The Ultimate Guide to United Miles: Part 4 – United Award Levels & Fees

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United miles are among the best miles to use for international travel.  That’s because United is part of the Star Alliance (a group of 28 airlines) and you can redeem your United miles not only on United, but ALSO on other Star Alliance airlines such as Lufthansa, Thai Airways, etc.  This series will show you how to earn and use United miles!

United Airlines has a fantastic interactive award chart tool on their website.  You can select your origin and destination to see how many miles your award will cost.

United Award Cost Fees

It’s Very Easy to Use the United Award Chart

The Ultimate Guide To United Miles Index

Types Of Awards

United has different types of awards.  We’ll go over how to book these awards and award routing options in later posts.

1.   Saver Level Awards

Saver awards are regular priced awards, but are capacity controlled.  This means that award seats might not be available during busy travel times, or it could be difficult to book multiple people on the same flights.

United Award Cost Fees

You Can Travel Almost Anywhere On A Saver Level Award

If you are a United Premier Status member, you will have better access to Saver awards in Economy class on United Airlines flights.  If you are a top-tier United Premier Platinum or Premier 1K elite member, you will also have better access to Saver Awards in United Airlines Business class.  Travel Codex has a useful chart that compares United elite benefits to other airlines.

If you don’t have United elite status, MileValue shows how having a United MileagePlus Explorer Card may give you more access to United Airlines economy class availability.  This is not a written benefit, so it may disappear at any time!

If you are flexible (can leave a day early or later, can stay overnight in a hub city, or can split up and take different flights), you might be able to find Saver awards to your destination.

Remember that award seats on Star Alliance partners (say Lufthansa or US Air) or other airline partner are priced at the Saver level.  This means that you can travel on any Star Alliance partner airline, with your United miles, as long as they have low level (saver) awards.

Note that sometimes United will try to trick you into paying more miles (the Standard award rate) for Star Alliance flights.  But you should always book partner airlines (say, Lufthansa) at the Saver level (low level).

United Award Cost Fees

Don’t Let United Trick You Into Paying More Miles for Standard Awards on Partner Airlines (Lufthansa, US Air etc.)

United doesn’t really have access to last seat availability (which is why you pay more miles for a Standard award) for their partner airlines.  They just have access to last seat award availability on their own flights.

2.   Standard Level Awards

Standard level awards  give you the most flexibility, but are only available for United Airlines and Copa Airlines flights.  While they are also capacity controlled, they are much more widely available than Saver awards.  But they also cost a lot more miles (~double)!

United Award Cost Fees

Standard Level Awards Can Only Be Booked On United Airlines And Copa Airlines

If you have United Premier elite status, or have a United Airlines MileagePlus Explorer Card, United Airlines MileagePlus Club card, or other United Airlines credit card (Select card, Access card, Visa Signature or Business Credit Card), you can book any award seat on a United Airlines or Copa Airlines flight at the Standard level – even if it’s the last seat available on the flight!

You also get access to the last seat (though for ~double the regular amount of miles) if you have the old Continental OnePass Plus, Presidential Plus, Visa Signature or Business Credit Card.

However, Standard level awards often require many more miles than Saver level awards, often times about double the cost of a Saver award!  For example, it costs 55,000 miles for a 1-way Standard level coach class seat to Europe, compared to only 30,000 miles if you book a Saver level seat.

TIP:  Before booking a Standard level award, check for Saver level availability for the next highest class of service, such as in Business or First class.

For example, before spending 55,000 miles for a 1-way Standard level coach class seat to Europe, check if there are Saver (regular) awards for 50,000 miles for a 1-way to Europe in business class.

Sometimes a Saver (low level award) business class seat will cost the same (or fewer) amount of miles than a Standard (high level award) Economy class seat on the same flight!

However, Standard level awards are only for flights on United Airlines or Copa Airlines. 

You can’t book Star Alliance partners or other partners (say United) at the Standard rate because United really doesn’t have access to extra seats on those airlines.

3.   United Itineraries Of 700 Miles Or Fewer Each Way In North America

It usually costs 12,500 miles for a 1-way award or 25,000 miles for a round-trip award within the US (excluding Hawaii), Alaska or Canada.

