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.
In this month’s episode of “Have Points, Will Travel,” Ian Agrimis has a free weekend and 120,000 United miles to burn. One of the best uses of United miles has long been for partner award tickets, and that’s going to be even more true when the airline removes award charts for United-operated flights later this year. So, when Ian came across award space for an Asiana first class flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Seoul (ICN), he didn’t hesitate to book.
WATCH EPISODE 3 HERE:
Here’s a step-by-step look at how he booked his ticket, and how you can too.
1. Earn United Miles
First class awards between the US and South Korea will set you back 120,000 United miles each way. Although certainly possible, you’re going to need to do a lot of flying to earn those miles the traditional way. A much easier option is to earn the miles by signing up for certain credit cards and meeting the spend requirements for their welcome bonuses.
United offers several cobranded card options that will help you boost your mileage balance. For instance, there’s the United Explorer Card that’s currently offering an elevated welcome bonus of up to 60,000 bonus miles. You’ll earn 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months, and additional 20,000 miles after you spend $8,000 total in the first six months after your account is open. The card has a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year, so you can essentially earn half of the miles needed for this redemption without any out-of-pocket cost. Other perks of the card include a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100), two United Club one-time passes each year and a free first checked bag on United-operated flights when you use the card to purchase your ticket.
There are also a number of Chase cards that offer Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to United miles. One of those options is the $95-a-year Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. This popular starter card offers 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening and earns 2 points per dollar spent on all travel and dining purchases. So, between the bonuses on this card and the Explorer Card, you’ll already have all the miles you need to book your flight. (Just be sure you won’t fall victim to Chase’s 5/24 rule before you apply)
Other Ultimate Rewards-earning cards that you’ll want to consider include the premium Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers perks like a $300 annual travel credit and airport lounge access, and the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, which is one of the most rewarding credit cards for small businesses. For everyday spending, consider the no-annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited which offers new cardholders 3% cash back (or 3x points when combined with an Ultimate Rewards-earning card) on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000 spent and 1.5% cash back (or 1.5x points) thereafter.
2. Search for Award Availability
The next step of the process is to search for award availability. The best way to do this is directly on United’s website. On the homepage, enter your city pair and dates and check the “Book with miles” button. You do not need to sign in to search.
The website can display a week or a month of availability at a time, and you can specify your desired travel class. Just note that the award calendar view isn’t always accurate, and some dates that show no availability actually do have flights, so be sure to click around.
Asiana is generally pretty good with releasing award space, but you’ll typically find the most availability close to departure. You can also set alerts to be notified when award space opens up with an ExpertFlyer subscription.
3. Transfer Your Points
If you don’t have all the miles you need in your United account, you’re going to need to transfer points from a program like Chase Ultimate Rewards.
To do this, go to the Ultimate Rewards homepage and sign in to your online Chase account. Then, scroll down and click where it says “Transfer your points,” look for United MileagePlus and click “Transfer Points.” You’ll then be asked for your MileagePlus account number and how many points you want to transfer.
Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio and should show up instantaneously based on TPG’s tests.
Note that you could also transfer Marriott Bonvoy points with a 10% bonus thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership. Marriott points transfer to United at a 3:1.1 ratio, and you’ll also get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer.
4. Book Your Flight
The final step of the process is to book your flight. Refresh the United site to make sure your miles have posted (note that you might need to log out and then log back in). Then repeat everything we did in Step 2, but this time hit “Select” on the flight you want.
United doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on partner award tickets, so your only out-of-pocket cost should be the $5.60 in taxes and fees. Currently, the airline charges a fee for booking awards less than 21 days before departure — $75 for general members, $50 for Silver elites and $25 for Gold elites — but that’s going away for travel beginning November 15. You’ll want to use a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve to pay for the taxes so that you’re covered by the the cards’ excellent travel protections.
Follow the steps discussed above and you’ll be enjoying caviar on your flight to South Korea in no time.
Check back next month for a new episode of “Have Points, Will Travel,” where Ian will give us another lesson on booking premium cabin flights using points and miles. And if you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more points and miles-related video content (and footage of Ian getting odd looks in public from strangers).
Featured photo by Ian Agrimis / The Points Guy.
Know before you go.
News and deals straight to your inbox every day.
NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards