The Ultimate Guide to United Airlines' MileagePlus Program

The Ultimate Guide to United Airlines' MileagePlus Program

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United is one of the top airlines in the world, flying to more than 210 U.S. and 120 international destinations. You may want to consider joining the United MileagePlus frequent flyer program and booking a ticket with United before you jet off on your next business trip or vacation.

In addition to offering many daily flights all over the world, United boasts one of the top rewards programs for frequent flyers, with an array of rich perks that make it well worth becoming a member. You can get free flights, as well as benefits ranging from complimentary checked bags to club lounge access and upgrades that could make your travel a whole lot more enjoyable.

What is United MileagePlus?

United MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program for United Airlines, which is a member of Star Alliance. United Airlines operates out of seven hubs and serves dozens of countries around the world. The airline's MileagePlus program is known for having a wide array of award travel destinations, excellent economy award availability and a variety of ways to earn and redeem miles.

United MileagePlus overview
Countries/regions served61
Hub airports (U.S.)Chicago (ORD), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO), Washington D.C. (IAD)
Airline allianceStar Alliance
Airline loungesOver 45 United Club locations, plus access to participating Star Alliance lounges
Number of miles needed for a free flightAround 5,000 miles and up
United miles value1.6 cents
  • Wide range of U.S. and international destinations
  • Elite status offers solid to excellent value at middle and higher tiers
  • No fuel fees on award flights
  • Free one-way flight on some multi-city award flights
  • Elite status offers little value at lowest tier
  • Mile value below average compared with other airlines
  • Got rid of clear award chart that made award redemption easy

It's free to join MileagePlus, and there are four levels of elite status you can attain to earn more miles per dollar spent on United flights to get various perks when you fly. These perks, available at different levels of status, include free checked bags, same-day flight changes with no fee and flight upgrades. United also is known for its easy award redemptions.

How much are United miles worth?

United miles are worth about 1.6 cents per mile, coming in above the average airline mile value of 1.3 cents per mile, based on our 2020 airline miles valuations.

United miles are more valuable than miles from American Airlines miles (1.0 cents), Delta (1.3 cents) and Southwest Airlines (1.5 cents), and equal to JetBlue (1.6 cents).

Ultimately, though, your choice of a frequent flyer program will also depend on factors beyond just the value of the miles, such as where you live, where you fly and the value of elite status perks.

How do you know if using United miles is worth it?

We value United miles at around 1.6 cents per mile — if a fare is worth around 1.6 cents per mile, then it's likely worth it to use miles. To calculate the value of United miles, use this simple equation: Cash price (minus taxes and fees) / Number of miles needed for fare = Miles value for that specific fare

Pros and cons of United MileagePlus

The United MileagePlus program has many advantages but like all frequent flyer programs also has its downsides.


MileagePlus gets top ratings among frequent flyer programs for the sheer variety of award ticket redemption options and the perks that offer top value at middle- and high-tier elite status. United is a member of Star Alliance and United miles can be earned on partner airlines and redeemed for high-value awards, such as luxurious first-class flights on Lufthansa. With daily flights all over the world on United and its partners, award ticket redemption options are almost endless.

There are other benefits like the United Excursionist Perk, a free one-way flight you can get on some multi-city award ticket bookings. United is also one of the few major airlines that does not tack fuel surcharges onto award ticket bookings.


The two biggest cons of the MileagePlus program are its below-average mile value and lackluster benefits for its lowest elite tier. Travelers who spend only a few thousand dollars per year on United flights may not find United status worth earning for the meager benefits offered at the Silver Premier level.

The United MileagePlus program is best for frequent and very frequent flyers who are United loyalists, live near a United hub city and also fly other Star Alliance airlines.

How to earn United miles

There are many ways to rack up United miles that can get you free flights and other awards. Buying plane tickets and opening a United credit card with a welcome bonus are two of the best ways to earn United miles. Here are all the ways you can increase the balance of your MileagePlus account.

