30 ways to earn miles with the United MileagePlus program
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United MileagePlus miles may not be as valuable as they once were, but they have their place. You can use them to United Airlines and Star Alliance partner awards with no fuel surcharges, saving you hundreds of dollars per ticket. Further, the airline frequently offers low-cost domestic award tickets and offers reasonable pricing on long-haul international business class tickets operated by United.
It’s also an easy program to redeem miles with. Its website is well designed and shows nearly all available Star Alliance flights online. Because of this, it’s an excellent program for miles and points newcomers that want to earn and redeem miles quickly. In this article, I’ll show you all of the best ways to earn United miles — many of which don’t require stepping foot on a plane.
Let’s get started!
Earn by Flying
As you’d expect, you can earn United miles by flying with the carrier or one of its partners. However, the exact way that you earn United miles depends on several factors: the airline operating the flight, how you booked the flight and your fare class, to name a few. Let’s take a closer look.
Flying on United
Over the years, United has changed how you earn miles when flying on United-operated flights. Instead of earning based on miles flown, you now earn MileagePlus miles based on your ticket’s base price (minus taxes). You’ll also earn additional miles if you have MileagePlus elite status — the higher your status, the more miles you earn.
Here’s how many miles you’ll earn per dollar spent based on your level of status:
- No status – 5 miles
- Silver – 7 miles
- Gold – 8 miles
- Platinum – 9 miles
- Premier 1K – 11 miles
Here’s an example of how this works. If you buy a one-way United ticket from Chicago-O’Hare’Hare (ORD) to Des Moines (DSM) with a base fare of $210 and $30 in taxes, you’ll earn 1,050 miles as a MileagePlus traveler without status. However, if you’re a top-tier Premier 1K member, that earning jumps to 2,310 miles.
Note that United flights also count toward earning Premier Elite status, though the carrier changed this process significantly for the 2020 qualification year. Instead of earning status based on miles flown, you’ll now earn it based on how many Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) you earn, or a combination of how many PQP you earn and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) you take. PQP is determined based on how much you spend on flights and PQF is based on the number of segments flown on United or its partner airlines.
Flying Star Alliance partners
You can earn United MileagePlus miles when flying any of United’s Star Alliance or non-alliance partners — but it can be a little tricky.
If the partner flight is booked through United with a United Airlines ticket number, you’ll earn miles the same as if you were flying on a United-operated flight: based on the base fare of your ticket and your elite status level (as detailed above). However, if the ticket is booked on a partner ticket stock, you’ll earn miles based on your fare class and how long your flight is.
Fares are usually booked on a partner ticket stock when you book directly through the partner airline. For example, if you’re flying on Lufthansa and booked on Lufthansa.com, you’re almost definitely booked on Lufthansa ticket stock. Further, you’ll sometimes be booked on partner ticket stock if you book through an Online Travel Agency (OTA) like Orbitz, Expedia, or a credit card portal like the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal or Amex Travel.
You can verify that a ticket was booked on partner ticket stock by looking at the e-ticket issued after booking. If the ticket number starts with 016, it’s on United ticket stock.
The mileage earning rates vary from airline to airline. So check your booking class by looking at your ticket or calling the airline. Then, head over to United’s list of partner airlines, click on your airline and find the corresponding fare class on that list.
To figure out how many miles you’ll earn, just multiply the mileage flown by the percentage in the “Award mile earnings” column. As you’d expect, fares booked in premium cabins generally earn more miles than economy tickets.
United elite earnings on partner flights
Likewise, United Premier members earn bonus miles on these tickets based on their elite status level. Bonus miles are awarded as a percentage of miles flown — here’s how many bonus points each status tier earns on partner tickets:
- Silver – 25%
- Gold – 50%
- Platinum – 75%
- Premier 1K – 100%
Say you’re flying from New York-JFK to Munich (MUC) on a Lufthansa-ticketed flight. Your flight is booked in Z-fare business class, meaning that you’d earn 150% of the mileage flown as per the earning chart above. The flight from JFK-MUC clocks in at 4,038 miles, so you’d earn 6,057 redeemable miles. The math looks like this: 4,038 * 1.50 = 6,057.
