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As one of the largest airlines in the world, United Airlines is often a great option to get where you want to go. United's MileagePlus loyalty program generally offers reasonable rates; however, it can sometimes be cheaper to book United saver awards through one of its partners. To do so, you need to find United saver award availability.
You can use paid services (like ExpertFlyer) to locate availability. But there's a free and easier way to find United saver award availability — using United's own award search tool. But to avoid false positives and minimize frustration, there are some tips you'll want to keep in mind.
Here's what you need to know about how to search and book United saver awards through partners.
When to book United awards through partner programs
Before we get into how to search, let's review a few cases when you'll want to consider booking through a partner loyalty program.
Save on United award flights to Europe
United MileagePlus charges as few as 60,000 miles each way for business class awards to Europe. That's quite a reasonable rate for business class — especially as you can fly from anywhere in the U.S., and you're not limited to nonstop flights. Still, there are times it can be cheaper to book through partner programs.
For example, Turkish Miles&Smiles charges just 45,000 miles each way for the same United business class award. If you don't have enough miles in your Miles&Smiles account, you can transfer in your Citi ThankYou points, Capital One miles or Marriott Bonvoy points.
Or, if you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points, transfer points to Air Canada’s Aeroplan program instead of United to book last-minute United award flights to Europe. Although United charges a higher mileage rate for close-in bookings, Aeroplan will still charge just 60,000 points for business class awards under 4,000 miles in distance each way.
Save on United award flights to Hawaii
Flying to Hawaii is another time it can make sense to book United awards through partner loyalty programs. United generally charges 22,500 MileagePlus miles for economy and 40,000 miles each way in business class.
You can book the same awards cheaper through United's Star Alliance partners. For example, Air Canada Aeroplan charges 12,500 points for economy or 25,000 points for business class for partner awards from 1,501 to 2,750 miles each direction. That means you can book the same United awards for almost half the points.
Don't already have Aeroplan points? You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards®, American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One miles or Marriott Bonvoy points to Air Canada Aeroplan to take advantage of this Aeroplan sweet spot.
Alternatively, you can use Turkish Miles&Smiles to save on United award flights to Hawaii. Turkish's online award search tool is wonky; but, if you can find award space, you'll pay just 7,500 miles each way for economy and just 12,500 miles each way in business class.
Based on our most recent analysis, NerdWallet values Turkish Airlines miles at 1.4 cents each.
How to search United saver award availability
The easiest way to search United saver award availability is right on United's website. Follow these steps.
1. Log out
First, make sure that you're logged out of your United MileagePlus account. United Premier elite status members and United co-branded cardholders have access to additional saver award space. That extra award space is great when you're booking an award using MileagePlus miles, but this additional saver award isn't available when booking through partners.
2. Start an award flight search
You'll generally want to start your award search on United's homepage. Select the "Book with miles" option and enter your origin, destination, number of travelers and class of service.
For the cleanest results, we recommend searching one-way and selecting the "Flexible dates" option. Select the earliest month you'd like to travel, as it's easier to scroll forward through the results than backward. Then, choose "Find flights" to launch an award search.
United will prompt you to log into your account. You'll only want to log into your account if you're using United miles. If you want to book United saver awards through partners, click the "X" at the top right of the pop-up box — or just press the escape key.
3. Browse the calendar
This will display a calendar (hopefully) full of lines and dots that looks more like Morse code than award availability. As the key explains, a solid line indicates "Saver Award Economy" award space. Dates with five dots have "Saver Award Premium Cabin" availability.
4. Pick your travel date
Click on the date on which you want to travel, and review the flight results. Ignore the "Everyday Award" columns, as these are higher-priced awards that are only available when booking through United.
5. Look up the same trip on your preferred partner's website
Finally, use this information to search and book United saver awards through your preferred partner loyalty program.
Other tips for booking saver awards on partner sites
Narrow results to nonstop options
You can narrow down the calendar results by selecting the "Show only nonstop flight availability" option left of the calendar. Depending on the route, this may drastically reduce the number of award results.
One quirk of the United award search tool is that the "Show only nonstop flight availability" option won't work properly when there are no nonstop flights. So make sure that there are nonstop flights on the dates you're searching. Otherwise, the calendar may produce false positives.
Avoid mixed cabin awards
If you're searching for premium cabin awards, United may show "mixed cabin" results. That's where only part of the itinerary is in a premium cabin and other legs are in economy. However, you'll still be charged the business class award price for the whole trip.
There are two ways to avoid mixed cabin awards. First, search using flexible dates and limit the calendar results to nonstop flights. If a date shows premium cabin saver availability, you'll know that the nonstop flight has premium cabin availability.
For itineraries that require a connection, search flights separately. So, if you find award space on one flight (e.g. Newark to Los Angeles) and a second flight (e.g. Los Angeles to Honolulu), you'll know that you can book those two legs together as one award.
Use calendar for a quick view of United and partners’ availability
In addition to finding United saver award availability, United's website is great for easily finding awards on Star Alliance partners. The problem? United's award search results calendar doesn't differentiate between United and partner awards.
Which airline is operating the flight might not matter if you're just looking for a way to get to your destination using points and miles. However, if you want to fly a particular airline, you need to click day by day to find which airline has award availability that date.
But there's a trick to get around this. From the calendar award results page, simply select "Update" in the search widget at the top of the page. Ignore United's request for you to log in. This will return a 7-day award calendar with numerical values instead of Morse code.
To expand your search to a 30-day window, select the "View 30 day calendar" option. If you want to search for a premium cabin, select your desired cabin from the drop-down option. And to limit the results to nonstop options, uncheck the "with stops" option beneath the results.
You're likely going to see a variety of prices across the range, especially for premium cabins. There's yet another trick to knowing which dates offer United awards: United currently charges a mileage premium to fly on partner airlines instead of United-operated flights. So, the cheapest options are likely to be United-operated.
In the example above, only Dec. 30 — the date showing "60K" and marked in green — has United award availability.
For award options to Europe, the "77K" options typically indicate availability on a Star Alliance partner. The award search example above between New York and Frankfurt is going to indicate Lufthansa business class saver award availability.
If you're searching for United saver award availability
United's website is a great way to search for United award availability. However, if you're planning to book United saver awards through a partner loyalty program, you'll want to search in a very different way than if you're using United miles.
Make sure to stay logged out of your United MileagePlus account. Use the nonstop filters to limit your options and avoid mixed cabin awards. Then, use the price-based calendar search to help differentiate between United and partner awards. Lastly, once you find award availability, take advantage of the best partner loyalty program pricing to book the award.
Doing all of this is harder than just booking through United MileagePlus. However, the hard work is worth it when you book the same awards for a fraction of the miles United charges.
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 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card