United flights

Buying plane tickets for United flights is one of the fastest ways to earn United miles. The miles you earn for buying tickets on flights operated by United and United Express are based on the dollar amount of the fare, as well as your tier of United elite status.

Entry-level members of MileagePlus earn 5 miles for every dollar they spend on United flights. If you have elite status, you can earn an additional 2 to 6 miles per dollar spent based on your level of status.

Elite Status
Award miles per $1
Premier Silver7
Premier Gold8
Premier Platinum9
Premier 1K®11

Note that you do earn United miles on Basic Economy fares just as you would when you buy any other flight.

However, not all flights earn miles. For example, you may not earn miles on award flights or on flights with "unpublished or opaque" fares, including those purchased through Hotwire or

Star Alliance partners

You can also earn United miles when you buy tickets for flights on Star Alliance partner airlines.

If you buy a ticket for a flight operated by a partner airline but ticketed by United, you'll earn miles based on your fare just like you would for a United flight. (To confirm that an existing reservation was ticketed by United, look for a ticket number starting with 016.)

If you buy a ticket for a flight operated by a partner airline and not ticketed by United, you'll earn miles based on both flight distance and purchased fare class.

Credit cards

Another way to earn United miles quickly is by opening a United Airlines credit card. Not only can you earn a generous sign-up bonus that could get you a free flight right away, you can also earn United miles for your everyday spending. And if you fly even a few times a year, the amount you save on United baggage fees alone could make it worth having a United credit card.

What are the best United Airlines credit cards? Loyal United flyers have several options for United co-branded cards from Chase:

Welcome bonus
Annual fee
United℠ Explorer CardEarn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays and United purchases. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
United Club℠ Infinite CardEarn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account openingEarn 4 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel and dining and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.$525
United℠ Business CardEarn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $20,000 total in the first 6 months your account is open.Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, at restaurants, gas stations, office supply stores and on local transit and commuting. Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.$99

So what card might be best for you? Consider applying for the United℠ Explorer Card if you're an average traveler and the United Club℠ Infinite Card if you're a very frequent traveler.

MileagePlus X app

The MileagePlus X app allows you to quickly rack up miles while going about your daily life. Just download the app on the App Store or Google Play, then log in and look for offers that allow you to earn as much as 10 miles per dollar or more by shopping or dining at hundreds of merchants. Plus, United credit cardholders can also get a 25% bonus.

Using the app involves jumping through a few extra hoops, but it could definitely be worth it to earn extra United miles. Each time you want to use the app, you'll click on the name of the merchant you're purchasing from in the app, then buy an e-giftcard to the merchant in the exact amount of your total. To pay, you then use the barcode/gift card number and PIN you receive to pay. This can be a great way to "double dip," earning miles both via the app and through the linked credit card you use to pay for your purchase.

MileagePlus Dining

MileagePlus Dining offers an easy and delicious way to earn extra miles for eating out at restaurants. You join United MileagePlus Dining, then link a credit card, find restaurants that are part of the program, eat at those restaurants and pay with your linked card.

You can even get rewarded for joining MileagePlus Dining — there's currently an offer for 2,500 miles when you join MileagePlus Dining and eat at one restaurant through the program.

There are three levels of earnings with MileagePlus Dining depending on whether you choose to get emails from the program and on the number of transactions you make:

  • Basic members — 1 mile per $2 spent when you choose not to get MileagePlus Dining emails
  • Select members — 3 miles per $1 spent when you agree to get MileagePlus Dining emails
  • VIP members — 5 miles per $1 spent when you become a Select member and complete 11 qualifying transactions during the year

As soon as you complete the required number of transactions, you automatically start earning at the VIP level.

United MileagePlus shopping portal

If you're grounded due to the coronavirus and doing a lot more shopping from home, the United MileagePlus shopping portal is a good way to keep miles rolling into your account.

You simply go to the MileagePlus Shopping portal and sign in, browse over 900 online stores and services, click on an offer and choose "shop now" to go to the store's site. Then you shop as you normally would and earn extra miles on your purchase. Or, if you're a Google Chrome user, you can install the MileagePlus Shopping button on your browser and use it to apply miles and discounts to your purchases at checkout with a participating merchant.

