United MileagePlus

Flight Awards

United MileagePlus is the loyalty program of the United States’ second-largest airline group, United Airlines. As a member of the Star Alliance, United Airlines’ miles are versatile, but the lack of predictability for award flights limits their value.

United uses a combination of dynamic and fixed pricing, but it does not publish an award chart like Air Canada Aeroplan. Instead, United randomly increases the price of partner awards, but it is seldom the best deal in the first place. Flights on United planes are priced dynamically, but there are tips and tricks to access more ‘saver’ availability.

United MileagePlus is also home to the world’s most frequent commercial flier, Tom Stucker, who has racked up 24,000,000 miles (not a typo) on a lifetime business class ticket he bought in 1990 for $290,000. If that sounds like the deal of a lifetime and you want to partake, unfortunately, United realized their mistake and no longer sells lifetime tickets. 

Let’s delve into the specifics of the United Airlines MileagePlus program, with a comprehensive guide on how to earn and make the most of your miles.

Acquiring United MileagePlus Miles

North American frequent flyer programs are absolute juggernauts when it comes to earning points, with partnerships out of the wazoo. Airline loyalty programs make more money selling points to financial institutions and merchant partners than flying planes, so it’s no surprise they maximize the opportunity.

Ten reliable methods exist for earning United MileagePlus miles, so fasten your seatbelt and prepare to beef up your MileagePlus account balance.

Transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase cardholders who earn Ultimate Rewards points can transfer them to the United MileagePlus program at a ratio of 1:1. Transferring your Chase Ultimate Rewards to United MileagePlus is not advisable, as Hyatt points are inherently more valuable and more challenging to earn. Still, it can make sense if you have a high-value flight redemption lined up.

transfer chase ultimate rewards to united mileageplus miles

The Chase website states it will take one business day for your points to arrive in your United account, but in practice, miles are available almost instantly. Chase has not run a transfer bonus to United in years (if ever), but if this trend changes, you’ll be the first to know by keeping an eye on our Miles and Points Transfer Partner Tool.

Transfer from Hotel Programs

United has partnered with several hotel chains to allow the transfer of their loyalty program currencies to United MileagePlus. This option actually offers decent value for some partners if you are looking to increase your United MileagePlus balance. 

I wouldn’t use this as a primary means to earn United MileagePlus miles, but it’s a great way to save expiring miles. The hotel loyalty programs that can transfer their currency to United MileagePlus and their ratios are listed in the table below:

Hotel Program Transfer PartnerTransfer Ratio
Marriott Bonvoy3 Marriott Bonvoy Points = 1 Mile
(10,000 Miles Bonus when transferring 60,000 points.
Effective rate 2 points = 1 Mile)
Hilton Honors10,000 Hilton Honors Points = 1,000 Miles
Accor Live Limitless (ALL)2,000 Rewards Points = 1,000 Miles
IHG One Rewards10,000 Points = 2,000 Miles
World of Hyatt5,000 Points = 2,000 Miles
(5,000 Miles Bonus when transferring 50,000 points.
Effective rate 2 Points = 1 Mile)
Choice Privileges5,000 Points = 2,000 Miles
Wyndham Rewards6,000 Points = 1,200 Miles
Shangri-La Circle2,500 Points = 2,500 Miles

United and Marriott have a strategic partnership that goes where no other airline and hotel strategic partnership has gone before. We will discuss more details on this partnership later, but when transferring points from hotel loyalty programs to airline loyalty programs, nothing beats transferring Marriott Bonvoy points to United MileagePlus miles.

united mileageplus with marriott bonvoy partnership

With an effective 2:1 ratio, if you transfer in increments of 60,000 Marriott points, this can be a great way to boost your United balance for a high-value redemption. It’s more attractive than transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards to United MileagePlus because Chase Ultimate Rewards can be worth up to 3.5 cents per point when used for Hyatt hotel stays, and Marriott points are often only worth 1 cent per point.