These are reduced price awards if your origin and destination are 700 miles or fewer apart.  You can only book these awards on United Airlines and United Express flights in economy class.

United Award Cost Fees

Itineraries Of 700 Miles Or Less Only Cost 10,000 Miles One-Way (Saver Award)

Instead of paying 12,500 United Airlines miles each way for a domestic 1-way economy class ticket, you’d only pay 10,000 United Airlines miles each way.  You’d save 2,500 miles for a 1-way award and 5,000 miles roundtrip!

These awards are only available in coach and not in business class or first class.

This can be a good option for short flights that are otherwise expensive.  You can book these flights on United.com and it will automatically

The 700-mile rule only applies to the non-stop distance between your origin and destination, and does not take into account the routing you may need to take.  This means that you can connect in a different city and it won’t matter how far apart the connecting cities are or that you have a flight with connections!

For example, Detroit and Atlanta are 594 miles apart (and 594 is less than 700!).  But there isn’t a non-stop flight on United from Detroit to Atlanta.

You could book a United flight from Detroit to Washington, and connect to another United flight from Washington to Atlanta.  This route (from Detroit to Washington & Washington to Atlanta) is 917 flown miles.

United Award Cost Fees

Only 10,000 Miles for a 1-Way Within North America if you Fly Less Than 700 Miles!

Even though you have to make a connection, it only costs you 10,000 United Airlines miles because the distance between the origin city (Detroit) and destination city (Atlanta) is fewer than 700 miles!

United Award Cost Fees

You Can Book A 10,000 Mile Saver Award If The Distance Between Your Origin City And Destination Is Fewer Than 700 Miles

(Map image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper)

You can check the distance between two cities by using the Great Circle Mapper.

4.   Intra- Hawaii Flights

It costs 5,000 United miles for a 1-way award within Hawaii (from one island to another) on partner airlines Hawaiian Air and Island Air.  You can book these fights quite easily on United.com.

5.   Round-the-World Awards

United Airlines offers Round-the-World awards for the following prices:

  • 180,000 miles in Economy Class
  • 260,000 miles in Business Class
  • 350,000 miles in First Class

However, these are generally expensive and difficult awards to redeem, because there are a lot of rules.

You may also get to see as many destinations with fewer United miles if you booked regular awards and took advantage of United’s generous stopover (stop in a city on the way to your destination) and open-jaw policy (fly into one city and fly back from another).  We’ll talk about these in future posts.

Fees

United publishes a table and chart of fees for award tickets.  You may be able to get certain fees waived if you have United elite status or the United Club credit card.

United Award Cost Fees

You Can See How Much United Charges To Book Award Seats

1.   Telephone Booking Fee

You will pay $25 to book an award seat on United if you callThe fee is waived when miles are redeemed from a United Global Services, Premier 1K, or Premier Platinum elite status customer’s account.

Booking online through United.com is free, but you may have to call United if you are stringing together a complex itinerary or if United.com doesn’t want to book your flights!

TIP:   If you can’t book a particular ticket through the website, you can politely ask the telephone agent to waive the telephone booking fee by explaining that the website was not functioning.  It never hurts to ask!

Even if the agent doesn’t waive the fee, you usually have saved a lot of money by using your miles to book a flight.

2.   Close-in Ticketing Fee

You will also pay $75 if you book an award within 21 days of departure.  The fee is for tickets booked online and over the phone.  The fee is reduced to $50 for United Premier Silver members, $25 for Premier Gold members, and is waived for Global Services, Premier 1K, and Premier Platinum elite members.  The fee is waived for United Club Credit Card ($395 annual fee) cardholders.

3.   Cancellation/Redeposit Fee

You won’t pay to cancel an award seat, but you will pay $200 for each ticket to redeposit miles back into your account.  The fee is reduced to $125 for Premier Silver members, $100 for Premier Gold members, and waived for Global Services, Premier 1K, and Premier Platinum elite members.

