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The Many Ways to Earn United Airlines MileagePlus Miles

One of America's "Big Three" carrier rewards program, MileagePlus gives members a chance to fly all around the world all on the power of rewards miles. In our previous guide, we explain how you can redeem miles; now we need to discuss the other side of things-earning miles. While redeeming may seem more fun, the strategy and tricks one can do to earn MileagePlus miles can be just as intriguing. Whether its flying, spending to reach a credit card bonus, or shopping, there are many ways to form a short-term and long-term strategy to become a "fly-for-free" flyer.

How to Earn MileagePlus Miles Through Flying

MileagePlus Miles on United Airlines

It should not be surprising that flying with United Airlines is the standard way to earn MileagePlus miles. Is it the best method to rely on earning miles? Probably not for the infrequent flyer. Even so, it is one of the best ways to earn lots of miles for the times you do actually fly, even if it may not be as effective as it used to be. As with Delta, and American Airlines, starting in June 2016, United Airlines changed its miles earning system from a "distance-based" system to a "fare-based" system, meaning the cost of your ticket now determines how many miles you receive instead of the miles you actually flew. This relatively new system has shown to be less advantageous for frequent flyers to earn MileagePlus miles than the old distance-based system. You can see the earning scheme in the table below.

Status Level on United AirlinesEarning Rate
General Flyer5 miles/$
Premier Silver7 miles/$
Premier Gold8 miles/$
Premier Platinum9 miles/$
Premier 1K®11 miles/$

Partner Airlines: Star Alliance and Other Affiliated Partners

As a member of Star Alliance, the world's largest airline alliance, MileagePlus members can earn miles on over 26 different airlines. Partner airlines give more flexibility to flyers in terms of where and when they want to fly, but perhaps the biggest advantage is that United's partners still allow flyers to earn miles based on how many miles they've actually flown. If you fly far, but can find cheap flights, you may be missing out on potential miles. For example, flights with Avianca, a Star Alliance member, are generally cheaper than United Flights to South America. That trip however can be a 6,000 to 10,000 mile round-trip flight depending on where you go in South America. To Buenos Aires, it's about 5,200 miles, thus a $1,000 flight to Buenos Aires on Avianca would get 10,500 miles, but only 5,000 with United. If a partner operates a flight to where you want to go, weigh the cost difference between United and the partner and see if going for more miles is worth it.

When booking with a partner you do need to exercise caution however. If you purchase a Lufthansa flight through United, the ticket may be coded with a "016". If the ticket has the "016" the miles accrued will be based on United's "fare-based" system. You will need to book a partner flight directly with them or through a travel site to reap the benefits of their distance-based systems. As well with Delta and American, another shortcoming with booking flights on partners is the smaller earning potential of Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs). While PQMs are still earned on a distance basis for both United and partner flights, the percentage of miles flown earned as PQMs is smaller on partners. For example, some fare classes on United flights can fetch 300% of miles flown as PQMs while the percentage is generally capped at 150% for the same fare class on a partner. You can look at each partner individually to see how many base and premier qualifying miles you can earn with them.


Star Alliance Partners

Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand,All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Egypt Air, EVA Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, LOT , Lufthansa, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss International, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines

Non-Affiliate Partners

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

How to Earn MileagePlus Miles Without Flying

For most people, travel is only a small percentage of their yearly expenses. Essentially, there is a larger percentage of yearly expenses that is going unrewarded. United Airlines helps change that by providing a host of ways to earn miles on those usually unrewarded expenses.

United Airlines Credit Cards

Getting a credit card is one of the most efficient ways of boosting your miles profile: it also doesn't hurt that United Airlines has the most encompassing network of credit cards that can directly (or indirectly) earn United MileagePlus miles. The United℠ Explorer Card and United MileagePlus® Club Card both earn 2 MileagePlus miles per dollar spent on United Airlines tickets. Along with other airport and baggage perks, we judge both cards to be high quality cards to have in your wallet.