Another way to view it is by dissecting the earning rates as a Marriott Titanium Elite status member when staying at hotels. As a reward for accumulating 75 Elite Nights from January to December, Titanium members earn 17.5 Marriott points per USD spent. If transferred to United, this would be like earning 8.75 United Miles for every dollar spent on Marriott hotels. This is a fantastic deal, as a United Premier Gold member only earns 8 United Miles when flying on United.

Sign Up for Chase United Co-Branded Credit Cards

Signing up for United credit cards only makes sense if you fly United a lot. For most Canadians, it won’t make sense, but it could make sense for those frequenting Chicago or connecting through. As these credit cards are all issued through Chase Bank, Canadians are eligible to get these US credit cards provided they are willing to put in a bit of effort.

One unique feature of United’s credit cards is that you can get all the welcome bonuses. Unlike Aeroplan, which has instituted light ‘family’ language in their terms and conditions, Chase and United will let you sign up for each co-branded card and receive a full bonus. 

Since there are 6 of them, this could quickly total anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 MileagePlus miles. Better yet, because there are 4 personal cards and 2 business cards, you don’t need to worry about Chase’s 5/24 Rule. Now, just because you can do this does not mean you should. It’s often better to sign up for cards that earn variable currencies so you can hunt around for the best deal rather than be limited to one loyalty program. 

Some co-branded cards include a free checked bag, and one very important stipulation about this perk is that you must pay for your flight with that United Card to get the free bags. This policy differs from every other co-branded card, where your benefits are tied to the loyalty account rather than the purchasing method.

Without further adieu, let’s analyze the cards available!

Chase United Gateway Card

The Chase United Gateway card won’t give you many perks, and it’s not worth using a valuable 5/24 slot, as the bonus is often only 20,000 United Miles. It’s a no-annual-fee card with a foreign transaction fee waiver and a 25% discount on food and drinks purchased in a United Club or on a United flight.

Chase United Gateway Card

The Chase United Gateway Card earns MileagePlus miles and gives cardholders 25% back on all in-flight United Airlines purchases.

20,000 MileagePlus

This card is a great card to downgrade to, as it pairs nicely with some United business cards we will discuss later.

Chase United Explorer Card

The Chase United Explorer card steps up the perks as it offers a free checked bag for the cardholder and one companion, unlike the core and premium Aeroplan cards, which offer free checked bags for eight companions on the same itinerary. One advantage the United Explorer card has over mid-tier Aeroplan cards is that it grants priority boarding. With Aeroplan, priority boarding and other priority perks are only available with the premium Aeroplan credit cards.

Chase United Explorer Card

The Chase United Explorer Card earns MileagePlus miles and offers cardholders a variety of United Airlines benefits including priority boarding and a first free checked bag.

50,000 MileagePlus
$95 (FYF)

You’ll receive the same perks of the Chase United Gateway card, including a foreign transaction fee waiver and a 25% discount on United food and drink purchases. You’ll also receive a $100 statement credit every four years for the Verified Traveler program of your choice. You’ll also be granted two one-time access passes to any United Club, which may be difficult to use if you only travel occasionally. The average United Club tends to be more crowded than Denver’s Centurion Lounge

This card (and the rest on this list) will unlock extra United Saver awards that only United Elite members can access. Reports indicate, though, that if you downgrade this card or any other United card with an annual fee to the Gateway card, you will keep being able to book the extra saver award space.

united airlines extra saver space by holding chase united explorer card
The awards marked with the fare class XN are the extra saver availability.

For a card with an annual fee of $95 USD, there’s some value to be had with the free checked bags and extra award space! However, I wouldn’t recommend spending on this card past the minimum spending requirement, as the multipliers are not great.

Chase United Quest Card

The Chase United Quest card might be the best card on this list for the occasional United flyer who travels on 10+ flights per year but doesn’t earn elite status. As a unique perk, this card grants two free checked bags for the cardholder and a companion. The same features of FX fee waiver, 25% discount on food and beverage, $100 Verified Traveler credit, and Priority Boarding apply here.

