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United Mileage Plus Review: How to Earn, Redeem, & Get the Most From the Program

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United Mileage Plus Review: How to Earn, Redeem, & Get the Most From the Program

Harlan VaughnUnited Mileage Plus Review: How to Earn, Redeem, & Get the Most From the ProgramMillion Mile Secrets Team

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United Airlines is one of the largest in the US by fleet size and passenger volume, with a major presence in hub cities and smaller or seasonal destinations.  So having United miles can be a smart strategy for lots of folks looking to book cheap award travel.

Plus, they’re a member of the Star Alliance – the largest airline alliance – which gives you access to flights on 26 other unique airlines around the world, as well as other partnerships.  Wherever you want to travel, there’s bound to be a way to get there on United Airlines or one of their partners.  That’s a big reason lots of us on the MMS team collect and regularly redeem United Airlines miles, myself included.

You can earn United Airlines miles with cards like the United℠ Explorer Card and United℠ Explorer Business Card, or transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points instantly at a 1:1 ratio to United Airlines if you have cards including the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card.

Is it worth it for you to focus on United Airlines miles to attain your travel goals?  Here’s our United mileage plus review to help you decide.

In This United Airlines Miles Review, I’ll Go Over How to Earn and Redeem Your Miles, and If They Should Be a Part of Your Travel Plans

United Mileage Plus Review:  Everything to Know

MileagePlus is United Airlines’ loyalty program.  You’ll accumulate United Airlines miles here to use for award tickets, as well as credits toward elite status when you fly.

You’re not limited to using your United Airlines miles for award seats on United Airlines.  Thanks to partnerships, you can access 30+ other airlines, too.

Sign-Up for a United Airlines MileagePlus Account

If you don’t already have one, it’s fast (and free!) to sign-up for a United Airlines MileagePlus account.

To get started, navigate to United.com and click “Sign In” at the top of the page as if you already have an account.  A sidebar will appear, then click the link at the bottom that says “Enroll in MileagePlus.”

You Can Start Signing-Up Directly on United.com

On the next page, fill in your personal details.

Complete the Form

When you’re done, scroll to the bottom and click “Accept and Enroll.”

Accept the Program Rules and Finish Your Enrollment

Then you can access your account with the login details you just created.  You’ll have a MileagePlus number to use when you fly United Airlines, and any of their airline partners, so you can earn miles and elite status credit when you fly.

It’s Easy to Find Your Loyalty Number Right on the Homepage

To find your number, simply click your name in the top right corner, and the sidebar will appear with your information.

How to Earn United Miles

Here’s how to get more United Airlines miles into your account.

1.   Fly United Airlines

You’ll earn United Airlines miles any time you take a United Airlines or United Express flight and add your MileagePlus number.  The number of miles you’ll earn is tied to the cash price of the ticket, not including taxes & government fees.  So you’ll only earn miles on the base fare.

And depending on your elite status level, you’ll earn:

  • 5 miles per $1 – Basic member
  • 7 miles per $1 – Premier Silver member
  • 8 miles per $1 – Premier Gold member
  • 9 miles per $1 – Premier Platinum member
  • 11 miles per $1 – Premier 1K member

Here’s our United Airlines status review with more information.

2.   Use United Airlines Credit Cards

You’ll earn United Airlines miles when you open and use a Chase United Airlines credit card, including:

  • United℠ Explorer Card – Earn 40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Here’s our review of the Chase United Explorer card.
  • United℠ Explorer Business Card – Earn 50,000 United Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account
  • United℠ Club Card – Earn 50,000 United Airlines miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

The information for the United Club Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets.  The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

United Explorer and Club Cards Get You Perks When You Fly United Airlines, Like Priority Boarding, so You Can Settle in Faster and Get Overhead Bin Space

All of the Chase United cards are subject to the Chase 5/24 rule, which means if you’ve opened 5+ cards (from any bank, except Chase business cards and certain other business cards) in the past 24 months, you won’t be approved.

3.   Fly United Airlines Partners

When you use your MileagePlus number on partner airlines, you’ll earn United Airlines miles.  How many you’ll earn varies by airline, fare type, and cabin of travel.