There is also the Chase Ultimate Rewards family of cards that can transfer directly 1:1 with MileagePlus. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is frequently ranked as the best travel card, garnering 2x points on dining and travel expenses as well with no foreign transaction fees while abroad. There is also the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card which gets 5x rewards for combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services on the first $25,000 and 2x rewards for purchases at gas stations and restaurants on the first $25,000. Both the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card also come with huge bonuses, when you reach a minimum spend requirement. Completing the family is the Chase Freedom®. With all three cards in your arsenal, you can pool all Ultimate Rewards points into your Sapphire card, and transfer them 1:1 for United MileagePlus miles.

Note: you will need to have good credit to be able to take out all three cards. If you have already taken out credit cards with any other bank that year as well, it will be more unlikely for Chase to approve you for a card yet alone all three. Of course, opening any one of these can be a short-term bump to your United Airlines miles balance.

Assumptions based on $1,430 monthly spend
Monthly spending:

Hotel Partners that Earn & Transfer MileagePlus Miles


Mile Earning RateHotel Points:Miles


2-3 miles/$2:1


1-2 miles/$~2.8:1


2 miles/$5:1


2 miles/$5:1


1 mile/$10:1


500 miles per stay2.5:1

Club Carlson

500 miles per stay10:1

Of the "Big Three", United Airlines perhaps has the strongest partnerships with hotel brands-although it is not entirely without issue. Starting with the negatives, the biggest drawback of United's hotel partnerships is its relation with Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). While regular members will earn 2 miles per dollar and Premier Gold status and above members 3 miles per dollar, the 2:1 transfer ratio is a departure from the usual 1:1 ratio of other airlines. IHG, Wyndham, Hyatt and Club Carlson are standard with the usual 2 miles per dollar or 500 miles per stay. United's hotel partnerships really shine in its relation with Marriott and Hilton.

Marriott and United form RewardsPlus, a way for members of both rewards programs to optimize their earning potential. MileagePlus members can earn 2 miles per dollar spent at certain Marriott brands such as JW Marriott®, or earn 1 mile per dollar spent at other brands such as Courtyard by Marriott®. While this may be a standard earning rate, the other benefits of RewardsPlus more than compensate for it. The first aspect of RewardsPlus that separates it from other hotel-airline partnerships is how MileagePlus Premier Gold, Platinum and 1K status members get automatic Gold status within the Marriott program. The power of this benefit cannot be understated. Achieving Gold status for any rewards program is very difficult (50 qualifying nights for Marriott), so to be able to achieve it with one program and then get it for free in another is an incredible deal. With Marriott Gold Status you get room upgrades, 10% off weekend stays, 25% more Marriott points per stay and many more. The benefits of RewardsPlus do not stop there however. The transfer ratio between Marriott points and United Mileage is less than any other airline, and if you opt for the "hotel + air" packages, you can even get Marriott points to be moved at ratio of 0.91:1, which is unheard of. We go into more detail about that program here.

Hilton HHonors also has a strong partnership with United MileagePlus, but in different ways. The HHonors program, in their own words, allows you to Double Dip® Points & Miles™. At all Hilton brands, if you sign up for the Double Dip program, you will earn the standard 10 Hilton points per dollar spent for a reservation, but also 1 mile per dollar spent. You do not have to earn one over the other which is an incredible deal for the frequent flyer and hotel stayer.

Getting MileagePlus Miles by Dining

Dining out frequently usually adds a big dent to your monthly credit card statement - wouldn't it be great to be rewarded for those dinners? Well, that is where United MileagePlus Dining comes in. Partnered with over 11,000 restaurants and bars around the country, United allows you to earn miles off your dining bills. Regular MileagePlus members will earn 1 mile per 2 dollars spent. That rate easily becomes 3 miles per dollar once you make an online profile and register a credit card (which is free) so there should be no reason to not sign up. Furthermore, after you visit 12 restaurants in a year, you achieve VIP status and start earning 5 miles per dollar - basically what you earn in the general tier for flying with United. We would highly recommend, if you have the right credit score, to use a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card as your default dining card. It already gets 2x Ultimate Rewards on dining, which in turn can be converted 1:1 to MileagePlus miles as we go into length above. Essentially, you will be earning 7 miles per dollar as a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card holder with VIP status. Also until May 1st of 2016, you automatically get 500 miles when you sign-up and register a card. Then within 30 days of signing up, for every partnered restaurant you visit and spend $25 on the registered credit card, you will get a bonus 500 miles - up to 3,000 mile total for five visits. Below you can see a table of the different status levels within United Airlines' dining program.