4.   Origin/Destination Change At Any Time

If you change the origin or destination on your award ticket, you’ll pay $100.  So, if you book a ticket to Paris, but then decide you want to fly to Rome, you’ll pay $100 per ticket.

The fee is reduced to $50 for United Premier Silver members, $25 for Premier Gold members, and waived for Global Services, Premier 1K, and Premier Platinum elite members.

5.   Making A Change 21 Days Or More Before Departure

If you change the class of service, award type (for example, Saver to Standard level), airline, date, or time, you’ll pay $75.

The fee is waived for all United Premier members, including Silver, Gold, Platinum, Premier 1K, and Global Services elite members.

6.   Making A Change Within 21 Days Of Departure 

United also charges $100 if you change the class of service, award type, carrier, date, or time of flight within 21 days of departure.  The fee is reduced to $50 for United Premier Silver members, $25 for Premier Gold members, and waived for Global Services, Premier 1K, and Premier Platinum elite members.

If a family member has elite status with United, it is a good idea to book tickets that you might have to change using miles from their account!  You’ll pay reduced or no fees for changes when booking award seats from an elite member’s account!

Fees are calculated based on the Premier (elite) status of the member whose miles were used for the trip, not for the member whose name is on the ticket.

If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points and your partner has United elite status, it is a good idea to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to their United mileage account (for free) to take advantage of their benefits and the lower fees charged.   Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United instantly, though in some cases it could take up to 2 days.

In my experience, you’ll pay multiple changes fees.  So if you are more than 21 days from departure and change your award from United Economy Class to Lufthansa Business Class, you would pay $75 for changing the airline and another $75 for changing the class of service, for a total of $150 per ticket.

Some agents might only charge 1 change fee if you make multiple changes at once.  But your miles may vary (YMMV).

7.   Taxes And Fees 

You’ll pay taxes and fees for each award – $2.50 for each flight within the US plus airport taxes for international destinations.  Some destinations, like London, have high airport taxes.

United does not charge fuel surcharges on flights so you won’t pay extra fuel surcharge fees when you use your United miles.

Bottom Line

You can redeem miles for Saver (low level) awards on United and their partner airlines.  But you can only book Standard (high level) awards on United and Copa Airlines.

You’ll pay fees to book award tickets if you call, book last minute, cancel or make changes to your ticket.  United Elite status members pay less for making changes.

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35 responses to “The Ultimate Guide to United Miles: Part 4 – United Award Levels & Fees

  1. In my experience, I have never been charged for:
    5. Making A Change 21 Days Or More Before Departure Fee,
    especially for changing date/time/routing (i.e. airlines).

    Has anything changed recently?

  2. For trips less then 700 miles I would check to see if you have BA or AA routes. It would be cheaper to transfer UR to BA avios miles for short trip. Much lower then united. 4500 one way.

  3. Jeff, when was the last time you made such change? United recently changed the fee table for that one.

    MMS, it seems awfully disingenuous to claim that United is trying to “trick” somebody into paying more miles.

  4. I do love how easy and straight forward booking with United with miles is. I booked 3 first class tickets to Hawaii from Washington DC for my family’s trip and 3 Inter-island flights on Hawaiian Airlines through United for just 5000 per person per flight. It costs 7500 Hwaiian Miles to book the same flight through Hawaiian Air. There are less flight options when booking hawaiian air through united.com but I saved 22.5k miles by booking through United. The really bad part is that on Hawaiian flights booked through United, you cannot reserve your seat. Only at the check in. A big inconvenience not knowing how you’ll be seated when flying with a 6 yr old.

  5. I was hoping to go to London with my wife and Kids. I need six tickets. I am wondering where to start. British air with higher fuel fees but more availability and also with two cards two companion passes so essentially 400k in points….. Or. American with no fuel fees only 240k miles but limited availability. I could be way off base because I am new at this whole game….. Do you have any words of advice?

    • @Bob – Awards for partner airlines should only be available at the Saver level. I can’t think of any reason United would also have an option for you to pay more miles (a Standard award) for those same awards.

      @Will – If you are traveling in business or first class, it could be worth it to pay the surcharges on British Airways and get 6 seats on the same flight. You could also ask an award booking service if they can find flights for you.

