner airlines.
- You need 50,000 qualifying miles for Gold Card (Star Alliance Gold) status. To re-qualify for Gold Card status, you need to fly 80,000 within a two year period.
- Elite status last for two years.
- Miles will expire after three years, regardless of mileage activity.
- EVA Air has a pricey, zone based award chart. Business class North America to Europe costs 130,000 miles and business class North America to North Asia costs 175,000 miles.
- EVA Air adds fuel surcharges on partner flights but not on their own metal.
- EVA Air is a transfer partner for Citi Thank You Rewards.
- EVA Air has a decent miles accrual chart for United flights:
So as you can see, when it comes to flying United Airlines and crediting your miles to another airline, there is no clear winner on which program is the best. There are definitely pros and cons to the other partner programs but depending on what you care about, different programs might be better for different people.
I think Air Canada, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines look pretty good overall. If you want full mileage earning on United, then Singapore Airlines is your best bet. If you want a lower mileage threshold and longer elite status once you have it, then give Turkish Airlines a try. If you want a traditional program that’s most similar to the old MileagePlus, then check out Air Canada.
But for me personally, I think the most important factor in determining where to bank my flight miles is the ability to transfer credit card miles into my frequent flyer account. With Singapore Airlines, even if I never fly again, I know that I can transfer points from Amex, SPG, Chase and Citi to top off my account and redeem them for an award. Whereas, my biggest fear with programs such as Aegean and Turkish Airlines is my inability to transfer miles. Because they don’t have any transfer partners, the only way for you to earn enough miles to redeem for an award is to put your butt in a seat.
Because of that, I think Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer is the best option for me. I can still mileage run on United’s deeply discounted fares, earn full mileage and redeem them for an incredible, aspirational product like their A380 First Class Suite. You can read more about Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris program here.
So what do you guys think about Singapore Airlines being a good alternative for MileagePlus? Where will you credit your United flights now that they are revenue-based?
After some trial and error with my completed flights to Taiwan, I learned a very important lesson. The mileage you earn will be based on the fare class of the OPERATING carrier and not the MARKETING carrier of the ticket. For example, in my scenario above, United is the operating carrier for the legs operated by United metal but is the MARKETING carrier for the legs operated by ANA. Unfortunately for me, not all of the actual flight mileage was credited to my Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer account because the operating carrier’s fare class (United K fare class but ANA V fare class) only earned 50% mileage when credited to KrisFlyer. That was a very hard lesson to learn but is something that you all need to be aware of.
Of the seven flights I flew on ANA (with UA codeshare flight numbers), I received full credit on four of them when credited to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. Only three of them received 50% mileage credit. At this time, I do not know why some of the flights credited 100% and others credited 50% so I will say that your mileage may vary when dealing with codeshare flights. To ensure that you receive the proper mileage credit, always make sure to verify the operating carrier’s fare class before purchasing your ticket.