Through MileagePlus shopping, you may find offers of up to 10 or more miles per $1 spent, or see offers for a certain number of miles for signing up for a service or subscription. For example, you can earn 3,200 miles when you sign up for service with Verizon Wireless and 650 miles by getting Hello Fresh meal service. Further examples of current offers include 10 miles per $1 at and Thrive Market and 3 miles per $1 at Lancome and Jimmy Choo, or 450 miles on a Bark Box subscription for your dog.

Travel partners

You can rack up miles by choosing United deals and partners next time you travel. For example, you can earn the following on hotel stays:

  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent when you book your hotel through United Hotels.
  • Earn 1,000 miles by using the United Marriott bonus link for each stay at a participating hotel in the Marriott Bonvoy rewards program.
  • Earn bonus miles with another United hotel partners, such as Choice, IHG, Hyatt, Radisson and Wyndham.

You can earn even more miles when you book a rental car through United. For example, through a partnership with Hertz, you can get a special rate on your rental car and earn up to 2,750 United miles when you book your rental car through United Car Rentals. Or, you can book through Hertz and provide your MileagePlus number to earn miles.

United Vacations

If you're in the market for something more than a staycation, booking a trip through United Vacations can earn you bonus miles on top of the miles you earn for the United flights. United Vacations offers vacation packages to over 250,000 resorts in over 400 destinations with 10,000 available activities. The packages include airport transportation and other services to make your vacation more seamless, as well as a best price guarantee.

United Vacations also offers 2 miles per $1 spent when you pay with your MileagePlus credit card.

United Cruises

You don't have to travel by plane to earn miles — you can also go by sea. When you book a cruise through United Cruises, you can earn up to 4 United miles per dollar spent depending on the category of room you book:

  • Interior or oceanview stateroom: 2 United miles per $1
  • Balcony stateroom or suite: 4 United miles per $1

You may find special offers that will allow you to rack up even more miles. For example, United currently has an offer that will give you 7 United miles per $1 on your next cruise when you open a MileagePlus credit card.

United offers cruises through several dozen cruise lines, including Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian and Princess, and also offers a best price guarantee.

Buy miles

Need a few more United miles for that award ticket to Paris? You can buy 1,000 United miles at a cost of $35, plus taxes and fees. The minimum purchase amount is 2,000 miles, and you may buy miles for yourself or to give to another MileagePlus member.

Considering you're paying 3.5 cents each for miles that are worth about 1.6 cents each, this is usually not a good way to get United miles. If, however, you need a small number of miles now to secure an award ticket for your dream vacation, it may be worth the cost to buy United miles.

How to use United miles

There are plenty of ways you can redeem your United miles. Keep reading to learn about the best ways to redeem United miles.

How to use United miles for flights

One of the best ways to use United miles is for free flights. You can use miles for both flights on United Airlines and on its 25 Star Alliance airline partners.

Most United award tickets can be booked at, but you may have to book some partner airline flights by phone. In that case, you may have to pay a phone award booking fee.

One of the ways to stretch your United miles as far as possible is to book a United Saver award, the cheapest rewards flight offered by the airline. Saver awards can offer significant savings, as long as you don't mind flying economy. You could potentially get a Saver award that costs about half the number of miles of a Standard Economy award ticket, and international Saver flights may be available for as little as 30,000 miles. However, you may have to hunt for availability for popular routes and travel dates.

Booking on Star Alliance partners can offer some of the highest value United award redemptions, especially when choosing business- or first-class on airlines known for their stellar service.

