17+ ways to earn miles with the United MileagePlus program

2d ago

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United MileagePlus miles are some of the most powerful on the market. Not only can you redeem them with low fees for United flights, but you can also use the miles for flights on United’s many Star Alliance partners without fuel surcharges. This includes airlines like Lufthansa and All Nippon Airways — with aspirational first and business class products. Even better, there are a ton of simple ways you can earn United miles without ever stepping foot on an airplane, including through shopping, mileage transfers and credit cards.

This is especially important given the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, as now is not the time to be traveling. However, you may be thinking about post-pandemic travel. So in this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about earning United MileagePlus miles.

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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 swiping them 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.

United Explorer Card

Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. 

Earning miles: The card earns 2x miles on United, 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. 

You also get 25% back on United inflight purchases, priority boarding, premier upgrades on award tickets and up to a $100 in Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit every four years Plus, every year you’ll get a pair of one-time United Club passes, valued at $100. This more than makes up for the card’s annual fee and makes traveling on United much more pleasant.

United Club℠ Infinite Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $525.

Sign-up bonus: The United Club Infinite Card does not currently offer a sign-up 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 is fairly new to the lineup and 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. 

United Business Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $99.

Sign-up bonus: 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on 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.

Related: 4 reasons why someone in your family needs a United credit card

The information for the United 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.

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 a variety of different 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. United is one of them, and since Chase points transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio, you can turn 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points into 1,000 United miles.

Plus, Ultimate Rewards has a variety of other transfer partners as well, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, British Airways and World of Hyatt, among others. Because of this, we generally recommend earning Ultimate Rewards points over United miles, since you have more flexibility in how you redeem your points.

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. So 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:

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $95

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.

Earning miles: The card earns 2x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining purchases.

Card perks: Sapphire Preferred cardholders get a complimentary DoorDash Daspass. Cardholders also get 5x points on Lyft rides through Mar. 2022. Points redeemed through Ultimate Rewards Travel portal are worth 25% more.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

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.  

Earning miles: The Sapphire Reserve earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining purchases. 

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.

Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

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 information for the Ink Business Preferred 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.

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, but 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 transfer 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 gets a preferable 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 would result 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 a variety of different 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 (terms apply):

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $95

Sign-up bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening. Terms apply.

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 Silver slite status. You can upgrade to Gold elite status after spending $35,000 in a calendar year.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

(Photo by The Points Guy)
(Photo by The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)

Sign-up bonus: Earn 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. 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.

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 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.

Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $125 (rates and fees)

Sign-up bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening. Terms apply.

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

While flying and using cobranded credit cards are the primary methods to quickly earn United miles, there are 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 additional miles.

MileagePlus Shopping

Like most airlines, United operates its own 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 is offering the best return on your purchases.

MileagePlus X app

(Image courtesy of United)

If you want the ability to earn United miles on the go, download the MileagePlus X app. 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 Amazon, 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 or need to keep your miles from expiring, buy a gift card to a store or restaurant you frequent.

Earn United miles on dining

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Like most other domestic carriers, United has its own dining program that’s part of the Rewards Network: 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.

New members can also earn up to 3,000 United miles during their first month.

To maximize your earnings with MileagePlus Dining, you’ll want to get online status and then 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. Then, once you’ve made 11 dining purchases in a twelve-month period, you’ll reach VIP status and start taking home five miles per dollar spent. If you don’t choose 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 by booking a Cruise

The Celestyal Cruises ship Celestyal Olympia. (Photo courtesy of Celestyal Cruises)
The Celestyal Cruises ship Celestyal Olympia. (Photo courtesy of Celestyal Cruises)

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.

Earn United miles by renting a car

Line of cars in a rental car lot
(Photo by meowKa/Shutterstock)

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:

Hertz

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. 

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.

Earn United miles with Amtrak

Amtrak
Amtrak’s The Adirondack train. (Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

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. Aside from these exceptions, you can expect to earn the following rates per Amtrak segment

  • 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

Earn by Flying

United
United’s 787-10 will offer the new Polaris business-class seat. Boeing 777-200 (Photo by Zach Honig).

The most straightforward way to earn United miles is by flying with the carrier or one of its partners. However, the exact way that you earn United miles depends on a number of 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 the base price of your ticket (minus taxes). You’ll also earn additional miles if you have MileagePlus elite status — the higher tier of 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 (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 these earning rates apply even if you’re booked into United’s basic economy fare class, though that has several other restrictions of which you should be aware.

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.

Related: Complete guide to United Premier elite status

Flying Star Alliance partners

11 February 2020, Hessen, Frankfurt/Main: A Lufthansa jet lands on schedule at Frankfurt Airport in the morning. Flight operations at Germany
(Photo by Frank Rumpenhorst/picture alliance via Getty Images)

You can earn United MileagePlus miles when flying any one of United’s Star Alliance or non-alliance partners — but it can be a little tricky.

If the partner flight is booked through United and is ticketed 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 you’re 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%

United

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 for the flight. 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.

TIP: To determine the distance between two airports, use GCmap.com and input your departure and arrival airport codes (e.g. ORD-DSM in the above example). It’ll then tell you how far apart the two are.

Bottom Line

As you can see, there are many ways you can earn United miles, but the most powerful 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 out 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

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, please click here.

Feature photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy

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More Things to Know
  • 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®
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