Ultimate guide to United Airlines miles: Part 5 – How to unlock more available award seats

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One of the best perks of certain United Airlines credit cards is access to expanded award availability on United Airlines. These cards include:

  • United Explorer Card
  • United Club Infinite Card
  • United Business Card

This means that if you have one of these cards, you will see more available Saver award seats than if you didn’t have the credit card. And often, there are extra award seats are available during peak travel times, on popular routes, and routes with limited flights.

Additionally, with these cards you get access to all Everyday (standard) awards, meaning you can use their miles to book seats on any United Airlines flight, even if it’s the last seat on the plane. However, it’ll cost you more miles than a saver award.

But does this really work? We checked it out!

(Photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock)

Ultimate Guide to United Airlines miles series index

How do you know if you’re seeing extra award seats? 

To see expanded available award seats, you must first sign in to your United Airlines account (free to join!). And the frequent flyer number on your United Airlines account must match the one attached to your United Airlines credit card.

Once you’ve logged in, you can search for award flights as usual. United Airlines marks flights that are only available to cardholders. After searching for a flight, check your flight options.

Flights only available to cardholders will show “Exclusively available to you as a MileagePlus Chase Cardmember” under the flight details.


But do these extra award seats really make a difference for travelers?

In our experience, we’ve only been able to find more available awards on coach flights, though theoretically it could apply to business class flights as well. Additionally, we’ve seen more expanded availability on domestic flights, but have found a number of international flights too.

Remember, you’ll only find extra available award seats on flights operated by United Airlines and United Express planes, noot partner flights. However, this is often helpful for connecting on to partner flights, even if the partner flight is in business class.

For example, New York City to Los Angeles is one of the busiest routes in the U.S., and Saver award seats can be especially tricky to find during peak travel times, like Thanksgiving.

With an eligible United Airlines card, you’ll have more options when it comes too available Saver award seats for 12,500 United Airlines miles one-way.


Sure, it may not offer a savings in this example, but having your choice of departure times can be crucial when you’re managing your schedule. And more options are always better!

In other instances, we found that the award flights available to United cardholders cost less than those available to everyone. Like a flight from Dallas to Fort Lauderdale that costs only 12,500 United Airlines miles for a one-way Saver award when you have an eligible card, versus 20,000 United Airlines miles for those without a United card.

This can translate into huge savings if you’re traveling with your family or a group of friends. For example, a family of four would save 30,000 United Airlines miles (7,500 miles per ticket X 4 people)!

Is it worth getting a United Airlines card just for this perk?

Yes and no.

While the United Airlines credit cards do offer some extra award seats, it’s not as drastic of a change as we wish it was. On many searches, we simply saw more open flight times or different routings. But if you don’t have a lot of flexibility when you travel, or often book trips last minute, this can be huge.

Keep in mind, United Airlines usually offers a decent number of available award seats if you book far enough in advance.

So, your mileage may vary. Available award seats change daily, so some days United Airlines may have more open seats than others. This is especially true when booking international tickets at the last minute.

But one great perk of increased (even if minor) availability is connecting domestically to international hubs, even in business class. Often, United Airlines will open up a mixed-cabin award with the short domestic leg in coach, and the international segment in business class. This saves you from having to buy an extra domestic leg with your ticket.

And if you collect United Airlines miles, these cards, and others, are good to consider for their sign-up bonuses and earning from ongoing spending. You can check out all the best airline credit cards here.

Bottom line

Folks with certain United Airlines credit cards get access to more available award seats on United Airlines (not partners), just like Premier elite members do. These cards include:

  • United Explorer Card
  • United Club Infinite Card
  • United Business Card

This is a tremendous perk if you fly during peak travel times, like holidays and school breaks.  Or folks who often book last-minute award flights. You’ll see more Saver award seats (which can save you thousands of miles), and get access to all Everyday (standard) award seats even if it’s the only seat left on the plane.

But this benefit is only useful on United Airlines and United Express planes. If you’re looking for the best airline credit cards for your travel goals, consider your travel style and airline preferences before you pull the trigger on these cards.

Has your United Airlines credit card made a difference in your award travel bookings? Let us know in the comments!

Meghan Hunter is an editor for Million Mile Secrets. She covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in 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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