It's worth shopping around to find the most valuable use of your United miles based on your travel goals and which airlines you want to fly, but here are a few of our suggestions for the best ways to use United miles on flights on both United and partner airlines:

  • United Saver award ticket from New York to Paris (32,000 miles one way)
  • United's scenic Island Hopper flight from Honolulu to Guam with stops at seven islands along the way (27,500 miles one way)
  • City hop cheaply in Japan, for example from Tokyo to Osaka, on ANA (5,500 miles one way)
  • Saver award from Los Angeles to Australia (44,000 miles one way)
  • Business saver award from New York to Berlin on Lufthansa (66,000 miles one way)

As you can see, shopping for flights on United and partner airlines can get you where you need to go with top value for your miles.

How to use miles to upgrade on United

Would you rather be stretching out in business class with a glass of champagne than cramped in economy? You can use your miles to make your upcoming flight much more comfortable and luxurious by snagging space in a premium cabin.

Here are four ways you can get an upgrade with United miles:

  1. Get a United upgrade during booking — You can request a United upgrade award during booking. To do so, sign in to your MileagePlus account and choose "Advanced search options." Search for your flight and choose "MileagePlus Upgrade Awards." If no flights show upgrade availability, you can book and request an upgrade later.
  2. Request a United upgrade after booking — You can get an upgrade after booking in several ways: You can sign in to your MileagePlus account and pulling up your reservation to make the request online; call your dedicated Premier elite service line or United Reservations at 800-UNITED-1 (800-864-8331); or talk with a United representative at a check-in counter or at the gate within 24 hours of departure.
  3. Choose a PlusPoints upgrade — You can also get what United calls a PlusPoints upgrade during or after booking a flight on United or a partner airline. During booking, go to "Advanced search options" and choose "PlusPoints Upgrades" from the dropdown menu of upgrade types. For an existing reservation, you can request a PlusPoints upgrade at, through the mobile app by clicking the "Upgrade reservation" link or by calling your dedicated Premier service line.
  4. Get a Star Alliance upgrade — You also may be able to use United miles to buy a one-cabin upgrade on eligible flights on certain Star Alliance partner airlines. You can request these upgrades for up to four people per reservation (even if you're not traveling with them), and the mileage cost is per person and gets deducted from your MileagePlus account at the time you reserve the upgrade. You can get these upgrades up to 24 hours before departure.

Using United miles for upgrades can be a good way to use your rewards and, depending on the upgrade and the flight, can offer an excellent value.

Other MileagePlus redemption options

You don't have to use your United miles on flights. Here are a few other ways you can use your United miles:

  • Book a hotel stay with United miles — You can use your miles to book stays at hotels and resorts around the world by using the United Hotels booking portal.
  • Book a rental car with United miles — You can use miles to book a rental car with Hertz, Dollar or Thrifty through the MileagePlus Car Awards booking portal.
  • Redeem miles for experiences and events — You can usually use your miles to book events and experiences, though United has temporarily suspended MileagePlus Event Awards due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Shop with United miles — You can use the MileagePlus Merchandise Awards portal to trade your miles for merchandise, from electronics and luggage to jewelry and sports equipment, from a variety of retailers.
  • Buy gift cards with United miles — Use your United miles to buy electronic gift cards from a variety of retailers and restaurants, from Apple and Lowe's to Starbucks and Walmart.

While these are all ways to use United miles that may make sense in your particular circumstances, they generally don't represent the best use of your miles. You can almost always get the best value for your airline miles by redeeming them for flights on United and partner airlines.

United elite status

Wondering how to earn United elite status? There are four levels of United Elite status, and different requirements to attain each level. United grants elite status based on the number of Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) you take and Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) you earn.

But what does that mean? We'll break down those terms for you.

  • Premier Qualifying Flight (PQF) — United defines a PQF as a takeoff and landing. You can accrue PQFs with all types of United tickets except for Basic Economy and award tickets.
  • Premier Qualifying Point (PQP) — You get one PQP for every eligible U.S. dollar you spend with United, including purchase of a Basic Economy ticket (however, PQPs can only be earned on the base fare, and this does not include taxes and fees). Expenses that will accrue PQPs include fares, preferred seat purchases, Economy Plus seating or subscriptions, MileagePlus upgrade award copays, flights ticketed and operated by Star Alliance partners and paid upgrades on flights operated by United and United Express.

