The Best Little-Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles

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The Best Little-Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles

Million Mile SecretsThe Best Little-Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines MilesMillion Mile Secrets Team

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It’s an amazing feeling to book a flight for nearly free.  But it’s even better when you make the most of award chart sweet spots and spend fewer miles than you would with other airlines.

While it’s easy to earn lots of United Airlines miles with the recently increased sign-up bonus for the United MileagePlus® Club card, it’s important to learn the tricks to stretching your United Airlines miles for the most Big Travel. 

You can use the 50,000 mile sign-up bonus for cheaper award flights, including international short-haul flights, and flights to Central America or Oceania.

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
Visit Beautiful Places Like Australia Using United Airlines Miles

I’ll explain some of the best sweet spots using United Airlines miles, so you don’t spend more miles and points than you have to!

United Club Card Series Index

Save Your United Airlines Miles With These Award Chart Sweet Spots!

Link:   United MileagePlus® Club card

Link:   My Review of the Chase United Club Card

The previous sign-up bonus for the United MileagePlus® Club card was a $100 statement credit after meeting minimum spending requirements, but now that’s been increased to 50,000 United Airlines miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. 

1.   Cheap Short Haul Flights Outside North America, Like Within Europe

United Airlines recently changed its award chart.  And they’ve added short-haul partner award flights outside the US and Canada for only 8,000 United Airlines miles one-way in coach.  Because short-haul flights can be ludicrously expensive to buy, this is a phenomenal benefit.

Prior to these changes, you’d pay higher award rates based on the region, like 15,000 miles for the same short-haul European flights that you’d now pay 8,000 miles for!

To qualify for the 8,000 mile one-way coach price, your flight must be:

  • Outside of the US and Canada on a United Airlines Star Alliance or non-alliance partner
  • 800 miles or less
  • Completely within a United Airlines “region” (like Europe)
  • Non-stop (no connections allowed)
  • A low-level “saver” award

Even better, United Airlines doesn’t add fuel surcharges to any of their partner awards.

For example, a flight from Frankfurt to Nice, France, on United Airlines partner Lufthansa can be extremely expensive:

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
Short European Flights Can Be Very Pricey!

Fortunately, this flight is only 425 miles, so it only costs 8,000 United Airlines miles and ~$51 in taxes:

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
United Airlines Charges 8,000 Miles for Short-Haul Flights 800 Miles or Less Outside the US and Canada

In comparison, Air Canada Aeroplan would charge 12,500 miles and almost double the taxes and fees!

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
Air Canada Aeroplan Would Charge 4,500 More Miles and More Than Twice the Taxes and Fees Compared to United Airlines!

If your flight is 650 miles or less and outside North America, you might consider using British Airways Avios points.  They only charge 4,500 points one-way in coach, but fuel surcharges are often applicable.

2.   More Available Award Seats From North America to Central America

You can fly from the mainland US, Alaska, or Canada to Central America for 17,500 United Airlines miles one-way in coach, or 30,000 miles in Business Class.

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
A Flight From Newark to Liberia, Costa Rica, Only Costs 17,500 United Airlines Miles in Coach

United Airlines includes the following countries within the Central America award zone:

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
Visit Ruins and Volcanos Throughout Central America, Like Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

You can book award flights to Central America with Delta for 12,000 miles, or with American Airlines for 12,500 miles off-peak (15,000 miles peak season).  However, United Airlines partner airlines release more award seats than do Delta or American Airlines, so it’s easier to get low-level pricing to Central America.

If you’re booking a ticket to Central America, make sure to check which frequent flyer program gives you the best deal for your dates.

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
Delta or American Airlines May Be Cheaper Than United Airlines, but United Airlines Usually Has More Available Saver Award Seats

United Airlines miles offer more award seats to Central and South America than American Airlines and Delta, because they have more partners (COPA and Avianca).  These airlines typically offer more award seats than American Airlines and Delta partners.

3.   Travel the Pacific With More Award Seats

Using United Airlines miles, you can fly to Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania, which includes places like Fiji and Tonga.

United Airlines charges miles based on where you’re flying and in which cabin, and charges more if the dominant flight on your ticket is on a partner airline in Business Class (but not coach).  For example, if you flew from Los Angeles to Fiji, and you flew with United Airlines to Australia connecting with Air New Zealand to Fiji, you’d be charged the United Airlines rate.  Because the main flight (overwater), from the US to Australia, was on United Airlines.

This table shows you the one-way cost using United Airlines miles to or from the mainland US, Alaska, and Canada:

 United or Partner CoachUnited Airlines BusinessPartner Business
Australia / New Zealand40,00080,00090,000
The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
Visit Places Like the Coastal Australia Using United Airlines Miles

This is fantastic because United Airlines and their partners have abundant saver award seats to Oceania, which includes Tonga, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia.  You can fly on partners like Air Canada, Air New Zealand, or Asiana Airlines to Oceania, though you’ll likely have to connect in places like Vancouver, Auckland, or Seoul. 

