The Ultimate Guide to United Miles: Part 5 – Using The United Website To Book Awards

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Booking award travel with United Airlines miles through the United.com website is very easy.

The United website is able to handle most bookings.  However, there are certain bookings which the website can’t book, so you might have to call United at 1-800-864-8331.  There is a $25 fee for calling to make a reservation, but it is worth it to get the flights you want!

The Ultimate Guide To United Miles Index

General Tips For Booking Awards

1.   Book Early Or Book Close To Departure

Airlines usually open up their schedules ~330 days in advance.  If you know your schedule ahead of time, it’s best to begin searching for award seats when flights are first put into the system.  That said, lately airlines are not putting as many seats for awards right when the schedule opens.

However, airlines tend to restrict award seats when they know (or think) that people are willing to pay for those seats.  That is why it’s tough to find award seats during peak travel times!

When it is close to departure, some airlines add award seat availability so that seats don’t fly empty.  If you’re brave enough to wait until the last minute, you’ll likely find lots of options!  That said, I wouldn’t expect to find lots of seats during peak travel times when planes fly full such as during Spring Break.

2.   Be Flexible

You may have to leave a day earlier or later than you’d like.  Or, if you are a family of 4, you may have to split up your family while traveling (either on separate flights or in separate classes of service).

You may also want to be flexible on your destination based on award availability.  For example, if you want to go to Paris, you may be able to find award availability to Brussels, which is a short train ride from Paris.

3.   Consider Saver Awards in Business or First Class

If you are looking for economy class seats, you may not find Saver level awards available.

Instead of splurging for a Standard level economy class award, look for availability in Business or First class at the Saver level, which may be the same price or cheaper.

4.   Search One Segment At A Time

Don’t trust the United website to find you award seats for your entire trip – especially if it is an international trip with a lot of segments!

Computers are only as smart as the people who program them!  Search for each segment separately so that you know what flights are available and which ones aren’t.  Computers are NOT programmed with EVERY possible flight combination.

5.   Search One Seat At A Time

If you are looking for multiple seats, try looking for one seat at a time to see what is available.

Then search those same flights for additional seats and search in a different class of service.  That way, you get a sense of how many award seats in each class are available per flight and can mix and match if you and your family want to get on the same flights.

6.   Be Patient

Searching for award tickets can sometimes get tedious, so don’t pull your hair out over it!

7.   Be Polite

If you need to call and talk to reservation agent to ticket your award, don’t get upset at them.

Reservation agents (and people in general!) like to help others who are kind to them!

8.   Consider An Award Booking Service

If you can’t find what you’re looking for consider using an Award Booking Service.  These expert services can cost $99+ per ticket, but it can be worth it to get the trip that you want!

United Award Travel

Here are general trips on how to book United award travel on United.com

Step 1 – Sign In To United.com

Go to United and enter your MileagePlus number and password in the “MileagePlus Sign In box”.

If you are a United Premier elite status holder or a Chase United credit card holder, you may get extra award availability on United Airlines flights.

Step 2 –  Search For a One-Way Flight With Your Departure City And Destination

Let’s say you want to go from Los Angeles to Paris in September using your United miles.  This will cost 30,000 United miles in coach or 50,000 United miles in business class for Saver (low-level) awards.

You would:

  • Select “One-Way”
  • Type in Los Angeles” and Paris into the “From” and “To” boxes
  • Select “My Dates are Flexible” to get a better view of what’s available
  • Select “Award Travel” (important)
  • Then click “Search.
United Award Travel

Step 2 – Do A One-Way Search

Step 3 – United Will Display A Calendar With Different Award Availability

Dates with Saver (low-level) Economy class availability are highlighted in yellow.

Dates with Saver (low-level) First and/or Business class availability are highlighted in blue.

Dates with both Saver Economy and Saver First/Business class availability are highlighted in green.

Dates without Saver (double priced awards) availability are kept white.

However, it is a good idea to click on a date even if it is white because there may be Saver availability (even though the website thinks there isn’t!).

United shows 4 dates with Saver Economy class availability and 1 date with Saver First Class availability in our search for flights from Los Angeles to Paris in September.

Saver Economy (highlighted in yellow):

  • September 11
  • September 18
  • September 19
  • September 30

There is Saver First/Business (highlighted in green) availability on September 30

Let’s see what is available on September 18.

United Award Travel

Step 3 – Select A Date To See What Awards Are Available

When United shows available awards, it does so in this order:

  • Non-stop flights (on United and partners)
  • Flights on United with stops
  • Flights on partner airlines (say Lufthansa) with stops

Make sure you scroll all the way down to see all available options!

