MileagePlus is the loyalty program of United Airlines, one of the US “big 3 airlines” and a founding member of Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance.
United miles can be used to book not only its own flights, but also flights with its Star Alliance and non-alliance partners.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything there is to know about United MileagePlus, including how to optimize your earning and redeeming within the program.
Earning Miles with United MileagePlus
There are several ways to earn MileagePlus miles, including with co-branded credit cards and through points transfers from banks and other loyalty programs.
However, note that opportunities to earn United miles are mostly catered towards members based in the US. Other than organic flying, members based in Canada don’t have as many options to earn as much United miles, unless they venture into the US credit card market too.
United Co-Branded Credit Cards
The easiest and quickest way to rack up United miles is by signing up for United co-branded credit cards that offer welcome bonuses.
Chase currently issues four personal and two business co-branded United MileagePlus credit cards:
- United Gateway Card
- United Explorer Card
- United Quest Card
- United Club Infinite Card
- United Business Card
- United Club Business Card
Remember that when applying for United MileagePlus credit cards, you must abide by the Chase 5/24 rule, which means that you must have opened at most five new personal credit cards in the past 24 months across all US banks. If you exceed the limit, you’ll automatically be declined.
You also won’t be eligible for the signup bonus if you currently hold the United card you wanted to apply for, or if you’ve already received a signup bonus on that card within the past 24 months.
Transferring Points to United MileagePlus
United has several partnerships with other banks and loyalty programs that allow you to transfer points to your United MileagePlus account.
How many United miles you get and how long the transfer takes depend on where you’re transferring your points from.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are a flexible points currency primarily earned through other Chase credit cards. You can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to your United MileagePlus account in increments of 1,000 at a ratio of 1:1.
Chase officially states that transfers can take up to seven business days, but in practice, transfers tend to complete instantly.
Wells Fargo issues the Bilt Mastercard, which allows cardholders to earn Bilt Rewards points. Aside from the card, the Bilt Rewards platform also allows users to make rental payments to landlords who are part of the Bilt Rewards Alliance.
Bilt Rewards points can then be transferred to United MileagePlus miles at a rate of 1:1, and transfers complete instantly.
Marriott Bonvoy points can be transferred to a number of different airline programs, but you’ll get more points by transferring to United MileagePlus with the preferred partnership between the two companies.
Points can be transferred at a rate of 3 Bonvoy points = 1 United mile, but you’ll get a bonus of 10,000 United miles for every 60,000 Bonvoy points you transfer. Thus, if you transfer 60,000 Bonvoy points, you’ll be getting a total of 30,000 United miles, with an effective rate of 2 Bonvoy points = 1 United mile.
Note that transfers tend to take at least three days.
Other Transfer Partners
You can also transfer points from other hotel loyalty programs to United miles, although they offer suboptimal transfer rates:
- Accor Live Limitless (ALL): 2 points = 1 mile
- Choice Preferences: 5 points = 1 mile
- Hilton Honors: 10 points = 1 mile
- World of Hyatt: 2.5 points = 1 mile (with a bonus of 5,000 miles if you transfer 50,000 points)
- IHG One Rewards: 5 points = 1 mile
- Marriott Vacation Club Points: 1 point = 16 miles
- Radisson Rewards: 10 points = 1 mile
- Shangri-La Circle: 1 point = 1 mile
- Wyndham Rewards: 5 points = 1 mile
Flying with United
You can also earn United miles by flying with United, Star Alliance, and non-alliance airlines on revenue fares.
The amount of miles you’ll earn will depend on your fare class, flight distance, MileagePlus loyalty status, and which airline you’re flying with.
On United flights, you’ll earn miles based on the fare you paid and your MileagePlus status.
All members earn 5x United miles per dollar spent on base fare plus carrier-imposed surcharges, excluding government-imposed taxes and surcharges.
MileagePlus members with higher status will earn additional miles with the following multipliers on base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges:
- Premier Silver: 2x miles per dollar spent
- Premier Gold: 3x miles per dollar spent
- Premier Platinum: 4x miles per dollar spent
- Premier 1K: 6x miles per dollar spent
Therefore, if you’re a Premier Silver member, and your fare comes out to $800, you’ll earn 5,600 miles for that flight, while as a Premier 1K member, you’ll earn 8,800 miles on the same flight.
You won’t earn miles on tickets where the fares are unpublished or “opaque” — for example, when you buy flights from a website like Priceline or Hotwire, and the airline’s identification is omitted until you’ve already purchased the ticket.
