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United MileagePlus: Getting the Most Value on Award Flights

Opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the issuer. We may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program. For a full list of our advertisers, including American Express, see our disclosure page.

Contents

The United States' second longest running frequent flyer program, United MileagePlus by United Airlines allows members to spend miles on free flights all across the world. 

Value of a MileagePlus Mile 

The value of your miles is determined by the fare of a flight divided by the number of miles needed to redeem it for free. MileagePlus gives its members two tiers for each cabin class to choose from, Saver and Standard. Saver flights require half as many miles to redeem, but are not nearly as prevalent as the Standard variety. Unlike American Airlines and Delta Airlines, United has an interactive rewards chart where consumers can see how many miles it requires to fly to different parts of the world.

International Value

We analyzed several flights originating in the U.S and determined how the value of a Milelage Plus mile changes to different parts of the world. Overall, we get an average of 1.2 cents per mile for economy seating and 1.5 cents per mile for business and first seating. 

Region Saver Standard
Economy (cents) Business/First (cents) Economy (cents) Business/First (cents)
Caribbean 1.5 1.5 0.7 0.6
Mexico  1.2 1.4 0.6 0.6
Canada 1.8 1.9 0.8 0.8
Europe 1.7 1.9 0.8 1.0
South America (1&2) 1.8 2.4 0.8 1.1
North Asia + Japan 1.7 3.1 0.8 1.3
Average 1.6 2.0 0.8 0.9

Based on our averages we would say anything over 1.2 cents per mile is a good deal. The Saver option has a distinct advantage over Standard since it is consistently above 1.2 points per mile while the Standard redemption is consistently below it. Unfortunately, not every flight will have a Saver redemption option. When you are forced to book with Standard, as a general rule, you are more likely to get the best value out of your miles when you book a long flight. Europe, Asia and South America are long flights that consistently fetch well above average values. In fact, since we averaged both South American regions together, the value South America region 2 can actually be a bit higher. Flights to Argentina, which can reach over $1,350 from New York, get a Saver value of 2.3 cents per mile. Conversely, flights to Mexico are generally low value, which makes sense since Americans fly to Mexico the most of any other country, and flights are shorter. Canada is difficult to precisely define a mile value since it is such a large country and United does not change the miles needed for different regions of Canada. For example, flights from New York to Toronto, a 2 hour flight, get a value of 1.2 cents per value, while New York to Vancouver, a 6 hour flight, have nearly a 2 cent per mile value. Bottom line, using miles for long flights through the Saver option are the best use for your miles.

Domestic Value

We took the ten most flown domestic routes and found how the value of your miles will change between each. We obtain an average of 0.8 Cents Per Mile for Economy and 0.7 Cents Per Mile with Business/First. 

Route Saver Standard
Economy (cents) Business/First (cents) Economy (cents) Business/First (cents)
CHI to NYC  1.1 0.9 0.5 0.4
LA to SF 0.8 0.7 0.4 0.3
LA to NYC  1.6 2.2 0.8 1.1
CHI to LAX  1.3 1.5 0.6 0.7
MIA to NYC 1.0 1.4 0.5 0.7
ATL to CHI 0.8 0.7 0.4 0.3
CHI to MIN 0.8 0.7 0.4 0.3
ATL to NYC 0.9 0.8 0.5 0.4
ATL to MCO 1.8 1.9 0.9 0.9
CHI to DC  0.8 1.1 0.4 0.5
Average  1.1 1.2 0.5 0.6

Compared to international routes, the domestic ones will usually fetch you a smaller value for your miles with even most Saver bookings getting you less than 1.2 cents per mile average. The only exceptions are the longest routes, New York and Chicago to Los Angeles, 1.6 and 1.3 cents per mile respectively. This follows the trend set by the international flights, in which the longer flights get you the most value for your points. In this case however, those long domestic flights, like L.A. to N.Y., require the same amount of miles as a short domestic flight, like Chicago to Atlanta, in contrast to European flights needing 25,000 more miles for a flight to Mexico. It should also be mentioned that non-stop flights under 700 miles, which above would be Atlanta to Chicago, San Francisco to L.A, Chicago to Minneapolis, and Atlanta to Orlando, can be redeemed for 5000 less points in the Saver redemption option. This raises their values slightly but all still under our established average of 1.2 cents per mile.

Saver vs Standard 

There is no difference in quality when it comes to Saver vs Standard; it is a matter of quantity. Saver flights are overall less available than Standard flights, and become even less available on flights in particularly high demand. While Standard flights are subject to capacity controls as well, holders of a United Credit Card or MilelagePlus Premier members can bypass all capacity controls, and book a Standard flight even if it is the last seat on the plane. 