Saver level awards are displayed with Blue buttons, while Standard level awards are displayed with Yellow buttons.

United does a fairly good job of displaying all available options for a particular itinerary on one page!

In this case, United found a flight from Los Angeles to Paris on its Star Alliance partner, Air Canada, with a connection in Montreal.

United Award Travel

There Is A Saver Level Economy Seat Available From Los Angeles To Paris

Step 4 – Search With New Cities To Find Other Options

But you wanted to go to Paris earlier in the month than what the search engine showed you.

If you’re flying from Los Angeles (on the US west coast), let’s see what options are available from Newark (a big city on the east coast).  Don’t worry – You can always find a domestic flight from Los Angeles to Newark later on.

Click on “Start New Search,” which will take you to a form to enter a new departure city.

United Award Travel

Click on “Start New Search” To Look For Other Options

You decide to try a different departure city, say Newark.

United Award Travel

Select A Different City To Search From

You find much more availability in September for flights from Newark to Paris! So you pick flights on September 10.

United Award Travel

There Are More Award Seats From Newark To Paris!

Scrolling through the options, you find a flight on Lufthansa to Paris with a connection in Dusseldorf.

Great!  You’ve found a way to Paris!  And at the low Saver price.

United Award Travel

A Saver Economy Seat Is Available On Lufthansa

But you have to get from Los Angeles to Newark to catch the 4:25 pm flight to Dusseldorf!

Take a screenshot or write down the Newark to Paris flight information (flight number, departure time, airline) and  then do a NEW search for Los Angeles to Newark on September 10.

You’re now trying to see if you can get from Los Angeles to Newark, because you’ve found a way from Newark to Paris!

United Award Travel

Do A One-Way Search From Los Angeles to Newark

You find lots of award seats from Los Angeles to Newark on September 10!  One option is an early morning flight on September 10 that arrives in Newark 2 hours before the international flight!

United Award Travel

You Find An Award Seat From Los Angeles To Newark Arriving 2 Hours Before Your International Flight

Or you can arrive in Newark the day before on September 9.

Your connection in Newark is under 24 hours, so it won’t count as a stopover, because you are allowed connections up to 24 hours on international itineraries!

You decide to fly a day early to meet up with friends in Newark and New York City!

Since the Newark to Dusseldorf flight leaves Newark at 4:25 pm on Tuesday September 10,  you have to arrive in Newark to make the flight connection anytime after 4:25 pm on Monday September 9.  

That’s because if your connection is under 24 hours, it doesn’t count as a stopover.

Searching on September 9, you find many flights arrive in Newark after 4:25 pm on September 9.  This means that you can hang out in Newark with your friends on September 9.

United Award Travel

You Find Lots Of Flights From Los Angeles to Newark That Allow An Overnight Connection

Step 5 – Search By Segments

Now you go to the United.com homepage, under the “Flight” tab, click on “Multiple Destinations.

United Award Travel

Click on “Multiple Destinations” To Search By Segments

Enter the cities, dates, and flights that you found earlier.  So you would enter:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Newark (EWR) on September 9, 2013
  • Newark (EWR) to Dusseldorf (DUS) on September 10, 2013
  • Dusseldorf (DUS) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) on September 11, 2013

If you need to add more segments, you can click “Add Another Flight To Your Trip.”

United Award Travel

Then You Enter Each Flight Segment And Dates

You will see all the flights available for the first set of flights, Los Angeles to Newark.  Click “select” for the flights you’d like to book.

Note: While the website will not explicitly state the number of miles or taxes required when booking a multi-city award, it will calculate the award cost at the end.

United Award Travel

Select The First Flight From Los Angeles To Newark.

After clicking “Select” for the flight you’d like, you’ll see what’s available for the second flight, Newark to Dusseldorf.

United Award Travel

Select Your Newark To Dusseldorf Flight

Finally, you can “Select” the last flight, Dusseldorf to Paris.

United Award Travel

You Choose Your Dusseldorf To Paris Flight

After you select the last flight, United should display a final screen with the price of the award.

30,000 United miles and ~$18 for this flight.  That’s a good deal to me!

United Award Travel

Success! 30,000 Miles One-Way From The USA To Europe

The 3 Steps to Book an International Award

Notice that in the above example, we found the 3 steps involved in booking an international flight.

Step 1 – Find Award Seats Across The Ocean

In this case, we crossed the Atlantic Ocean from the US to Europe.  So our over-water segment (so called because we’re crossing the ocean) is from  Newark to Dusseldorf.

Step 2 – Find Available Seats From Your Hometown To The International Gateway

This was Los Angeles to Newark.  But it could be from anywhere in the US (say, Chicago).

