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.
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. This guide will go over the rules and quirks of redeeming miles with the United MileagePlus program, how to earn more United miles and the best ways to get maximum value from your United award redemptions.
- Using United miles to book flights
- Star Alliance and MileagePlus airline partners
- United’s Excursionist Perk and how it works
- Other United redemption options
- How to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United
- The 17 best ways to redeem United MileagePlus miles
- How to book a flight with United miles
- How to keep United MileagePlus miles from expiring
- Is United’s new dynamic pricing worth it?
Using United miles to book flights
The United award chart used to be the first stop for determining the number of miles needed to book an award ticket. With the move to dynamic pricing, you’ll simply need to head to united.com and plug in your origin, destination and date(s) of travel to find out how much an award ticket costs. You can book awards over the phone, but United’s website has a sophisticated award search that will return plenty of results — plus, you’ll avoid the $25 phone booking fee.
United has two levels of awards for each cabin class: Saver and Everyday. Saver awards are cheaper, but availability at this level is limited. United offers far more Everyday award seats, but the downside is the higher pricing. There is no difference between the awards aside from these factors. Everyday Awards do have a cap on the number of miles required based on the origin and destination zones and class of service.
How many United miles do you need to fly?
United award flight prices vary substantially based on the cabin class and when you’re flying. For example, economy Saver Award prices for the short hop from San Francisco to Los Angeles start around 5,500 miles, while a first-class Everyday award for the same hop costs around 25,500 miles.
Your trip to see family for the holidays may cost more as well. For example, transcontinental flights from San Francisco to Newark generally start at 12,500 one-way as an economy Saver Award. However, an ideally-timed nonstop economy flight on Dec. 23 costs 24,000 United miles, nearly twice the price:
Flights between the U.S. and other continents are subject to variable pricing as well. It used to be easy to calculate the cost for a Saver award using the United award chart, but that’s no longer an option. For example, economy Saver Awards between the U.S. and Australia start at 40,000 miles on United flights and 44,000 on partners. Business-class Saver Awards start at 99,000 miles on United partners — on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll pay as much 250,000 miles for a partner business-class Everyday Award to the Central and Southern Africa zone.
Typically, you’ll get better value out of your miles by booking long-haul premium cabin awards versus domestic economy awards. Check out this post for a value comparison of various United awards.
How much are United miles worth?
We value United miles at around 1.1 cents per mile. To calculate the value of United miles for a particular redemption option, use this simple equation: Cash price (minus taxes and fees) / Number of miles needed for flight = Miles value
Even though award ticket prices are often higher than what other programs charge, United MileagePlus does have a leg up: United does not levy fuel surcharges. United has never charged these fees on their own awards; however, many other partner airlines do, to the tune of hundreds of dollars. (For example, Air Canada Aeroplan charges just 55,000 miles for business class flights between the U.S. and western Europe on partner Lufthansa, but these often require $500 or more in fuel surcharges for a one-way flight.) United does not pass these charges along, meaning, for some of United’s partner airlines, you can save significant money by booking an award flight on these airlines through United’s Star Alliance and MileagePlus airline partners.
Star Alliance and MileagePlus airline partners
United is a founding member of the Star Alliance network, which offers the most airline partners among the major alliances. The airline also has a long list of partner airlines outside of the Star Alliance network. You can earn or redeem United miles on flights with any of these airlines.
This list of airline partners is a big part of what makes United miles valuable. Some of these partner airlines offer incredible in-flight experiences, such as ANA’s “The Suite” first class. This features a fully-enclosable suite, a massive in-flight entertainment screen and top-notch catering, including champagne and caviar.
United Star Alliance partners
|Aegean||Air Canada||Air China|
|Air India||Air New Zealand||ANA|
|Brussels Airlines||Copa Airlines||Croatia Airlines|
|LOT Polish Airlines||Lufthansa||SAS|
|Shenzen Airlines||Singapore Airlines||South African Airways|
|SWISS||TAP Air Portugal||Thai|
Other United partners
|Aer Lingus||Aeromar||Air Dolomiti|
|Azul Airlines||Boutique Air||Cape Air|
|Olympic Air||Silver Airways||Vistara|
Previously, the United award chart had different pricing for United flights versus partner flights for some region pairs. For example, business-class partner flights between the U.S. and Europe cost 70,000 miles one-way versus just 60,000 miles on United-operated flights. Although prices are no longer published, this trend is still widespread under the dynamic pricing model.
