How United’s dynamic award chart can work in your favor

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I’m old enough to remember when United first announced it was transitioning its classic award chart to “dynamic pricing.” That was an incendiary decision in the eyes of the miles and points community. And while it’s still often more annoying than helpful, this current award chart occasionally publishes outright steals.

United used to charge 12,500 miles for a one-way domestic flight, no matter where you were going. They then lowered that minimum price to 10,000 miles for short-haul flights. Now, the employee in charge of fare prices has gone rogue. He’s wedged a chair against the door of the control room, and he’s pricing flights as if Scott Kirby insulted his mother.

I’ll highlight a handful of very interesting routes that you can book starting at 5,000 miles one-way — and mention the best travel credit cards to quickly rack up United miles.

Award flights to get you to a Mexican sunrise have never been cheaper. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

Book United Airlines flights for as little as 5,000 miles

United’s released several routes for as little as 5,000 miles one-way. And if you’re willing to spend a couple thousand miles more, you can get some great international flights, too.

As noted above, United moved to dynamic award pricing last year. In some cases you’ll be forced to use more miles than what was traditionally charged with the old award chart. However, dynamic pricing can also work in your favor. The flights listed below are approximately 33% to 66% cheaper than what was previously billed. Some routes require even less miles than what some of the best Star Alliance partner programs (like Avianca Lifemiles) charge, which are known to be better for booking some United awards than United itself.

Note that some of these flights are available for cheap when paying cash, so it might make sense to use dollars now and save your miles for a high value, premium cabin redemption.

Check out these sample flights below (there are tons of fares like these, so search your desired routes to see if United has slashed the price):

  • Houston to Orlando – 5,000 miles
  • Chicago to Boston – 5,000 miles
  • New York to Fort Lauderdale – 5,000 miles
  • San Francisco to Newark – 6,500 miles
  • Cincinnati to Miami – 6,500
  • Newark to Los Angeles – 6,500 miles
  • Newark to San Juan – 8,000 miles
  • Chicago to Cancun – 8,000 miles
  • Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas – 8,000 miles
  • Houston to Puerto Vallarta – 9,000 miles
  • Newark to Paris – 21,000 miles
  • Newark to Tel Aviv – 31,500 miles

Note: United doesn’t tack on fuel surcharges, so you’re only liable for the modest taxes and fees along with these award prices.

Many of these flights are available into 2021. The availability of these fares vary by location, but you can quickly scan upcoming availability by clicking “View 30 day calendar” after you enter your desired route on United will display a month’s worth of prices on one easy-to-digest screen.

It’s nice to see that there are a number of Mexico routes on sale, as it’s one of the only countries in the world that currently welcomes American tourists.

Although most Americans aren’t allowed to travel to France or Israel for tourism right now, if you’re willing to take a chance in hopes that you’ll be able to enter in 2021, you can even snag flights to Paris and Tel Aviv next for just 21,000 miles and 31,500 miles one-way, respectively. Saver economy flights to Europe usually price at 30,000 miles, so you’re getting a ~33% discount here. Flying from the U.S. to Israel normally costs 42,500 miles.

Fly from Newark to Paris for 21,000 miles one-way.
Saver economy awards to Isreal normally don’t drop below 42,500 miles.

Remember that United no longer charges change fees, even on award tickets. So if you want to make a speculative booking with these dirt-cheap awards, you don’t have to worry since you can redeposit miles at will (as long as you do so 30 days before departure).

How to quickly earn United Airlines miles

It’s notably easy to earn United miles. That’s because there are several United Airlines credit cards that offer generous sign-up bonuses. Our favorites are:

  • United℠ Explorer Card – Earn up to 70,000 miles. Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn an additional 10,000 miles after you spend $6,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open.
  • United Club℠ Infinite Card – Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Side note, the United Explorer is one of my all-time favorite cards. It’s got benefits that aid you in every step of your travel journey, it offers expanded award availability, free checked bags and United Club lounge passes. You can read our Chase United Explorer review for all the details.

You can also instantly transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United at a 1:1 ratio. That means all the cards that earn Chase points are effectively United mile earners, too:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve® – Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.

By earning just a few travel credit card bonuses, you could have hundreds of thousands of United miles — easily enough to take the entire family (and then some) on these crazy cheap award flights.

Comment if you find any other noteworthy routes! And subscribe to our newsletter for other can’t-miss award flight deals like this delivered to your inbox.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for 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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