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How to Book United Flights With Amex Points

10 minute read 24 June 2024
United planes parked at airport
Written by: Jimmy Yoon

Here’s a devastating fact: You can’t convert American Express Membership Rewards points into United Airlines miles. Amex partners with 18 airline loyalty programs — and United isn’t one of them.

Does that mean United flyers (or would-be flyers) shouldn’t collect Amex points? After all, United Airlines serves more international destinations than any airline in the world.

Nope! 

As it turns out, Amex Membership Rewards points are one of the best travel-rewards currencies to fly United. Just because you can’t shift Amex points to United doesn’t mean you can’t travel hack your way onboard.

Wondering how to book United flights with Amex points, even though it’s not a direct transfer partner? Read on to learn more.

The best way to book United flights with Amex points: Star Alliance airline partners

United Airlines is a member of Star Alliance — a partnership between dozens of airlines around the world. While United isn’t itself a transfer partner of American Express, several of United’s Star Alliance partners are. By transferring Amex points to these Star Alliance airlines, it’s possible to catch a flight on United for a similar or even cheaper price than if you had transferred directly to United Airlines.

For every Amex point you transfer to the partner airlines below, you’ll receive 1 airline mile. However, you’ll occasionally find a transfer bonus that greatly improves this transfer ratio. You can use these partner airline programs to book simple domestic flights, or you can use them to reach any international destination United serves.

Star Alliance member: Avianca

Avianca is the flag carrier of Colombia. You might not be too familiar with Avianca if you don’t tend to travel to South America, but its LifeMiles loyalty program is an excellent option for booking United flights — often better than United itself, in fact.

Avianca’s award prices are a bit sporadic, which can be a two-edged sword:

  • The bad: It’s difficult to predict the amount of miles you’ll need for a specific flight.
  • The good: With a little luck, you can find some unicorn fares.

For example, prices between the U.S. and Europe generally cost between 20,000 and 30,000 Avianca miles. But you may occasionally see prices well below 20,000 miles.

Here’s a solid price for a one-way coach flight between Washington Dulles (IAD) and Paris (CDG) in late 2024 — 23,000 Avianca LifeMiles and $27.80. United charges 40,000 points for the same ticket.

Avianca

Star Alliance member: Air Canada

Air Canada’s Aeroplan is a loyalty program with plenty of admirable qualities, such as inexpensive stopovers and super-cheap lap-infant awards for international travel.

And yet, Air Canada Aeroplan’s award prices are a bit complex. In short, you’ll pay according to the regions you fly as well as the distance of your trip. First you need to identify the “travel zones” of your origin and destination airports, then consult the appropriate distance-based Aeroplan award chart.

Let’s search for the same flight we found on Avianca: a trip between Washington, DC and Paris. You’ll travel between two zones, “North America” and “Atlantic.” A quick scan of the award chart for North America and Atlantic zones tells us that this flight should cost 35,000 points one-way in coach.

Air Canada Aeroplan

Again, you’ll pay 40,000 United Airlines miles for this specific United flight. And although you can reserve these seats through your Air Canada Aeroplan account for 5,000 miles less than through United for this seat, it charges about $50 more in taxes and fees. In other words, the price is nearly the same.

Star Alliance member: Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines is another carrier that you may have never flown — and may never intend to fly. But its miles are helpful for booking cheap United Airlines seats, and its award chart is extremely easy to understand. It prices award flights with all of its Star Alliance partner airlines based on the zones of your origin and destination airports.

Let’s look for that same United flight between Washington, DC, and Paris. The Singapore Airlines award chart indicates that a flight between the “North America” and “Europe” zones will cost 61,000 miles round-trip (or 31,500 miles each way). A quick search on the Singapore Airlines website returns the same price.

Singapore Airlines

Star Alliance member: ANA

All Nippon Airways (ANA) is Japan’s largest airline. Its award prices are astoundingly low for many routes. Like, bad-business-model-low — particularly for first- and business-class seats. The catch is that ANA often charges eye-watering fees for award tickets on some of its partner airlines, to the tune of several hundred dollars — or even well over $1,000 for first- and business-class flights.

One exception is United Airlines. You’ll still often get dinged with taxes that are higher than what United would charge, but for the miles you’ll save, it’s easily worth it.

For example, a round-trip coach flight from Washington, DC, to Paris on United costs 55,000 miles and around $90. That’s 27,500 miles each way — a solid 12,500 miles less than United charges.

