The United MileagePlus program has a couple of good things going for it. It doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges to award tickets and you can use United miles to book award flights with its 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 its stopover and open-jaw rules.
Remember to consider its 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.
- 2. The Excursionist Perk
- 3. Business Class on a Star Alliance Partner to Africa
- 4. Semi-Private Domestic Flights on Boutique Air
- 5. Turkish Airlines in Business Class From the U.S.
- 6. United Polaris Business Class
- 7. ANA to Japan in First Class
- 8. Flights Within Oceania in Economy Class
- 9. Cheap Flights to Europe in Economy Class
- 10. Travel Throughout Central and Southern Africa in Business Class
- 11. Check out the Caribbean in Economy Class
- 12. Fly to the Galápagos on Avianca
- 13. Fly From the U.S. to Northern South America
- 14. Fly Business Class From Europe to Central Asia
- 15. Fly on United to Africa
- 16. Fly to Any of the 48 Continental States, Alaska, or Canada
- 17. Flights Under 800 Miles Outside of the U.S.
- List of Star Alliance Airline Partners
- List of Non-Alliance Airline Partners
- Final Thoughts
Using United MileagePlus Miles With Airline Partners
You’ll have the chance to redeem miles on United and with partner carriers through a normal search on its front page. Simply check the box next to Book with miles.
United is a part of the Star Alliance, and it also partners 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 collecting 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. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.|
The card earns 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on dining and 2x points on all other travel purchases, plus more. Enjoy a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, and other travel benefits such as excellent travel insurance coverage, including car rental insurance and no foreign transaction fees, this card is a very rewarding card.
|Chase Sapphire Reserve® - This premium card will get you access to 1,300+ 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, until 12/31/21, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit.|
Earn big with this card, earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
|Chase Freedom Unlimited® card - A solid, no annual fee card that earns you a $200 bonus after you spend $500 in your first 3 months. Earn 5% cash-back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, and 5% on travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Then earn 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 that 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 CARD||BENEFITS & INFO|
|UnitedSM Explorer Card|
(at Chase's secure site)
|UnitedSM Business Card|
(at Chase's secure site)
|United ClubSM Infinite Card|
(at Chase's secure site)
|United GatewaySM Card|
(at Chase's secure site)
|United QuestSM Card|
(at Chase's secure site)
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.
There are 2 types of award tickets: Saver and everyday. Saver tickets are the cheapest in price, so you’ll want to book these tickets as often as possible.
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 its 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.
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 $8,000 isn’t in everyone’s budget.
Fortunately, United miles provide an opportunity to take part in this amazing experience. From 121,000 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. If you booked this flight with Lufthansa’s frequent flyer program, Miles & 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 to, there is often open award space.
Hot Tip: Keep in mind that although United has technically eliminated its close-in booking fee, it has also chosen to increase the number of miles you’ll need for flights that occur within 30 days. Unfortunately, this means anytime you want to redeem United miles for Lufthansa first class you’ll be subject to the “not a close-in booking fee” booking fee. Costs vary, but we’ve seen anywhere from 1,000 to 9,000 additional miles tacked on.
If you want to take your Lufthansa experience to the next level, make sure you have a connection in its 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 the 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 rules require stopovers to be in the same region as a destination and they also can’t take place in the region where you started your travel. Additionally, 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 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 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! A great way to take advantage of this is by booking open-jaw flights.
You could, for example, book a flight from Newark (EWR) to Frankfurt (FRA), then book your own connection to Addis Ababa (ADD). A one-way ticket from Frankfurt to Addis Ababa can be had for a little over $300. From Addis Ababa, you can access anywhere in Africa for free. Want to head to Cape Town (CPT)? Great — that 6.5-hour flight can be the segment included in your Excursionist Perk. You can then continue home from Cape Town to complete your journey.
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
Although United technically pulled its award chart in 2019, the cost for Saver award flights doesn’t vary much — generally speaking, you can reliably find availability priced at certain amounts.