Chase United Quest Card

The Chase United Quest Card earns MileagePlus miles and offers cardholders a variety of United Airlines benefits including priority boarding and free checked bags.

60,000 MileagePlus

While this card has an annual fee of $250 USD, it also offers a $125 United statement credit, which is a perk that should be easy to use. Simply spend $125 on a United purchase. To provide value for the rest of the $250 annual fee, Chase and United grant two 5,000 ‘Miles Back’ certificates for award flights, which start after renewing the card in the second year.

For example, if you make a 10,000-mile redemption, you’ll get 5,000 miles deposited back into your account. This will happen two times for a total rebate of 10,000 miles, which should be worth about $130 USD.

Chase United Club Infinite Card

The Chase United Club Infinite card bears a striking resemblance to our Premium Aeroplan cards north of the border. With unlimited access to United Clubs, Priority Services like expedited baggage and dedicated check-in lanes, and two free checked bags, this card earns its $525 USD annual fee.

Chase United Club Infinite Card

The Chase United Club Infinite Card earns MileagePlus miles and offers cardholders the best United Airlines benefits including free bags, priority services, and complimentary United Club membership.

80,000 MileagePlus

You’ll have to travel on United a lot to make this card worth it, but United Clubs are getting much nicer as there’s been a push to renovate them.

flagship united club newark terminal c lounge
Flagship United Club at Newark Terminal C

In addition to the benefits of the previous cards, you’ll also be granted Avis President’s Club status and IHG Platinum Status. If you use your IHG Status, you’ll be rewarded with a $75 statement credit automatically applied to any charge levied by an IHG hotel.

Another interesting perk of this card is a 10% discount on economy saver award tickets within the lower 48 states and Canada. You will only get this discount if you redeem miles for a United-operated flight, but it applies to all passengers on the same booking. The most expensive saver award you could use this for is NYC to SFO or LAX, which runs 15,000 miles one way.

united airlines 10 percent off saver award from chase united club infinite card benefit

If you’re flying a family of six round trip, that could be worth 18,000 miles saved!

Chase United Business Card

The Chase United Business card offers a lot of value for a card with a $99 USD annual fee. If you hold a personal United credit card from Chase (even the no-annual fee Gateway card), you’ll receive 5,000 bonus miles every anniversary. Given that United Miles are worth about 1.3 cents USD each, that’s $65 USD of value back every anniversary for paying an annual fee.

Chase United Business Card

The Chase United Business Card earns MileagePlus miles and offers cardholders a variety of United Airlines benefits including priority boarding and a first free checked bag.

75,000 MileagePlus
$99 (FYF)

Factoring in the cost of one free checked bag for the cardholder and a companion, the annual fee is easy to outweigh even if you fly United once yearly with the right card combo. 

However, the earning rates on this card are not great. We recommend holding it yearly for free checked bags rather than using it as a tool to earn United Miles.

Chase United Club Business Card

Mimicking the features of its personal counterpart, cardholders with the Chase United Club Business card will receive Priority Services, United Club Access, Avis Presidents Club status, and two free checked bags.

Chase United Club Business Card

The Chase United Club Business Card earns MileagePlus miles and offers cardholders the best United Airlines benefits including free bags, priority services, and complimentary United Club membership.

50,000 MileagePlus

The Chase United Club Business card has a lower annual fee of $450 USD. However, it lacks features from the more expensive personal card, like the IHG Statement Credit, IHG Status, and the 10% discount on saver economy award tickets. The earning rates are also much worse compared to the personal United Club Card unless you plan to spend a lot on uncategorized purchases.

While the card does earn 1.5 miles per dollar spent on everything, cardholders can instead earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards on everything with the Chase Freedom Unlimited card and then transfer those points to United if they have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card

Earning Ultimate Rewards is better than earning United Miles directly because sometimes it’s better to book United flights with Aeroplan points in addition to offering more flexibility with transfer partners.