Step 3 – Find Award Seats From The International Gateway To Your Final Destination

This was from Dusseldorf to Paris.

Search Segment-By-Segment To Add a Stopover And Free One-Way!

Note:  This is a more advanced technique.   The only way to really understand this is to make similar bookings online at United and see how much the awards cost for yourself.

You can use these methods to search for a trip with free one-ways.  We will cover stopovers and open-jaws in the next post.

Let’s say you want to fly roundtrip from Newark to Paris.  You can have a stopover (meaning you break your journey and stay in Newark), then add a “free” one-way to Hawaii for only a few extra miles and a few dollars in taxes.

You can use the steps we outlined above to search for flights then use the directions in Step 5 – Search By Segments to put it all together:

United Award Travel

You Can Add A Free Stopover In Hawaii To Your Newark To Paris Flight

You can select the flights you’d like, and United will automatically price your itinerary with a free one-way.

United Award Travel

You Can Fly From The USA To Europe Then To Hawaii For 62,500 Miles

Potential Problems

Sometimes, the United.com website can’t handle our sneaky crafty techniques of forcing a certain award to show up.  In this case, you will see an error message like this:

United Award Travel

Error Message Displayed When United Can’t Find Award Flights

If you continue to see this error, you may not be within the rules of award travel for United.  You can call 1-800-864-8331 to book your award over the phone.  You will be charged a $25 phone booking fee, but it can be worth it to get the flights you want.

Of course, you could always kindly ask your agent to waive the fee since the website would not price your ticket.  However, don’t push it if they resist – you’re already ahead!

Bottom Line

You can book most award seats on the United website.  Don’t give up if you can’t find the award seats you want, instead try searching for each flight individually.

If you can’t find award seats you could use an Award Booking service or call United.  Or you can hire an award booking service because it may be worth paying someone else to do the work for you.

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61 responses to “The Ultimate Guide to United Miles: Part 5 – Using The United Website To Book Awards

  1. Another helpful step is to change the resulted amount of flights from default to 50. That is done under advanced search.

  2. If you are booking from two accounts book 2 outbound from one account and 2 inbound from the other account. This keeps you together if flights change and prevents you from HAVING TO PAY A $25 phone fee. Great article MMS!

  3. I’ve now tried 10 different example itineraries and I get the error message on each one

  4. Great step-by-step article for the United newbies, like myself!! 🙂 And great recommendation too JamesS.

  5. United is actually one of the better sites to book on partner airlines for Asia flights even without any tricks. We were able to get award seats from the US to Bali for 65k each round-trip and flew on United, Lufthansa, & Thai airlines. While I know everyone likes to fly business class, a r/t economy ticket to Bali for 65k which you can actually book is great. Try that on Delta which 1) rarely has low-level availability to Asia and 2) website is mostly broken for partner flights, and 3) has partners which block out the entire summer like Korean and China Airlines. So I’ve had good luck with United.

  6. Good idea to fly a day early to meet up with friends, but how will they take care of the luggage for overnight? Do we need to take it out?

  7. I have a ticked booked from India to LAX on Dec-31 in Thai Airways. It’s already booked. can I add a stopover to IAD for summar-2014 on the same ticket? Do i have to call United for it. Will they charge anything extra?

  8. Any idea on how I can get an upgrade for a flight from MUC to NRT with ANA in their new 787 ???

  9. @James S “If you are booking from two accounts book 2 outbound from one account and 2 inbound from the other account. This keeps you together if flights change and prevents you from HAVING TO PAY A $25 phone fee. Great article MMS!”

    Remember that booking one-ways do not qualify for stop overs. That’s a deal breaker for many frequent travelers.

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  24. May I ask whether it is possible to go from Asia via Europe to US? For example, want to go from HK to New York but stopover in prague and then fly back out from Budapest. Does that count as a round trip? I tried multi city search but kept getting error messages.

    • @Mandy – Flying from Hong Kong to the US is a one-way award and you can’t have a stopover on that routing. If you fly from the US to Hong Kong and then back to the US, it is a roundtrip and you could stopover in Europe.

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  26. I booked a business class flight to Europe using a United miles, but the SFO to ORD leg had no business class award seats available. When I tried to reserve an Economy Plus seat, it charged me. First question: Shouldn’t the Economy Plus seat be allowed without a charge since I am ‘paying’ for a business class award? Second question: if in later searches, I see business class award seats on that leg, do you think I’ll be able to change the booking, even if the (already booked) ORD to CDG leg does not appear?