  6. will i save the 75 dollar close in fee if my friend who has the club card books my ticket through his account?

  7. Arlington Traveler

    Thanks for the great summary. Just a small correction/clarification. You can book a Standard award on a itinerary which involves both United/United express flights and other partner flights. In this case, standard awards are available because seats are available on partner flights, but not United/United Express flights at the Saver level.

  8. I have a returning flight from TYO through YYZ to LGA on January 1, 2014. Since we have to add another flight for our daughter we may need to change ours for the following one: TYO-YYC-EWR. Therefore, will United treat it a change in destination and thus charge us the fee? In my opinion there shouldn’t be any since it is still NYC.

  9. Hey Darius,

    I like to travel business saver award which I think gives me the most value for my united points.

    I had a follow up question on using award miles to upgrade if I am traveling internationally to India.

    is cheaper to book a award business ticket outright or book restricted economy ticket and use award miles to upgrade to business, think its 35000 miles. Does united charge a fee for upgrade on united operated flights too ?

    Thanks a lot Raj

  10. Just a note to South Asia bound folks, the United online booking system does not provide complete award availability when crossing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on the same trip. For example, for my reservation from LAX to DEL through Europe with a stopover at YYZ and returning through Asia, their search engine did not show the Asiana flights for coming back. But I could see their availability when trying to book one way award from DEL to LAX. So, I had to call United for booking from LAX to YYZ, from YYZ to DEL through IST on Turkish Airline (after a brief stay at YYZ), and return from DEL to LAX through ICN on Asiana. The agent was able to understand that I had done my due diligence, had the entire itinerary complete with flight numbers and airport codes mapped out, and offered to waive the $25 booking fee.

  11. @Robert, yes, they will trade it as a change in destination. No co-terminals on award tickets. You could always call in and try to get lucky, but by-the-book, it is not the same destination.

  12. @MMS: Have you considered starting an award booking service? I will be you first client! 😉 … thank you for the informative post!

  13. I need clarification on the Saver Level Awards on Star Alliance partners.

    The post says that award seats on Star Alliance partners are priced at the Saver level.
    It appears based on searching award flights on United.com, that there are instances where there are Standard Level awards for Star Alliance partner flights but no Saver Level awards.

    Was your comment simply saying not to pay the Standard Level award if the Saver Level award is available?
    Or are Star Alliance partner awards always Saver Level?

    Thanks.

  14. I booked a flight for LAX to Haneda, Japan and coming back from Nagoya, Japan to LAX for summer 2014 with united miles. Due to the united website didn’t let me chose multiple destination, I booked two one way ticket. Then. I found out about the information of the open-jaw ticket on your site! Can I change my award ticket from two one way ticket to one round trip ticket? That way, I can use one way ticket to go somewhere else…right? Since my trip starts from June2014, I have more than 21days to make a change. Do you think united will charge any fee?

  15. You can also get a flight for 10k miles, if you flight to and from a central american/caribbean country and Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, throu Copa, Avianca or Taca, so with 20k you can find a rountrip from Domininican Republic to Mexico, for example…..

  16. I have a Amex Platinum card and am allowed up to a $200 to use to change an airline ticket. Can I use that $200 towards changing an Award ticket and/or re-depositing an Award ticket if I cancel a trip?

  17. I just booked two-one way first class saver award tickets at 67,500 miles from San Francisco to Athens. First Class on United from SFO to FRA and Business on Lufthansa from FRA to ATH. I now want to work on getting better times for both of us in the same class. There seems to be only one award at the saver level for first class on the flight time we would like. Note that this offer was available for 1 person only for most of last week and then it disappeared completely over the weekend. Now it is back up again, but only for 1 person as before. This made me wonder if one person took the available award and then perhaps the airline opened up another award a few days later. Does anyone know if United has shown a pattern in the past of rolling out the awards one by one? If so I could change one of our flights now, then watch and hope a second award opens. The worst case is that we would get to our destination 12 hours apart. The other flight time I am trying to get on is very important to us for several reasons I won’t bore you with but if anyone thinks it may be worth a gamble based on what you know about the system, it would be greatly appreciated.