ANA

There’s one enormous catch with ANA: You can’t book one-way award flights. ANA obliges you to book a round-trip ticket. However, you can choose to depart from a different airport than you flew into (called an open-jaw fare), so this round-trip rule doesn’t prevent you from hopping to another location during your vacation.

The worst ways to book United Airlines flights with Amex points

Book through Amex Travel

Amex Travel is American Express’s proprietary travel-booking portal, like Expedia or Kayak. You can use it to reserve flights, hotel stays, rental cars, and more with either Amex Membership Rewards, cash, or a mix of both.

You’ll typically get a value of 1 cent per Amex point when redeeming for flights through Amex Travel. That’s low — but there are two scenarios in which it makes sense:

  1. You can’t find any award seats for your desired dates. You can book any available seat on the plane through the Amex Travel portal, without worrying about blackout dates or award space.
  2. You have the Business Platinum Card from American Express and are booking either first- or business-class flights. The Amex Business Platinum Card gives you a 35% rebate when booking premium seats, increasing your value per point to 1.5 cents. (There’s also the Business Centurion option — it’s a really rare card, but it does get 2 cents per point via a 50% rebate.)

Just FYI, if you’re frequently redeeming Amex points for a value of 1 cent each for United Airlines flights, you’re likely better off getting cash back instead.

Perhaps a third reason you might choose to book award flights through the Amex Travel portal is that it’s so easy. If you can’t be bothered to figure out how to transfer points to an airline and go through the award-booking process, “buying” travel with points can look pretty tasty.

In that case, though, think about using point.me instead. We make the award-booking process as straightforward as any online travel agency, so simplicity shouldn’t be your reason for burning points through the Amex Travel portal.

Transfer Amex points to Marriott

United Airlines isn’t an Amex transfer partner, but Marriott Bonvoy is. You can transfer Amex points to Marriott at a 1:1 ratio.

Weird as it may sound, Marriott has more transfer partners than any other loyalty program. You can trade Marriott points in for more than 35 types of airline miles — including United Airlines. But it’s almost never a good idea, unless you only need a few thousand miles to reach the award flight you’ve been dreaming about.

Technically, however, you can turn Amex points into United miles by converting your Amex points into Marriott points and then converting those Marriott points into United miles. For every 3 Marriott points you transfer to United Airlines, you’ll receive 1 United mile. And when you transfer in increments of 60,000 Marriott points, you’ll get a bonus 10,000 United miles. In other words, you’ll receive 30,000 United miles by transferring 60,000 Marriott points.

Redeem points for cash

You can cash out Amex points in the form of a statement credit at a rate of 0.6 cents per point. This is a positively abysmal return and should be a back-against-the-wall option for United Airlines flyers. You can simply purchase a United ticket with your card instead and redeem points to offset the cost of eligible travel purchases.

How point.me helps you book United flights with Amex points

point.me shows you all the available options for a particular route so you can easily and quickly compare the points fares for a variety of airlines and make the choice that works best for you.

Frequently asked questions about booking United flights with Amex points

Can I use Amex points for United Airlines?

Yes, you can use Amex points for United Airlines in many ways, even though United is a not a transfer partner of American Express. You can either purchase United Airlines flights through Amex Travel at a rate of 1 cent each, or you can transfer your points to United Airlines partners, such as Avianca, ANA, and Air Canada Aeroplan — then book a United flight through that loyalty program’s site.

What other airlines can I transfer Amex points to?

American Express allows you to convert your rewards into 18 different airline currencies. Highlights include Qantas, Flying Blue (the loyalty program of Air France and KLM), British Airways, Delta, Cathay Pacific, and Emirates.

Can I partially pay for a United flight with Amex points?

Yes, you can partially pay for a United Airlines flight with Amex points. When booking through the Amex Travel portal, you can customize the ratio of points and cash you want to spend.

Which Amex credit cards earn Membership Rewards points? 

You can earn Membership Rewards points with several American Express credit cards, including the Platinum Card from American Express, American Express Gold Card, American Express Green Card, Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card, and more. Most of these cards are available for small businesses as well.

How much are Amex Membership Rewards points worth?

It’s truly impossible to nail down an exact value for American Express Membership Rewards points, as the return you’ll get depends on how you redeem them. A conservative estimate when used for travel is 2 cents per point.

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