How to unlock additional award availability with United credit cards

Oct 8, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with updated information on United Airlines’ credit cards.

The United MileagePlus program has undergone some significant changes over the last year. The airline pulled its award chart for United-operated flights, so saver award space — award seats requiring fewer miles — are now even more valuable. The airline also made big changes to how we earn elite status and made some further adjustments to the program in recent months due to the coronavirus.

Today, we’re going to examine a unique feature of United’s credit cards that allows you to unlock hidden saver awards.

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Which United credit cards offer expanded award availability?

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

  • United Explorer Card — Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months.
  • United Business Card — Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • United Club Infinite Card — Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • United Club Business Card — Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open

The information for the United Club Business card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The best credit cards for United Airlines flyers

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. This allows you to book award seats on any partner carrier and only pay government-imposed taxes and fees.

Third, the United Explorer Card and the United Club Infinite Card (as well as its business counterparts) offer 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.

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

Related: How many miles do you really save with a United credit card?

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 at the Saver level of 12,500 miles.

How expanded saver availability 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.

Once you’re logged in and have Expert Mode enabled, you can then see the fare codes. However, this only works 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. In the example above, you can see that UA 2364 departing Orlando at 6:10 a.m. has at least nine saver award seats in the XN fare class offered to United credit cardholders and elites. Meanwhile, there are 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 the XN class results, reserved for cardholders and those with elite status.

Related: Last-minute strategies for earning United Premier elite status

Using this benefit to get into first or business class

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 class. 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.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

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.

Related: United Airlines baggage fees and how to avoid paying them

Bottom line

Although award charts are long gone, discounted saver awards 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.

All screenshots courtesy of United.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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Balance Transfer Fee
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