The Ultimate Guide to United Miles: Part 3 – Understanding The United Award Chart

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United has 2 award charts for redeeming miles and 2 awards charts for upgrades.

The Ultimate Guide to United Miles Index

1.   United Airlines Travel Award Chart

This award chart (page 2) is for travel only on United Airlines and COPA Airlines.

United Award Chart

Saver and Standard Award Chart for United & Copa flights.

Each box represents the one-way price in miles for a trip within or between two regions.  You can book these awards online at  If you book online, you do not have to pay the $25 telephone ticketing fee.

However, the site isn’t perfect, and you may not be able to book some flights online.  If this happens, you have to call in and perhaps pay the $25 telephone ticketing fee.

2.   Star Alliance Travel Award Chart

This award chart (page 3) lets you combine travel on:

a)   United Airlines

United Award Chart

Star Alliance Partner Award Chart

b)    Star Alliance partner airlines, including:

c)   Other partners, including:

In general, the Star Alliance and Other Partners chart costs the SAME price as the Saver level (low-level awards) on the United Airlines chart.

You can book most airline partners online for no booking fee.  However, you may have to phone United to book on some partners, which costs $25.

The ability to combine flights on United planes as well as on Star Alliance flights is what makes United miles so useful!


1.   Upgrades on United Airlines and Copa Airlines

This upgrade chart (pages 4 & 5) shows the amount of miles and cash co-pay required to upgrade a paid booking on United Airlines or Copa Airlines.

United Award Chart

Upgrade Chart for United and Copa flights

NOTE: You can only use this chart to upgrade a paid booking; you CANNOT use miles to upgrade a ticket for which you redeemed miles.

However, you can pay the difference in miles between classes of service (say, between business or first class) to upgrade a mileage ticket.

Upgrading a paid ticket only works for the next class of service, so you can upgrade from economy to business class, or business class to first class, but you cannot upgrade from economy class to first class.

The exception is on domestic flights which only have 2 classes of service – on those flights, you can upgrade from economy class to first class!

Generally, I do not like to use miles to upgrade because it costs a lot of miles and money to upgrade from the cheapest economy class tickets.

For example, if I buy the cheapest 1-way fare from the US to Europe, I would have to pay 20,000 United miles + $550 to upgrade my seat to business class!

The total cost of getting a business class seat through upgrading would cost:

  • $600 (cost of cheapest discount economy class 1-way ticket)
  • $550 (cash upgrade co-pay)
  • $200 (20,000 United miles conservatively valued @ 1 cent each)

This adds up to $1,350!

Instead, it costs only 50,000 United Airline miles to book a 1-way business class seat from the US to Europe.

I’d rather spend 50,000 United miles than $1,350.

However, you may be interested in upgrading your paid ticket if your company buys you economy class tickets, or if you are interested in acquiring elite status.

Also, if you hold Premier status (elite status) on United Airlines, you may be exempt from co-pays on certain domestic and North American routes.

2.   Upgrades on Star Alliance partner airlines

This chart (page 6) lists the amount of miles and co-pay required to upgrade flights on Star Alliance partner airlines.

United Award Chart

Upgrade chart for Star Alliance partners.

However, these upgrades require you to buy full-fare business or economy class tickets which can cost thousands of dollars more than discount fares.

This is not a good value unless your company or organization purchases full fare tickets that you wish to upgrade.

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39 responses to “The Ultimate Guide to United Miles: Part 3 – Understanding The United Award Chart

  1. Pretty sure it is 20,000 points one-way for the upgrade TATL, not 4,000. Also you skipped the part where *A awards are per segment rather than per direction, making them an even worse value.

    And valuing the UA points at a penny each is pretty low. Their flexible routing rules and *A membership make them quite valuable, so long as you understand the way the program works.

    Oh, and domestic Y->F upgrades are still only a single cabin; hardly an exciting development.

  2. Quick question:

    If I book a mixed cabin business flight on United and it turns out that the leg I was scheduled to fly in economy has an open business seat, can I upgrade for free or is there another procedure?

  3. Hi Darius, besides, what your favorite website to check Star Alliance seat availability? I see TPG recommends ANA in yesterday’s post ( Agree or have a better choice?

  4. My experience is that United is by far the best for tickets to SE Asia. Economy to Bali for 65k round trip is an unbelievable deal, they have great partners (Singapore, Lufthansa, Thai) and if you are patient/flexible you can find availability. I’ve had good luck with their customer service, they just switched 5 tickets to a better itinerary b/c of a visa issue for 1 passenger. Although there was no Saver availability shown they honored the original Saver miles. Contrast with Delta who never has saver availability and whose Asian partners Korean Air and China Airlines block out the entire summer for rewards.

