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17 Best Ways to Redeem United MileagePlus Miles

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer.

United airlines redemptions

United Airlines miles aren't the most valuable in the rewards game, but they're still beloved by reward travel aficionados because the airline sticks to an award chart that clearly lays out the price of award travel to any region in the world.

Unfortunately, the airline recently announced it's following suit with other major airlines and finally doing away with its award chart. Any travel that takes place after Nov. 15 will be priced dynamically, meaning flights could cost less or more than they did previously. If history is any indicator, doing away with award charts usually means award flights will start to cost more.

For now, though, the prices seem to remain in line with United's award chart, even for travel taking place after November. There are still plenty of lucrative ways to redeem your United miles for everything from a last-minute short-haul flight to a 16-hour island-hopper with some of the world's best views.

This guide will go over the rules and quirks of redeeming miles with United's MileagePlus program, how to earn more United miles, and the best ways to get maximum value from your United redemptions.

Star Alliance and MileagePlus airline partners

United is part of the Star Alliance, which is the biggest airline network in the world. It also has a long list of partner airlines outside of the Star Alliance network. You can earn United miles on flights with any of these airlines, and you can also redeem your United miles on these airlines.

This list of airline partners is a big part of what makes United miles valuable. Many of these partner airlines offer incredible in-flight experiences, and the large network makes it easy to find flights in all corners of the globe.

United Star Alliance partners

Adria

AviancaScandanavian Airlines
Air IndiaEgyptairSWISS Air Lines
Austrian AirlinesLufthansaAir China
Croatia AirlinesSouth African AirwaysAsiana Airlines
LOT Polish AirlinesTurkish AirlinesCopa Airlines
Singapore AirlinesAir CanadaEVA Air
Thai AirwaysANAShenzhen Airlines
AegeanBrussels AirlinesTAP Air Portugal
Air New ZealandEthiopian Airlines

Other United partners

Aer Lingus

Cape AirSilver Airways
Boutique AirOlympic AirAzul Airlines
Hawaiian AirlinesAir DolomitiEurowings
AeromarEdelweiss Air

How do you earn United MileagePlus miles?

United miles are easier to earn than many other airline miles. In addition to earning by flying, you can also purchase United miles, transfer points from partner programs to United miles, or open one of a handful of United miles-earning credit cards.

Flying

You can earn United miles every time you fly with United, a Star Alliance partner airline or a United partner airline. In most cases, you'll earn based on the fare you pay. Tickets that are booked directly with partner airlines rather than through United, or specialty tickets (such as group or tour tickets), will earn based on flight distance or a combination of flight distance and fare class.

The base earn rate is 5 miles per dollar spent. If you earn Premier status with United, you'll earn at a higher rate, as shown below.

MileagePlus statusEarn rate
Member5 miles per $1
Premier Silver7 miles per $1
Premier Gold8 miles per $1
Premier Platinum9 miles per $1
Premier 1K11 miles per $1

Buying miles

Buying miles with any airline is generally not a good deal unless you need to fill a gap for a specific award flight, and it's still true with United. The cost is $35 for every 1,000 miles you buy, which means you're paying 3.5 cents per mile before taxes. Even high-value redemptions rarely breach that much value. However, sometimes United runs promotions on purchasing miles that make this worthwhile.

Alternatively, if you have a flight reserved with United, you can purchase additional miles at a discounted price through its Award Accelerator perk. You can purchase this when you book a flight with United, or you can go into existing reservations and add it.

Transferring points

United MileagePlus has three major transfer partners, making the process of earning United miles much easier. Points from Marriott Bonvoy™, Chase Ultimate Rewards® and American Express Membership Rewards can all be transferred to United at the ratios shown below.

  • Marriott Bonvoy points to United miles: 3:1 with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United miles: 1:1
  • American Express Membership Rewards points to United miles: 1:1

Opening a credit card

Earning United miles with a credit card is easy because you have quite a few options. United offers several co-branded credit cards, and on top of that, you can use any credit card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points or AmEx Membership Rewards points because they both transfer to United.

The best credit cards for earning United MileagePlus miles

These are the best co-branded United credit cards, Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards and American Express Membership Rewards credit cards for earning United miles.

United MileagePlus co-branded credit cards

These credit cards are a good value if you fly United often and don't mind rotating multiple rewards credit cards. However, they don't necessarily offer as much value as Chase's Ultimate Rewards credit cards.