Airline Partners

United Airlines is the founding member of the world's largest airline alliance, Star Alliance. With a total of 27 members, it is nearly twice the size of Oneworld and slightly larger than SkyTeam who has 20 members. United also partners with other non-affillated airline such as Aer Lingus, AeroMar, Air Dolomiti, Azul Airlnes, Cape Air, Edleweis, Eurowings, Germanwings, Great Lakes Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air, Silver Airways and Jet Airways from India. Perhaps no other airline affords the depth of penetration to all parts of the world as United Airlines does. With at least one partner to every major region of the world, MileagePlus members have unprecedented access to reward flights anywhere they desire. While most partners are available on the main site, you may want to check the partner's website to see if there are any more available flights not being shown on United's site. Lastly, unlike Delta or American, there are no fuel surcharges on any flights through partners, which can mean of savings of hundreds of dollars. 

staralliance

United Mileage Plus Credit Cards: More Opportunities to Earn United Miles 

There are 4 credit cards that can help consumers earn extra United MileagePlus® miles. Two of the cards are directly co-branded with the airline – the United MileagePlus® Club Card and the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card. Both these cards earn United passengers an extra 2 miles per $1 on United purchases – that’s on top of the base miles you’d normally be earning. The United MileagePlus® Club Card comes with a hefty $450 annual fee, though in return cardholders get United Club Membership – that is access to United airport lounges, valued at around $550.

You can also obtain United miles with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express – though indirectly. Both of these travel credit cards earn users points that can be transferred to United MileagePlus®. The advantage of using these cards is the greater versatility you get in their respective reward programs. However, by not using a United branded credit card, you’d be giving up airline-specific perks, such as checked baggage fee waivers and priority boarding.

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Card Annual Fee 2-yr Net Rewards Rate

The Net Rewards Rate is equal to the Rewards Value over two years divided by the total spending. The total spending is equal to the values entered into the tool and multiplied by 24 months. See the Rewards Value note to see details on how it is calculated.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Bonus Value

The bonus field shows our estimate for the value of the card’s sign-up bonus. If the bonus is point or mile based, we multiply the total bonus points/miles by our estimate for their value to arrive at a dollar equivalent. We display $0 if there is no bonus or if the user doesn’t qualify for the bonus based on the current spending entered into the tool.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

2-yr Rewards Value

The Rewards Value is calculated by adding together the rewards earned from charging purchases to the card over two years and any sign-up bonuses (if applicable). They are then multiplied by our estimated point/mile value, with any annual fees (if applicable) subtracted. All values are based on our own estimates for the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using a card.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95. 3.69%
$600
Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months
$1,329
Graph Card Read Review More Details

Terms and Limitations Apply

Annual Fee $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
APR 16.24%-20.24% Variable
*Rates and Fees

Card Details

  • Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on International purchases.
  • Redeem Starpoints® at over 1,300 participating hotels and resorts in over 100 countries and for flights on more than 150 airlines with SPG flights, all with no blackout dates.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 34,320 x $0.024 = $824
Bonuses
25,000 x $0.024 = $600
Less Annual Fees -$95
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,329
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 2.86%
$625
50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
$1,028
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
APR 16.99% - 23.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 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.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 39,840 x $0.013 = $498
Bonuses
50,000 x $0.013 = $625
Less Annual Fees -$95
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,028
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
$95 2.75%
$700
Special Offer: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
$990
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee $95
APR 16.74% - 23.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Special offer: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 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
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Your miles don t expire as long as your credit card account is open, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
  • Use your miles for any seat, any time, on any United-operated flight at the MileagePlus Standard Award level
  • $95 annual fee

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 34,320 x $0.014 = $480
Bonuses
50,000 x $0.014 = $700
Less Annual Fees -$190
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 990
United MileagePlus® Club Card
$450 -0.22%
$100
Receive a $100 statement credit after your first purchase
$-79
Graph Card Read Review More Details
Annual Fee $450
APR 15.99%

Card Details

  • Receive a $100 statement credit after your first purchase
  • United Club membership
  • 1st and 2nd checked bags are free
  • Priority check-in, screening, and boarding
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 2 points for every $1 spent on United Airlines tickets
  • 1.5 points for every $1 spent otherwise
  • United Club membership
  • First and second bags are checkable for free
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Miles don't expire

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 51,480 x $0.014 = $721
Bonuses
0 x $0.014 = $100
Less Annual Fees -$900
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months -79

Final Thoughts 

United Airlines gives its members lots of flexibility and an endless amount of places to book free flights to. Overall, one should always strive for long-haul Saver flights, avoiding flights around North America, or for domestic ones. Taking advantage of the Star Alliance as well can see MilelagePlus members flying freely to all parts of the world.

Comments and Questions

* See the online credit card application for details about terms and conditions. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. When you click on the "Apply Now" button, you can review the credit card terms and conditions on the issuer's website.

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

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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.

Advertiser Disclosure: Some of the offers that appear on this website are from companies which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). The site does not review or include all companies or all available products. For more information please see our Advertiser Disclosure.