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16 Best Ways To Redeem United MileagePlus Miles for Max Value [2017]

how to redeem and use united miles

United’s MileagePlus program has a couple good things going for it. They don’t pass on fuel surcharges to award tickets, and you can use United miles to book award flights with their Star Alliance partners (the largest airline alliance in the world!).

To capitalize on what United offers for award tickets, you will need to know a few strategies for booking flights, including their stopover and open jaw rules.

Remember to consider their Star Alliance members, as some have fantastic business and first class products!

Some of the worst ways to use your United MileagePlus miles are for products through the shopping portal or other forms of travel. Instead, stick to redeeming for award travel on airlines; these are the best ways to use United MileagePlus miles!

In this post, we’ll discuss methods to use your miles for maximum value on MileagePlus award flights.

Using United MileagePlus Miles With Airline Partners

While miles can be earned by signing up for credit cards like the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card, you can also transfer miles to your United MileagePlus account from the Chase Ultimate Rewards program at a 1:1 rate.

Once you have earned enough United miles, you can use your miles for finding award tickets on United.com. United recently updated their search engine for finding tickets, and it’s great!

You’ll have the chance to redeem miles on United Airlines and with partner carriers through a normal search on their front page. Simply check the box next to “Search for Award Travel.”

United is a part of the Star Alliance, and they also partner with a few other airlines outside of any alliances. This means you have lots of options for turning your United miles into award tickets on a variety of carriers and flights all around the world.

Earn Points with Chase Credit Cards (Best Strategy)

Collecting Chase Ultimate Rewards points is an excellent strategy because these points are flexible (i.e. ultra valuable!) and can be transferred to many different airline and hotel partners, including United. Chase points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to United.

This is far better than just collected United miles which heavily restricts your options. Chase points are also very easy to earn.

Recommended Chase Cards (Personal)

CREDIT CARDMORE INFO
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

(Our #1 rewards card).
50,000 bonus points. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through
Chase Ultimate Rewards.
2X points on travel and dining.
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95
Full Review
Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card
50,000 bonus points
3X points on travel and dining.
Annual Fee: $450
Full Review
Chase Freedom®
Earn 5% cash back in bonus categories
No annual fee
Full Review
Chase Freedom Unlimited℠
Unlimited 1.5% cash back
No annual fee
Full Review

Recommended Chase Cards (Business)

CREDIT CARDMORE INFO
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit CardEarn 3 points per $1 in select categories
Annual Fee: $95
Full Review
Chase Ink Business Cash℠ Credit CardEarn 5% cash back in select business categories
No Annual Fee
Full Review

To transfer United points from Chase, go into Ultimate Rewards and click “Use Points” > “Transfer to Travel Partners”.

united points
Transfer Chase points to United points at a 1:1 ratio through Ultimate Rewards.

Bottom Line: Collect Chase points and then transfer them to United. Chase points offer you many transfer partner options (instead of just collecting United miles which are highly restrictive). Plus, Chase points are very easy to earn.

United MileagePlus Credit Cards

There are four total MileagePlus credit cards, which help you to directly earn United miles. Each of them has slightly different benefits, click the links below to find out more about them.

CREDIT CARDMORE INFO
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
Annual Fee: $95
Our Review
Chase United MileagePlus® Club CardEarn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United.
Annual Fee: $450.
United MileagePlus® Explorer Business CardEarn 2 miles per $1 spent on business purchases in select categories, including restaurants, gas stations, and office supply stores.
Annual Fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Our Review
Chase United MileagePlus® Club Business CardEarn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on purchases
Annual Fee: $450.

These cards have other benefits besides earning points. For example, MileagePlus Explorer card benefits include one free check bag, priority boarding and 2 United Club passes!

List of Star Alliance Airline Partners

Star Alliance Partners
Adria AirwaysEgyptAir
Aegean AirlinesEthiopian Airlines
Air CanadaEVA Air
Air ChinaLOT Polish Airlines
Air IndiaLufthansa
Air New ZealandScandinavian Airlines (SAS)
All Nippon Airways (ANA)Shenzhen Airlines
AsianaSingapore Airlines
AustrianSouth African Airways
AviancaSwiss
Brussels AirlinesTAP Portugal
Copa AirlinesThai Airways
Croatia AirlinesTurkish Airlines

List of Non-Alliance Airline Partners

Other Partners
Aer LingusGermanwings
AeromarGreat Lakes Airlines
Air DolomitiHawaiian Airlines
AzulIsland Air
Cape AirJet Airways
EdelweissSilver Airways
Eurowings

Use the United Award Chart to Plan Award Travel

United’s interactive award chart determines the different variations in award pricing by departure location, destination, class, and carrier. Here is an image of the United award chart below (they do not post a full award chart on their site):

united award chart for award travel
The United award chart from mainland USA to Europe. United has an interactive award chart versus an all-in-one to help you book award travel.