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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United℠ Explorer Card

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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  • Limited time offer! Earn up to 65,000 Bonus Miles.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $120 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Limited time offer! Earn up to 65,000 Bonus Miles.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $120 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
Annual Fee
$0 for the first year, then $95
Regular APR
17.99% - 24.99% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Good
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}
United MileagePlus® Club Card
This product is not available through ValuePenguin.
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United MileagePlus® Club Card

United MileagePlus® Club Card
This product is not available through ValuePenguin.
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50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • United Club membership
  • First and second bags are checkable for free
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Miles don't expire
  • United Club membership
  • First and second bags are checkable for free
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Miles don't expire
Annual Fee
$450
Regular APR
15.99%
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Good
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}

The information related to the United MileagePlus® Club Card has been collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

The United℠ Explorer Card is the best option for most travelers who want to open a United co-branded credit card. The sign-up bonus is generous, as are the United perks, and the annual fee is reasonable. However, unless you spend a lot of money with United, you can earn more with one of Chase's Ultimate Rewards-earning credit cards.

If you do spend a lot of money with United, it's worth considering the United MileagePlus® Club Card. Despite the high annual fee, this premium credit card offers frequent United flyers a good value between the complimentary lounge access and two free checked bags on each flight. That being said, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is similar but offers a few extra perks and more versatile and valuable rewards.

The information related to the United MileagePlus® Club Card has been collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards

These are the best travel credit cards for earning valuable, flexible points and taking advantage of additional perks. In many cases, you'll be able to accrue more United miles by focusing on earning Ultimate Rewards points and then transferring them to United.

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points 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®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points 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®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}
  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points 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®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points 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®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
Annual Fee
$450
Regular APR
18.49% - 25.49% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}
  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening.
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases - with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • $95 Annual Fee
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases - with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • $95 Annual Fee
Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
17.49% - 22.49% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}

These are some of the most popular travel rewards credit cards in the game, and for good reason. The earn rates are high, and the points are flexible and offer significant value. Even if you redeem points through Chase's travel portal rather than transferring them to an airline or hotel partner, you'll still get 1.25 cents to 1.5 cents per point in value.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers the best value, and the annual fee is whittled down significantly by the travel credit alone. However, if you're looking for a more affordable annual fee and qualify for a business credit card, the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card might help you earn even more points. Finally, if you don't want a business or premium credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is still a good option, especially with the generous sign-up bonus.

Chase also has several cash-back credit cards that allow you to transfer your cash back to Ultimate Rewards points at a rate of 100 points for every dollar earned. However, you must hold at least one Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card in order to do this. Chase's cash-back credit cards include the Chase Freedom®, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card.

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Chase Freedom®

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Earn a $150 Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}
  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Chase Freedom Unlimited®

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5
  • No annual fee
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5
  • No annual fee
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}
  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase made for your business
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • No Annual Fee
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How to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United

Chase allows you to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to nine different airline rewards programs and three hotel rewards programs at a 1:1 ratio, including United. The process is simple, and the transfer typically processes almost immediately.

Log in to your Ultimate Rewards portal and select "Transfer to Travel Partners" from the list at the top. Scroll down the list of travel partners until you find United MileagePlus®, and select "Transfer Points."

You'll need to enter your United MileagePlus member information. If you aren't already signed up for United's MileagePlus program, you'll have to do that first. It's free and easy to join.

Transfer points with United
Screenshots in this article taken from the United website, August 2019

Next, you'll need to enter the number of points you'd like to transfer to United. Points can be transferred in 1,000-point increments. Confirm your decision, and your points should show up in your United MileagePlus account within minutes.

United's Excursionist Perk and how it works

Apart from a long list of airline partners, the other factor that ups that value of United miles is its Excursionist Perk. Put simply, this perk allows you one free one-way flight embedded within a multicity award ticket, allowing you to visit two or more cities for the price of one. As always, there are restrictions:

  1. Your trip must start and end in the same region, as defined by United.
  2. The free one-way ticket obtained through the Excursionist Perk must have an origin and destination within the same region, as defined by United.
  3. The cabin you're in for the Excursionist Perk leg must be the same or less than your cabin for the paid legs. In other words, if you're flying business class, you can get your free one-way flight in either business or economy.
  4. If you embed multiple qualifying one-way awards within a trip, only the first one will get the Excursionist Perk.

The most common way to take advantage of the Excursionist Perk is to add an extra city into a European itinerary. Here's the example United provides:

  • Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR): 30,000 miles
  • London (LHR) to Paris (CDG): 0 miles (this is your Excursionist Perk)
  • Paris (CDG) to Chicago (ORD): 30,000 miles

If you want to visit more cities, you can always add them after the Excursionist Perk, but you'll have to pay the regular price for a one-way award.

The 17 best ways to redeem United MileagePlus miles

If you've got some miles to burn through, you'll want to squeeze as much value out of them as possible. These are some of the best ways to redeem United miles.

