Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more. Citi is an advertising partner.
United Airlines award miles may not be the most valuable in the rewards game, but they still have some great uses, especially for premium cabin travel. Unfortunately, the United award chart became a thing of the past in November 2019. Under the new dynamic award pricing, flights no longer require a set number of miles for a specific class of service. Award prices fluctuate depending on your date of travel, demand, partner airline and how far in advance you book.
However, all is not lost — there are still plenty of lucrative ways to redeem your United miles. This includes everything from a last-minute short-haul flight, to long-haul premium cabin experiences, to a unique 16-hour island-hopper with some of the world's best views.
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. Fly to Frankfurt in Lufthansa First Class starting at 121,000 miles
A ticket to Frankfurt in Lufthansa first class is worth paying the premium. Most first-class tickets cost 40,000 to 44,000 more miles than a business-class award ticket on the same flight. The primary issue with Lufthansa first class is availability — you can only book first-class awards within 15 days of departure.
Although other programs let you book Lufthansa first class for fewer miles, one benefit of using United miles is that there are no fuel surcharges. For many people, it's well worth paying the higher award rate when you consider that surcharges on first-class award tickets to Europe often exceed $500 each way.
Lufthansa's luxurious first class is widely considered to be one of the best in the world, and the experience gets even better if you depart Frankfurt. A first-class ticket allows access to Lufthansa's exclusive First Class Terminal. There, you'll enjoy a personal assistant to escort you through security, an excellent selection of alcoholic beverages, a cigar room, sleeping rooms, a full bathtub and a limousine ride to your flight. Lufthansa first class is truly a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.
2. Fly to Taiwan in EVA Air business class starting at 88,000 miles
EVA Air's Royal Laurel business class is an excellent way to fly from the U.S. to Taipei, Taiwan. If you prefer to save your miles, economy seating is only 38,500 miles each way. Taxes and fees are minimal for both cabins.
EVA air offers a standard reverse herringbone seating in a lovely cabin, with green and brown color touches. Each seat offers plenty of storage, an amenity kit and pajamas and slippers (by designer Jason Wu, a Michelle Obama favorite) on long-haul overnight flights. EVA Air also serves award-winning champagne that was named the Best Business Class Sparkling for seven consecutive years, as of 2019.
3. Visit multiple European cities for no extra miles
Take advantage of United's Excursionist Perk to visit three cities in Europe for the price of a single round trip. Here's an example in economy:
- San Francisco (SFO) to London Heathrow (LHR) - 30,000 miles
- Paris (CDG) to Rome (FCO) - 0 miles (Excursionist Perk)
- Rome (FCO) to San Francisco (SFO) - 30,000 miles
You'll pay a total of 60,000 miles for this economy multi-city trek. You'll need to get yourself between London and Paris as part of the trip, but this is easily accomplished by train. Three cities for the price of one is an excellent deal.
4. Fly to Africa with United and partners starting at 77,000 miles
The Star Alliance offers excellent connectivity to the African continent, with both EgyptAir and Ethiopian Airlines as members. You can also book a number of European carriers that offer one-stop itineraries for many origin and destination pairs. Getting to Africa is no easy trek, so you'll likely want to make the journey in business class, and these awards are one of the best uses of United miles.
Saver business-class flights with the North America to Europe segment on United start at 77,000 miles. If you fly Star Alliance partners the whole way, you'll pay at least 88,000 miles for a one-way business-class ticket. United's only destination in Africa is Cape Town.
5. Fly from Sydney to Tokyo in Thai Airways first class for 71,500 miles
Thai Airways offers a luxurious first-class product aboard their Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 aircraft. Besides the excellent in-air experience, Thai offers an unmatched ground experience in Bangkok. Your ticket grants you access to the Thai Airways first class lounge, which includes a complimentary hour-long shoulder and foot massage at its Royal Orchid Spa.
The best way to experience this is on a ticket from Sydney, Australia to Tokyo, Japan. You'll enjoy a daytime long-haul flight into Bangkok, giving you the chance to enjoy every minute of Thai First Class. This is followed by several hours of enjoyment at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport, massage and all, before a short overnight flight to Tokyo. The price from Sydney to Japan is no different than the price to just Bangkok, and you'll want plenty of time to enjoy those ground services.
Thai first class used to be one of the sweetest spots on the old United award chart, requiring just 40,000 miles for the Bangkok-Sydney portion of this itinerary.
6. Fly United Polaris business class to many destinations
United's refreshed and rebranded Polaris business class is a breath of fresh air for a carrier that was long overdue to replace their 8-across Boeing 777 business class seating (two seats at the left window, four seats in the middle between aircraft aisles, two seats at the right window). This was very tight in terms of total seat space per passenger.
In contrast, the new Polaris seating offers a 1-2-1 business-class cabin seating arrangement (one seat at the left window, two in the middle between aircraft aisles, one seat at the right window) on both their renovated Boeing 777 aircraft and their brand-new Boeing 787-10 aircraft.
