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How to redeem miles with the United MileagePlus program

Jan. 23, 2022
17 min read
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Although United's MileagePlus members have seen massive devaluations of the value of their miles, particularly during the pandemic, United MileagePlus remains one of the easiest types of airline miles to use. Not only are United miles easy to earn thanks to a suite of United credit cards and a couple of major transferable points partners, but you also can redeem miles across United's vast network of domestic and international routes or on over two dozen Star Alliance partners.

Fortunately, United's website is one of the best for finding award availability, so you can find and book most Star Alliance awards by simply searching its site — no phone calls required.

However, there are several quirks to understand when booking award flights with United miles, and although there are ways to redeem United miles outside of flights, you typically won't get a high redemption value. With this in mind, let's examine how to redeem United MileagePlus miles for United flights, partner flights, hotels and other merchandise.

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Redeem for United flights

(Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

United operates one of the largest international and domestic flight networks, with hundreds of destinations from which to choose — and that's not including its partner flights. Star Alliance is the largest airline alliance in the world, offering many appealing choices that usually include Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Air New Zealand.

Unfortunately, United paused its mileage redemption opportunities with Singapore Airlines in December 2020. Although this was supposed to be temporary, MileagePlus members still cannot redeem miles on Singapore Airlines.

Just before the pandemic, United removed its award chart for its flights and flights operated by a partner. Now, it uses dynamic award pricing. This is a fancy way of saying United can charge whatever it wants whenever it wants for any flight. If you're curious to know how many miles it will cost to fly on United Airlines, you'll have to search your desired route on your desired date.

In November 2021, United also introduced another way to redeem miles, known as Money + Miles. This option provides an unimpressive fixed 1 cent per mile redemption rate. If your ticket is eligible to be paid with Money + Miles, you will find this option on the final payment screen after selecting seats.

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How to book flights on United's website

As noted above, United's website is one of the better Star Alliance options when searching for award tickets, even without logging in. Just head to United's website, enter your flight search criteria and check "Book with miles." Then, click the purple "Find flights" button to run your search.

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If you have United Premier status or have a United credit card associated with your MileagePlus account, you'll want to log in before searching. Cardholders and elite status members gain access to additional award inventory on United-operated flights.

United displays flights at the center of the page alongside prices. One nice thing about the United search engine is that it shows a week's worth of award pricing at the top of the screen. Click on a date to see all the available flight options for a given day. You can sort by price by clicking on the label for the cabin you'd like to fly in. For example, click "Business" to see business-class options.

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Once you find an award you like, click the "select" button underneath the price and follow the on-screen prompts to book it. Make sure to pay the ticket's taxes and fees with a credit card that earns bonus miles on airfare and provides travel protections.

Related: Best credit cards for United flyers

Redeem on partner flights

Swiss business class is just one premium partner award readily available with United miles. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

United is a member of Star Alliance, the world's largest airline alliance. Here's a look at United's list of alliance airline partners:

  • Aegean Airlines.
  • Air Canada.
  • Air China.
  • Air India.
  • Air New Zealand.
  • ANA.
  • Asiana.
  • Austrian.
  • Avianca.
  • Brussels Airlines.
  • Copa Airlines.
  • Croatia Airlines.
  • EgyptAir.
  • Ethiopian Airlines.
  • EVA Airways.
  • LOT Polish Airlines.
  • Lufthansa.
  • SAS.
  • Shenzhen Airlines.
  • Singapore Airlines.
  • South African Airways.
  • SWISS.
  • TAP Portugal.
  • THAI.
  • Turkish Airlines.

Additionally, United has an impressive portfolio of non-alliance partners too:

  • Aer Lingus.
  • AeroMar.
  • Air Dolomiti.
  • Airlink.
  • Azul.
  • Boutique Air.
  • Cape Air.
  • Edelweiss.
  • Eurowings.
  • Eurowings Discover.
  • Hawaiian Airlines.
  • Olympic Air.
  • Silver Airways.
  • Vistara.

One of the biggest positives of redeeming United miles is that the MileagePlus program doesn't impose fuel surcharges on partner award tickets. Booking through other programs (like Aeroplan miles or Asiana Club) can add hundreds of dollars in additional taxes and fees. But at times, booking through partners will cost you significantly fewer miles.

The absence of fuel surcharges comes with a price, though. United's premium class award rates for long-haul partner flights are often higher than the least expensive awards operated by United. In the past, United would tack on a 10,000-mile surcharge for Star Alliance partner awards. For example, booking Chicago O'Hare (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA) on a United Airlines plane would cost 60,000 United miles, while a Lufthansa-operated flight on the same route would cost 70,000 miles.

With dynamic partner pricing, United has increased the price of partner award tickets across the board. This includes flights with a partner-operated short-haul segment. For example, this flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Nagoya (NGO) via Tokyo (HND) costs 38,500 miles in economy class or 77,000 miles one-way in business class. ANA Wings operates only the Tokyo to Nagoya leg, but the prices are still 10% higher than the standard award rate (even though the ANA Wings leg is in economy class on the business class option).

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On the bright side, you can book most partners online, so you'll rarely have to call in to book a ticket. However, I'd still recommend searching segment by segment for your flight, as United's website doesn't always display every connecting flight option.

Related: The best ways to redeem 100,000 United Airlines miles

Redeem for other travel

You can also redeem United MileagePlus miles for United Club memberships, car rentals and hotel stays. But we seldom recommend doing this. These redemptions usually yield a far lower value than TPG's valuations, which peg the value of MileagePlus miles at 1.13 cents each. You'll usually get a value below 0.75 cents for these redemptions.

That said, here's a quick look at all of your other travel redemption options alongside their redemption values:

Redeem United miles for hotels

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You can use United Hotels to book hotel rooms using your United miles, but it isn't a good deal. I checked for a one-night stay at the Andaz Singapore using United's hotel booking portal. One night in September 2022 costs $282.40 or 48,680 miles, which means you'll get about 0.58 cents per mile in value. For this particular stay, you're far better off paying cash or redeeming World of Hyatt points.

Transfer United miles to Marriott Bonvoy

You can transfer United miles to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1 ratio. This isn't a good deal either — TPG values Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.8 cents each, which is 0.33 cents per point less than TPG's valuation of United miles. You should only transfer miles to Marriott if it's a small number of miles to top-up for a specific, high-value Marriott award.

Redeem United miles for car rentals

United recently switched its rental car partner from Hertz to Avis/Budget. At the time of writing, United is still working with Avis/Budget to allow members to use their miles for rental cars. However, we anticipate redemption rates to be similar to its partnership with Hertz, where redemption rates were around 0.65 cents per mile in value.

Related: The top 3 easiest ways to save on rental cars

Buy in-flight Wi-Fi with United miles

You can use United miles to pay for inflight Wi-Fi on domestic United flights, but the cost varies by flight length. The airline also offers a $49 monthly Wi-Fi pass for $49 or 7,500 miles. However, by redeeming United miles for this pass, you'd only get 0.65 cents per mile in value, so we recommend steering clear of this redemption.

Related: How to save on inflight Wi-Fi for your next trip

Pay for TSA PreCheck with United miles

Finally, you can redeem United miles for TSA PreCheck. 11,000 United miles covers the $85 application fee, meaning you'd only get a redemption value of 0.77 cents per mile. You're far better off getting a credit card that covers the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee, like the United Explorer Card. Then you can save on the fee and earn a new sign-up bonus.

Related: How to earn miles with United Airlines MileagePlus

Redeem for merchandise

(Photo by FreshSplash/Getty Images)

You can also redeem United miles for merchandise, gift cards, newspapers and Broadway tickets. Like redeeming miles for hotels, these redemptions are generally a poor value that we recommend skipping. Here's a quick look at all of your options alongside their redemption rates:

Redeem United miles for products

You can redeem United miles for merchandise via United's online store. This store offers electronics, luggage and home goods. That said, we don't recommend doing this as you'll generally get a low redemption value. For example, a Bose Portable Home Speaker costs 140,700 miles. These headphones retail for $399, giving you just 0.28 cents per mile in value.

Pay for MileagePlus X gift cards with United miles

We recommend earning miles with the MileagePlus X app, but we don't recommend spending your miles with it. This app lets you purchase gift cards for immediate use and earn miles in the process. If you choose to redeem miles for gift cards, you'll get a mere 0.3 cents per mile in value. This is nearly a full cent lower than TPG's valuation.

Subscribe to newspapers and magazines with United miles

You can also redeem United miles for magazine and newspaper subscriptions, but this is a poor use of miles as it yields an extremely low redemption value.

Buy tickets to Broadways shows and events with United miles

During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Broadway shows and concert tickets may not be at the top of your list. But, if you want to go to a show, you can redeem United miles for tickets. That said, steer clear of this redemption option as it provides a very low value.

Donate your United miles to charities

You can also donate United miles to select charities. You can donate a minimum of 1,000 miles at a time and can choose from a selection of different charities. This can be a good option for those who want to liquidate their mileage balance and give to a good cause. That said, it's always worth considering if a cash donation is a more effective way to help.

