How to Redeem Miles With the United Airlines MileagePlus Program

Dec 16, 2018

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United’s MileagePlus loyalty program is one of the most lucrative airline mileage programs in the US. Not only are MileagePlus miles easy to earn thanks to a suite of cobranded credit cards and a couple of major transfer partners; the miles can be redeemed across United’s vast network of domestic and international routes or on the carrier’s two dozen+ Star Alliance partners. And 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 on its site.

That being said, there are a number of quirks to know when you’re booking award flights with United miles, and you have many other ways to redeem United miles outside of flights. With those two things in mind, this article will walk you through how to redeem United MileagePlus miles for United flights, partner flights, hotels and other merchandise.

In This Post

Redeem on United Flights

United operates a huge international and domestic flight network, with hundreds of destinations from which to choose — and that’s not including its partners’ flights. United’s awards are zone-based, so the number of miles you need for a flight is calculated by the region you’re flying to and from. Here’s a link to United’s interactive award chart. 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 box for Book with miles to see the corresponding award rates for your flights. However, if you have a United credit card in your wallet (like the United Explorer Card ) or have earned United elite status, you’ll want to login before searching, since cardholders and elite status members gain access to additional award inventory on United-operated flights.

United is still in the process of rolling out the full Polaris product on its long-haul fleet, so be aware that for the time being, any business class award on United-operated flights can vary in terms of the on board 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.

Where United really shines is in their ability to book partner award tickets. Here’s United’s current list of Star Alliance airline partners:

  • ADRIA Airways
  • 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 amount of non-alliance partners too. Here’s the full list:

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

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) 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 actually higher than award flights on United’s own metal. For example, booking Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA) on United metal costs 60,000 MileagePlus miles, while a Lufthansa-operated flight on the same route costs 70,000 miles.

That being said, unless you’re booked in true Polaris business class, the surcharge is generally worth the added miles. 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.

A quick word of caution on last-minute awards

Do note that United assess a $75 close-in booking fee when booking award tickets within 21 days of departure. The fee is reduced to $50 for Premier Silver members and to $25 for Premier Gold members. It’s also waived completely for Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members. The fee is also waived for holders of the United Club Card.

Redeem for merchandise, hotels, or rental cars

(Photo by @isr4el via Twenty20)
(Photo by @isr4el via Twenty20)

Like most airline miles, United MileagePlus miles can be redeemed 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 per piece.

To put these redemptions into perspective, I quoted a one-night hotel stay at the Park Hyatt Chicago using United’s hotel booking portal. One night in March costs $269 when booked through Hyatt’s website, or you could redeem 39,560 MileagePlus miles. This is a value of 0.68 cents per mile, less than half of our value. For this particular stay, you’re far better off booking with cash, using Hyatt points (25,000 points) or covering your purchase with miles from a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Bottom Line

As you can see, 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 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.

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