You get status based on a combination of the number of flights you take and the amount you spend on those flights. In 2020, United greatly simplified its requirements for earning elite status. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, United also reduced the requirements to qualify for MileagePlus elite status in 2020 by 50%.

You can earn status based on a combination of PQFs and PQPs or only on PQPs. Here is a breakdown of the different levels of United elite status and the 2020 requirements for earning each one:

Elite status level
Premier Silver
Premier Gold
Premier Platinum
Premier 1K
Requirements to earn that level with PQF+ PQP6 PQFs and 2,000 PQPs12 PQFs and 4,000 PQPs18 PQFs and 6,000 PQPs26 PQFs and 9,000 PQPs
Requirements to earn that level with just PQP2,500 PQPs5,000 PQPs7,500 PQPs12,000 PQPs -

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, United is extending the elite status of current Premier members until Jan. 31, 2022.

Benefits of United elite status

There are many benefits to United elite status, with fewer perks on the lowest tier and more on the higher tiers.

The best MileagePlus perks include bonus mile earnings on United flights, free checked bags, free access to Economy Plus seating for you and your travel companions, the ability to change or cancel a flight without a fee on the day of departure — and even a free snack and drink in economy for top elites.

MileagePlus Premier members also get free upgrades on United when space is available, though determining who gets upgraded first on United is complicated. Upgrades are handed out based on various factors, including your elite status, the class of your ticket, and if and when you requested an upgrade.

This chart shows the main benefits of United elite status at each level:

Member (no elite status)
Premier Silver
Premier Gold
Premier Platinum
Premier Platinum 1K
Miles earned per $1 spent on flights578911
Free checked bagsNo1233
Same- day flight change fees$75$75$0$0$0
Free Economy PlusNoAt check-in for you onlyAt booking for you onlyAt booking (+ 8 companions)At booking (+ 8 companions)
Free upgrade?NoDay of flight2 days before flight3 days before flight4 days before flight
Free snack and drink in economyNoNoNoNoYes
Free Marriott Gold statusNoNoYesYesYes

Is United MileagePlus worth it?

The United MileagePlus program is worth joining if you fly with United or its Star Alliance partners even occasionally, especially if you live in or near a United hub. It's free to join MileagePlus, and you can begin earning miles as soon as you sign up.

But should you try to earn United elite status? The value of United MileagePlus elite status depends on your travel habits and the level of status you can reach. MileagePlus offers little value for infrequent flyers — but it does offer excellent value for frequent and very frequent travelers.

For example, we've crunched the numbers and determined it's probably not worth earning United Premier Silver status, as the main value you get comes from one free checked bag per flight (a value of just $30).

However, it is worthwhile to get United Premier Gold, United Premier Platinum and United Premier Platinum 1K status. These levels of status are packed with value, including additional free checked bags, free same-day flight changes, upgrades and access to discounts and status with other loyalty programs.

Is United MileagePlus free?

It's totally free to sign up for United MileagePlus, so you can get a frequent flyer number and start earning miles that can get you free flights and other rewards. However, you'll need to spend money with United and its partner airlines, or sign up for a United credit card, in order to earn enough miles to make the program worthwhile.

How do you sign up for United MileagePlus?

You can sign up for United MileagePlus by filling out an online enrollment form. You fill in your name, birth date, gender, address, mobile phone number and email address. You choose five security questions and answers and a password. Once you've signed up, you get a frequent flyer number and you can start earning miles — it take only a few minutes.

How does United MileagePlus work?

You can join the United MileagePlus program for free by filling out an online form and supplying your name, date of birth and contact information. When you sign up, you become a MileagePlus member and you get a frequent flyer number that you'll use when making reservations with United and partner airlines to earn miles and credit toward elite status. You also can earn miles in other ways, such as opening a United credit card with a welcome bonus or shopping through the MileagePlus shopping portal. When you earn enough miles, you can redeem them for free flights and other rewards.

How do you earn elite status with MileagePlus?

