How to calculate United miles value
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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. But how much are United Airlines miles worth now that United has moved to dynamic pricing?
On average, you can expect to receive a 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 – even 10+ cents per mile – which is incredible.
United Airlines miles are easy to earn with some of the best airline credit cards like the United Club℠ Infinite Card, which currently comes with a United Club airport lounge membership (worth up to $650 per year), a free first and second checked bag, and much more.
United is also a Chase transfer partner, so you can indirectly earn miles from many of the best credit cards for travel, 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.
United miles value and examples of what you can redeem
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 United Airlines award chart. Some awards are pricing at even lower levels than we used to see with the old award chart. And as of now United doesn’t have Basic Economy award flights, so with miles you are booking a more expensive and less restrictive economy fare that allows refunds (for a fee), seat selection and more.
Here are some good deals you can get when you book United Airlines award flights:
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 a month away (at the time of writing) and the cash price is $408.80. If you use your miles you’d spend just 20,000 miles and $11.20 in taxes and fees. That’s a value of ~1.98 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.
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.
One of the biggest strengths of using United miles is that you don’t have to pay extra fuel surcharges on award tickets, which can save you hundreds of dollars on some award flights, especially if you’re flying to Europe. True, flying on United’s partners will often cost more miles, but spending 10,000 extra miles to
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 ~$700 in cash.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather use my miles than be about $700 in cash. Plus, I’d be getting a value of ~1.53 cents per mile from my miles, which is a decent deal.
When to avoid using United miles
Like we’ve shown in the examples above, deciding whether or not to use miles for a flight comes down to math. If you calculate the value per mile you’re getting and you’re not satisfied with said value, it probably makes more sense to pay cash. However, free is free, so do what’s right for your particular situation.
A scenario where using United miles may not make sense is when using another travel rewards currency offers a better value. For example, Turkish Airlines is a Star Alliance partner, so you can use Turkish miles to book United flights. Using Turkish miles, non-stop one-way flights within mainland U.S. and Hawaii(!) only cost 7,500 miles in coach or 12,500 miles in business. That’s an incredible deal given the same flights on United using United miles would easily cost 12,500+ and 30,000+ miles, respectively.
If you have a variety of different travel rewards currencies, be sure to compare redemption rates before booking.
Miles vs cash calculator
Having trouble deciding whether you should use United miles or pay with cash for your next flight? Check out our points vs. cash calculator, where you can plug in the miles required for the flight you’re looking at and the cash cost of the same ticket. The calculator will show you what’s the better way to purchase your ticket.
How to earn United miles
If you’re looking for more ways to earn miles there are a couple of United credit cards with the following welcome offers:
- United℠ Explorer Card – Earn up to 65,000 bonus miles. Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open
- United Club℠ Infinite Card – Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account is opening.
- United℠ Business Card – Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Normally, when we want to book award flights on United Airlines, we transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Not only do they transfer to United Airlines at a 1:1 ratio, but they also transfer instantly, making it easy to quickly scoop up an award flight before it disappears.
Opening a card like the United℠ Explorer Card can save you from transferring 40,000+ valuable Chase points to United Airlines. You could use the Chase Ultimate Rewards points I save to book two nights at a Category 7 Hyatt, like the Park Hyatt Sydney, which many of the MMS staff have been once or twice.
Being able to save my Chase points is even more valuable now that Chase has begun offering occasional transfer bonuses (though it’s been a while since we’ve seen a decent one).
You can earn Chase points with the following cards:
- Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card – earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – earn 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® – earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
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 10+ 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
Let us know your best redemption with United miles!
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