You can also fly on the United Airlines “island-hopper,” a flight between Guam and Honolulu, that makes roughly one-hour stops at Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Kwajalein and Majuro, small islands in Micronesia.  For many, this is a bucket-list flight, since you can visit otherwise difficult to get to islands, flying over some of the beautiful areas in the world.  You can even use United Airlines’ stopover program and visit these islands (but not Kwajalein, which is a military base!).

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
The Island of Pohnpei in Micronesia, a Stop on the United Airlines Island Hopper

United Airlines operates a number of direct flights to Australia and New Zealand:

  • Los Angeles to Sydney
  • San Francisco to Sydney
  • Houston to Sydney
  • Los Angeles to Melbourne
  • San Francisco to Auckland

While both Delta and American Airlines charge similar pricing to Oceania, finding saver award seats with either program is exceedingly difficult.  With United Airlines miles, it’s usually easier to find award seats to Oceania, Australia, and New Zealand.

And considering flights in coach often cost over $1,500, and over $5,000 in Business Class, this is a fantastic use of miles.  Consider using your miles for Business Class though, because you’ll get the most value from your miles that way.

You can even use the 8,000 mile short-haul award for domestic travel in New Zealand, for example by flying from Auckland to Christchurch or Queenstown!

4.   Hop Around Africa at Low Cost

It can be very expensive to fly within Africa.  But United Airlines charges only 17,500 United Airlines miles in coach or 30,000 miles in Business Class for flights within the Central and Southern Africa award zone, which includes most of Africa excluding North Africa and the Middle East.

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
The Central & Southern Africa Region Covers Most of Africa, Giving You Long Haul Flights Like Mauritius to Ethiopia on the Cheap!

This is amazing value, and one of the best uses for United Airlines miles.  For example, you could fly from the beaches in Mauritius to a safari in Kenya for 17,500 United Airlines miles in coach plus ~$68 in taxes:

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
Fly Within Africa for 17,500 United Airlines Miles One-Way in Coach, or 30,000 Miles in Business Class

This flight would cost over $500 in coach and $1,000 in Business Class, so this is a great use for United Airlines miles.

Africa is well-serviced by United Airlines partners South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines, both comfortable 4-star Skytrax airlines.

In comparison, Air Canada Aeroplan, a United Airlines partner, charges 20,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles in coach and 40,000 miles in Business Class for the same flights!

The Best Little Known Sweet Spots Using United Airlines Miles
Visit Beautiful Places in Africa Like Mauritius Using United Airlines Miles

You can even use the 8,000 mile short-haul award for flights like Johannesburg to Cape Town on South African Airways, saving you a bundle!

Bottom Line

Knowing the best United Airlines award chart sweet spots can save you money and help you get the most value from your miles!

Consider using your United Airlines miles for cheap award flights, like:

  • 8,000 miles for short-haul coach flights outside the US and Canada 
  • 17,500 miles for a one-way coach flight from the US and Canada to Central America
  • Lots of award seats to Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania
  • Long-haul domestic African flights for 17,500 miles in coach

It’s a great time to boost your United Airlines account balance with the recently increased sign-up bonus for the United MileagePlus® Club card.  You’ll earn a best-ever bonus of 50,000 United Airlines miles after meeting minimum spending requirements, and the card comes with lots of valuable perks! 

What’s your favorite sweet spot using United Airlines miles?

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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My husband and I have the Chase Reserve and the United Explorer. We are going to Viet Nam next February and are getting ready to book. We have to fly into Ho Chi Min City from JFK but we are flying back from Bangkok. Can you give us any suggestions as to which airline has the best business class or premium economy for the points?
Thank so much!

On my Android tablet, the screenshots of the booking pages are partially cut off on the right side, everthing else is fine.
Great to be reminded about these great deals on United! Thanks!

Pretty sure Mauritius to Nairobi isn’t a “domestic” flight, since Africa isn’t a single country…


ORD is the airport I typically fly out of. I’d love to go to Fiji again someday. Is there a way to fly ORD-NAN and somehow take advantage of United’s excursionist perk so I can visit some other countries as well?

I’m not finding anything that would work. I find it odd that ORD-NAN routes through AKL, though because AKL is in a different region you cannot use that as a stopover.

I see you can fly ORD-NAN and RAR-ORD, but can’t find the connection of NAN-RAR. Perhaps they could book it by phone since it is Air New Zealand? The Cook Islands and Fiji would be a nice trip.

I like the old routing rules which included the free stopover. Any thoughts or ideas?

Completely agree about preferring the old rule. I think the issue is the fact that NAN-RAR goes by way of New Zealand. Perhaps the author of the article would have some work around for that problem. This is a solid article – lots of useful information and even a helpfully descriptive title, which is kind of unusual for the site. I’d love to see more by this writer.