The award chart is available here.

The 16 Best Ways To Use Your United MileagePlus Miles

Grab your passport and travel the world! United has a bunch of great ways to redeem miles. You’ll want to stick with the Saver Award level to get the most value when redeeming your United miles.

Saver Award flights are available on flights operated by both United and their partner airlines, and these are the MileagePlus award types we’ll address in this post.

Travel partners will max out the value you can obtain when redeeming for flights, particularly in business and first class. However, economy tickets will also get you where you want to go for very few miles across the board.

Now, let’s get into the 16 best ways to use United miles!

Hot Tip: New to travel? Make sure you grab your passport if this is your first international trip, or get it renewed before traveling! You won’t be able to visit another country without it. If you want to save time and you think you’ll be traveling a lot, check out the Global Entry program as well.

1. Lufthansa First Class From the U.S. (110K United Miles)

Lufthansa first class flight
Lufthansa first class is an amazing way to experience flying thanks to United miles. Image courtesy of travelsort.com.

Lufthansa’s first class product has long been one of the most sought after seats in the sky. But, let’s be honest, a one-way ticket for over $4,000 isn’t in everyone’s budget.

Fortunately, United miles provide an opportunity to take part in this amazing experience. For 110,000 miles you can book a one-way first class award flight on Lufthansa.

This is not the cheapest mileage cost to get to Europe, or even to fly Lufthansa first class, but United does not pass on fuel surcharges to you. If you booked this flight with Lufthansa’s frequent flyer program, Miles and More, you can expect to pay over $400 in fuel surcharges.

One important point to remember when using United miles to book this flight is that Lufthansa only releases first class award space to its Star Alliance partners 14 days before departure.

While this leaves booking until later than most of us are accustomed, there is often open award space.

If you want to take your Lufthansa experience to the next level, make sure you have a connection in their hub, Frankfurt. There you will have the opportunity to visit the First Class Terminal (FCT).

Considered one of the best airport lounges in the world, you can enjoy a relaxing bath or shower and take home perhaps the most famous collectible of frequent flyers, a Lufthansa rubber duck.

You can even take a nap in one of their relaxation rooms complete with a bed for your comfort.

Finally, when it is time to head to the gate for your connecting flight, you won’t have to worry about arriving in time for boarding. Since the First Class Terminal is not connected to gates, you will be given a ride in a Porsche to ensure a timely arrival.

Need help booking? See our step by step guide to booking Lufthansa First Class.

Hot Tip: Enjoy other elite status and lounge perks when traveling if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card, Citi Prestige Card, or The Platinum Card® from American Express.

2. The Excursionist Perk

United’s frequent flyer program has long been known for allowing 1 stopover and 2 open-jaws. On October 6, 2016, United made some significant changes to its routing rules (particularly regarding stopovers) that you should know before booking international travel.

Let’s look at an example of how the old rules work as a comparison.

Previously, you could book a flight from the U.S. to Japan with a stopover in Europe on a round-trip ticket. (This was a great way to enjoy Lufthansa first class!)

Now, United’s rules require stopovers to be in the same region as a destination. They also can’t take place in the region where you started your travel. Finally, you must have a round-trip itinerary, which only means you must end your journey in your region of origin.

For example, an easy way to utilize this new rule would be to fly from the U.S. to Moscow with a stopover in Frankfurt, since both the stopover and destination are in Europe.

This seems like a pretty straightforward change, but there’s a twist that could provide you with some other interesting options!

In practice, United’s new stopover rules allow a free one-way segment to be taken within a single region, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take that free segment in the region of your final destination.

It only has to be your first intra-region flight on the itinerary. The rules also require you to end your trip in the region of origin, but that doesn’t necessarily require a simple round-trip booking!

Travel Is Free found a particularly interesting example of how to use these new rules in combination with other miles and points. Let’s look into the example they found.

To start, you’ll put together a multi-city booking with United. Fly from the U.S. to Barcelona, then book a flight from Dakar, Senegal to Cape Town, South Africa (this is your free one-way segment in a single region). Finally, book a one-way flight from Washington, D.C. to Chicago to end your trip in the region of origin.

