This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Increasingly generous travel rewards credit card offers have made it easier to earn points and airline miles. But at the same time, it’s become even more challenging to find award seats at the lowest mileage levels. Today, I want to examine a unique feature of United’s MileagePlus credit cards that allow you to unlock hidden Saver and Everyday awards, so that you can find the flights you need for your next trip.

Finding Award Space

I find that United tends to offer more Saver award space — award seats at the lowest mileage levels — than most other frequent flyer programs. But that’s not saying much these days, when most airlines give out plenty of miles to travelers and those who use cobranded airline credit cards, but offer vanishingly few seats at the lowest mileage levels. And United is often no different.

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

Secondly, 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.

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

 

The United Explorer Card, the United Explorer Business Card and the United MileagePlus 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 — higher than the Saver level, but the perk here is that you can use miles on any flight with availability.

United also offers all MileagePlus card holders better award availability for United awards in economy, including both Saver and Everyday awards. This is the same benefit it offers to its MileagePlus members with elite status, and it’s the primary reason why I’ll always have an active MileagePlus credit card account.

This is a search for six seats from Denver to Liberia, Costa Rica, which are only available at the Saver to United MielagePlus cardholders.
This is a search for six seats from Denver to Liberia, Costa Rica, which are available at the Saver level but only to United MileagePlus cardholders.

 

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

An Example of Increased Saver Award Availability

Let’s look for six award seats from Denver to Washington Dulles. Without logging in, the seats are 20,000 miles each.

But once I log in as a United MileagePlus card holder, I see the same flights, 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 reveal 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, while the XN fare class is only accessible to United credit card holders and United elites. You can see that UA1949 departing Denver at 6:35 am and UA919 departing Denver at 8:15 am both have at least 9 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 MileagePlus 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 card holders 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 for those looking for business-class or domestic first-class award space.

However, United offers a waitlist for a 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) 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.

United
United’s rules for wait-listing flights in a higher class of service.

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?

All United credit cards from Chase offer this expanded award availability:

Furthermore, there’s a no-fee version called the MileagePlus Card, which is only available through a product-change request. You still retain the benefit of additional Saver and Everyday award space even when you hold the no-fee MileagePlus Card.

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 bonus miles after making $2,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. Better yet, the United Explorer Business Card currently offers new applicants 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the three months of account opening.

Card holders 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, priority boarding and two United Club passes each year. Both versions of the Explorer card 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 MileagePlus 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 3 months. It has a $450 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

Bottom Line

Considering the increased Saver and Everyday 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.

Know before you go.

News and deals straight to your inbox every day.

United℠ Explorer Business Card

 

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 at restaurants, gas stations and office supply stores
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 on United purchases and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Free checked bag - save up to $120 per roundtrip (terms apply)
  • Two one-time United Club℠ passes each year — more than a $100 value
  • Priority boarding for you and companions on the same reservation on United-operated flights
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below 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.