For example, flights from the U.S. to any African country in business class on a Star Alliance partner price out at 88,000 miles one-way.
This is true as long as you’re booking more than 30 days out, of course. If you’re booking a mixed cabin itinerary, the price will further change.
Your initial thought when looking for flights might be to check out partners Ethiopian Airlines or South African Airways. While these might be solid choices for your needs, we’d suggest routing through Europe for an even better experience.
SWISS has a great business class product that you can utilize by routing through Zurich (ZRH). Additionally, Austrian Airlines has a solid business class and really shines with its fantastic catering service. If you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll definitely want to try a cup of Viennese coffee, too.
While they might not be your first instincts, give SWISS and Austrian Airlines a try if you’re looking for a fun experience in the sky on your way to Africa.
4. Semi-Private Domestic Flights on Boutique Air
If you’ve ever wanted the experience of flying privately but, like most of us, can’t afford to shell out for it, you may want to consider Boutique Air. It’s a small domestic airline with an unusual route map — most of its flights connect otherwise hard-to-find airports.
The coolest thing about this airline is that all of its aircraft feature just a handful of seats for a truly private experience. As a United partner, you can redeem your miles here starting at 13,800 miles for a flight.
5. Turkish Airlines in Business Class From the U.S.
Turkish Airlines flies to more destinations than any other airline in the world, giving 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 its great business class product. Getting to Europe starts at 77,000 miles, or you could use 88,000 to see Africa.
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.
6. United Polaris Business Class
In 2017, United launched a revamped business class product called Polaris. While many of United’s international business class flights are now branded as Polaris, not all of United’s 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 from just 60,000 miles one-way. If Asia is more your style, you have lots of options starting at 70,000 United miles.
Here are some great routes you can take to Europe:
- Chicago (ORD) – Frankfurt (FRA)
- Newark (EWR) – Frankfurt (FRA)
- San Francisco (SFO) – London (LHR)
Here are some great routes you can take to Asia:
- Newark (EWR) – Tokyo (NRT)
- San Francisco (SFO) – Hong Kong (HKG)
- San Francisco (SFO) – Taipei (TPE)
- San Francisco (SFO) – Tokyo (NRT)
With Polaris lounges at United’s hub airports, you can experience a new level of flying with United. So far, the Houston, San Francisco, Newark, Los Angeles, and Chicago Polaris lounges have opened.
7. ANA to Japan in First Class
For some, flying first class is great because of the high-end Champagne, the caviar, the spacious seat, and impeccable service. Starting at 121,000 United miles, you can get all of that while flying ANA first class from the U.S. to Japan.
What really puts ANA on the map, though, is its 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 from 88,000 United 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 in Economy Class
Once you’ve flown to the other side of the world, you might want to spend some time visiting different islands. United operates its famous Island Hopper route among these islands, which is an AvGeek bucket-list item. However, many of these intra-region flights are pretty pricey.
Fortunately, a one-way flight in economy class can be booked from just 8,000 United miles for flights under 800 miles. Flights over 800 miles start at 12,500 miles. This is often much more reasonable than the cash price.
Alternatively, business Saver award tickets are 20,000 miles for flights under 800 miles and 25,000 miles for flights over 800 miles in this region.
The downside: due to COVID-19, United has reduced its service to destinations such as Guam (GUM) and Yap (YAP).
9. Cheap Flights to Europe in Economy Class
If you’re concerned about the cost of travel to Europe, United miles can be an easy way to keep costs low.
Starting from 30,000 United miles, you can fly one-way in economy class on United. If you’d prefer a Star Alliance partner airline, such as Turkish or Lufthansa, you can book a flight from 33,000 miles.
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.
10. Travel Throughout Central and Southern Africa in Business Class
Thanks to Star Alliance partners Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways, United miles are a fantastic way to travel in central and southern Africa.
Beginning at 33,000 United 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 in Economy Class
If you’ve been wanting to check the Caribbean, you can book a round-trip ticket in economy class from the U.S. to the Caribbean for 35,000 miles (or 17,500 miles one-way). Savvy travelers can also take advantage of the Excursionist Perk to tack on a visit to a different island without additional cost.