Flying with Partner Airlines
There are a lot of other airlines that will earn you United MileagePlus miles, if you credit the flight to your MileagePlus account.
Star Alliance Airlines Aegean Airlines Air Canada Air China Air India Air New Zealand All Nippon Airways (ANA) Asiana Airlines Austrian Airlines Avianca Brussels Airlines Copa Airlines Croatia Airlines EgyptAir Ethiopian Airlines EVA Air LOT Polish Airlines Lufthansa Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) Shenzhen Airlines Singapore Airlines Swiss TAP Air Portugal Thai Airways Turkish Airlines United Airlines
Star Alliance Airlines
Air New Zealand
All Nippon Airways (ANA)
LOT Polish Airlines
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
TAP Air Portugal
- Aer Lingus
- Air Dolomiti
- Boutique Air
- Cape Air
- Eurowings Discover
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Olympic Air
- Silver Airways
- Virgin Australia
How much you earn depends on the airline, distance flown, and the fare you purchased.
However, if your ticket was purchased from United and the ticket number starts with 016, the miles you’ll earn will be based on the earning rates of United flights, despite being operated by another airline.
Other Ways of Earning United Miles
Outside of credit cards, transfer partners, and flying, there are a lot more ways to pad your United MileagePlus balance.
For one, you can earn miles by booking with the following accommodation partners:
- Choice Hotels: 250 miles per stay at select brands
- IHG: 1 or 2 miles depending on the hotel per $1 spent
- Hyatt: 500 miles per stay at selected Hyatt brands
- Marriott: 1 or 2 miles depending on the hotel per $1 spent
- Wyndham: 1 or 2 miles per $1 spent, depending on Wyndham Reward status
- Rocketmiles: Up to 10,000 miles per night of accommodations booked
- Shangri-La: 500 miles per stay
- Villages of Distinction: 3 miles per $1 spent on luxury villas
- Vrbo: 3 miles per $1 spent
You can also earn United miles by renting a car with Avis or Budget at the following rates:
- 500 miles on every rental for MileagePlus members
- 750 miles on every rental for MileagePlus credit cardholders
- 1,000 miles on every rental for Premier Silver and Premier Gold members
- 1,250 miles on every rental for Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members
Booking vacation packages through United’s own booking portals will also yield you the following points:
- United Packages: Up to 20,000 miles on vacation packages
- United Cruises: Up to 45,000 MileagePlus miles on cruise packages
- United Hotels: 2 miles per $1 spent on bookings
Even shopping can earn you United miles. Similar to the Aeroplan eStore, the United MileagePlus Shopping Portal allows you to earn miles by shopping online or in-store at over 1,000 stores, with varying earning rates depending on the store.
You can also earn up to 5 miles per dollar spent through United MileagePlus X, an app that awards miles for shopping, dining, and gift card purchases.
Lastly, United has plenty of partnerships with other businesses that offer bonus miles. A list of ongoing offers can be found on the United website.
For example, you can receive miles for completing surveys, buying flowers, finalizing a mortgage, or even buying or leasing a Jaguar vehicle.
The quickest way to earn United miles is by buying them. Miles can be bought from United directly for 3.5 cents (USD) per mile, plus 7.5% federal excise tax. However, there often are promotions that allow you to get up to a 100% bonus.
A maximum of 175,000 miles can be purchased per account per calendar year, so if your timing is right, you could buy 87,500 miles for $3,292.19 with tax, and you’d get a bonus 87,500 miles, for a total of 175,000 miles. This yields an effective acquisition price of 1.88 cents per mile.
Redeeming Miles with United MileagePlus
There are several options for redeeming your miles with United MileagePlus; however, you’ll obviously get the most value by redeeming your miles for flights.
Operating over 4,500 daily flights, United flies to more than 210 US destinations and to more than 120 international destinations across five continents. Add to those the number of routes and destinations served by its airline partners, and you’ll have plenty of possible redemptions.
Unfortunately, United imposes a dynamic award chart for flight redemptions on its own flights and its partners’ flights. This means that the number of miles required for an award can vary depending on factors, such as the route, date, season, and availability.
For United-operated flights, a dynamic award chart also means that the price in miles may be tied to the actual cost of a flight in cash and that every available seat can be booked with miles. However, the last few seats on a plane belonging to the highest fare classes may not be worth the exorbitant number of miles.
