How to redeem miles with the United Airlines MileagePlus program

Mar 2, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current examples. It was originally published on Dec. 16, 2018.

United’s MileagePlus loyalty program is one of the most lucrative airline mileage programs in the U.S. Not only are United miles easy to earn thanks to a suite of cobranded credit cards and a couple of major transferable points partners, but you can redeem miles across United’s vast network of domestic and international routes or on over two dozen Star Alliance partners.

Thankfully, United’s booking engine is one of the best for finding award availability, so you can find and book most Star Alliance awards by simply searching its site.

There are, however, a number of quirks to understand when you’re booking award flights with United miles. It’s also good to know alternative ways to redeem United miles outside of flights (though we don’t recommend them). 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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In This Post

Redeem for United flights

United 787-10 Polaris Review
(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.)

United operates a huge international and domestic flight network, with hundreds of destinations from which to choose — and that’s not including its partner flights.

United no longer has an award chart for its own flights. They use dynamic award pricing, which is a fancy way of saying they charge whatever they want whenever they want. If you’re curious to know how many miles it’ll cost to fly on United Airlines, you’ll have to search your desired route on your desired date. Prices can fluctuate dramatically with the season.

United does currently offer an interactive award chart for its partner flights. If you aspire to take luxurious international first-class flights, this is the chart you want to examine. Just punch in your origin and destination, and you’ll be presented with mileage costs in all cabins on both United and partner flights.

As noted above, United’s website is one of the better Star Alliance options when searching for award tickets, even without logging in. Just be sure to check the “Book with miles” box to see the corresponding award rates for your flights.

If you have United elite status, or if you have a United credit card in your wallet (like the new and improved United Business Card, which currently comes with 100,000 miles after spending $10,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening for a limited time through April 2, 2020), you’ll want to login before searching. Cardholders and elite status members gain access to additional award inventory on United-operated flights.

The information for the United Business has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Best credit cards for flying United

United-operated flights can vary in terms of the onboard experience. The carrier isn’t well known for releasing a ton of business-class award availability, but if you can book far in advance, close to departure or during off-peak times, you should be able to snag a couple of seats.

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 really shines when you examine your ability to book partner award tickets with its miles. Here’s United’s current list of Star 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
  • Juneyao Airlines
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • SWISS
  • TAP Portugal
  • THAI
  • Turkish Airlines

Additionally, United has a surprisingly good number of non-alliance partners too. Here’s the full list:

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

One of the biggest positives to using United miles is the fact that the MileagePlus program doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on partner award tickets. Booking through other programs (like Aeroplan miles) can add hundreds of dollars in additional taxes and fees. Unfortunately, this does come with a price, as United’s premium class award rates for long-haul partner flights are usually higher than award flights on United’s own metal. For example, booking Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA) on a United Airlines plane usually costs 60,000 United miles, while a Lufthansa-operated flight on the same route costs 70,000 miles.

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

Again, United’s isn’t well known to have an excellent business-class hard product, so the extra 10,000 miles to fly a partner instead is generally well spent. After all, United is partnered with some terrific airlines, and many are decent at releasing premium-class award space. Thankfully, most partners can be booked 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.com doesn’t always display every connecting flight option.

Redeem for merchandise, hotels or rental cars

(Photo by @isr4el/Twenty20.)
(Photo by @isr4el/Twenty20.)

As with most airline miles, you can redeem United MileagePlus miles for merchandise, United Club memberships, car rentals and hotel stays. But if you’ve been reading TPG for a while, you know that we seldom recommend doing this. This is because these redemptions usually yield a far lower value than TPG’s most recent valuations, which peg MileagePlus miles at 1.3 cents each. You’ll usually get a value below 0.8 cents for these redemptions.

To put this into perspective, I quoted a one-night stay at a random hotel in Paris using United’s hotel booking portal. One night in January 2021 costs $159 when using cash, but the same night cost 20,350 United miles. This is a value of about 0.79 cents per mile. For this particular stay, you’re far better off covering your purchase with miles from a card like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.

Related: How to earn miles with United Airlines MileagePlus

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 both United and its Star Alliance partners.

The carrier’s award search engine is one of the best out there, and the program charges extremely low taxes and fees when 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.

Joseph Hostetler contributed to this post.

Featured 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, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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