United Airlines’ Star Alliance partners are:

  • Adria Airways
  • Aegean
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • Egyptair
  • Ethiopian
  • EVA Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • SWISS
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thai
  • Turkish Airlines
You Can Earn United Airlines Miles for Star Alliance Partner Flights

You can also earn United Airlines miles on airline partners outside the Star Alliance, including:

  • Aer Lingus
  • Aeromar
  • Air Dolomiti
  • Azul
  • Boutique Air
  • Cape Air
  • Edelweiss
  • Eurowings
  • Hawaiian Airlines (inter-island flights only)
  • Olympic Air
  • Silver Airways
United Airlines Has Other Unique Partnerships, Too

In total, that gives you 37 other airlines to earn and redeem United Airlines miles with!

You can check how many miles you’ll earn when you fly each partner at this page.

4.   MileagePlus Shopping and Dining

When you start your shopping through the United MileagePlus portal or dine with participating restaurants after linking a credit or debit card, you’ll earn even more United Airlines miles.  These miles are a bonus on top of any other miles or points you earn!

Keep the United Airlines Miles Flowing in When You Shop or Dine

Plus, there are often limited-time promotions to earn extra bonus miles, so it’s worth checking if there’s anything going on.

5.   Spend With MileagePlus Partners

United Airlines has partnerships with all types of merchants and travel providers, and you can opt to earn United Airlines miles when you shop with them.  Partners include:

  • Hertz
  • MileagePlus Golf
  • Quicken Loans
  • Reliant Energy
  • United Cruises and United Vacations
United Airlines Has Dozens of Retail and Travel Partners That Allow You to Earn More Miles

Here’s the full list of partners!

Note that with travel partners, like the rental car companies for example, earning United Airlines miles means forfeiting the rental car loyalty points.  And if you book a hotel or a cruise, always shop around to make sure you’re getting a good deal.

6.   Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

If you need more United Airlines miles, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points instantly to United Airlines at a 1:1 ratio if you have one of these cards:

If you have any of the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards mentioned above, you can combine points from these no-annual-fee Chase Ultimate Rewards cards and move them to United Airlines as well:

This is an easy way to get an award ticket if you find a route and time that works and need more miles.  While transfers are free, you must transfer in increments of 1,000 points.

7.   Transfer Marriott Bonvoy Points

United Airlines has a deal with Marriott Bonvoy that gets you 10% more miles when you transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to United Airlines miles.

Get 10% More United Airlines Miles When You Transfer Your Marriott Bonvoy Points

That’s on top of the 5,000-mile bonus you’ll get for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer.  So it can work out to be a great deal if you stack the two.  Keep in mind you must transfer at least 3,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, with a maximum of 240,000 points per day.  Here’s our step-by-step guide to transferring Marriott points to airlines.

8.   Use the MileagePlus X App

You can buy gift cards to dozens of merchants through the MileagePlus X app, and earn United Airlines miles at the same time.

Plus, if you have a Chase United Airlines card, like the United℠ Explorer Card or United℠ Explorer Business Card, you’ll earn 25% bonus miles automatically – and you do NOT have to use the card to pay through the app.

I Love Using the MileagePlus X App to Get Extra United Airlines Miles

Another cool perk is your miles post immediately, so you can redeem them right away.

Spend United Airlines Miles

Now for the fun part – redeeming your miles!

1.   Award Flights on United Airlines and Partner Airlines

How to Search for and Book United Airlines Award Flights Online

It’s simple to search and book an award seat on United.com, not only on United Airlines but almost all of their partners as well.  United Airlines never adds fuel surcharges to award tickets, which is an excellent benefit and major upside to the entire program.  These junk fees can add $100s to an otherwise cheap award ticket and make the deal a lot worse.

You Can Easily Book Most Award Tickets Online, and You’ll Never Pay Fuel Surcharges!

Note that for travel starting November 15, 2019, United Airlines no longer has an award chart for their own flights.  In practical terms, this means an award flight will cost whatever United Airlines says it costs.  This doesn’t affect partner awards for now – so try to fly with a partner airline if prices on United Airlines’ own planes are expensive.

Despite upcoming changes, this is generally the best way to use your miles.

2.   Use Miles to Upgrade Your Seat

It’s possible use United Airlines miles to upgrade a paid or award ticket on United Airlines, or a paid ticket on several Star Alliance partners.  The upgrades clear after elite members get theirs, and they take priority.  Additionally, there are several factors that go into whether you’ll get an upgrade, and how much you’ll pay.  United Airlines says:

The price of an upgrade is based on region of travel, seat type requested, fare class, and the Premier® status of the redeeming account at the time when the upgrade is requested.  Upgrades from some discounted booking codes will require both miles and a co-pay.

All the details and restrictions are described here.