On a slightly positive note, with MileagePlus, fuel surcharges are baked into the miles required for redemption, resulting in less cash out-of-pocket for taxes and fees.
To redeem your miles for flights, simply log into your MileagePlus account on either United.com or through the app and select “Book with miles.”
Alternatively, you can book an award ticket over the phone for an extra $25 fee or for free if you’re a Premier Platinum or Premier 1K member.
United miles can also be used to upgrade United flights and Star Alliance partner flights. You can use miles to upgrade your flight either at the time of booking or at any time leading up to the flight departure.
To upgrade your flight with miles at the time of booking, select “Advanced search” when looking for flight options. From there, select “Upgrades, certificate, and promotion codes” and choose “MileagePlus Upgrade Awards (MUA)”.
You’ll then have the option to pay for your ticket with cash and then use your miles to upgrade to a better seat.
A one-way upgrade from economy to business class from Los Angeles to Newark (EWR) only costs an extra 20,000 miles, but its hefty $250 service fee is something you should consider. You’ll be charged this amount at the time of booking and will then be waitlisted according to your United status. If you’re not successful with your upgrade, you’ll get a refund.
If you wish to upgrade your United or Star Alliance flight after booking, you’ll have to do so online, or you may have to call United in some cases.
Not all Star Alliance partner flights are eligible to be upgraded, and when applicable, it’s only for a one-cabin upgrade and only for one non-stop flight.
With all flight upgrades, the amount of miles required depends on the route, as well as the original cabin booked.
You can search to see if your flight is upgradable with miles by using United’s Upgrade Awards search tool.
Other Redemption Options
Aside from award flights and flight upgrades, United miles can also be redeemed in other ways.
Through their respective United travel booking portals, you can redeem miles for hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises.
If you’re into shopping, you redeem your United miles for a wide variety of merchandise and gift cards through its shopping portal.
There are also MileagePlus experiences that you can bid on with your miles. These experiences include sporting events, concerts, and vacation packages.
While the redemption possibilities above make your miles more flexible, you should proceed with caution, as you’re certainly getting less value for your miles compared to flight rewards.
United MileagePlus Sweet Spots
With United’s dynamic pricing model, sweet spots can come and go when looking to redeem your United miles for the best value possible. While a recent devaluation increased the mileage required across the board, there are still some good deals to be found within the program.
Booking United and Partner Flights
Within United’s own flights, domestic flights are a great use of United miles. A short flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco in economy can be found for as little as 5,400 miles.
Longer domestic flights can also be reasonably priced. A flight of nearly six hours in duration from San Francisco to Boston can be booked for 14,300 miles plus $7.60 in fees.
Since United seems to price award flights based on region rather than distance, there are also great deals to be found when flying within the same region.
For example, in Africa, you can fly Johannesburg (JNB) to Cairo (CAI) for only 33,000 miles in economy class on either Egyptair or Ethiopian Airlines, or from Cape Town (CPT) to Casablanca (CMN) for as little as 22,000 miles in economy class with the same airlines.
While there are some great deals to be found, you should make it a habit to compare the price in miles with the price in cash. With dynamic pricing, when it’s cheap to redeem United miles for a ticket, then the cash price might not be too expensive either.
United MileagePlus Tips & Tricks
If you’re looking to redeem miles with United MileagePlus, here are a few tips and tricks to help along the way.
United MileagePlus offers the Excursionist Perk on award redemptions. This feature allows you to get a “free” one-way segment if you book an itinerary that includes three or more one-way segments.
To be eligible for the Excursionist Perk, you must meet the following conditions:
- The “free” flight cannot be in the same region where your travel originates. Thus, if you depart from North America, your free flight must be outside of North America.
- Your last flight must arrive in the same region where your first flight departed from.
- The “free” flight must depart and arrive in the same region.
- The cabin class of the “free” flight must be the same or lower as the one-way segment preceding it.
- If you have two or more one-way segments that may qualify for the Excursionist Perk, only the first will be “free”.
Basically, if you are flying a round-trip or open-jaw anywhere internationally with United miles, you can add another flight within the region you’re going to, which will not cost you any additional miles.
Let’s look at an example flying from Chicago to Europe.
You can fly Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR), then London (LHR) to Paris (CDG), and finally return from Paris (CDG) back to Chicago (ORD).
If you search using the multi-city tool on United.com, you’ll find that the London (LHR) to Paris (CDG) portion of the trip will come out to 0 miles plus taxes and fees.
