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 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

Step 1 – Sign In To

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 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 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.

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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