There are now plenty of routes that offer the true Polaris business-class seat, including:
- Newark to Mumbai
- Newark to Tokyo
- Newark to Tel Aviv
- Newark to Hong Kong
- San Francisco to London
- San Francisco to Frankfurt
- San Francisco to Hong Kong
- San Francisco to Taipei
- San Francisco to Tokyo
- San Francisco to Beijing
- San Francisco to Auckland
Depending on the route, Saver awards can be hard to find. However, you could still snag a seat on some of the longest Polaris routes, such as Newark to Mumbai — a fantastic deal at 75,000 United miles for the nonstop trek.
7. Book last-minute flights for great savings
United last-minute award flight availability has a history of being excellent. There are many routes where award seats open up within the two to three weeks prior to the travel date. It can be nerve-wracking to play the "wait and see" game for award space — however, a big upside is that you can easily plan a spontaneous trip if the space opens up.
United used to charge a $75 fee to non-Premier members for flights booked less than three weeks from departure. However, this is no longer levied: Instead, United charges between 1,500 and 2,500 more miles depending on demand, route and how close to departure you book.
This is unfortunate, but often it's still a fantastic deal compared to the cash price of a ticket when you're booking with only one to two weeks of lead time.
8. Fly to Europe in SWISS' excellent business class
SWISS Airlines offers a nice business-class cabin in a staggered 2-2-1 seating layout (two seats at windows on one side, two seats in middle between aisles, one seat at the windows on the opposite side) on their Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A340-300 aircraft. The most coveted seat is the single "throne" seat in each row, as it offers the most space and privacy.
These can be hard to snag, but if you can find a flight with one open (which may require digging into the seating chart by making a dummy booking on the SWISS website), you can book this business class seat starting at 77,000 miles each way between the U.S. and Europe.
9. Fly between Central and Southern Africa for 19,500 miles in economy
United's Star Alliance partners include Ethiopian Airlines, the largest airline in Africa. Ethiopian flies to numerous destinations within the Central and Southern Africa award zone, which includes the bulk of the continent. South African Airways is another United partner; however, the airline has entered bankruptcy and will only survive with a solid restructuring plan.
Tickets within this section of Africa tend to be pricey, making an economy United award an excellent deal. A one-way award ticket is just 19,500 United miles, a 2,000-mile premium over what the old United award chart required. Round-trip cash tickets for many itineraries are between $500 and $800. This example itinerary between Cape Town and Accra is an excellent deal in either economy or business class.
10. Book nonstop short-haul flights outside the U.S. for 9,000 miles
United offers special pricing for single-zone nonstop flights of fewer than 800 miles outside the U.S. and Canada. You can book these awards for just 9,000 miles one-way — an amazing deal for certain short hops in other regions.
Tickets within Central and Southern Africa are a great example. There are many short hops operated as fifth freedom routes (which take you between two countries, neither of which are the airline's base) by Star Alliance carriers such as Ethiopian Airlines, TAP Portugal and Turkish Airlines.
This one-way flight from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to Conakry, Guinea, costs just 9,000 United miles and $46.50 as an award versus the cash price of around $300 USD for this specific date.
11. Book ANA first class from the U.S. to Tokyo starting at 121,000 miles
ANA first class is arguably one of the best in the sky. With brand-new business class and first class suites, the Japanese carrier has outdone itself. Their previous product was already excellent, and the updated one — known as "The Suite" — is even better. The seats are extremely spacious, offer a gigantic in-flight entertainment screen and a door that closes. Pair this with top-notch catering and Krug champagne, and you have a recipe for perfection.
If you're looking to book this aspirational product, United miles can get you there. You'll need 121,000 miles for a one-way ticket, but it's entirely worth it for this unrivaled experience.
There are (amazingly) even better ways to book ANA first class, including using Virgin Atlantic miles, another Chase Ultimate Rewards partner. United miles are a good option if you have plenty, but make sure you check out any other currencies available to you.
12. Fly business class from Europe to Australia or New Zealand starting at 99,000 miles
Finding business class award space between Europe and the Land Down Under is arguably much easier than departing the U.S. due to the number of carriers and routing options. In addition, award flights are a great deal for this very long trek. You'll pay 99,000 United miles for a one-way award on a variety of partners, including Thai Airways, SWISS, Lufthansa, EVA Air, ANA and others. Itineraries will often be a mix of carriers.
Considering that one-way economy flights cost a whopping 66,000 miles or more, the premium for business class isn't all that bad. Even better, you may be able to plan an all-day layover into the itinerary, such as flying Thai Airways between Paris and Sydney with a full 11 hours in Bangkok.
