Skip to content

The best sweet spots you can book with United MileagePlus

Feb. 17, 2022
11 min read
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.

Despite a number of devaluations and rule changes over recent years, United MileagePlus has typically been the easiest of the big three U.S. airline loyalty programs in which to find value.

Knowing where to look for outsized value is half the battle, so today we’ll look at some consistently excellent sweet spots in the United MileagePlus program.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for TPG daily newsletter.

United Airlines Excursionist Perk

Use the Excursionist Perk to add an extra stop to your next trip abroad. (Photo by Sylvain Sonnet/Getty)

The United Excursionist Perk has been a fun and valuable tool in the award flight space for years. There are loads of strategies to help you save money (and miles) on your future vacations and maximize the points you're already spending on a trip abroad.

In short, the Excursionist Perk is designed to give you the opportunity to visit an additional location during a round-trip itinerary for zero extra miles (though there may be some taxes and fees).

For example, if you fly from the U.S. to Paris (CDG), you could use the Excursionist Perk to get a free one-way flight to Amsterdam (AMS). Your itinerary could look like this:

  • U.S. to Paris
  • Paris to Amsterdam (free)
  • Amsterdam to the U.S.
Here’s what the flight prices look like when adding a one-way from Paris to Amsterdam to the itinerary. (Photo courtesy of united.com)

Note that this only works with United miles – you won’t get a free leg when paying cash.

Why it’s valuable: Depending on where (and how) you use the Excursionist Perk, you could save a pretty penny – and even set yourself up for future travels. To maximize the benefit, here are some rules you need to know:

  • United has 17 specified “award regions” (you can find them here). To qualify for the Excursionist Perk, your destination must be in a different region than your origin. For example, you can’t book Nashville (BNA) to San Francisco (SFO) with a free flight to Denver (DEN), because all three legs are in the same region (Mainland U.S., Alaska and Canada).
  • Your “free” flight is confined to a single region.
  • Your “free” flight cannot be in a more premium cabin than your other flights.
  • Your return airport must be in the same region as your origin airport.

With those restrictions in mind, here are a few fun things you can do with the Excursionist perk:

Sign up for our daily newsletter
  • Book a flight from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Lima, Peru (LIM). Add a flight from Lima to the Galapagos Islands (GPS) for free. Then add a flight from the Galapagos Islands to Chicago. You could visit Machu Picchu and the fabled Galapagos Islands for just 42,000 United miles in coach. The Excursionist Perk will save you ~15,000 miles in this scenario.
  • Book a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Bangkok (BKK). Add a flight from Singapore (SIN) to Bali (DPS) and a flight from Manila (MNL) to Houston (IAH). You’ll be in charge of the missing legs, but this is a great way to hop around even more cities at a very low cost. You’ll save ~20,000 miles by using the Excursionist Perk this way.
  • Book a flight from Maui (OGG) to Honolulu (HNL) for 7,700 miles. If you were planning to visit Africa later in the year, you could add a flight from Nairobi (NBO) to Cape Town (CPT) (nine hours of flights!) for free and just schedule it months from now. Then add a flight from Honolulu to Maui for 7,700 miles to complete the round-trip booking. You can use this to effectively reserve an intra-Africa flight that would normally cost 19,000+ miles for a fraction of the cost.

How to book: To use the Excursionist Perk, click “Advanced search” on United’s home page. Then search a multi-city itinerary with miles. Enter the following:

  • Your origin to your destination.
  • Any other flight within a single award region.
  • Any other flight landing in the same award region as you began.

Related: Travel for fewer miles with United’s Excursionist Perk

Cheap domestic flights

Use your United miles to visit America's greatest cities. (Photo by photoiva/Shutterstock.com)

You’ll have to do some searching to find outsized value with this technique, but it can be worth the effort.

United Airlines calculates the number of miles you’ll pay for its flights based on “dynamic award pricing.” This means United has the freedom to charge exorbitant prices for high-demand flights. But it also means you can find some amazing deals here and there.

Some domestic United flights can cost as little as 5,000 miles one-way in coach. More plenteous are fares that cost between 6,000 and 8,000 miles one-way.

Flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and Denver (DEN) cost 6,000 miles one-way for select dates. (Photo courtesy of united.com)

Why it’s valuable: The most common award price published by legacy U.S. carriers for a domestic flight is 12,500 miles one-way in coach. The ability to reserve a flight for half that price simply by being flexible with dates is a great way to stretch your rewards.

At the time of writing, TPG valuations peg United miles value at 1.11 cents each. These discounted routes are a great way to often achieve significantly higher value per United mile.

How to book: Input your desired flight route into United’s search engine. On the search results page, click “View 30 day calendar” to see large swathes of available dates and the lowest prices for each day. You’ll sniff out a cheap fare in no time.

(Screenshot courtesy of united.com)

Nonstop to Tahiti

Use your United miles to fly to Bora Bora via Tahiti. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

An award flight to Tahiti (PPT) is more difficult to book than most other destinations. But United has a nonstop flight from San Francisco (SFO) just for you. In fact, it’s the only U.S. carrier that offers service to Tahiti.

Why it’s valuable: Bora Bora is one of the hottest destinations, and it can’t be reached unless you route through Tahiti. You can book this 8.5-hour flight for 35,000 United miles when saver space is available. You can also book a lie-flat business class flight for 70,000 miles on many dates. These business class seats can cost $4,500 each way, giving you a fantastic value for your rewards.

(Screenshot courtesy of united.com)

How to book: Book online with United. This route doesn’t operate every day, so choose the 30 day calendar to most easily find award availability.

First class on Lufthansa

Use United miles to book one of the best first class cabins in the sky. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Lufthansa is one of United's many partner airlines. It has one of the greatest (and most aspirational) first class cabins in the sky, which can be found on many flights to the U.S. These flights can cost upwards of $8,000, but you can book it for just the cost of taxes if you redeem between 110,000 and 125,000 United miles depending on how close to departure you book.

This often provides a value of 7.2 cents per mile – more than 6x the average miles value, per TPG valuations.

Why it’s valuable: The problem with booking Lufthansa first class is that Lufthansa incurs crippling fuel surcharges (sometimes $500+ each way) when using its own airline miles to reserve these seats. Fortunately, United MileagePlus doesn't pass on fuel surcharges to the customer, so you'll pay just $5.60 when booking a one-way Luthansa first class ticket from the U.S. to Frankfurt.

How to book: Search on the United website for available award seats. Lufthansa first class is still one of the most difficult seats to reserve, as the airline releases award availability to partners no more than 30 days before departure.

At the time of writing, Lufthansa flies its first class cabin between Frankfurt and six U.S. cities (as well as a handful of other international destinations). Search from the following airports:

  • Chicago-O'Hare (ORD)
  • Houston (IAH)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • Newark (EWR)
  • San Francisco (SFO)

Related: It just became much easier to book Lufthansa first class awards

How to earn United miles

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

There are many ways to earn United Airlines miles, but the easiest (and quickest) method is through credit card rewards.

United Airlines has a handful of co-branded credit cards issued by Chase, including:

  • United Gateway℠ Card: Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Plus, 0% intro APR for 12 months from account opening on purchases.
  • United℠ Explorer Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
  • United Quest℠ Card: Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
  • United Infinite Card: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • United℠ Business Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Plus, $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.

You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United instantly at a 1:1 ratio. In other words, you can convert the following credit card bonuses into United Airlines miles:

Note that if you’ve got one of the above Ultimate Rewards-earning cards, the rewards you accrue from cards like the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Chase Freedom Unlimited® can also be transferred to United Airlines. This is because you can convert the cash back earned by these cards to Ultimate Rewards points by transferring it to your premium Chase card.

Related: 30 ways to earn miles with the United MileagePlus program

Bottom line

United’s MileagePlus loyalty program offers a few great high-value redemption options for every type of traveler. Whether you’re looking to book a stunning lie-flat seat in the sky or visit the most destinations possible without overpaying to do so, it’s worth your time to learn the ins and outs of this popular program.

Feature photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

Featured image by Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 5X points
5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Earn 150,000 points120,000 points
The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$695

Recommended Credit

670-850
Good, Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
Apply for The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.