1. Book last-minute flights.

Last-minute flights usually mean high prices and low availability, especially for award tickets. United miles are great to keep on hand because United still uses an award chart, meaning award flights will cost you the same number of miles whether flight prices are down or up.

Unfortunately, United announced recently that it's doing away with its award chart. Any award travel taking place on or after Nov. 15, 2019, will be priced out using the same dynamic pricing most airline loyalty programs now use. Whether or not United will still be a good option for last-minute flights remains to be seen.

2. Fly to New Zealand or Australia on Air New Zealand (40,000/80,000 miles).

United miles offer a good deal on flights to Australia or New Zealand for just 40,000 miles each way in economy and 90,000 miles each way in business class. Taxes and fees are minimal, typically adding up to $28.60 in both economy and business class.

For a seriously comfortable experience at a low price, fly business class to Auckland and back with Air New Zealand. Its business class cabin on 777-200s, 777-300s and 787-9s is among the best. The leather seats lie completely flat and come with a memory foam mattress and two full-size pillows.

Air New Zealand cabin
Image credit: Air New Zealand

On your way back, you'll also get access to Air New Zealand's flagship lounge. Unfortunately, it can be extremely hard to find Saver award availability in business class on Air New Zealand flights, even if you book months in advance.

Air New Zealand redemption

3. Fly to Frankfurt in first class on Lufthansa (110,000 miles).

You'll have a hard time finding award availability, but if you can land a first-class ticket to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, it's worth the extra 40,000 miles United charges each way for partner first-class awards when both first and business class are offered.

Awards by class

Considering there are no surcharges and taxes and fees are incredibly low, it's actually worth paying that much when you consider that cheaper first-class award tickets to Europe charge surcharges that often exceed $500.

In addition to experiencing Lufthansa's luxurious first class, widely considered to be one of the best in the world, you'll also get access to Lufthansa's First Class Terminal in Frankfurt on your way back. Complete with a personal assistant to escort you through security, an excellent selection of sparkling wine and whiskey, a cigar room, sleeping rooms, a full bathtub and a Porsche ride to your flight, this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.

4. Fly to Europe in economy (30,000 miles).

If you're more interested in saving miles than splurging on luxury, United miles are also great for affordable economy flights to Europe. You'll only pay 30,000 miles each way, and while there are other loyalty programs that charge the same, United is one of very few major airlines that doesn't add fuel surcharges to award flights, even when booked with a partner airline.

You'll end up paying taxes and fees, but on the way there, it's not much. You will often end up paying more substantial fees if you're departing from abroad due to airport taxes.

5. Fly United Polaris to Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Taipei, Mumbai or Auckland.

Folks who enjoy trying out the latest business class products will want to take a flight on United's new international business class Polaris. On select routes, you'll get lie-flat seats (all with direct aisle access) and Saks Fifth Avenue luxury bedding. If you depart from LAX, IAH, EWR, SFO or ORD, you'll also get access to United's new Polaris lounge.

Polaris cabin
Image credit: United Airlines

Routes that often have the new Polaris cabin with more private, lie-flat seats include the following:

  • Newark (EWR) to Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Mumbai and Tokyo
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Tel Aviv, Auckland, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Taipei

Look for flights operating on a Boeing 777-300ER to guarantee the new Polaris cabins. Saver award availability is slim, though, and Everyday awards are more than twice the price.

United Polaris booking

6. Fly to Taiwan in business class on EVA Air (80,000 miles).

For just 80,000 miles each way, you can fly business class from the U.S. to Taipei, Taiwan, with EVA Air. If you prefer to save your miles, economy seating is only 35,000 miles each way. In both cases, taxes and fees are minimal.

While it's no Emirates or ANA, EVA Air provides one of the best business class flights to Taipei. In addition to the beloved reverse herringbone seating, each seat gets ample storage, a good amenities kit, and on long flights, pajamas and slippers. EVA Air serves Veuve Clicquot or Krug champagne on its flights as well as carefully prepared, multicourse meals.

EVA Air cabin
Image credit: EVA Air

7. Fly to Europe in business class in a SWISS Airlines "throne" seat (70,000 miles).

SWISS Airlines cabin
Image Credit: SWISS Airlines

Redeeming United miles for a SWISS Airlines flight to Europe in business class is a great option that offers both value and lots of privacy—if you book the right seat.

The seating chart in SWISS Airlines business class is unique. While most seats are in twos, each row includes one seat that's all on its own with both a window and aisle access. These "throne" seats offer additional privacy and more space. This flight will cost you 70,000 miles each way in business class.