Related: How you can donate your points and miles to charity

Best use of United miles

United has devalued its miles a few times, but there are still a handful of excellent ways to redeem United miles. Here's a look at some of the best United MileagePlus sweet spots you should know about.

Travel from the U.S. to Europe on a United Airlines flight

One of my favorite ways to use United miles is booking flights from the U.S. to Europe in United's Polaris business class product. When discount business-class space is available, you'll generally pay just 60,000 miles one-way for this flight with no fuel surcharges. This makes the ticket cheaper than booking with Avianca LifeMiles, another of my favorite Star Alliance loyalty programs.

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Saving on fuel surcharges

United imposes mileage surcharges on partner award tickets, but not fuel surcharges. You can save $500 or more on long-haul, business-class tickets compared to booking with ANA Mileage Club, Asiana Club or some other Star Alliance loyalty programs. You'll pay more miles in the process, but it could make a lot of sense if you want to reduce cash expenses on award travel.

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Low-cost domestic award tickets on United

One of the nice things about United's move to dynamic pricing is the addition of low-cost award tickets. These disappeared at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic but since reappeared. Some of the low-cost tickets we've seen recently include Newark (EWR) to San Francisco (SFO) for 9,700 miles and Seattle (SEA) to Los Angeles (LAX) for 5,500 miles.

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At the time this story was written, this Seattle (SEA) to Los Angeles (LAX) flight was on sale for $74 in United's deeply discounted "K" fare class. If you redeemed miles for this flight, you'd get a redemption value of 1.3 cents per mile, which is above TPG's current valuation of United miles.

Free stopovers with the Excursionist Perk

One of the benefits of booking round-trip or multicity awards with United is the Excursionist Perk. This perk lets you add a free stopover to all of your tickets and it's super open-ended.

In its most basic form, you use this perk to book something like Newark (EWR) to London (LHR), London (LHR) to Frankfurt (FRA) and Frankfurt (FRA) to Newark (EWR). You wouldn't pay any additional miles for the London (LHR) to Frankfurt (FRA) leg, which is an excellent money-saver on a European adventure.

Related: The ultimate guide to airline stopover programs

How to find United award space

Thankfully, finding United award space is relatively straightforward. Many travelers think of United's website as the best Star Alliance search engine, since virtually all United and Star Alliance partner award space shows online. This means you'll rarely have to call United to book an award ticket —just search online and book accordingly.

That said, United's website sometimes shows phantom award space. This is when an award appears online that isn't actually bookable. You can verify award space before you transfer miles from Chase Ultimate Rewards by searching ANA's website. ANA's search tool isn't the most intuitive, but it's reliable. All flights shown on ANA's website are bookable with United miles.

Related: The cheapest business class award tickets across all alliances

Frequently asked questions

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The United MileagePlus program may seem daunting at first — especially if you're new to the points and miles world. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding United MileagePlus:

How do I join United MileagePlus?

You can join United MileagePlus for free. Just head to United's website and click "Join now" in the upper right corner of the screen. Then, enter the requested information at the center of the screen.

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Once you've signed up, you can find your MileagePlus number by clicking on your name at the top of the screen. Make sure to add this number to United and Star Alliance partner bookings to earn mileage.

Related: How to earn United elite status for less by flying partner airlines

When do United miles expire?

In 2019, United changed its expiration policy for the better. Nowadays, United miles don't expire even during prolonged periods of inactivity. This is excellent news for occasional United flyers and travelers who don't have an immediate use for their United miles.

Can I transfer points to United MileagePlus?

You can transfer miles from Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy to United MileagePlus. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to United at a 1:1 ratio with a 1,000-mile minimum transfer. These transfers process instantly, giving you a fast and easy way to accrue miles.

Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to United at a 3:1.1 ratio due to United and Marriott's RewardsPlus partnership. You'll also receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer. This means that 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points are equal to 27,000 United miles. Transfers take roughly three days to process.

Related: Marriott Titanium and Ambassador Elites can claim United status in under five minutes

Bottom line

There are many ways to redeem your United MileagePlus miles, but you're generally best off looking to book award flights. Thankfully it's relatively easy to book these tickets online with United and its Star Alliance partners.

The carrier's award search engine is one of the best out there, and the program charges low taxes and fees compared to other Star Alliance mileage programs. And with the ability to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United at a 1:1 ratio, you can quickly boost your account and unlock some of these redemptions as you plan your next trip.

Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen

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.