    • @david – That should work, but I don’t have personal experience.

      @Arlington Traveler – That’s true, but the screenshot above was of a Lufthansa operated non-stop flight and United was offering you both standard and saver mile availability.

      @Robert – They’ll try to charge the fee!

      @Raj – It is usually cheaper to use miles for an award seat than to pay for a restricted coach ticket.

      @Ram – Good point. It always helps to search segment by segment too see all the options.

      @Kalboz – I don’t plan on starting one since I don’t have the time to do it well.

      @govtmule – Statr Alliance partners should always be at the Saver level. So don’t pay the standard amount of miles (double) unless it is connecting to a United flight (at the standard level) and you have to be on that United flight.

      @nobuko – The 2 1-way awards should cost the same as the roundtrip, so it is a wash. You will be charged a fee for canceling and rebooking.

      @I.CASTILLO @PS – Thanks!

      @Billy D – It may work.

      @ JROBERTO – The system could be programmed to release an additional seat after one is booked, but I can’t say for sure since it varies by airline, route, load factor etc.

  18. this article fails to talk about using miles for upgrades… I still can’t find anything on this site about using miles for upgrades. With the most recent United devaluation you’d think people would be more interested in using miles for upgrades rather than free tickets since the upgrades were barely changed.

  19. I have 25k miles on my United account and I am trying to book a one way flight from YUL to ORD for a 6am flight. Everything I find is coming up as 25k miles PER ticket. Is there anyway to get that time on a partner airline for 25k total for both of us?

    • @Marty – Using miles for upgrades is usually a poor value because you may have to buy a higher priced ticket and also pay a cash co-pay in addition to using your miles.

      @Rob – It could be that there are no low-level awards available. United.com also pulls in flights from most partners, so you should be able to see all the options online.

  20. WorldTraveler

    Hi there!

    I’m trying to figure out how to get the flight options from IAD to Mauritius but I’m not seeing anything pop up? I know South African Airlines goes there, how do i go about using miles with them?

    Thanks!

  21. Right now I have a very complicated award booked (6 stops in oneway!) from BOG to NRT. Of course there is a more direct routing on united metal, which would save my brother about 24 hours of travel, an a lot of layovers, and is available (and it shows that it can be booked for at least 8 passengers) as a Standard Level Award but not at al as Saver Level Award. The trip is in mid-August and I am hoping a few weeks before the trip it will become available as a saver level. Any idea how likely this is? do you have a guess of when these awards might open up?

  22. oh! that was poorly written on my part! I just need one! I just checked how many were available in the standard level to estimate if there is any hopes for last minute availability. In your experience, how many days before the flight does United open last minute seats? thanks a lot for your help! and BTW, your blog has been sooo useful!

  23. @millionmilesecrets
    in your opinion, any point in attaining UA status if only flying on award tix (no revenue flights), aside from the reduced award fees?
    thanks

  24. I want to book a mileage plus saver oneway to London from San Antonio and they just don’t exist on any of the the dates I need but they do from IAD or DFW and many other major hubs. Can I call and hope they can add the first segment from SAT for no additional miles if I use a milesplus saver flight out or am I just going to have to cough up another 10000 miles for each ticket? I would use SWA points but as you know they both go to different airports in those cities. What do the experts do?

  25. When you check in 24hrs prior to flight if you are gold or higher status can you change your flight without any change fee as usual for domestic flights (even if booked with miles) or is it the $25 as stated above?

  26. I just moved my flights (multiple passengers on each leg) to later dates (same origin/destination) exactly 21 days out (from the first of the legs) online and I was not charged a single penny. I am a regular MP member and had booked all flights using miles (Saver Awards). I was expecting to be docked $75 per leg per person ($675 total) so I am a relieved man right now.

  27. All of the United award miles quantities needed for flights listed on this page, are wrong, they have gone up.
    Copa airlines is still a Star Alliance partner, but they are NOT part of United since July of 2015 as they have their own miles award program now ConnectMiles
    https://connectmiles.copaair.com/en/copalogin