How to unlock additional award availability with United Airlines
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. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
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 few years. Most notably, the airline pulled its award charts for both United-operated flights and partner 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, along with program adjustments due to the coronavirus.
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
What elites have access to this benefit?
Let’s start with some good news. All United MileagePlus elites have access to expanded award availability, regardless of whether you’re an entry-level Silver member or invite-only Global Services member. This benefit is exclusive to United elites and, unfortunately, doesn’t extend to other Star Alliance elites. You also must be redeeming miles from your United account to take advantage of this benefit. For instance, just because you’re a United elite doesn’t mean that you can unlock additional award availability when booking through a partner like Air Canada Aeroplan or Turkish Miles and Smiles.
Which United credit cards offer expanded award availability?
If you don’t have elite status, you can unlock this benefit with a cobranded United credit card. Aside from the no-annual-fee United Gateway Card, all United credit cards from Chase offer this expanded award availability:
- United Explorer Card — Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
- United Business Card — Earn up to 150,000 bonus miles. Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 75,000 miles after you spend $20,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open.
- United Quest Card — Earn 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
- United Infinite Card — Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
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, United Quest 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 many people even have a MileagePlus 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
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.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy Bonus Points after spending $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 8/31/22.
- 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program.
- 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
- 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
- Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at a participating hotel. Certain hotels have resort fees.
- Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
- Terms apply.
- See Rates & Fees