United Business from 17k miles: This week’s Frequent Flyer Mile Arbitrage

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One of my favorite parts of this hobby is what I call “Frequent Flyer Mile Arbitrage.” I talk about this quite a bit in Chapter 5 of my book, MilesTalk: Live Your WIldest Travel Dreams Using Miles and Points. The chapter is called “Airline Miles and Alliances: How They Work and How to Work Them.

In brief, Frequent Flyer Mile Arbitrage is when you understand that each frequent flyer program has it’s own prices for awards, even on the exact same flights. United charges 110,000 miles for 1st Class flights to Europe while Singapore charges 80,000. They are both in the Star Alliance and their charts apply equally to all flights on these airlines. So it makes sense to keep a stash of transferable miles and use them where the best deal exists for a particular flight. If you want a flight on Lufthansa, for example, that exact same flight is 110,000 United miles or just 80,000 Singapore Airlines miles. Which would you prefer?

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Not long ago, I shared the story of MilesTalk reader Rotem, who used this technique to spend 57,500 Singapore Airlines miles each for 2 tickets in which he was about to spend 85,000 United miles for, saving over 50,000 miles!

So I’ve decided to highlight some sweet spots and make it a series.

This week’s post is about using Lufthansa miles for domestic United Business Class at just 17,000 miles each way, even coast-to-coast.

If you fly United domestically in the US using your United miles for Business Class, the best possible price is 25,000 United miles one way.

But that same flight ticketed online with Lufthansa Miles & More miles would be just 12,000 miles in economy or 17,000 miles in Business. They impose no additional taxes or fees over what United would charge and there’s no last minute booking surcharge (United charges $75 if you book within 3 weeks of travel). There’d be no point in using it for economy, but there’s an 8,000 mile savings using it for Business Class – plus possibly an extra $75 savings if booking last minute.

The most exciting part of this, though, is that you could even theoretically book one of United’s premium transcontinental flights (EWR-LAX/SFO) like this for 17,000 miles – whereas United charges 35,000 miles for the same ticket. Now we are saving more than half!!  The only problem there is that United Saver award availability on a transcon in Business is truly like looking for a unicorn. I actually can’t find one all year. If they ever get less stingy on those routes, though, this is the golden ticket.

How can you get Lufthansa Miles & More miles? You can accrue them when you fly any Star Alliance airlines (like United) and credit them to Miles and More or you can transfer them from Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG).

Two notes: 1) It takes time to create a fully functional Miles and More account as you need to wait for your real membership card to arrive in the mail. 2) Transfers from SPG take around 4 days.

Can you use other frequent flyer programs for this flight for less than the 25,000 – 35,000 miles United charges? YES.

For just a few more miles, but on a partner that is much easier to earn miles in, Singapore Airlines can book a United Business award for 20,000 miles each way, also including the premium transcon flights. And those have recently started to be bookable online as well. While it’s 3,000 more miles, technically, Singapore miles are so much easier to come by as they are transferable from ALL four of the major transferable currencies: Chase, Citi, Amex, and SPG. Transfer times are quicker to Singapore Airlines as well.

As an aside, this is best for longer US trips on United. For short ones, we’d arbitrage Avianca miles, from just 8,000 miles + fees. I’ll talk about that another time.

Hat tip to Benji Stawski, whose post about the Lufthansa angle on this on Twitter prompted me to look into it. Turns out, the ability to do this online is brand new. Even I learn new arbitrages all the time!

Do you arbitrage your miles and points?  Let me know here, on Twitter, or in the private MilesTalk Facebook group.

New to all of this? My new “introduction to miles and points” book, MilesTalk: Live Your Wildest Travel Dreams Using Miles and Points is available now.