Flying on United Airlines or Their Partner Airlines

Like most US frequent flyer programs, United bases the number of miles you earn when flying with them on how much money you spend on your base fare. This has pros and cons, which will be discussed, but the earning structure based on status levels is as listed below:

  • General Member: 5 miles per USD
  • Premier Silver: 7 miles per USD
  • Premier Gold: 8 miles per USD
  • Premier Platinum: 9 miles per USD
  • Premier 1K: 11 miles per USD

If you book your ticket through Air Canada or another partner airline, you’ll earn United Miles based on distance and fare type. Your fare type is denoted with a letter and can be found in your confirmation email. 

Generally, Air Canada awards more miles for distance-based earning on United-operated flights, but you can nerd out on all the details of your ticket and fare class with one of our favorite tools, Where To Credit.

Earning United miles based on revenue can benefit a traveler who mainly flies short haul around the East Coast. Usually, these flights are under 1,000 miles, making it hard to rack up a large balance. Conversely, if you’re flying across the continent regularly, say from New York to Los Angeles, it’s likely detrimental as you would earn more miles based on distance flown than 1,500 miles for a $300 USD ticket. 

United’s earning structure benefits travelers who spend a lot on flights rather than the maximizers who find cheap fares that cover lots of distance.

Booking Hotel Stays Through United Hotel Portal

If you’re fully aboard the United train, you can book hotel stays through the United Hotels portal, which grants you 2 miles per $1 USD spent. While that’s not a bad return, you would do much better by booking independent hotels through the Chase Travel Portal to receive 5 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 USD spent.

Of course, if you’re booking a chain hotel, it’s almost always better to book directly with that chain to work towards status and enjoy the benefits of any status you have already earned.

united hotels earning rates splash image

If you’re looking for a more luxurious experience, booking stays through the Villas of Distinction program will increase earning rates to 3 miles per $1 USD spent.

united villas of distinction hotel stay earning rates splash image

When considering these programs, always compare the prices to ensure you’re not paying an inflated price for the privilege of earning extra miles.

Car Rentals

Like most frequent flyer programs, you won’t get a great return for purchasing car rentals through the MileagePlus portal. The earning rates for crediting your rental to United are below and are only available when renting from Avis or Budget.

earn united mileage plus miles with avis and budget car rentals

United MileagePlus X App

The MileagePlus X mobile app is a unique earning method that no other frequent flyer program offers. You can buy gift cards through the MileagePlus X app and earn miles similar to a shopping portal, but then use the just-purchased gift card in a shopping portal to earn more miles. It won’t work with all retailers, but it’s an excellent opportunity for a double or triple dip!

united airlines mileageplus x mobile app

United MileagePlus Shopping

Airlines and loyalty programs really like selling miles. Most of them have instituted some sort of shopping portal, and United Airlines is no exception. Occasionally, United will offer promotions to earn a few extra miles for signing up and making a purchase within a limited time. If you don’t have the United shopping portal yet, I would hold off creating an account until they run a promotion.

united mileageplus shopping portal home screen

With Cashback Monitor, you can view the earning rates of all shopping portals, and United rarely has the best earning rate. So, by waiting for a promotion to sign up, you’re not missing out on much.

United MileagePlus Dining

MileagePlus members can also earn miles through the United MileagePlus Dining program. Most dining programs are run by the same company, Rewards Network, making it challenging to double-dip on two programs. 

The restaurant offers change constantly, but dining portals are an often overlooked earning option in frequent flyer programs. On average, you’ll get 2-3 miles extra per dollar spent, which is nothing to shake a stick at!

united airlines mileageplus dining

We recommend using a dining program to earn reward currencies that you have a hard time earning or that you earn constantly. If you go for the former, ensure those loyalty miles won’t expire before you use them!

United Mile Play Offers

United Mile Play is a new facet of the MileagePlus program that rewards members for completing specific tasks. It’s gamification in its truest form and can be very rewarding. After punching in your United MileagePlus number, you’ll be told what offer you’re targeted for, if any.

united mile play offers

It’s essential to read the terms and conditions thoroughly, as this offer specifies a “Trip” as a unique itinerary booked on United.com. This means you can unlock 8,500 miles by booking two one-way trips instead of a round trip. 