Now let’s look at a slightly more advanced example. By following the Excursionist Perk rules, your “free” flight must start and end in a different region from your original flight, but your original flight doesn’t have to connect or link up with your “free” flight.
Let’s say you want to fly from Cape Town, South Africa to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with United miles. This would normally cost you 19,300 miles for the cheapest ticket in economy class.
Now, if you were to add a short-haul US flight, say from Los Angeles to San Francisco before and after your intra-Africa flight for 5,600 miles apiece, then your intra-Africa flight would be priced at 0 miles.
Your total journey, with the two extra flights included, would come out to 11,200 miles for the three one-way flights instead of 19,300 miles for the intra-Africa flight alone.
There’s plenty of potential with this trick, especially for positioning flights that you can use to complement your other award redemptions.
However, remember that you must use the flights on the ticket in sequence, or else the subsequent flights might be cancelled.
No Change/Cancellation Fees
There are no change nor cancellation fees associated with MileagePlus award bookings, regardless if they involve United or partner flights. This means that if you come across a great deal, you can book the flight immediately, and then change or cancel should your plans evolve.
United has a useful tool called Featured Awards, which lists specific award deals that have been recently found. The list, which is constantly updated, can be filtered by departure and arrival city, maximum number of miles, and cabin class.
You can use United’s powerful calendar tool to search for the cheapest awards in 30-day intervals, saving you time by not having to search individual days.
You can also leverage this tool to search for low-priced awards on Star Alliance partner airlines, otherwise called “saver awards”. These seats are generally bookable via other Star Alliance loyalty programs as well.
You can then compare the cost of these saver awards between United MileagePlus and other programs like Aeroplan, which doesn’t charge dynamic prices for partner awards.
United MileagePlus Premier Status
United MileagePlus has four Premier elite status levels:
- Premier Silver
- Premier Gold
- Premier Platinum
- Premier 1K
In order to qualify for one of the four status levels, you must first fly a minimum for four flight segments with United or United Express.
After that, you’ll have to reach a specific threshold of flight segments, also known as Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF), and earn a specific number of Premier Qualifying Points (PQP). If you reach a high enough PQP, you won’t need the PQFs above the minimum of four United segments required.
PQPs are earned based on the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges of your flight purchase, and they include seat purchases and paid upgrades.
You can also earn PQPs by spending on co-branded United credit cards. You’ll earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 in card spend. You can earn anywhere from 1,000 to 8,000 PQPs per calendar year, depending on the card, with a maximum of 15,000 PQPs earned across all cards per MileagePlus account.
Here are the requirements for every status level:
You cannot reach the highest Premier 1K tier with PQPs earned by credit card spending alone. Rather, you must earn PQFs as well, or earn higher PQPs with non-credit card activity.
United MileagePlus Premier tiers come with corresponding benefits that scale up as you reach higher status tiers. You can find all the benefits detailed on United’s website.
As a Premier Silver member, you’ll be eligible for complimentary upgrades, access to Economy Plus seats for you and a companion during check-in, and a complimentary checked bag.
With Premier Gold and above, you’ll also become a Star Alliance Gold member, which unlocks additional benefits when you fly with any Star Alliance partner airline. Among the most lucrative benefits are access to Star Alliance airport lounges and additional baggage allowance.
If you’re a Premier Platinum or 1K member, you’ll also have access to United’s PlusPoints. You’ll receive 40 PlusPoints when you reach Premier Platinum, and 280 PlusPoint when you reach Premier 1K.
You can then earn more PlusPoints if you continue to earn more Premier qualifying points. Every 3,000 PQP beyond 18,000 will earn you 20 more PlusPoints.
PlusPoints can be used to upgrade seats at the following costs:
There are also some ways you can fast-track to a higher United MileagePlus status tier without having to earn PQF or PQP.
If you’re a Marriott Bonvoy Titanium or Ambassador Elite member, you’ll be automatically eligible for United Premier Silver status as part of the preferred partnership between Marriott and United.
You can claim your Premier Silver status by registering on the United website.
United also allows status matches from another airline loyalty programs. The full list of programs and terms can be found on United’s website.
The United MileagePlus program can be used to unlock award flights with United and its partner airlines without any carrier-imposed surcharges.
Earning miles in the MileagePlus program can easily be done through signing up for United’s co-branded Chase credit cards in the US, and by crediting your normal flight activity to your United MileagePlus account.
When you have United miles, there’s certainly value to be found, especially if you’re able to take advantage of some of the sweet spots, including the Excursionist Perk.