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.
The Ultimate Guide To United Miles Index
- Part 1 – Earning Lots Of United Miles
- Part 2 – Introduction To United Miles
- Part 3 – Understanding The United Award Chart
- Part 4 – United Award Costs/Fees
- Part 5 - Using The United Website To Book Awards
- Part 6 – Stopovers, Open Jaws And Free One Ways
- Part 7 - Using The ANA Website To Find Star Alliance Award Seats
- Part 8 – All The Ways To Get To Europe!
- Part 9 – The Best Tip For Searching On United.com
- Part 10 – All The Ways To Get To Japan, North Asia & South Asia
- Part 11 – All The Ways To Get To Australia, New Zealand, & Oceania!
- Part 12 – All The Ways To Get To The Caribbean, Central & South America
- Part 13 – All The Ways To Get To India
- Part 14 – North America United Awards (Including Canada And Hawaii)
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.
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. HackMyTrip 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 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)!
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.
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.
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!
(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
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.
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.
1. Telephone Booking Fee
You will pay $25 to book an award seat on United if you call. The 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
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.
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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PS: I’m driving for most of the day, so I won’t be able to get to the comments quickly.