United’s Excursionist Perk and how it works
Apart from a long list of airline partners and the ease of booking online, another factor that increases the value of United miles is its “Excursionist Perk.” Put simply, this perk allows you one free one-way flight embedded within a multi-city award ticket, allowing you to visit two or more cities for the price of one.
As always, though, there are some restrictions:
- Your trip must start and end in the same award region, as defined by United.
- The free one-way ticket using the Excursionist Perk must have an origin and destination within the same award region, as defined by United.
- The cabin of service and award inventory of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it (i.e., if your first one-way ticket is in business class, you can get your free one-way flight in either business or economy).
- If multiple one-way awards qualify as an Excursionist Perk based on the above criteria (i.e., by being wholly within a single MileagePlus award region), only the first of these awards will be free. You can ticket extra segments into a multi-city itinerary, but you cannot use the Excursionist Perk more than once on a single ticket.
A 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.
Advanced use of the Excursionist Perk
However, you can do much more with the United Excursionist Perk. The fact that your ticket needs to begin and end in the same region means you could depart from the U.S. to Europe as your first segment, and then return to the U.S. from Southeast Asia — you won’t need to return from Europe.
You can also add as many “open-jaws” (i.e. breaks in your segments) into your itinerary as you’d like. The Excursionist Perk segment doesn’t even have to be in the same destination zone of your first qualifying one-way award.
Here is a more advanced use of the Excursionist Perk:
- Chicago (ORD) to Copenhagen (LHR) in SAS business class: 77,000 miles
- Transit overland to Paris by train, stopping in Amsterdam for a couple days along the way
- Paris (CDG) to Singapore (SIN) on a separate one-way ticket
- Singapore (SIN) to Hong Kong (HKG) in business class: 0 miles (this is your Excursionist Perk )
- Hong Kong (HKG) to Taipei (TPE) on a cheap cash ticket
- Taipei (TPE) to Chicago (ORD) in EVA Air economy: 38,500 miles
There’s even more you can do with the Excursionist Perk. Go play with the multi-city award search tool.
Other United redemption options
Award flights are by far the best way to redeem your United MileagePlus miles, as you’ll generally get more than 1 cent per mile based on ValuePenguin’s valuation. However, there are other redemption options if you don’t wish to book flights, including:
- Car rentals
- Experiences and events
- Hotel stays
- In-flight Wi-Fi
- Magazine subscriptions
- TSA Precheck®
- United Club membership
In general, redeeming miles in these ways will yield less value than award flights. For example, redeeming United miles for hotel stays, car rentals or TSA Precheck membership all yield less than 1 cent per mile. Redeeming for merchandise will give you little more than half a cent per mile. It is highly recommended to redeem your miles for award flights.
You can check out all the ways to redeem miles here.
How to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United
If you have a premium Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card (i.e., one with an annual fee), you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United, one of ten different airline rewards programs and three hotel rewards programs that Chase cardholders can transfer points to. Points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, in increments of 1,000 points.
The transfer process is simple, and your points are converted into United miles almost immediately. To initiate a transfer, log in to your Ultimate Rewards account. Select “Transfer to Travel Partners” from the banner of options at the top of the page. 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 number. 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.
Next, you’ll need to enter the number of points you’d like to transfer to United (remember, points can be transferred in 1,000-point increments). Once you have decided how many points you want to transfer, confirm the transaction. Your Chase Ultimate Rewards points will be immediately deducted, and the miles will show up in your United MileagePlus account within minutes.
You can transfer Ultimate Rewards to the United MileagePlus® account (or any other Chase travel partner account) of one other person residing in your household, as long as they are also an authorized user of your Chase card.
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