    • Steph – Unfortunately, you can’t get Economy Plus seating for free if you’ve booked a business class award (silly, I know). You should be able to select a business award if they open up, but may have to pay a change fee.

  27. Thanks for the thorough guide on how this all works!

    I’m trying to figure out whether the award travel itinerary over Easter below qualifies for a free one-way in the last leg. It doesn’t show up on ITA Matrix naturally, and United.com is uncooperative with 3+ segment on the multi-destination searches right now!

    NYC/JFK-FRA (transfer)-SKG(stopover)-IST(destination)-MUC or YYZ(transfer)-NYC/JFK or EWR-SFO (1 month later)

    Does this work??

  28. I have experience with booking mileage awards but after reading your post I wondered if there is a way to book when it is routed through a partner connection. I cannot find any UAL or partner seats SFO-CDG for 30,000 but when searching one way flights there are available seats on partner SFO-YUL and then YUL-connect FRA-CDG (42,500). On the other hand, I can find seats that route SFO-YUL-FRA on the same partner but it just doesn’t work for CDG (maybe because it is two connecting flights) even when I select show 50 flights. I haven’t seen award flights to Europe where they offer more than 1 connection. Do you have any suggestions?

  29. Hi!

    Thanks for the thorough guide to booking with United. I’m a newbie at all this so it’s really helpful.

    So I’ve been following the steps in your guide to find my own award ticket from Denver to London. I found non-stops from Denver to Toronto (12.5K pts) and Toronto to London (30K pts) at the Saver level on the day I want to travel. However, when I punched it into the multi-city search, I keep getting “Error”, you can’t do that, etc.

    Am I doing something wrong, or can United’s system just not handle it? Should I call into United, and if so, what should I say?

    Also, if I am able to book both of those tickets, should I expect the cost to still be 30,000 points, or will it be 42,500 points?

    Thanks a bunch!
    -Sue

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  31. Bernadette Reilly

    Last year I got a subscription to the Wall Street Journal with my awards.
    Is that available this year ??

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  33. I have 80000 miles on United and 82000 on AA. I was looking at availability one way on United partners for international departures in Sep and most of the international flights are economy flex for higher mileage. When I look at availabilty for June 10th and before, Lufthansa has available seats in business on united.com for less than eco. I understand that some airlines will only open up seats two weeks or less before departure. Do you think waiting for 2 weeks before departure ( early sep departure) will be a good option? what do you recommend?

    • @Bernadette Reilly – It may be available.

      @Momen – If the flights are sold out, they won’t open availability. But waiting until a few weeks before departure usually means that you have more seats available.

  34. @Million Mile
    do you think it is a wise idea to wait until two weeks before departure in September ? I think Sep is a busy season…

  35. Darius, I like your website, it is very detail oriented. Helps me in my travelling in many ways. Thanks again.
    Currently, I am trying to book an international flight that has 4 segments each way: Point A to B, Point C to A. It is not around the world ticket.
    But when I am on their website doing the award travel on multi-city, i noticed the maximum segment they allow me to enter is only 6. Is my only option to call united to book the flight?
    Hope to hear from you!

    • @Momen – Depends on how much risk you like! If the flight is sold out, they won’t be any award seats!

      @AmazingTrave – You can search and book separately. So Point A to B as a 1-way award. And Point C to Point A as another 1-way ticket.

  36. Thanks for the tips. I have booked with United in the past and it was easy and gave you your entire trip with 4 segments all at once, and was able to travel from the US to Sicily, 4 segments for 4 people on one award each. This was 2 years ago in business. I know so many things have changed now!? So I am trying to book end June 2015 to Europe and I am trying your tips for doing each segment separately. The main question I have is, if I find each segment separately do I have to use an award for each segment? Because I also tried to do get an itinerary with Multiple City tab and the total miles was way more than I expected. If I book them all non-saver are they on one award and not if I book some segments saver and some not? Basically I want to travel from San Diego to Athens for the fewest miles and preferably saver!?

    Thank you.

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  38. I’ve found saver economy seat availability for the flight segments I wanted (LAX-SOF, SOF-FRA, FRA-DFW flying in October and November) yet when I go to book the ticket, it won’t allow me to select my seat and it says it will be assigned at the airport (booking through United.com for Lufthansa flights). Do you know if there’s any way I can select my seats before going to the airport or by calling United? My spouse and I don’t want to be stuck in the middle seat not sitting with each other on the long haul flights. Also, can saver seat awards be denied boarding since they’re not standard awards? One of our flights in the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and I don’t want to get stuck not seeing my family because of the award level.

    Love your site and your FB posts. Thanks in advance!

