The 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 United 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.
Table of contents
Table of contents
Table of Contents
- Using United MileagePlus Miles With Airline Partners
- The Best Ways to Use Your United MileagePlus Miles
- 1. Lufthansa First Class From the U.S. (110K United Miles)
- 2. The Excursionist Perk
- 3. Business Class on a Star Alliance Partner to Africa (80K United Miles)
- 4. Turkish Airlines in Business From the U.S. (Starting at 70K United Miles)
- 5. Experience First Class With Thai Airways (145K United Miles)
- 6. New United Polaris Business Class (Starting at 60K United Miles)
- 7. ANA to Japan in First Class (110K United Miles)
- 8. Flights Within Oceania (starting at 8k United Miles)
- 9. Cheap Flights to Europe (30K United Miles)
- 10. Travel Throughout Central and Southern Africa in Business (30K United Miles)
- 11. Check out the Caribbean (35K United Miles Round-trip)
- 12. Fly From China to Fiji in Business Class (75K United Miles)
- 13. Fly From the U.S. to Northern South America (Starting at 20K United Miles)
- 14. Fly From Europe to Central Asia (Starting at 30K United Miles)
- 15. Fly to Australia or New Zealand (Starting at 40K United Miles)
- 16. Fly to Any of the 48 Continental States, Alaska, or Canada (Starting at 10K United Miles)
- 17. Flights Under 800 Miles Outside the U.S. (8K United Miles)
- List of Star Alliance Airline Partners
- List of Non-Alliance Airline Partners
- Use the United Award Chart to Plan Award Travel
- Final Thoughts
Using United MileagePlus Miles With Airline Partners
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 (Recommended 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)
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card - This is our favorite beginners travel rewards card, which is currently offering a 60,000 point bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. |
The card earns 2x points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. From November 1, 2020, through April 30, 2021, earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month (including eligible pick-up and delivery services). With offering other travel benefits such as excellent travel insurance coverage and no foreign transaction fees, this card is a very rewarding Chase credit card.
The sign up bonus is worth $750 in travel purchases (flights, hotels, car rentals etc) when you redeem your points through Chase's travel portal, which works like Expedia.
|Chase Sapphire Reserve® - This premium card will get you access to 1,000+ airport lounges. as well as a number of other card benefits. The current sign up bonus is 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You'll also get a $300 travel credit per year which wipes away a big chunk of the $550 annual fee. As an extra bonus, from 6/1/20 through 6/30/21, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit.|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited® - A fantastic, no annual fee card that earns you a $200 bonus after you spend $500 in your first 3 months. Earn 5% cash-back on travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash-back on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% cash-back on all other purchases, but you won't get any travel benefits with this card.|
Recommended Chase Cards (Business)
|Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card - this is our #1 recommended business card and right now comes with a 100,000 sign up bonus after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. This bonus is worth $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Pay your cell phone bill with this card to receive up to $600 in cell phone insurance coverage per year; as well as a number of other benefits.|
Earn 3x on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year, plus 1x on all other purchases — with no limit to the amount you can earn. All for an annual fee of $95.
|Ink Business Cash® Credit Card - Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
This no annual fee business card earns up to 5% cash-back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year, plus 2% cash-back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary.
|Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card - Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back rewards on every purchase made for your business.|
Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. There's no annual fee.
To transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards to United, go into your Ultimate Rewards account, then click “Use Points” > “Transfer to Travel Partners”. That’s how you get the miles into your United MileagePlus account!
United MileagePlus Credit Cards
There are several 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.
The 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.
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’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.
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 timely arrival.
Need help booking? See our step by step guide to booking Lufthansa First Class with points.
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)
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 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 (145K United Miles)
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 if departing from or connecting in Bangkok. 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)
In 2017 United began launching a revamped business class product called Polaris. While many United’s international business class flights are now branded as Polaris, only a few planes have the new Polaris seat. Older planes, which some prefer, have the Polaris meal service and bedding.
Every Polaris seat has 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. Lastly, flying to the South Pacific costs 80,000 United miles one-way.
Here are some great routes you can take to Europe:
- Newark (EWR) – Tel Aviv (TLV)
- San Francisco (SFO) – Frankfurt (FRA)
- San Franciso (SFO) – Tel Aviv (TLV)
- San Francisco (SFO) – London (LHR) on flights 949/901
Here are some great routes you can take to Asia:
- Newark (EWR) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
- San Francisco (SFO) – Auckland (AKL)
- San Francisco (SFO) – Hong Kong (HKG)
- San Francisco (SFO) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
- San Francisco (SFO) – Taipei (TPE)
Here’s a great route you can take to the South Pacific:
- San Francisco (SFO) – Auckland (AKL)
With new Polaris lounges coming to United’s hub airports, you will soon be able to experience a new level of flying with United. So far, the Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Newark, and Los Angeles locations have opened.
7. ANA to Japan in First Class (110K United Miles)
For some, flying first class is great because of the high-end champagne, the caviar, the spacious seat, and impeccable service. 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 80,000 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.
For those interested in traveling to Japan, we’ve also covered the best ways to fly to Japan using points and miles.
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.
The downside: United is reducing its service to destinations such as Guam (GUM) and Yap (YAP).
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.
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)
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 United 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)
One of the best parts of 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 75,000 United miles round-trip, you can fly business class to Fiji from China. If economy class 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.
Here are some great example routes you can take:
- Houston (IAH) – Lima (LIM)
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Bogota (BOG)
- Houston (IAH) – Quito (UIO)
- Houston (IAH) – Panama City (PTY) – Georgetown (GEO)
Hot Tip: If you’re flying economy, you can utilize the United 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)
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.
Here are some great route ideas to inspire your creativity:
- Frankfurt (FRA) – Male (MLE)
- Zurich (ZRH) – Delhi (DEL)
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.
Here are a few example routes you can take:
- Chicago (ORD) – Auckland (AKL)
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Auckland (AKL)
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Raratonga, Cook Islands (RAR)
16. Fly to Any of the 48 Continental States, Alaska, or Canada (Starting at 10K 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. If your flight is less than 700 miles, you’ll only need to use 10,000 United miles.
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.
17. Flights Under 800 Miles Outside the U.S. (8K United Miles)
Using British Airways Avios is often the most talked about ways to take short flights while abroad, but sometimes Star Alliance carriers are more convenient. United MileagePlus allows you to book flights under 800 miles in economy for 8,000 United miles.
This means you can book one-way awards between cities such as Johannesburg (JNB) to Cape Town (CPT) and a number of European cities. Keep in mind these awards are only good on nonstop routes when traveling within a region.
List of Star Alliance Airline Partners
|Air Canada||Polish Airlines|
|Air India||Scandinavian Airlines|
|Air New Zealand||Shenzhen Airlines|
|Asiana Airlines||South African Airways|
|Avianca||TAP Air Portugal|
|Brussels Airlines||Thai Airways|
|Copa Airlines||Turkish Airlines|
|Croatia Airlines||United Airlines|
List of Non-Alliance Airline Partners
|Aeromar||Great Lakes Airlines|
|Air Dolomiti||Hawaiian Airlines|
|Cape Air||Jet Airways|
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.
New in 2019, United is testing new dynamic pricing, with awards as low as 5,000 miles one-way. Award prices are still capped to the maximums in the award chart.
Here is an image of the United award chart below (they do not post a full award chart on their site):
The award chart is available here.
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!