  5. “In general, the Star Alliance and Other Partners chart costs the SAME price as the Saver level (low-level awards) on the United Airlines chart”

    So any availability on Partner airlines automatically shows the Saver rate (on the United website? So in general, there will most likely be more availability/flexibility when not flying united metal ?

  6. Very helpful information. One doubt though. If I have to book singapore airlines using United miles, will the united website show me the availability or I need to search on the singapore airlines website? how can I make sure to see the availability on the united website if possible?

    • @Wandering Aramean – It is 20,000 miles for the upgrade in the post. The calculation had 4,000 instead of 20,000 but that is fixed now. I’m curious what price you value United miles?

      @Ari – We’ll get to fees in a separate post, but you’d likely have to pay the United change fee for the change from coach to business, though you could get a sympathetic agent to waive the fees.

      @Frugal Man – I like the ANA website as well, but the United website is pretty good as well.

      @Chris – I agree. Using Star Alliance partners opens up a lot of options.

      @Avi – You should only pay the low-level rate for Star Alliance partner airlines. If you pay double the miles, you’d get access to the last seat on United flights if you’re a Premier elite member or have a United credit card.

  7. United allows you to book one-way rewards tickets but when I called USAIR and tried to use my USAIR miles to book a one-way domestic reward ticket on United they would not allow me to do so. They told me I had to book a round-trip ticket. Is that correct?

  8. Billy, the mileage program sets the rules you have to follow, so you need to use US’ rules to book tickets with their miles. This post is about using United miles. US only allows round trip awards – or more properly, will charge you round trip price for either a round trip or one way.

  9. Hey Darius, I just had a question regarding my 32 Airtran credits I just received. I know that once the Airtran/Southwest merger is complete, the Airtran card will go away, but how will that affect my Airtran credits? I want to eventually transfer them to SW, but my thought is that maybe if I wait until they are closing out the A+ rewards program, maybe they will offer a higher transfer ratio to get customers to transfer over. Small chance, probably, but do you have any advice on that?

  10. Hi. I have ~50K american express points from the Amex Gold Card boIt does not allow me to transfer to United but the only Star Alliance partner it allows me to transfer is ANA. If I have those ANA miles, can I still use those like I would use United Miles, for domestic(within USA) or international travel(India)? OR is there a better option to use those Amex Points. I am open to use it for miles or otherwise, whichever is best bang for buck.

  11. how do I access partner airlines for mileage plus award tickets other than the ones suggested via the United site? Trying to check into Turkish to Luxembourg from Chicago.


  12. I don’t get why Wandering Aramean always shows up in other bloggers’ comment sections and spews hate all across the board. I see him everywhere with passive-aggressive comments.

    • @Ian Thomas – I doubt they would ever offer a higher transfer ratio to get you to transfer the credits. They would prefer that you didn’t transfer the credits, instead!

      @Vaibhav – See this series on using AMEX points.

      @Donna C – Just search for the flight on the United website segment-by-segment.

  13. I was able to sell the 50,000 United MileagePlus Miles I received from the signup bonus to rewards2cash for $575.00

    The company has positive reviews on yelp, facebook, and slickdeals

  14. how do i convert miles to cash or restaurant vouchers if i have points in aa, us air, united and south west?

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  18. Hi Darius,
    If I bought an economy ticket for an International trip, and used miles to upgrade to business, will I still get miles for flying? or would it count as an “Award” ticket where we don’t get any miles?
    Thanks 🙂

  19. I forgot to mention: the question is for “Status gaining” purposes!

  20. I am trying to book 2 award tickets with multiple destinations, I check the one way award savers first from each location and copy the flight numbers and times.
    ie. roc-san, san-hnl, hnl-roc =60k ( one leg is first class)
    But when I put it all together I don’t see the saver award for one of the legs. ie san-hnl
    So do I need to call in to get this done correctly?

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  23. Thanks Darius..

    I have a follow up question:
    If I book a ticket today (to fly in January 2014) and use the “Premier accelerator” today to get extra miles towards status, would the premier miles count towards 2013 or 2014?

    I ask this because a united premier agent told me: “as long as the trip is in 2014 the premier miles count towards status in 2014”..

    I was not sure she was correct because the miles post right away on my account once I buy them.. What do u think?

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  27. Question: I have Premium Platinum status now (2013) and I jsut barely made it to Silver Elite and moving my way up litttle by little to GOLD. How can I get to Premier Platinum level in the next month? how do I find out what itinerary gives me be most miles?


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