You would need to use other miles and points to get from Barcelona to Dakar, as well as back to the U.S, in order to make this work. If you’re short on United miles, this could be a great way to maximize them and create a bigger trip.

It’s also a clever way to book a future domestic one-way you’ll be taking at a later date. In a sense, you’re booking part of 2 separate trips at the same time.

While we recognize this is a less common way to use the Excursionist Perk, it could provide you with some great value! If that’s not your style, there are plenty of simple stopover and open-jaw bookings that can still maximize your United miles.

3. Business Class on a Star Alliance Partner to Africa (80K United Miles)

Swiss Air business class flight
Fly Star Alliance partner Swiss Air in business class to several countries in Africa. Image courtesy of www.swiss.com

For 80,000 United miles, you can fly from the U.S. to any African country in business class on a Star Alliance partner.

Your initial thought might be to check out partners Ethiopian Airlines or South African Airways. While these might be solid choices for your needs, I’d suggest routing through Europe for an even better experience.

Swiss Air has a great business class product that you can utilize by routing through Switzerland. Additionally, Austrian Airlines have a solid business class and really shine with their fantastic catering service. If you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll definitely want to try that too.

While they might not be your first instinct, give Swiss Air and Austrian Airlines a try if you’re looking for a fun experience in the sky on your way to Africa.

4. Turkish Airlines in Business From the U.S. (Starting at 70K United Miles)

Turkish Airlines Business Class Lounge
Enjoy the amazing Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul if you’re flying through. Image courtesy of www.turkishairlines.com.

Turkish Airlines flies to more destinations than any other airline in the world. This gives you ample opportunity to use MileagePlus award miles for a great business class product.

You really have your choice of where you want to fly to try their great business class product. Getting to Europe will cost 70,000 miles, or you could use 80,000 to see Africa. For 80,000 miles, you could visit Japan.

Alternatively, you could just fly to Istanbul and enjoy an amazing city! However, if you have a connection, you can experience Turkish Airlines’ amazing business class lounge.

If your connection time is long enough, you could even get out of the airport to visit Istanbul for a few hours before visiting the lounge to relax, have a drink, and get a bite to eat before your flight.

5. Experience First Class With Thai Airways (140K United Miles)

thai airways royal first class
The Royal First Class of Thai Airways is a fantastic experience! Image courtesy of www.thaiairways.com.

This is an award travel experience you won’t want to miss. While not the most well-known airline in the U.S., Thai Airways should be on your list if you’re looking for a fun travel adventure to or from Asia.

For 145,000 United miles, you will not only be able to enjoy a nice first class product between Europe and Bangkok, but you can also access the Thai Airways First Class lounge. This is really where Thai Airways sets itself apart.

If you’re flying out of Bangkok, you’ll even have access to a “first class only” check in area. From there you can head to the lounge and visit the Royal Orchid Spa to enjoy an hour-long massage. Now, that’s a great way to prepare for a flight!

Keep in mind that at the moment, Thai Airways does not fly to the U.S. However, you can connect through Europe on a Star Alliance partner and catch a ride on a Thai Airways A380 to Bangkok.

6. New United Polaris Business Class (Starting at 60K United Miles)

United Airlines Polaris Business Class Flight
United Airlines is preparing to launch a revamped premium cabin called United Polaris. Image courtesy of view.ceros.com/united/polaris-business-class.

In early 2017, United will be launching a revamped business class product called Polaris. Over the next 2 years, many international flights on United will start rolling out this new and improved product.

Every seat will have aisle access, which is particularly nice for solo travelers who don’t want people climbing over them while they sleep.

If you are looking for an excuse to redeem United miles, you can try the new Polaris business class on a trip to Europe for just 60,000 miles one-way. If Asia is more your style, you have lots of options for 70,000 United miles.

Not only is United revamping their business class product to compete with airlines like Delta and American on international routes, but they’re stepping up their lounge game as well.

With new Polaris lounges coming to United’s hub airports, you will soon be able to experience a new level of flying with United.

7. ANA to Japan in First Class (110K United Miles)

ana first class flight
Hop aboard the comfy first class seats of ANA and be read high-class treatment! Image courtesy of Pinterest.com.

For some, flying first class is great because of the high-end champagne, the caviar, the spacious seat, etc. With 110,000 United miles, you can get all of that while flying ANA from the U.S. to Japan.

What really puts ANA on the map, though, is their amazing flight attendants. They have a well-deserved reputation for amazing service that helps set ANA apart.

You can also fly ANA business class to Japan for 75,000 MileagePlus award miles, which is another great experience you won’t want to miss. If the city pairings work, the business class product on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a special one.

However you look at it, flying in premium cabins with ANA should be on your must-fly list.

8. Flights Within Oceania (starting at 8k United Miles)

Once you’ve flown to the other side of the world, you might want to spend some time visiting several islands. However, many of these intra-region flights are pretty pricey.

Fortunately, a one-way flight in economy class can be booked with just 8,000 United miles for flights under 800 miles. Flights over 800 miles cost 12,500 miles. This is often much more reasonable than the cash price.

9. Cheap Flights to Europe (30K United Miles)

If you’re concerned about the cost of travel to Europe, United miles can be an easy way to keep costs low.

For 30,000 United miles, you can fly one-way in economy class on United or a Star Alliance partner airline, such as Turkish or Lufthansa.

Since award flights booked with United miles do not incur fuel surcharges, this can be a great way to keep your out-of-pocket costs down.

Hot Tip: Make stopovers even better with The Platinum Card® from American Express, and get access to airline lounges around the world, as well as a $200 airline fee credit you can use on United Airlines!

10. Travel Throughout Central and Southern Africa in Business (30K United Miles)

south african airways business class
Enjoy South African Airways’ business class service while exploring the continent of Africa. Image courtesy of www.flysaa.com.

Thanks to Star Alliance partners Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways, United miles are a fantastic way to travel in central and southern Africa.

For 30,000 MileagePlus award miles, you can fly one-way in business class throughout the region. Having 2 major airline partners in the region means you can access almost anywhere you can imagine!

If you are planning an adventure to the continent of Africa, make sure you check out your options with United miles.

11. Check out the Caribbean (35K United Miles Round-trip)

Thanks to United’s Excursionist Perk, you can book a round-trip ticket in economy class from the U.S. to the Caribbean for 35,000 miles.

It’s not the cheapest mileage cost, but the free stopover allows you to see more of a beautiful part of the world.

Hot Tip:  If you have the Chase United MileagePlus® Explorer Card, use a United Club pass from your card benefits to enjoy lounge access before heading out on your trip.

12. Fly From China to Fiji in Business Class (75K United Miles)

air new zealand business class
Try Air New Zealand in business class on your flight to Fiji. Image courtesy of www.airnewzealand.com.

One of the best parts about using frequent flyer miles to travel is how you can tailor travel to your style.

With regularly available cheap airfare from the United States to China, you can save your miles to book a round-trip from China to a destination in Oceania like Fiji.

For 70,000 United miles round-trip, you can fly business class to Fiji from China. If economy is more your thing, you can fly round-trip for 35,000 United miles.

13. Fly From the U.S. to Northern South America (Starting at 20K United Miles)

United’s award chart splits South America into northern and southern regions. For 20,000 United miles, you can fly in economy on United or one of their Star Alliance partners from the U.S. to the northern part of the continent.

If you’d prefer a more comfortable flight, you can use 35,000 United miles to fly in business class.

Hot Tip: If you’re flying economy, you can utilize the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card to gain priority boarding for your flight so you might get some overhead bin space! The card also comes with 2 free United Club passes for your trip.

14. Fly From Europe to Central Asia (Starting at 30K United Miles)

Austrian Airlines business class
Enjoy the amazing dining service in business class on Austrian Airlines. Image courtesy of www.austrian.com

While not a common routing option for many flying from the U.S., United miles provide a great way to visit Central Asia from Europe.

For only 65,000 MileagePlus award miles, you can fly first class one-way on a Star Alliance partner such as Lufthansa. You can also fly business class one-way for 55,000 miles or economy class one-way for 30,000 miles.

This gives you access to some amazing places, including India, the Maldives, and Nepal. So, if you’re looking for ways to create an exciting adventure around the world, don’t forget to check out how United can help you make it happen.

15. Fly to Australia or New Zealand (Starting at 40K United Miles)

If you’re looking for an easy way to get from the U.S. to Australia or New Zealand, you can book a one-way business class flight with 80,000 United miles. Not a bad way to get across the Pacific Ocean!

To try Air New Zealand’s business class, a one-way flight is 80,000 United miles. This definitely is one of the best ways to book an award flight with Air New Zealand.

For those trying to save some points, you can use 40,000 United miles to fly in economy class one-way on United metal.