As noted above, a United Premier Gold member would earn an additional 50% miles flown, giving them 9,086 miles for the JFK-MUC example. Here’s the math: (4,038 * 1.50) * 1.50 = 9,085.5, which would round up to 9,086.
To determine the distance between two airports, use GCmap.com and input your departure and arrival airport codes (e.g., JFK-MUC in the above example). It’ll then tell you how far apart the two are in miles.
Earn with United credit cards
You have a few options when it comes to earning United miles with credit cards. The most obvious of these is earning with United cobranded credit cards. You can quickly rack up miles by using these cards to pay for your everyday spending. Additionally, each card has a lucrative welcome bonus that can give you a huge amount of United miles right off the bat — so long as you meet the minimum spending requirement.
Finally, all of the cards come with enhanced award availability when it’s time to redeem your hard-earned miles. Here’s a look at all of the different credit cards you can use to earn United miles.
Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Plus, an additional 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first six months.
Earning miles: The card earns 2x miles on United purchases, restaurant and direct hotel purchases and 1 mile elsewhere.
Card perks: Aside from earning miles, the United Explorer Card also offers several card perks that make it worth keeping in your wallet. The card comes with a free checked bag for you and one travel companion. In addition, you get the following benefits:
- You also get 25% back on United inflight purchases
- Priority boarding
- Premier upgrades on award tickets (if you have United elite status)
- Up to a $100 in Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit every four years
- Two Annual one-time United Club passes, valued at $100.
This more than makes up for the card’s annual fee and makes traveling on United more seamless.
Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee, then $525.
Sign-up bonus: No welcome bonus.
Earning miles: The card earns 4 miles per $1 spent on purchases with United and 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel purchases, dining and eligible food delivery services. All other purchases earn 1 mile per $1 spent.
Card perks: The United Club Infinite Card offers premium benefits in exchange for a hefty annual fee. In addition to a Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit of up to $100 every four years, the card offers the first and second checked bag free for you and a travel companion. Cardholders also get premier access, 25% back on inflight purchases, Hertz Gold Rewards President’s Circle status and more.
Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $99.
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Earning miles: Earn 2x MileagePlus miles on United, restaurant, gas station, office supply store and local transit (taxi, rideshare, mass transit, etc.) purchases and 1 mile elsewhere. You’ll also earn 5,000 bonus miles each card anniversary when you have both the United Business Card and a personal United credit card.
Card perks: The United Business Card offers a free checked bag benefit to cardholders and a travel companion. Other perks include priority boarding, 25% back on inflight United purchases, and a 5,000-mile annual bonus when you have the United Business Card and a personal Chase card. Additionally, cardholders are eligible for a $100 United flight credit after seven United flight purchases every year.
Transfer Ultimate Rewards points to United
Chase Ultimate Rewards is one of the most popular transferable point currencies out there. You can use these points for various redemptions, including paying for paid travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal. However, the most lucrative way to use your Ultimate Rewards points is by transferring points to one of Chase’s airline or hotel transfer partners — and United is one of them. Chase points transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio so that you can turn 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points into 1,000 United miles.
Plus, Ultimate Rewards has various other transfer partners, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, British Airways Avios, and World of Hyatt. This added flexibility is why we recommend earning Ultimate Rewards points over United miles.
Chase’s suite of Ultimate Rewards-earning credit cards may be a better fit for your wallet too. They have broader bonus categories than United’s cobranded cards — for example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points per dollar spent on travel and dining. Even if you only plan on transferring your points to United, there’s a good chance you’ll come out ahead with an Ultimate Rewards card.
Some of our favorite Ultimate Rewards-earning credit cards include:
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Card perks: Sapphire Preferred cardholders get a complimentary DoorDash Daspass. Cardholders also earn 5x points on Lyft rides through Mar. 2022. Points redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards Travel portal are worth 25% more.
