6 secret features of United Airlines’ loyalty program that you need to know

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United Airlines offers one of the most mainstream loyalty programs in travel. If you know the best ways to use United miles, you know how to get tons of value by booking practically free lie-flat business class seats worth thousands of dollars to bucket-list destinations like Paris, Tokyo, Peru and much more. You could save thousands of dollars on your next flight simply by earning the welcome bonus on just a single United Airlines credit card.

However, there are a few things about United Airlines that you probably don’t know. Only the most United-obsessed travelers are aware of all six items below. Are you one of them?

These United secrets can save you tons of miles — and money. (Photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock)

6 secret features of United Airlines that you might not know

1) The secret restaurant at Newark airport

Placed discreetly behind an airport restaurant called Saison in Terminal C of Newark Liberty Airport is a five-star speakeasy named Classified. It’s only for United Airlines loyalty members — and it’s only for a very select few. We don’t know how United decides which members are eligible for an exclusive invite from United to try the restaurant out, but it doesn’t seem to be based on metrics like elite status. You can navigate to the Classified website and enter your United credentials to see if you qualify.

I did not qualify when trying to register. If you’re denied, United gives you the option to request consideration for the privilege of eating at the secret restaurant. It’s pricey (you have the option to pay with United miles, but it’s not a great deal), but those who have had the opportunity to try it out have given it two enthusiastic thumbs up.

To eat at the restaurant, you must check-in at Saison restaurant and tell them you’ve got a reservation at Classified. A host will then walk you to a back door where you will be led inside and seated. If you’ve got a United credit card like the United℠ Explorer Card, you’ll get 20% off your bill. That’s a really, really big deal, which could easily save you $40 if you’re with just one other person. Food items are costly, but hey, you only live once. It’s a secret restaurant in an airport, for crying out loud!

2) Get United Silver status without stepping foot on a plane

You can attain United Airlines status simply by having hotel elite status. If you earn Marriott Titanium status, you can link your Marriott account to United and automatically receive United Premier Silver status. That comes with benefits like:

  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus seats at check-in for you and one traveling companion
  • The ability to choose a Preferred seat for free when booking for you and up to eight traveling companions
  • Upgrades confirmed day of departure
  • 1 free checked bag on Economy tickets, three free checked bags for business or first-class tickets
  • Priority check-in, boarding (Group 2) and security screening (where available)
  • 7X United miles on base fares
  • Increased coach award availability
  • Star Alliance Silver status
  • Hertz elite status

Staying at Marriott 75 nights in one year is laughably unattainable for most of us. However, there are ways to achieve it by staying just 45 nights per year with this Marriott credit card strategy. And Titanium status comes with its own fantastic benefits. If you love Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, I’d say it’s worth going for! Read our post on Marriott Bonvoy elite status for all the details.

3) Get a one-way award flight for ZERO miles

The United Excursionist Perk is a feature that gives you a “free” one-way flight when you book a round-trip or multi-city award ticket with United Airlines or its Star Alliance partners. There are a few critical rules you must follow, but you can receive a free flight just about anywhere even in business or first class. This trick can even work on itineraries that aren’t apart of the same trip — just as long as they’re booked on the same ticket.

Here are some things you could do with the Excursionist Perk :

  • U.S. to Zurich, free flight from Zurich to London, London to U.S.
  • Cincinnati to Vail, free flight from Johannesburg to Nairobi, San Francisco to Atlanta
  • U.S. to Rio De Janeiro, free flight from Rio to Santiago, Chile, Santiago to U.S.
  • Nassau to Aruba, free flight from Belize to San Jose, Costa Rica, Panama City to Nassau

Note that you’ll still have to pay taxes and fees on your award flight, but you’ll pay no miles. In certain situations, it could be worth simply forfeiting your last flight just to get a free one-way flight in a different region. It can get a bit complicated, but it’s worth digging into. Learn how to really squeeze the value out of this feature by reading our advanced United Excursionist Perk guide.

Tack on an extra award flight to your next trip for no extra miles with the United Excursionist Perk. (Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper)

4) The right credit card can open up hidden award space

The United Airlines website isn’t exactly honest with all its members. If you’re searching the site for Saver award flights (the cheapest ones you can book with miles), you may find zero availability when there are actually several seats left. Frustrating, isn’t it?

However, if you have a United Airlines credit card, like the United℠ Explorer Card, United Business Card or United Gateway℠ Card, you love this little quirk of United’s site. That’s because those extra seats that the general public can’t see are reserved exclusively for United credit cardholders.

Essentially, as a United cardholder, you get access to what is called “XN” award availability. Cardholders have much better luck finding saver coach awards because 95% of United flyers don’t have a United credit card. These exclusive seats rarely sell out and are great if you need to book a last-minute flight.

I’ve kept my United Explorer Card for years in large part because of this feature — and also that it gives me and a travel buddy one free checked bag with every domestic flight. It’s saved me heaps of cash.

The United Explorer Card is actually one of my favorite cards in the world. You can read our Chase United Explorer review to see all its amazing benefits.

5) You can get a ton of United miles with Marriott Hotel + Air packages

You can transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines, most of them at a 3:1 ratio (3 Marriott points = 1 airline mile). You’ll even get a bonus 5,000 airline miles when transferring in increments of 60,000 points. In other words, 60,000 Marriott points = 25,000 airline miles. However, with a Marriott feature called Hotel + Air packages, you can get an even better return. This is a program that allows you to cash in Marriott points for a combination of airline miles and hotel nights.

Marriott and United have a special partnership. One of the best ways to redeem Marriott points is by transferring them to United via a Marriott Hotel + Air package, because Marriott gives 10% more miles to United over any other airline.

Let’s break down the value you can get from a Hotel + Air package. As you can see from the graph above, a package of 110,000 United miles and seven nights at a Category 4 hotel costs 330,000 Marriott points. Here’s what it would cost without the package:

  • Category 4 Marriott hotels cost 25,000 points per night. When using Marriott points to book a stay of five consecutive nights or more, you’ll get the fifth night free. So one week at a Category 4 hotel would cost you 150,000 points
  • To receive 110,000 Marriott points, you’d have to transfer 244,000 Marriott points to United Airlines

That’s a grand total of 394,000 Marriott points. Compare that to the Hotel + Air package, and you see a discount of 64,000 points. Assuming you’ll use that Category 4 stay, you can think about this is as follows: You’re getting 110,000 United miles for 180,000 Marriott points. That’s about 20% more value from your Marriott points had you simply transferred them to United in increments of 60,000.

6) Top-secret elite status

Back to United’s clandestine offerings for select customers. They offer United Global Services elite status, an invitation-only status above anything else on offer. We don’t know what exactly warrants an invite from United, but it seems to be reserved for those who pay a mind-boggling amount of money to fly on United each year with full-fare tickets (in other words, people who buy lots of refundable fares).

Members with United Global Services status get perks like:

  • Private check-in
  • Mercedes-Benz transfers between select flights at select airports
  • Priority upgrades
  • Award flight upgrades
  • Companion certificate – Pay for a flight, and you can bring someone with you for the cost of a saver award ticket

It’s a pretty amazing perk but takes a lot of money to achieve. I’d prefer to continue booking free flights for all my trips with United Airlines miles.

Bottom line

United plays close to the vest with some of its most valuable benefits. You can save thousands of miles and and tons of money by taking advantage of just a few of these tips.

So, did you know all the above United Airlines secrets? Let us know in the comments — and if you’ve got any United secrets that should be on this list, please share!

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Featured image courtesy of United Airlines.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

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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