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  40. I am trying to save up enough United miles for a honeymoon to trip! I was wondering whether we get to choose your seats when redeeming an award. Would my husband and I be able to sit together?
    Love your site! Thanks!

  41. Hey- do you know if there is a way to search for available Saver Awards? The yellow-highlighted calendar is nice – for a specific route. But I want to see what cities still have yellow Saver Awards (the cheap ones – 30k per segment to Europe). I’m flexible on both dates and cities. Any suggestions?

  42. Hi, If I am trying to book 4 saver award tickets for a family of 4 (domestic US flight), but no single person has enough points to book for all 4 people (ie each saver needs 12,500 and we each have 14-30,000), how do I know that I will be able to book them all individually, and a) know that there are enough saver awards for 4 people by the time I’ve finished booking and b) will we be able to sit together if booking individually? (travelling with small children). Its for memorial day weekend so I’m worried they could book out!
    Thanks!

  43. I must be doing this wrong. I just tried the multiple segment search for business class award
    pvg -> nrt -> ord-> lga

    Each segment was available if I search for them individually.

    But when I search for them as multiple destinations, I ended up being priced for 3 award tickets and ridiculous amount of miles (way more than pvg -> nyc business class award should it be available).

    What am I missing?

  44. Scratch my previous comment. I figured out why. It was a user error. Thanks. The multiple segment search is a great way to score business class award tickets that wouldn’t be available otherwise.

  45. Have a complex trip to plan, wanting to get 3 people from DEN to BRU or AMS. Have enough miles to get two saver business class RT and one upgrade, but having trouble searching the system to make it work-finding flights with either upgrades or saver seats, but not both. To make things trickier, one is a child so we can’t book her alone and would like to travel together. We’re searching for almost a year out, so hopefully max award seats in the system. Any advice is appreciated!

  46. We have enough miles for two RT tickets DEN to EDI, but four of us are flying. Better to get two RT with rewards and buy two RT tickets, or get four one way reward tickets and buy four one way tickets??

  47. Hi! I get United’s error page while attempting to book award tickets I want at least 3 segments.. very difficult! It’s also difficult to find guidance online about flying out/back to Seattle (corner of the US!). I ASSUME I can book SEA > Seville (open jaw), then London > New York (stopover) > Seattle. Good assumption? United’s system errors out with that. If I choose not to stopover in New York.. would I be able to use SEA as a stopover to anywhere else other than Hawaii? can I go London > SEA (stopover) > New york?

  48. Hi Darius,

    United has reformatted its website and flight search area. I can no longer find where to expand search results to 50 in Advanced Search. Where has it moved?

    Thank you,
    Joanne

  49. Hey,
    I am very new to this miles world and have very poor knowledge around it. So I have following basic query :

    I am thinking for United Mileage plus explorer credit card. It gives 30000 points for sign-up. How that point used and what is the calculation?
    I want to go to India (which is 8000 miles from US) , will these points helped me to finish my round-trip, one way trip or something else?
    I want to go in the cheapest option (Economy class). Will these points have any limitation that they can be used with only specific class only?
    Will it be any minimum co-pay amount will be there?

    Appreciate your help with this.

  50. I’m taking a 6-8 week trip to Europe starting April 11 OAK-ARN with the cheap fares from Norwegian. Since I didn’t want to pay the higher prices coming back home in early June, I thought I would use up my 36k+ UA miles with a saver award (30k) directly back to my home in Boise.

    Part of the allure of using these miles is the chance to book a flight back home at relatively short notice from wherever in Europe I happen to be. I’ve done plenty of sample searches across different date ranges (including two days from now) and there are plenty of options available via partner airlines within the saver award range. But I am concerned that early June is nearing high season and I may possibly strand myself when I happen to want to come home if there are no saver awards available.

    My question: Is it a bad idea to wait until the last minute to try and book this flight? Does anyone have experience with this? I live in Boise and it is usually a three segment booking to get me home but United seems to have plenty of partner seats that seem feasible. I do have some flexibility in the cities I fly from and the date range. I was just trying to book maybe a week before I wanted to come back, probably from BER (TXL, SXF), PRG, WAW or somewhere of the like.

    Is it crazy to attempt this or is it something I should continually monitor once I have arrived in Europe? Thanks for your help. (I am also aware of the $75 last minute UA fee and how to avoid it)

  51. Hi
    Mr Million man. I have two chase cards with 100k miles on them. I want to transfer them to a united account to have 200k points. How do I do this? Friend says I need a platinum account. Do I call United? Is that a cost to have a United platinum account to hold all my points in one account?
    Also if I open an Amex card they give me 75000 points. Can I transfer them to this United account? What do you recommend?