Annual fee: $550
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.
Card perks: Cardholders get various travel benefits, like a $300 travel credit and a Priority Pass Select membership. Additionally, points redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards Travel portal are worth 50% more. One of the card’s most valuable perks is the auto rental collision damage waiver, which reimburses up to $75,000 for theft and damage caused to rental vehicles.
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.
Earning miles: The card earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points on select business purchases (up to $150,000 in purchases per account anniversary year).
Card perks: The Ink Business Preferred card offers employee cards free of charge, which is very valuable for small business owners.
The only real downside to getting an Ultimate Rewards credit card over a United cobranded card is the benefits; these cards don’t offer free checked bags, priority boarding or other United benefits. The Sapphire Reserve does offer other travel benefits like a Priority Pass Select membership. Still, United flyers may not find it as valuable as a United Club membership on domestic flights.
For the best of both worlds, you may want to consider opening both a United cobranded card and an Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card. You can put your purchases on your Ultimate Rewards card for points earning and flexibility, and keep the United cobranded card linked to your United card for flight benefits.
Earn United miles with Marriott Bonvoy credit cards
One of the best perks of the Marriott Bonvoy program is that you can transfer Marriott points to the hotel group’s 40+ airline transfer partners. The vast majority of these airlines transfer at a 3:1 ratio, meaning that three Marriott points equal one airline mile. Plus, you’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer.
Better yet, United has a preferred transfer rate due to the airline’s RewardsPlus partnership with Marriott. As of the time of writing, Marriott points transfer to United MileagePlus at a 3:1.1 ratio. This is in addition to the 5,000-mile bonus we mentioned earlier, so transferring 60,000 Marriott points to United results in 27,000 United miles.
To transfer Marriott points to United, log into your Marriott Bonvoy account, head to the Transfer Points to Miles page and click the Transfer Points button at the center of the screen. Then, select United from the airline drop-down menu, enter your United MileagePlus number and enter how many miles you’d like to transfer. Click the Continue button at the bottom of the window to initiate the transfer, and the miles will appear in your United account within 48 hours.
You can earn Marriott points in various ways, but the easiest way is through the program’s cobranded credit cards. The hotel group partners with both American Express and Chase, and each of these different cards has its own unique set of benefits.
Here’s a look at the best Marriott cobranded credit cards currently offered:
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Earning miles: The card earns 6x points on eligible Marriott purchases. All other purchases earn 2x points.
Card perks: Cardholders get an annual free night certificate, good for a property requiring up to 35,000 points per night. Additionally, the card comes with 15 elite night credits and Marriott Bonvoy Silver elite status. You can upgrade to Gold elite status after spending $35,000 in a calendar year.
Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)
Sign-up bonus: Limited Time Offer: Earn up to 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus points after your first anniversary of Card Membership. Offer Expires 1/13/2021. Terms apply.
Earning miles: The card earns 6x points on eligible Marriott purchases, 3x at U.S. restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines and 2x on all other purchases. Receive complimentary Platinum Elite status with your Card for the 2021 status year. Offer Expires 1/13/2021.
Card perks: The Bonvoy Brilliant comes with several valuable perks, like Gold elite status and the ability to upgrade to Platinum after spending $75,000. Cardholders also get up to $300 in Marriott statement credits every cardmember year and an annual free night redeemable at hotels requiring 50,000 points or less per night. Priority Pass Select and up to $100 towards Global Entry or TSA Precheck are also included.
Annual fee: $125 (rates and fees)
Sign-up bonus: Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after you spend $5,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Earn up to $150 in statement credits within your first 6 months of Card Membership for all eligible purchases on your Card on U.S. Advertising in select Media. Plus receive complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status for one year (February 1, 2021-January 31, 2022). Offer ends 1/13/21.
Earning miles: The card earns 6x points on eligible Marriott purchases and 4x at U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, U.S. wireless telephone services purchased directly and U.S. purchases for shipping. All other purchases earn 2x points.
