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United MileagePlus: Getting the Most Value on Award Flights

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

SaverStandard

Economy (cents)Business/First (cents)Economy (cents)Business/First (cents)

Caribbean

1.51.50.70.6

Mexico

1.21.40.60.6

Canada

1.81.90.80.8

Europe

1.71.90.81.0

South America (1&2)

1.82.40.81.1

North Asia + Japan

1.73.10.81.3

Average

1.62.00.80.9

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

SaverStandard

Economy (cents)Business/First (cents)Economy (cents)Business/First (cents)

CHI to NYC

1.10.90.50.4

LA to SF

0.80.70.40.3

LA to NYC

1.62.20.81.1

CHI to LAX

1.31.50.60.7

MIA to NYC

1.01.40.50.7

ATL to CHI

0.80.70.40.3

CHI to MIN

0.80.70.40.3

ATL to NYC

0.90.80.50.4

ATL to MCO

1.81.90.90.9

CHI to DC

0.81.10.40.5

Average

1.11.20.50.6

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℠ Explorer Card. Both these cards earn United passengers an extra 2 miles per $1 on United Airlines ticket 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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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

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