How to Unlock Additional Award Availability With United Credit Cards

Aug 16, 2019

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The United MileagePlus program is undergoing some significant changes. The airline has pulled its award chart for United-operated flights as of Nov. 15, 2019, so moving forward, Saver award space — award seats requiring fewer miles — will be even more valuable. Today, we’re going to examine a unique feature of United’s credit cards that allows you to unlock hidden Saver awards.

Finding Award Space

United tends to offer more Saver award space than most other frequent-flyer programs. But that’s not saying much these days, when most airlines offer few seats at the lowest mileage levels, even as they give out plenty of miles to travelers and those who use cobranded airline credit cards.

Meanwhile, United’s MileagePlus program has three things going for it. First, it has one of the best online award search engines, along with its intuitive mobile app. United generally shows every partner’s award space, but not always.

Second, it’s one of the only frequent-flyer programs that never imposes fuel surcharges on awards, allowing you to book award seats on any partner carrier and only pay government-imposed taxes and fees.

Third, the United Explorer Card, the United Explorer Business Card and the United Club Card (as well as its business version) offer the ability to “use miles for any seat, any time, on any United flight” at the Everyday award level. It’s higher than the Saver level, but the perk is that you can use miles on any flight with availability.

United’s website hints at the benefits of having a United card.

That benefit is no longer relevant for flights after Nov. 14 as blackout dates are going away, but United card holders will continue having access to another, potentially more valuable, benefit: better Saver-level availability. This is the same benefit it offers to its MileagePlus members with elite status, and it’s the primary reason why many people even have a MileagePlus credit card account.

Chase highlights the expanded standard (“Everyday”) award availability as a cardholder benefit, but it’s silent on the increased Saver award availability that cardholders can expect. However, United’s website makes sure to let you know.

An Example of Increased Saver Award Availability

Let’s look for an award seat from Orlando to Denver. Without logging in, we find seats for the first flight listed at 16,000 miles each.

But once you log in as a United cardholder, you see the same flight, but at the Saver level of 12,500 miles.

How Expanded Saver Ability Works

United’s website is unique in that it offers an “Expert Mode” where you can reveal the fare classes offered. To enable Expert Mode, change your Search Preferences and check the corresponding box.

expert mode

Once you’re logged in and have Expert Mode enabled, you can then see the fare codes, but only when searching for revenue fares (not awards).

The X fare class is the economy-class Saver award space open to everyone; the XN fare class is only accessible to United credit card holders and United elites. You can see that UA2364 departing Orlando at 6:10am has at least nine Saver award seats in the XN fare class offered to United credit card holders and elites, but zero seats in the X fare class offered to everyone else. You can imagine how critical this feature can be, especially for family travelers. If you have a United credit card, always be sure to log in to your MileagePlus account when searching for award space, otherwise it won’t return results in the XN class, reserved for cardholders and those with elite status.

Using This Benefit to Get Into First or Business Class

Since this expanded Saver award availability only applies to economy-class awards, it might appear to be of limited interest to those looking for business-class or domestic first-class award space.

However, United offers a waitlist for Saver awards in business class so long as there is also a Saver award availability in economy. It turns out that a little-known clause in United’s Award Travel Rules says that you can call to book a coach award at the business Saver level, and then be wait-listed for a business-class seat.

Once on the waitlist, you should be upgraded to a business-class (or domestic first-class) seat if it becomes available as a Saver award. But even if it doesn’t, you’ll be at the top of the upgrade list at the airport, ahead of everyone else using miles to upgrade or those being upgraded due to their status. Technically, you aren’t even being upgraded, since you’ve already redeemed the miles needed for the higher fare class.

Your upgrade priority will only be behind those who paid for business-class upgrades and those who booked business class using the standard (non-Saver) awards, so your chances of being cleared into the next class of service will have improved greatly. Plus, the additional mileage required to fly in business class will be refunded if you eventually end up flying in coach.

Which United credit cards offer expanded award availability?

Aside from the no-fee United TravelBank Card, all United credit cards from Chase offer this expanded award availability:

Other Benefits of United Credit Cards

Beyond the increased award availability, the United Explorer Card has several other valuable features. The current sign-up bonus is 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. The United Explorer Business Card currently offers new applicants up to 100,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open and 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $25,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open.

Both versions of the Explorer card receive the first bag checked for free for themselves and a single companion — just note that you have to use your card to pay for the tickets or award taxes to get the free bag. Other benefits include a $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (only for the personal version), priority boarding and two United Club passes each year. Both cards have a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year and no foreign transaction fees.

If you want United Club access, you could also consider the United Club Card, which offers full membership to United’s airport lounges and two free checked bags for you and a companion. The card’s currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. It has a $450 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

Bottom Line

Although award charts are going away, discounted Saver awards will continue to be offered. Considering the increased Saver award availability and the ability to be wait-listed into Saver business class, United’s cobranded credit cards can be an essential tool for making the most of your miles.

Featured image by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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  • Earn up to 100,000 after qualifying purchases.
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Plus, 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $25,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 at restaurants, gas stations and office supply stores.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases. And 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Free checked bag - save up to $120 per roundtrip (terms apply)
  • Two one-time United Club℠ passes each year — Over $100 in value per year
  • Employee cards at no additional cost - miles earned from their purchases accrue in your account. Plus, you can set individual spending limits for each card.
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