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Putting a price tag on United miles: Here’s how we do it

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Putting a price tag on United miles: Here’s how we do it

Meghan HunterPutting a price tag on United miles: Here’s how we do itMillion Mile Secrets Team

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United Airlines miles are a favorite of the MMS team and our readers because they offer a decent number of award seats compared to other airlines.

How much are United miles worth now that United has moved to dynamic pricing?

On average, you can get a minimum value of ~1.3 cents per mile, but the value will always vary depending on the route you’re flying, fees associated with certain award tickets, whether you traveling during peak times and more. In some cases, they’ll be worth much more than their average value – as much as 12 cents per mile – which is incredible.

The great thing about United Airlines miles is that they’re easy to earn from many of the best airline credit cards like the United℠ Explorer Business Card. United is also a Chase transfer partner, so you can indirectly earn miles from top cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card.

Let’s look at a few examples to see what United Airlines miles are worth and how to calculate their value.

The value of your United Airlines miles can vary widely depending on how you use them. (Photo by Anatoliy Lukich/Shutterstock.)

United miles value

United Airlines recently moved to dynamic pricing, but the way you calculate the value of your miles is still the same:

(Cash price of the ticket – taxes and fees you’d pay on the award ticket) / number of points required for an award ticket.

You are no longer guaranteed a certain value on a particular route because there’s no award chart. United has removed close-in booking fees, but it raised award prices for flights booked within 30 days of departure and you’ll now see a surcharge of 1,500 to 3,500 miles when booking in this time frame. But, you can still find saver awards that somewhat align with the pricing from the old chart. Some awards are pricing at even lower levels than we used to see with the old award chart.

Here are some good deals you can get using United Airlines miles:

Domestic flights (especially last-minute flights)

On this round-trip coach ticket between Seattle and Denver, if you were to use miles, you’d spend 10,000 miles and ~$11 in taxes and fees. The same ticket costs ~$152 in cash. That means by using your miles for this ticket you’d get a value of ~1.4 cents per mile: ($152 – $11) / 10,000 miles.

You often get even more value for your miles if you’re booking a last-minute flight, even with the miles surcharge United has added in place of the old close-in booking fee.

Take a look at this round-trip flight between Missoula, Montana, and Denver.

In this case, the departure is three days away (at the time of writing) and the cash price is $619. If you use your miles you’d spend just 25,000 miles and ~$11 in taxes and fees. That’s a value of 2.4 cents per mile, which is an incredible use of your hard-earned rewards.

Round-trip coach tickets to Europe

United Airlines charges 60,000 miles for round-trip, saver-level coach flights to Europe, which means you can get a lot of value from your miles using them for tickets to top vacation destinations like Paris, London or Madrid.

I did a quick search for flights between Chicago and Madrid in June 2020 and found a number of options for 60,000 United Airlines miles and ~$78 in taxes and fees.

Cash prices for this same route were running $1,500+ at the time of the search. That means you’d get a value of ~2.4 cents per mile in this scenario, which is an excellent deal.

With a stash of United miles, your European vacation is just a few clicks away. (Photo by Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock.)

International business and first-class flights on partner airlines

Once you’ve flown up front it’s hard to think about taking a long-haul flight in coach. Luckily, using United Airlines miles to fly in an expensive business-class or first-class seat on an overseas trip can help save your wallet … and your back. And you’ll get tons of value from your miles while you’re at it.

For example, I found a nonstop business-class ticket from Denver to Frankfurt on United Airlines’ partner Lufthansa for 70,000 United Airlines miles and ~$6 in taxes and fees.

If you paid cash for the same flight, you’d need to fork out a whopping ~$8,716.

After doing the math, you’d be getting a value of ~12.44 cents per mile. That’s an insanely fantastic deal – over 8x the average value you normally get from your United Airlines miles.

This shows how widely the value of United Airlines miles can fluctuate and just how valuable they can be.

It’s definitely possible to get outsized value from your United miles when you use them for flights on partners like Lufthansa. (Photo by Emily McNutt.)

Round-trip coach tickets to Hawaii

If spending a week in Hawaii sounds enticing, it’s easy to realize that dream with your United Airlines miles. Plus, using your miles can save you a lot of cash.

For example, I found a round-trip coach ticket from my hometown of Missoula to Honolulu in late March 2020 for 45,000 United Airlines miles and ~$11 in taxes and fees. The same seat costs ~$754 in cash.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather use my miles than be out more than $700 in cash. Plus, I’d be getting a value of ~1.7 cents per mile from my miles, which is a decent deal.

How to earn United miles

If you’re looking for more ways to earn United miles, consider the personal or business United card, both of which are offering limited-time welcome offers:

Don’t forget, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United at a 1:1 ratio from these cards:

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are my favorite transferable points to earn because of their flexibility – you can redeem them for cash back, travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, or (when you have an annual-fee Chase Ultimate Rewards card) transfer them to valuable travel partners like United Airlines.

Bottom Line

The value of United miles varies depending on your itinerary — route, time of travel and class of service. This is especially true now that United has moved to dynamic pricing, but at a minimum, you should be able to get an average value of ~1.3 cents per mile, and more for last-minute domestic flights. If you use your miles for awards like business-class seats to Europe, you could very well get value of up to 12+ cents per mile.

To figure out the United Airlines miles value on your particular flight, use this formula:

(Cash price of the ticket – taxes and fees you’d pay on the award ticket) / number of points required for an award ticket

What’s your experience been like?  What are United Airlines miles worth to you?

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel

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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So I tried to use miles to buy 3 tickets to pvr. They wanted all 130k miles plus an additional $2k to buy with miles. The tickets cost $1300 total! WTF!

Thanks for the great and super informative analysis!

I’d just add a fifth category – mileage upgrades.

Depending on the fare class of the ticket, the route(s), the stock & inventory, and the demand, upgrades from United Economy to Premium Plus start around 5k miles (generally with no co-pay); upgrades from United Economy to United Polaris business generally begin at 15k miles, usually with a co-pay beginning at around $500.

Let’s say a round-trip Economy ticket from the US to Europe costs around $1k and the equivalent Business class ticket costs ~$8k (using the example fares from above, with rounding). Then, let’s say that a one-way mileage upgrade costs 20k miles + $500 co-pay. So, round-trip upgrades amount to 40k miles + $1k.

The difference in fare cost is $8k – $1k = $7k. Subtract the $1k co-pay, which yields a difference attributable to the mileage value of $6k. Divide the $6k value by the 40k miles, which results in a whopping $0.15 or 15 cents per mile value!!

So, you can even assume higher value of your miles, up to 15+ cents per mile, depending on your use case. Of course, true value to YOU comes from your personal preferences and priorities.

Just thought I’d add this fifth use case for everyone’s edification.

Feel free to reach out to me with any clarifying questions or the like via email at chad@mlds.ai.

Thanks!

Laurence Shapiro

That is an excellent calculation and puts a great value and light on the upgrade though I just bought a $750 ticket to Asia and it would be 30k miles and $600 each way for an upgrade (1.2 hour domestic and 14+h long haul flights) so I’ll have to process the literal value and the actual cost at the end of the day (though it would be nice to go Polaris and get into the lounge). Thanks!

Teresa R Zamalloa

What is better for us buying in United with my miles or in Copa in the same way to go the diference is in from Guarujhos I need use LATAM

At the same mileage cost, I’d DEFINITELY go with United above Copa… does that answer your question?