Card perks: The Marriott Bonvoy Business card comes with automatic Marriott Silver Elite status, 15 elite night credits towards the next elite level and an annual free night valid at hotels requiring 35,000 points or less. You can earn an additional free night by spending $60,000 on the card.
Earn United miles by shopping and dining
While flying and using cobranded credit cards are the primary methods to earn United miles quickly, many additional MileagePlus partners to investigate. These cover a wide variety of industries. Let’s start with shopping to see some of the ways you can pick up extra miles.
Like most airlines, United operates an online shopping portal (MileagePlus Shopping), where you can earn miles for making everyday purchases online. Just sign up for an account and find your merchant on the site before making a purchase.
Starting at this portal rather than the specific retailer’s site will give you extra miles on your purchases in addition to the points you’ll earn using your credit card of choice. This can be a great way to earn 1, 2, or even 5 additional miles when shopping online.
In addition, MileagePlus Shopping frequently runs holiday and seasonal promotions. For example, the portal recently ran an offer for 1,000 bonus miles for spending $250 or more on Macy’s purchases. Keep an eye out for these promotions and use them to earn even more on your online purchases.
Note that there’s a Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal too, so make sure to use a shopping portal aggregator like Cash Back Monitor to see which shopping portal offers the best return on your purchases.
MileagePlus X app
Download the MileagePlus X app and you can earn United miles on the go. Simply put, you use the app to buy gift cards to select merchants. The gift card is available immediately and can be purchased in any amount. When making a MileagePlus X purchase, you’ll earn a select number of miles per dollar spent, sometimes climbing as high as 10x.
Participating merchants include Walmart, Staples and Panera Bread. Be sure to give it a look before you make your next purchase. One of the best things about the MileagePlus X app is that miles are awarded instantly in most cases, so if you’re ever a few miles away from a redemption, buy a gift card to a store or restaurant you frequent.
United MileagePlus Dining
In short, this is a shopping portal for eating out. Just sign up for an account and link the credit cards you use for dining. You’ll earn up to five miles per dollar spent when you swipe a linked card at participating restaurants. These earnings are in addition to what you earn on the credit card you use, so be sure to use one that offers a category bonus on dining purchases. Plus, new members can earn up to 3,000 bonus miles during their first month.
To maximize your earnings with MileagePlus Dining, you’ll want to get online status and try to snag VIP status. Becoming an online member is easy: just sign up for the program and enable email alerts. This will get you an earning rate of three miles per dollar spent.
Once you’ve made 11 dining purchases in twelve months, you’ll reach VIP status and start taking home five miles per dollar spent. If you don’t opt in to receive emails from MileagePlus Dining, you’re considered a basic member (and will only earn 1 mile per $2 spent).
MileagePlus Dining recently started offering mileage earning on takeout and delivery orders made through major delivery apps. Simply make your order at any of the restaurants listed on the MileagePlus Dining site and save a copy of your receipt. Then, fill out this form and the miles will be credited to your account.
Earn United miles with travel partners
Beyond airlines, United has a handful of other travel partners like cruise lines, hotels and rental car companies. Here’s a quick look at all of these partners and how to earn with them.
MileagePlus cruise portal
With the future of cruising being so uncertain, it’s tough to think about when you’ll be able to board a cruise ship again. But when it’s safe to do so, you can earn a ton of United miles on your cruise booking. The MileagePlus cruise portal lets you earn and redeem United miles for booking a cruise.
While the earn and redemption rates vary, you can typically get around 0.6 cents out of each point. This is significantly less than the 1.3 cents TPG values United miles. So you’re better off using the booking portal to earn United miles on your cruise. It’s not unusual to earn up to 45,000 bonus miles per booking, even on low-cost cruises.
Booking hotels with United partners
United has a suite of hotel partners too. You can earn miles based on your hotel stay costs using the United Hotels portal, RocketMiles and Points Hound. Each of these Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) lets you book and pay through their website to earn miles on your hotel stays.