16. Fly to Any of the 48 Continental States, Alaska, or Canada (Starting at 12.5K United Miles)

Sometimes, domestic flight costs are simply unbearable, so it can be useful to redeem United miles for these flights. For 12,500 miles, you can get anywhere in the continental U.S. in economy class.

For 17,500 MileagePlus award miles, you could fly in economy class to Alaska or Canada for a quick adventure to colder climates.

While these redemptions don’t bring the glamor of Lufthansa first class, they are tremendously useful in times when you have to get somewhere.

Hot Tip: Need more miles to pay for the more expensive fares? Check out tons of ways to earn United miles, or get out your United MileagePlus® Explorer Card or Chase Freedom Unlimited℠ Card and make some purchases!

In Conclusion

In the above examples, we discussed many great premium cabin redemption options on both United and its partner airlines to get you around the world. These are some of the best ways to use United miles at this time.

With United revamping its own premium cabin product, we look forward to seeing what they bring to the table.

Additionally, the first class and business class experiences on partner airlines (with low fuel surcharges) make United MileagePlus miles some of the best redemptions out there.

Before you go, you might find it useful to check out the baggage rules on United. Happy redeeming!

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FAQ

What are United Airlines miles?
United MileagePlus is the United Airlines frequent flyer program. The miles you earn and redeem are MileagePlus miles, commonly referred to as United miles.

What are your United miles worth?
The value of United MileagePlus miles depends on where you are redeeming your points. It lies somewhere between 1-2.5 cents per mile depending on where you would otherwise spend your money.

At 2.5 cents per mile, that’s like getting a $100 ticket for the equivalent of about 4,000 United miles.

Can United miles be transferred to partner airlines?
United miles cannot be transferred to other airlines, but they can be redeemed to book flights on partner airlines.

Can United Miles be transferred to another person?
Sign into your account at united.com and hover over MileagePlus in the navigation at the top. Choose Buy, Transfer, and Give miles and then select the “transfer miles” button.

Enter your account number and password again. Then fill out the information on the loaded page to transfer United miles to anyone who also has a MileagePlus account.

You will be charged $7.50 per 500 United miles (1.5 cents per mile) that you transfer. Generally, it is a better deal to book an award flight for someone than to transfer them the miles.

Are United Miles refundable?
If you redeemed United miles for an award ticket but need to cancel your trip, you can get the miles refunded to your frequent flyer account.

You can do so online by via the “Reservations” tab. Depending on your frequent flyer status with United, you may be charged a redeposit fee of up to $150.

How much are United miles worth?
MileagePlus program miles are commonly valued around 1.5 cents per mile. However, these can change depending on the redemption, and United airlines award travel value depends on the person.

When do United MileagePlus miles post in your account?
United miles should post to your account within 3-7 days.

If miles are missing after this time period, consider requesting missing miles.

How can I earn more United miles?
You can earn more United miles with with co-branded credit cards such as the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card or United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card.

You can also transfer points to United from credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card (you must have one of these cards in order to transfer points to partners).

Earn extra value by also carrying the Chase Freedom Unlimited℠ and Chase Freedom®.

You can also join the United Dining Program and the United Shopping Portal. Every bonus miles counts!

Who are United Airlines’ partners?
As a member of the Star Alliance, United Airlines partners with all other members of the Star Alliance, including:

Adria Airways
Aegean Airlines
Air Canada
Air China
Air India
Air New Zealand
All Nippon Airways (ANA)
Asiana
Austrian
Avianca
Brussels Airlines
Copa Airlines
Croatia Airlines
EgyptAir
Ethiopian Airlines
EVA Air
LOT Polish Airlines
Lufthansa
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
Shenzhen Airlines
Singapore Airlines
South African Airways
Swiss
TAP Portugal
Thai Airways
Turkish Airlines

United Airlines’ non-Star Alliance partners are:

Aer Lingus
Aeromar
Air Dolomiti
Azul
Cape Air
Edelweiss
Eurowings
Germanwings
Great Lakes Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines
Island Air
Jet Airways
Silver Airways

United also has several hotel partners, including:

Hyatt
IHG
Marriott Rewards
Ritz-Carlton

When do United miles expire?
United miles expire after 18 months of inactivity. If you earn or redeem miles every 18 months, then your miles will not expire.

What is my MileagePlus number?
Your MileagePlus number is the frequent flyer account number assigned to you for signing up to the reward program. You should have an email containing your number, or you can call customer service to find it as well.