Status Level

RequirementsEarn rate

General Member

Belong to United MileagePlus0.5 mile/$

Online Member

You are a registered dining member and elect to receive emails3 mile/$

VIP Member

You are a registered dining member and elect to receive emails and have made 12 visits to restaurants5 mile/$

MileagePlus Miles through Shopping

Shopping is another expense that is most of the time inevitable, and can work in your favor for rewards. Luckily, United Airlines has a shopping portal linked to over 800 online retailers where you can earn miles for your shopping purchases. The great thing is you do not need a United Airlines co-branded credit card. You could even have rival Delta Airline's Platinum Skymiles Credit Card, and still shop using the portal to earn miles for both Delta and United. However, as we stress multiple times above, using Chase Ultimate Rewards cards would be your best move here, especially if your main goal is to earn MileagePlus miles. Below you can see a sample of retailers and the bonus miles each offers for a regular credit card.


Angie's List

25 miles/$

12 miles/$

5 miles/$

Columbia Sportswear

3 miles/$


2 miles/$


2 miles/$


If you would rather go by water than air, at least for your next vacation, you can still earn United MileagePlus miles on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and many other cruise lines. The standard rate for booking a room on a cruise is 2 miles per dollar spent. However, holders of a United Airlines credit card can earn up to 7 miles per dollar spent (up to 35,000 total) if they use the card to book a balcony or suite. In addition to that, certain cruises have limited-time offers where if you book right away, they will gift you bonus miles, up to 50,000 miles in some cases. If you are planning to take a cruise, this is an incredible way to possibly walk away with over 85,000 miles.

MileagePlus Miles from Car Rentals

United Airlines allows members to earn miles on rental car purchases, although they do not give as many options as Delta or American. The most well-known partner is Hertz, which has different earning potentials based on your status within the MileagePlus program. General members receive 500 miles per rental, while cardholders get 750 miles, Premier Silver and Gold get 1,000 miles, and finally Premier Platinum and Premier 1K® get 1,250 miles.



500, 750, 1,000, 1,250 miles/rental


50 miles/day


100 + 2 miles/$


200 miles/ride


150 miles/ride


50 miles/ride


Amtrak, the major national train service, is surprisingly only partnered with United Airlines, although it's a partnership with heavy limitations. While riding Amtrak is a viable way to earn miles, only a few people will actually be able to meet the conditions in order to do so. You can only earn MileagePlus miles on Amtrak after you have first purchased a ticket with United, and then take an Amtrak 'to' or 'from' Newark Airport and New Haven Rail Station, Stamford Rail Station, Philadelphia 30th Street Station, or Wilmington Rail Station. The earning potential also is not that high with only a maximum earning of 325 miles for your purchase of a first class United ticket. You can see the full earning chart below.

ClassFareMiles Earned


F, A325


J, C, D, Z, P325

Full-fare Economy

Y, B250


M, H, E, Q, U, V250

Discount Economy

W, S, T, N, L, G, K250

Financial Partners

For the avid investor, opening up or adding to an existing non-retirement Fidelity Brokerage Account can be an unexpected way to earn you a MileagePlus rewards. Depositing $25,000 gives you 15,000 miles while a deposit of $100,000 gives you 50,000 miles. There may be no better example of the expression "getting your money to work for you."

Comments and Questions

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Info about the following cards: American Express® Gold Card, Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, Hilton Honors Surpass® Credit Card, American Express® Blue Sky, American Express® Green Card, The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, The Plenti® Credit Card from Amex, Blue from American Express®, Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz, Bluebird, Centurion® Card from American Express, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, and Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card has been collected independently by ValuePenguin. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.