It’s not the cheapest mileage cost, but the free stopover allows you to see more of a beautiful part of the world.
12. Fly to the Galápagos on Avianca
The Galápagos are notoriously expensive to reach. Fortunately, one of United’s partners, Avianca, operates nonstop flights to both Galápagos airports:
- Guayaquil (GYE) – Baltra Island (GPS)
- Guayaquil (GYE) – San Cristóbal Island (SCY)
- Quito (UIO) – Baltra Island (GPS)
- Quito (UIO) – San Cristóbal Island (SCY)
With flights ringing in at just under 2 hours, you can spend from just 8,800 United miles for a one-way economy class ticket to these famous islands. If business class is more your style, you can snag a Saver award ticket starting at 22,000 miles.
13. Fly From the U.S. to Northern South America
United defines South America as 2 separate regions, meaning you can save some miles by choosing to land in the northern half rather than the southern.
From 20,000 United miles, you can fly in economy on United from the U.S. to the northern part of the continent. Flying with its Star Alliance partners starts at 22,000 miles in economy.
If you’d prefer a more comfortable flight, you can book from 35,000 United miles to fly in business class on United metal, or 38,500 miles on a partner airline.
Here are some great example routes you can take:
- Houston (IAH) – Lima (LIM)
- Houston (IAH) – Panama City (PTY) – Georgetown (GEO)
- Houston (IAH) – Quito (UIO)
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Bogotá (BOG)
14. Fly Business Class From Europe to Central Asia
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.
Beginning at 60,500 United miles, you can fly business class one-way on a Star Alliance partner such as Lufthansa or Austrian. You can also fly economy class one-way from 33,000 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 on United to Africa
United stopped flying to Africa in 2012, giving up on a market that it deemed unprofitable. However, it began resuming flights to Accra (ACC) as of May 2021.
Best of all, there is plentiful award space available for these flights — and they’re flying United’s new Polaris seats, so you’ll have ultimate privacy. Since United will be operating these flights, they’ll cost less than other options, ringing in at just 70,000 United miles for a one-way business class ticket. Otherwise, you can fly in economy from just 40,000 miles.
16. Fly to Any of the 48 Continental States, Alaska, or Canada
Sometimes, domestic flight costs are simply unbearable, so it can be useful to redeem United miles for these flights. Since ditching its award chart, United has shown some pretty steady fluctuation in pricing for domestic flights.
Previously, it used to be that for 12,500 miles, you could get anywhere in the continental U.S. in economy class. If your flight was less than 700 miles, you’d only need to use 10,000 United miles.
Now, however, you can now find some flights as low as 5,000 miles, while more desirable flights, such as nonstops, can cost more than those with stopovers.
Starting at 17,500 United 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 glamour of Lufthansa first class, they are tremendously useful in times when you have to get somewhere.
17. Flights Under 800 Miles Outside of the U.S.
Using British Airways Avios is often the most talked-about way to take short flights while abroad. However, Star Alliance carriers may be more convenient for your itinerary. United MileagePlus allows you to book flights under 800 miles in economy from 8,800 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||EVA Air|
|Air China||LOT Polish Airlines|
|Air New Zealand||Scandinavian Airlines|
|Asiana Airlines||Singapore Airlines|
|Austrian||South African Airways|
|Brussels Airlines||TAP Air Portugal|
|Copa Airlines||Thai Airways|
|Croatia Airlines||Turkish Airlines|
|Egypt Air||United Airlines|
List of Non-Alliance Airline Partners
|Air Dolomiti||Hawaiian Airlines|
|Boutique Air||Silver Airways|
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 continuing to expand the routes on which its own premium cabin product are offered, we look forward to seeing premium cabin growth.
Additionally, the first class and business class experiences on partner airlines (with low fuel surcharges) give 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!
The information regarding the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card and Citi Prestige® Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.