Unfortunately, you won’t earn hotel points or get hotel elite status benefits when booking through these portals. We only recommend booking independent hotels and stays at hotels where you otherwise wouldn’t earn points for a better return. Further, always make sure to compare the cost of the stay with booking direct.
Likewise, you can earn United miles when you book direct with a handful of United’s travel hotel partners. Sometimes this means you’ll earn based on the price of your hotel stay. Other times it means transferring points from a hotel program to United MileagePlus.
Here’s a look at how many miles you can earn:
|Accor Live Limitless||Points transfer at a 2,000:1,000 ratio|
|Best Western||Earn 250 miles per stay|
|Choice Privileges||Earn 250 miles per stay|
|World of Hyatt||Earn 500 miles per stay|
|IHG Rewards Club||Earn up to 2 miles per dollar spent depending on-property.|
|Marriott Bonvoy||Earn up to 2 miles per dollar spent depending on the property.
Points transfer at a 3:1.1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus awarded for every 60,000 transferred.
|Radisson Rewards||Points transfer at a 2,000:200 ratio.|
|Shangri-La Gold Circle||Earn 500 miles per stay.|
|Wyndham Rewards||Earn up to 2 miles per dollar spent depending on the status level.|
Rental car partners
United partners with several rental car companies to allow you to earn miles when you hit the road. Earnings vary by company, but you can typically expect to earn at least 50 miles per rental period:
MileagePlus members earn 500 miles per Hertz rental, while MileagePlus Chase cardholders earn 750 miles. United Premier Silver and Gold elite members get a pretty substantial 1,000 miles per rental. This number is increased to 1,250 miles for Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members. Note that you won’t earn Hertz Gold Rewards points when booking with United.
Dollar Rent A Car
United MileagePlus members earn 50 miles for rentals of up to four days. Rental periods of five days or longer earn 500 MileagePlus miles.
Thrifty Car Rental
Thrifty Car Rental offers the same deal as Dollar Rent A Car: 50 miles for rentals of up to four days and 500 miles for longer rentals.
Through United’s partnership with Amtrak, you can earn up to 750 miles per segment on Acela Express trains. The number of miles depends on the cabin and route. You’ll earn 500 miles on business class tickets and 750 miles on first-class tickets. Acela Express trains between New York’s Penn Station and Boston and Washington D.C. are eligible to earn United miles.
Additionally, you can earn miles when you book an Amtrak connection at Newark Liberty International Airport to/from any of the following Amtrak destinations: New Haven, Stamford, Philadelphia and Wilmington. These train connections must be booked on your United ticket through the United website. Here’s how many miles you’ll earn:
- Discount Economy (W, S, T, N, L, G, K) – 250 MileagePlus miles
- Economy M, H, E, Q, U, V – 250 MileagePlus miles
- Full-Fare Economy (Y, B) – 250 MileagePlus miles
- Business (J, C, D, Z, P) – 325 MileagePlus miles
- First (F, A) – 325 MileagePlus miles
Buy United miles
If you need United miles in a pinch, you can opt to buy them from the airline. Unfortunately, however, it’s usually quite expensive to do this. The standard price for United miles is well over 2 cents per mile, which is rarely worth it unless you need to buy a small number of miles to top-up for an award.
United frequently runs mileage sales that drops the cost of miles considerably. Even then, you should only buy miles when you have a specific redemption in mind and have already found bookable award space. Make sure that it makes sense to buy miles too — if a paid ticket is cheaper, you’ll want to buy that instead.
As you can see, there are many ways you can earn United miles, but the most robust approach is to use the above methods in tandem. If you use all of the discussed earning methods at once, you’ll unlock some terrific earning rates that will quickly get you within striking distance of your next award trip.
We recommend starting with a credit card to earn United miles on everyday purchases and then moving onto the other methods discussed. This will ensure you’re leaving no miles on the table when you book travel and make everyday purchases.
Additional reporting by Ariana Arghandewal
Feature photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy
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