8. Fly business class to Africa on various partner airlines (40,000/80,000 miles).

Ethiopian Airlines cabin
Image Credit: Ethiopian Airlines

Between Ethiopian Airlines, Egyptair and South Africa Airways, you can get just about anywhere in Africa in business class using United miles. You'll also find flights to a number of African destinations routed through Europe on airlines such as Lufthansa, SWISS Airlines and Austrian Airlines.

Unlike some other airlines, United's current award chart flights to any African country cost the same, whether they're to North, Central or southern Africa. This makes United miles a good option if you're traveling to Central or southern Africa, but not the best deal if you're going to North Africa.

9. Fly to Tokyo in business class on ANA (80,000 miles).

All Nippon Airways (ANA) famously has one of the best business- and first-class products on the market, and using United miles, you can fly to Tokyo in business class on ANA for 80,000 miles each way and no fuel surcharges. Direct flights to Tokyo (NRT) depart from LAX.

United award calendar

You'd better have flexible dates, though, or don't expect to find Saver award availability in business. You can also fly economy for 35,000 miles each way.

10. Fly Bangkok to Sydney in first class on Thai Airways (50,000 miles).

Thai Airways lounge
Image Credit: Thai Airways

For 50,000 miles one way, you can experience first class on Thai Airways flying between Bangkok and Sydney. The best part about this flight: If you leave from Bangkok, you'll get entrance into the Thai Airways first class lounge, which includes a complimentary hour-long full-body massage at its Royal Orchid Spa.

If you fly in the opposite direction, you can continue on from Bangkok to Tokyo for the same price and still enjoy the first-class lounge during your layover. Some of these flights have a long enough layover in Bangkok that you could pop out of the airport for dinner, although you'll probably want to stick around for that full-body massage.

Booking an award to Bangkok

11. Fly from Europe to the Maldives on Turkish Airlines (30,000/55,000 points).

Bungalows at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
The overwater bungalows at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, which can be booked using Hilton points (Image Credit: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island)

The Maldives is a favorite destination among travel rewards enthusiasts because you can splurge on absolute luxury in a beautiful setting without spending much money. There are a number of hotels with overwater bungalows that can be purchased with points here, whether you're loyal to Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt or IHG.

If you've lusted after Maldives award redemptions and happen to be in Europe (or want to add a European stop to your vacation), booking with United miles on Turkish Airlines is the way to go. You can fly from Frankfurt or Zurich to Malé with a connection in Istanbul for just 30,000 miles each way in economy or 55,000 miles each way in business class. With business class, you'll get access to the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul.

Booking an award to Maldives
This presents a potentially massive value. Flights on Turkish Airlines to the Maldives are often the most direct way to get there from Europe, and they go for $600+, getting you a value of at least 2 cents per point in economy. Business class on these dates costs $2,600+, so you get nearly 5 cents per point in value with that redemption.

12. Enjoy the "World's Most Scenic Flight" with United's Island Hopper (27,500 miles).

Consisting of seven islands in 16 hours, this storied route on United is a must for adventure junkies, island lovers and aviation geeks alike. You'll travel from Hawaii to Guam, and along the way, you'll stop on four or five remote islands depending on the day. These stops include:

  • Honolulu
  • Majuro, Marshall Islands
  • Kwajalein, Marshall Islands
  • Kosrae, Micronesia
  • Pohnpei, Micronesia
  • Chuuk, Micronesia
  • Guam

Apart from offering some of the best views you'll ever soak in, this flight offers serious value when booked with miles. The cash price is usually around $1,345 each way in economy, but you'll only pay 27,500 miles. This gets you a value of almost 5 cents per point.

When booking this flight with points, you'll want to search for flights from Honolulu to Guam. Look for flights with four or five stops—this is the Island Hopper. Be sure to book a flight that leaves Honolulu early in the morning so you can make the most of daylight hours—and of course, aim for a window seat!

Booking an island hopper award

13. Fly between Central or Southern African countries on South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines (17,500 miles).

United's long list of partners includes its fair share of African airlines, making it easy to use United miles to fly between destinations in Central and Southern Africa. Most of these flights cost 17,500 miles each way in economy.

For example, you can fly from Johannesburg to Nairobi, Kenya, or Abuja, Nigeria, for 17,500 miles each way in economy. You can fly from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Zanzibar, Tanzania, or from Cape Town, South Africa, to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, for 17,500 miles each way. Saver award availability in both economy and business class is abundant on these routes.