13. Enjoy the "World's Most Scenic Flight" — United's famous island hopper
United's famous "island hopper" route is on the bucket list of many aviation geeks. The route from Honolulu to Guam and back makes a series of stops at several Pacific islands, providing you some gorgeous views during your all-day adventure. The island hopper pays a visit to:
- Honolulu (departs)
- Majuro, Marshall Islands
- Kwajalein, Marshall Islands
- Kosrae, Micronesia (skipped some days)
- Pohnpei, Micronesia
- Chuuk, Micronesia
- Guam (final destination)
You can book this trek starting at 27,500 miles in economy. The route is often expensive, currently priced at $1,496 one-way — this gives you massive value for your United miles. The island hopper flies in the opposite direction at times, from Guam to Honolulu. However, you'll really want the Hawaii departure, as you'll want a daytime flight to enjoy the island views.
14. Fly to Tokyo in ANA business class starting at 88,000 miles
If ANA first class is out of your budget, you can still enjoy an amazing experience in their top-notch business-class product. ANA's "The Room" seats are very spacious, offer full lie-flat seating, contain a very large in-flight entertainment screen and even have a door you can close. These features, combined with ANA's excellent catering, make it arguably the nicest business-class product in the sky.
ANA flies to a number of U.S. destinations, but only specific gateways offer flights with the new product. You'll need to dig into the seat map and airline info to figure out if your flight offers the new business class. At time of publication, ANA's website says the new product is being offered on flights between New York and Tokyo — but if that doesn't work for you, their "old" business class is still very nice.
15. Fly to Australia or New Zealand in business class starting at 99,000 miles with partners
Finding nonstop business-class awards to Sydney or Auckland from U.S. gateways can be a chore. United is quite stingy with award space on these routes, and Air New Zealand is even worse. Luckily, you can still find decent availability to Australia with United partners in Asia, including ANA and Asiana.
United generally charges a minimum of 99,000 miles each way for business-class awards — this could range from nonstop on Air New Zealand to a much longer itinerary with All Nippon Airways.
If you love flying, taking the indirect route might even be more appealing. More flying for the same number of miles, right? Not to mention most Asian Star Alliance members are excellent carriers to fly.
16. Fly Lufthansa 747-8i upper deck business class starting at 77,000 miles
Even though Lufthansa has grounded a portion of its long-haul fleet in recent months, it's still flying multiple Boeing 747-8i aircraft between their Frankfurt hub and select U.S. cities, including United hub cities like Los Angeles (LAX) Chicago (ORD) and Houston (IAH).
The 747 offers it's iconic upper deck business-class cabin, a preferred choice of aviation geeks. Lufthansa's business-class seat isn't the most luxurious, and solo travelers may not like the proximity to their seatmate — though if you're traveling with a plus-one, Lufthansa is far more ideal. Award prices start at 77,000 miles one-way.
17. Visit both the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu for just 44,000 miles round-trip
United offers attractive award pricing to northern South America, which includes Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. This is one area where you can take full advantage of the United Excursionist Perk to visit two popular destinations in the region: Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands.
To put together the itinerary, you'll need to use the United multi-city search tool and key in the three segments:
- U.S. origin to Cusco (CUZ)
- Cusco (CUZ) to Baltra (GPS)
- Baltra (GPS) back to your U.S. origin
Although neither of these destinations are served directly by United, Star Alliance partner Avianca will get you the rest of the way. Awards start at 44,000 miles for an economy round-trip between the U.S. and Northern South America, which isn't a whole lot more than the previous United award chart price of 40,000 miles.
How to book a flight with United miles
United's search engine makes it easy to find and book award flights. Their online award search will pull up their own flights, as well as those from their partner airlines. Book award flights online through the flight search tool on United's homepage by selecting "Book with miles."
United's award search will pull up specific flights for the date you selected. You can also see a 7-day view of options (if you have flexible travel dates) showing the lowest price for an award available that day. You can also expand to a 30-day view and toggle between economy and business or first class, as well.
Once you've settled on your desired travel date, you can peruse the listed flight options. Use the sort features to organize by number of stops, departure time, arrival time, duration of travel or price in the various cabins. You'll also see which airline(s) operate a given itinerary. Click on details to see the exact flight numbers and layover times. You can also see seat maps, but only for United-operated flights.
When you find a suitable flight, click "Select." You'll then move on to select your next flight (if a round-trip or multi-stop itinerary), or be taken to the checkout process.
Once you book your flight, United will email your confirmation with the reservation code and receipt. If you don't wish to book right away, you can hold the fare and award space for three to 14 days using United's FareLock feature (for flights operated by United and United Express® only). FareLock pricing varies, but it is usually in the $10 to $30 range. Note that you can only use FareLock for United and United Express flights. Itineraries including partner flights cannot be locked.
How to keep United MileagePlus miles from expiring
United miles no longer expire due to account inactivity. Even if you do not credit or redeem your United miles for several years, they will still be available for you to use. This is a major change from the previous United policy where MileagePlus miles expired after 18 months of account inactivity.
Is United's new dynamic pricing worth it?
Although the value of United miles has taken a hit due to the move to dynamic pricing, the United MileagePlus loyalty program is still an excellent one. The ability to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United miles, an excellent award search engine, plenty of alliance and non-alliance partners and the lack of fuel surcharges make up for the higher pricing.
Additional reading: The Ultimate Guide to United Airlines' MileagePlus Program