You can check and see if you’re targeted here.

Redeeming United MileagePlus Miles

Using your hard-earned miles for flights is the best way to extract value from them. However, United is one of the most flexible rewards currencies. You can use MileagePlus miles for hotels, car rentals, cruises, United Club memberships, in-flight wifi, experiences, gift cards, and even a TSA Pre-Check membership.

Redeeming United MileagePlus Miles for Flights

United operates its flight rewards without an award chart, so the value of your miles can be unpredictable, but this is still the best value option to redeem United miles for. In the past, United has increased the prices of its award flights overnight without warning, and I would not put it past them to do it again. If you’re familiar with how Air Canada operates its dynamic pricing on Aeroplan, it’s very similar.

While the value of their miles is unpredictable, a significant benefit of the program is that it limits fuel surcharges on partner redemptions and does not charge cancellation or change fees.

When redeeming your points for United flights, you will see Saver award flights and Everyday award flights. Ideally, you want to book Saver awards, as they are not dynamically priced, but that won’t happen every time. You can access extra Saver award flights if you’re a United Premier Status member or hold specific co-branded United credit cards.

When booking partner airlines, like Lufthansa Business Class, with your United miles, you will pay a premium of 15,000-20,000 miles compared to competitors like Avianca Lifemiles, Aeroplan, or ANA Mileage Club. United’s main benefit is flexibility, as they do not charge any cancellation or change fees, while all the programs mentioned above do. 

If you have enough miles available, you could ‘hold your own partner award space’ by booking an Air Canada Signature Class award on United while waiting 96 hours for your American Express Membership Rewards points to transfer to ANA. Once your miles are with ANA, cancel the United booking, and if you’re lucky, the Air Canada flight will pop back up on ANA, where you can book it for far fewer miles.

United MileagePlus Flight Redemption Sweet Spots

There are a number of unique opportunities and uses for United MileagePlus miles that will allow you to get more value out of your next flight redemption.

United Excursionist Perk

The United Excursionist perk deserves an article all on its own, as it’s incredibly complex. But simply, you can get the second segment in a three-segment multi-city ticket for free. 

For example, if you booked flights from Toronto to London, then London to Brussels, and Brussels back to Toronto, your flight from London to Brussels would not cost any miles. To help visualize, we’ve created a map that shows this routing.

united airlines excursionist perk example routing

Without going into great detail, you can use this perk for longer flights if you stay within one region United has defined. If you are interested in longer flights that you can reduce to zero miles through the Excursionist perk, a good example would be going from Northern Africa to Southern Africa or London to Istanbul.

United has listed when they consider regions here if you want to dig into more opportunities to utilize this perk.

Short Hops Within Europe

United could change their partner award prices at any time, but currently they offer the best deal for ultra-short hops within Europe. For example, London to Frankfurt is only 6,000 Miles and $43 in taxes and fees per person. It’s not worth paying for business class intra-Europe, as the seats are the same as economy, with the middle seat blocked off.

united mileageplus london to frankfurt miles redemption

Air Canada charges a few more miles but also more taxes and fees.

air canada aeroplan london to frankfurt redemption pricing

The cash prices of these tickets are the most surprising, as Lufthansa still wants $435 USD per person for the economy seats.

london to frankfurt cash pricing

When looking at the points cost for the less expensive British Airways flight, economy class is not available. But even if it was, it would be priced at 9,000 Avios.

british airways london to frankfurt redemption avios pricing

This is the best sweet spot United MileagePlus has going for it, we will see how long it sticks around!

Air Canada Saver Flights

Air Canada saver flights won’t always be a deal, but with United doing a better job limiting carrier surcharges than Aeroplan, you can find great deals last minute. 