3.   Book Non-Air Travel With Miles

You can use your United Airlines miles to book a hotel stay, rental car, or cruise.  The value you’ll get is generally 1 cent per point (or less!) so I do NOT recommend using your miles this way.

4.   Shop With Miles or Get Gift Cards

United Airlines has merchandise awards where you can exchange miles for products.  But the value you’ll get is under 1 cent for each mile, which is a terrible deal.  I’d never recommend using your miles this way.

You Can Use Your United Airlines Miles to Get a Blender or Other Products, but It’s NOT a Good Deal. Neither Are Gift Cards

The same goes for the gift cards you can purchase with miles.  Oh, and magazine subscriptions.  And most products, as a rule of thumb.

5.   Pay for United Airlines Fees or TSA PreCheck

There are options to redeem United Airlines miles for:

  • United Club memberships
  • Inflight Wi-Fi passes
  • TSA PreCheck enrollment
  • Drinks or food in certain United Clubs and restaurants in Houston or Newark airports
Bad Deal Alert! Using United Airlines Miles for Their Services and Fees Is Another Raw Deal in the Making

And if you have a Chase United credit card, you can redeem miles for the card’s annual fee, or a statement credit for a United Airlines flight.

Don’t Be Fooled, These Aren’t “Special Deals”

Again, this should be a last resort, not a viable option.

6.   Have an Experience

Lastly, you can use United Airlines miles to:

You can probably already guess this isn’t a spectacular value, and you’d be absolutely correct.  That said, it’s fun to see what’s available – just don’t get too tempted. 😉

Do United Airlines Miles Expire?

Do United Airlines Miles Expire? Yes, but Here Are 10 Ways to Keep That From Happening

Yes.  United Airlines miles expire 18 months after no account activity.  But redeeming or earning miles will reset their expiration date.

Here are 10 ways to keep your United Airlines miles from expiring.  And remember, if you have a Chase United Airlines card, your miles won’t ever expire as long as your card is open.

How Many United Miles Do You Need to Travel?

United Airlines publishes their award chart on a handy interactive calculator, so you can choose your origin and destination, and the calculator will tell you how many miles your trip will cost in coach, Business Class, or First Class as Saver, Everyday, and partner awards.

To use the chart, figure out which zone your origin and destination are located.  You can review the breakdown of countries by zone.

But keep in mind, United Airlines is eliminating award charts for their own flights for travel starting November 15, 2019.  Beyond that date, you’ll simply have to search and see how much your United Airlines award seat will cost.

However, this won’t affect partner flights, so you can still use the calculator to determine those prices.  Here’s our guide to navigating the United Airlines award chart to help.

Who Should Collect United Airlines Miles?

United Airlines has hubs at:

  • Chicago (ORD)
  • Denver
  • Houston (IAH)
  • Los Angeles
  • Newark
  • San Francisco
  • Washington, DC (IAD)

Folks in these cities have ready access to United Airlines flights, including tons of international flights.  Additionally, United Airlines serves many smaller airports and seasonal destinations.  If there’s a presence or schedule at your airport, you can do well to collect United Airlines miles.

United Airlines Miles Are Still Worthwhile Despite an Upcoming Devaluation, Especially for Award Flights on Their 30+ Partners

But the best part about having United Airlines miles is the ability to redeem them on 30+ other airlines around the world.  So even if there aren’t any United Airlines flights where you live, they’re still some of the best miles for overseas travel.  And as long as partner award prices have an award chart, you’ll know exactly how many miles you need to earn.

Most of us on the MMS team collect and redeem United Airlines miles.  With their huge network, numerous partners, and lack of fuel surcharges, there are still plenty of ways to get outsized value on award travel.

Bottom Line

There’s a lot to like about United Airlines miles, from NO fuel surcharges and ease of award booking, to a vast array of airline partners.  And while I’m disappointed about their decision to remove award charts for their own flights for travel starting November 15, 2019, there remain many worthwhile ways to redeem your miles – and earn them.

You’ll have the best experience with United Airlines miles if you live near a hub airport, or want to access partner award flights, which still have an award chart in place.  United Airlines miles are an integral part of my international travel planning.  And if either of these scenarios fit your situation, you might find them worthwhile, too.

You can earn more United Airlines miles with Chase cards including the United℠ Explorer Card and United℠ Explorer Business Card, or transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card.  Keep in mind, all of these cards are affected by the Chase 5/24 rule.

And here are more guides to help you keep learning:

United℠ Explorer Card

United℠ Explorer Card

  • 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $120 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

More Info

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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