Booking an award to South African countries

14. Visit three European cities for the price of one.

By combining the Excursionist Perk and an open jaw, you can make it to three different destinations for the price of one. This is easiest to do in Europe. Here's an example:

  • New York/Newark (EWR) to Amsterdam: 30,000 miles
  • Paris (CDG) to Prague: 0 miles (Excursionist Perk)
  • Prague to New York/Newark (EWR): 30,000 miles
Booking an award to Europe

In this example, your trip costs 60,000 miles round trip for all three flights, and you get to visit Amsterdam, Paris and Prague. In order to squeeze in three cities, there's an open jaw between Amsterdam and Paris, so you'll have to find your own transportation between those two cities.

Booking a multi-city award

Whether you choose to get between the two cities by flight, train, or bus, it won't cost you much. In fact, the Thalys high-speed train, which offers great views and takes just over 3 hours between the two cities, goes for around 70 euro in comfort class and sometimes under 40 euro in standard if you book well in advance.

15. Visit Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands using the Excursionist Perk (40,000 miles round-trip).

One of the most interesting ways to take advantage of United's Excursionist Perk is by flying to both Cusco, Peru, and Baltra, Ecuador, and crossing off two major bucket-list items in one trip: Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. Your flight between Cusco and the Galapagos Islands will be free, which is a huge value considering this flight often goes for $700 or $800.

  • U.S. to Cusco, Peru: 20,000 miles
  • Cusco, Peru to Baltra, Ecuador: 0 miles (Excursionist Perk)
  • Baltra, Ecuador to U.S.: 20,000 miles
It is worth noting that although this trip offers great value, the itinerary involves at least two connections (sometimes three) and at least one overnight stay. Saver award availability for this middle flight is also extremely rare, so this is one of those trips you have to book well in advance and with flexible dates.

The whole trip will cost you 40,000 miles round trip in economy. However, given the amount of time you'll be spending on planes, it might be worth it to spend more for better seats. This also opens up a lot more award availability.

Booking award to South America

16. Book domestic flights in Japan on ANA (5,000 miles).

You can fly almost anywhere within Japan for 5,000 miles, which makes United miles a useful way to get around the country if you don't want to fork over money for the scenic but spendy high-speed trains. Flying between Osaka and Hiroshima or between Tokyo (HND) and Kumamoto (KMJ) in the far south or Sapporo in the far north, all costs 5,000 miles each way in economy.

For something unique, consider flying from Tokyo (HND) or Okinawa to Takamatsu Airport (TAK) on Naoshima Island, otherwise known as Japan's "contemporary art island." You could also fly nonstop from Tokyo (HND) to Toyama, the gateway to the Japanese Alps.

17. Hop around Oceania on United (8,000 miles).

As long as your flight is under 800 miles in distance, it'll only cost you 8,000 miles. Go a little over, and the ticket will still only be 12,500 miles, which is still reasonable given cash prices in the region can be high.

You could fly from Guam to a number of stops in Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, including Chuuk and Yap, known for diving, for 8,000 miles. To get to Pohnpei, home to archaeological sites and stunning beaches, you'll need 12,500 miles.

How to book an award flight using United MileagePlus miles

United makes it easy to search for and book award flights, even if you're flying with a partner airline. All flights can be booked online through the flight search tool on United's homepage by selecting "Book with miles."

Booking an award

When viewing award availability, you can select "View 30-day calendar" if you have flexible dates. This will allow you to find the cheapest dates of the month to fly.

Booking an award with the calendar

You'll notice that all available award flights, including those on any partner airline, will show up in the search results together. You can see which airlines operate each flight right below the departure and arrival times in the search results.

Partner airlines

Once you find a suitable flight, you'll be asked to log in to your MileagePlus member account or create a new one. Then you can go through the checkout process and pay for the flight using your miles.

How to keep United MileagePlus miles from expiring

United miles do expire after 18 months of inactivity. This means you haven't earned, used, purchased or transferred any United miles for 18 months. In order to renew your miles before they expire, you can do one of the following:

  • Earn United miles by flying with United or a partner airline.
  • Earn United miles through a MileagePlus credit card, hotel partner or rental car partner.
  • Redeem any number of United miles.
  • Buy any number of United miles (minimum purchase amount is at least 2,000 miles).
  • Transfer miles from your Chase Ultimate Rewards account or ask a friend to gift you miles.

Final take

While the future value of United miles is up in the air, it's currently one of the better airline loyalty programs. A lot of that has to do with the fact that United still uses a published award chart. However, its long list of airline partners, its place on Chase's list of travel partners, and the ease of searching for and booking award travel also place it high on the list.

For now, there are plenty of excellent redemptions that can be had using United miles, from bucket-list trips on a budget to luxurious first-class flights across the globe.

Comments and Questions

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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.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).