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Can anybody keep up with the changes to the United MilagePlus program? It’s our job to do just that, and it can be a challenge. The most important question is how much United miles are actually worth now, given the recent changes to its frequent flyer program.
We conducted a thorough analysis, and NerdWallet values United miles at 1 cent each. This is a baseline value, drawn from real-world data on hundreds of economy routes, not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer 1 cent or more in value from your United miles.
With the calculator below, you can figure out how much your miles are worth based on this value.
What does this value mean?
We estimate that each United mile is worth 1 cent, but this is a “baseline” value, not a "maximized" value.
You can get considerably more bang from your miles by researching carefully, targeting partner airlines and leveraging the Excursionist Perk. You can also get considerably less value by using your United miles carelessly. Just like real money, there are better and worse ways to use award miles.
How flexible are United miles?
In a word: Very.
United miles can be used to book flights on United, of course. They can also be used to book flights on dozens of partner airlines (through the United search tool, not by transferring to partners), upgrade to premium cabin seats and even upgrade Star Alliance partner flights.
You can also use these miles for unusual purchases such as magazine subscriptions and rental cars, but in general these redemption options don’t offer great value.
» Learn more: The complete guide to redeeming United MileagePlus miles
How do United miles compare with other airlines?
United falls near the middle of the airline pack with its mile value.
However, the raw value of United miles tells only half the story. The other half comes from the rate at which you earn these miles when flying. Combining these rates gives us the "rewards earning rate," which is the percentage of your airline spending you can expect to earn back in the form of rewards.
United drops below average in this metric, in large part because of its revenue-based earning model.
» Learn more: How much are your airline miles and hotel points worth?
How did we determine the value of United miles?
We collected hundreds of data points comparing the cash value with award (mile) value for the same routes and dates. That is, we compared the cost of a given ticket in either cash or miles, across many tickets.
This method differs from others in that it looks at actual redemptions rather than hypothetical, maximized redemptions. The advantage of this approach is that it provides a real-world indication of how much these miles are worth, on average. That said, it doesn’t take into account the upper range of potential values.
Wondering what you can do with those miles? Check out our guide to booking award flights with United.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card