You can earn elite status by taking a certain number of qualifying flights and earning enough qualifying points in a year. United has four levels of elite status: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K. Each level comes with its own perks, such as earning extra miles on flights and a certain number of free checked bags.

Is United MileagePlus a credit card?

No, United MileagePlus is not a credit card. MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program for United Airlines. However, you can open a United Airlines co-branded credit card that will allow you to earn United miles by making everyday purchases. These cards also provide welcome bonuses and perks such as free checked bags.

Can you transfer points from United MileagePlus to your Chase Sapphire card?

You can't transfer points from your MileagePlus account to a Chase Sapphire card. However, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned by spending on a Sapphire card to your United MileagePlus account — United is one of Chase's transfer partners. Points can be transferred from your card account to your frequent flyer account, but not in the other direction.

How do you add your MileagePlus number to a United reservation?

You can add your MileagePlus frequent flyer number to an existing flight reservation by logging in to your United account online or on the mobile app. Click on your reservation and then choose "Edit traveler information" and add your MileagePlus number.

How do you add a previous flight to United MileagePlus?

You may submit requests for credit for a previous flight up to 12 months after the date of the flight. You'll have to log in to your account and fill out a mileage request form. You'll need to enter your 13-digit ticket number. If the flight was operated by a partner airline and United can't find the flight in their system, they may ask you to supply additional information in order to get credit for the flight.

How long do you have to add a previous flight to United MileagePlus?

If you're a new MileagePlus member, you can submit a request for credit for flights taken during the 30 days before you signed up. If you want credit for a flight that doesn't fit in that timeframe, you may pay a $50 fee to get credit for a flight you took in the previous six months before you enrolled.

How do I find my United MileagePlus number?

If you misplaced your MileagePlus number, you can go to the MileagePlus sign-in page and click the "Forgot MileagePlus number?" link below the space where you enter your MileagePlus number to sign in. Or you can use this Forgot MileagePlus number link. Either way, you'll end up on a page where you can enter your first name, last name, email address and date of birth and click the "Submit" button. United will then send you an email with your MileagePlus number. If you don't get an email or still need help finding your MileagePlus number, you can call the MileagePlus service center at 800-421-4655.

How do you add a family member to United MileagePlus?

You can merge two MileagePlus accounts only if they belong to the same person. If you're a MileagePlus member and one of your family members also wants to join, they'll need to create their own account. If your family member is a child under 18 years old, a parent or guardian will have to sign them up and enter their information.

How do you change your name on United MileagePlus?

You can make a name change on MileagePlus by logging into your account online. Go to "Profile & Preferences," select "Personal Information" from the drop down menu and finally click on the "About Me" section to edit your information.

What documents do you need to verify a name change on United MileagePlus?

Once you've edited your information and submitted the change request, United may ask you for one of the following documents to verify your name change: marriage license, divorce decree, legal name change document or government issued IDs with your current and former names.

What if you don't have supporting documents to verify a name change?

If you can't provide one of these documents, you may fill out a name change affidavit and submit it with a copy of your ID. You can submit your documentation online.

Does my legal name have to match my United MileagePlus name?

Yes — the TSA Secure Flight Program requires that the name on your flight reservation and the name on your MileagePlus account exactly match the name on your government issued ID.

How do you keep United MileagePlus miles from expiring?

You do not need to do anything to keep your United miles from expiring. United miles used to have expiration dates, but United announced in August 2019 that United miles no longer expire. The miles in your MileagePlus account will stay there until you redeem them for an award. However, you can forfeit your miles in certain circumstances. For example, if you close your account or don't respond to United's repeated attempts to contact you about your account, you may lose your miles.

How do you sign up a child for United MileagePlus?

You can sign up a child for United MileagePlus if you are the parent or legal guardian of that child (or children over 18 can sign themselves up). You'll fill out the MileagePlus online enrollment form, supplying the child's name, date of birth, address, phone, email and security questions and answers. United only uses information collected about children under 13 to provide services, not for marketing purposes.

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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).