For example, the below Vancouver to Denver direct flights only cost 20,000 MileagePlus Miles plus $49.20 USD in taxes and fees.

united mileageplus saver air canada flights

On the other hand, when booking through Air Canada Aeroplan these flights are not only more expensive on points, but also more expensive in taxes and fees.

air canada booking cost comparison

United’s flights can cost fewer points when booked with Aeroplan points, which is hard to think about as United MileagePlus can charge fewer points for Air Canada flights. However, shelling out less cash becomes more important to most in this hobby as time goes on. As we see in the Acquiring section of this guide, points will always be relatively easy to earn. Cash is indeed king!

Searching for Star Alliance Award Space

United, and most US-based airlines, have fantastic search engines. Even if you aren’t planning on redeeming United MileagePlus miles for a flight, United is particularly great when searching for Saver partner availability on Star Alliance carriers, as you can filter by First Class or Business Class flights.

Any flight listed as 88,000 miles should be available to book with any Star Alliance partner.

united airlines award calendar

However, in the ever-changing world of miles and points, some loyalty programs pay airlines more money to have extra saver award space. Just because it’s available on United does not guarantee availability through all Star Alliance partners. 

Always double-check on the partner website you intend to book with before transferring points from financial institutions to loyalty programs. Those transfers are a one-way street and cannot be reversed.

Other United MileagePlus Redemptions

While other ways exist to use your MileagePlus miles, we strongly recommend against redeeming them for these alternatives. Their value in such redemptions is notably diminished compared to the value you’d get from using them for flight rewards. Here’s a snapshot of all the redemption options.

united mileageplus other travel redemptions
united mileageplus other redemptions

If you are interested in any of these other redemption options, you can view them in more detail here.

United Airlines MileagePlus Premier Status

Like all US carriers, United is very generous with its policy of free upgrades to premium seats for its elite members. If there’s an empty Business Class seat, you can bet they will offer it to a frequent flyer! 

The United Airlines MileagePlus program has four levels of status that can be earned: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, and Premier 1K.

united mileageplus status tiers and requirements

Status is earned based on accruing Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) and Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) which are similar to Air Canada’s Status Qualifying Segments (SQS) and Status Qualifying Dollars (SQD). 

PQP is earned based on how much money you’ve spent with United, it essentially calculates the base fare plus select taxes and fees. 1 PQP is generally equal to $1 USD. PQF is much more straightforward as it simply counts the segments you’ve flown with United. You must fly at least 4 United flights to qualify for Premier status from flying alone. Even if you accumulate 25,000 PQP, it won’t count for any status if you have not sat on 4 United flights.

united mileageplus premier status progress bars

You can acquire Premier Qualifying Points from credit card spending as well, all of the Chase United co-branded cards offer 25 PQP per $500 in purchases. Most cards are capped to 1,000 PQP earned, but the Quest and Club cards offer a higher limit of 6,000 and 10,000 PQPs available to be earned through spending.

As an aside, United Premier Silver status is a perk of Marriott Titanium status, and while there’s little value with Silver status, access to free economy plus seats is nice. To get this perk, you must check in for your flight with your United Frequent Flyer number, but it’s easily changed after check-in to Air Canada or any other partner you want to credit the flight to.

Earning Premier Gold status within the program will also grant Star Alliance Gold status which comes with a variety of perks. One great perk for United Premier Gold members and above is the ability to use Maple Leaf Lounges even when traveling in economy class, thanks to their Star Alliance Gold recognition. Other than that, the perks are regular among what we have come to expect with status when it comes to frequent flyer loyalty programs, such as free checked baggage on United Airlines.

Frequently Asked Questions

On average, a United MileagePlus mile is worth 1.3 Cents USD.

No, United MileagePlus miles never expire.

No, there are no fees associated with changing or canceling United MileagePlus flight redemptions and this is a huge benefit to booking award flights with United.

United is one of the most flexible rewards currencies. You can use MileagePlus miles for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, United Club memberships, in-flight wifi, experiences, gift cards, and even a TSA Pre-Check membership.

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