How to Use Your United Miles for Outsized Value

These award flights on United Airlines are relatively "cheap" considering how few miles they cost.
Elina Geller
JT Genter
By JT Genter and  Elina Geller 
Updated
Edited by Giselle M. Cancio

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

United MileagePlus miles can be redeemed for a wide range of values, with some award redemptions netting you a lot more value than others. By using MileagePlus miles, you can even unlock travel opportunities you might not be able to afford if you’re paying cash — like flying in premium cabins.

Let's take a look at how you can maximize your United MileagePlus miles and some of the top sweet spots of the MileagePlus program.

MileagePlus redemption basics

NerdWallet values United miles at 1.2 cents each, which means that you should aim for redemptions that offer at least that much value.

To determine the value of your redemption rate, divide the cash value of the ticket (less any applicable taxes/fees) by the number of miles required for the award flight. Say a flight costs $150 or 12,000 miles + $5.60 in taxes/fees. The redemption rate math would be as follows:

($150 – $5.60) / 12,000 = 0.012, or 1.2 cents per mile.

This hypothetical redemption is right at the NerdWallet valuation of 1.2 cents per mile. That makes it an OK redemption — not bad, not good. However, if the cash ticket price was higher (e.g., $200) or the mileage price lower (e.g., 10,000 miles), this redemption would be a winner.

United award chart is gone

United no longer publishes an award chart. Instead, its award prices vary based on demand. That means you may end up paying more miles when you fly on more popular days.

With that said, even years after ditching its award chart, the lowest-level saver awards still appear to generally be priced according to an unpublished award chart — particularly on international itineraries. This can provide a bit of stability in figuring out how many miles you might need to save up for a trip and how to know if you're getting a good deal.

However, not all awards are priced the same. Soon after getting rid of its award chart, United started pricing Star Alliance partner awards at a premium to award flights on United. For example, typical one-way award prices for economy flights to Europe are now:

  • 40,000 MileagePlus miles on United.

  • 43,900 MileagePlus miles for Star Alliance partners.

  • 30,000 MileagePlus miles on non-alliance partners.

Still, you can find value when booking award tickets on partner airlines. And United's more than three dozen partner airlines can get you to a much wider set of destinations than you could reach by flying United Airlines alone. You can use MileagePlus miles to book award flights on any Star Alliance member airline and most of United's non-alliance partners.

  • 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.

  • Shenzhen Airlines.

  • Singapore Airlines.

  • South African Airways.

  • Swiss.

  • TAP Air Portugal.

  • Thai Airways.

  • Turkish Airlines.

  • Aer Lingus.

  • Aeromar.

  • Air Dolomiti.

  • Airlink.

  • Azul.

  • Boutique Air.

  • Cape Air.

  • Discover Airlines.

  • Edelweiss.

  • Emirates.

  • Eurowings.

  • Eurowings Discover.

  • Flydubai.

  • Olympic Air.

  • Silver Airways.

  • Virgin Australia.

  • Vistara.

8 best uses of United miles

With so many flights offered by United and its partners, it’s hard to know where you can get the most value out of your United MileagePlus miles. Keep in mind that before you redeem your miles, it's worth doing a quick calculation to ensure that you're extracting at least 1.2 cents from each redemption.

1. Featured awards with United

On its featured awards page, United posts a list of low-priced award tickets for the upcoming month. Although you cant sort this list, you can input your origin and destination to see if there are any cheap award tickets to where you’d like to go.

Award prices vary, but a scan of the list shows that there are redemptions from Chicago to Cancun, Mexico for as low as 6,500 miles + $45 in taxes each way. If you were to select that 6,500 mile ticket on the main page, you’d see a flight search with a calendar of prices for the month (and beyond). Consider adjusting your intended travel plans if possible for the chance to redeem miles at a lower rate.

2. Short-haul economy flights on partner airlines

In addition to featured awards, you can also book partner awards for low prices, like this ticket for 6,000 miles + $40 in taxes from Zurich to Rome on Swiss Airlines.

Some other intra-Europe flights for 6,000 United miles + taxes include:

  • Brussels to London on Brussels Airlines.

  • Frankfurt to Munich on Lufthansa.

3. Use United credit cards or elite status to get expanded availability and discounted pricing

You can find even cheaper award prices on domestic United flights by being a United credit card holder or a Premier elite member. Both of these groups get access to additional saver award availability. Plus, United will sometimes offer discounted award pricing.

For example, at the time of writing, United is currently offering a discount on awards from Newark to Las Vegas as a "valued MileagePlus Premier member and/or United MileagePlus Cardmember."

4. A 0-mile award flight using the United Excursionist Perk

You can actually book an award flight for zero additional miles when using United miles on a multi-destination itinerary. The rules are a bit complicated, but MileagePlus members can use the Excursionist Perk to get a free one-way flight on a qualifying itinerary of three or more one-way awards.

Here's a straightforward example: Fly from New York to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Zurich and then from Zurich back to New York. If you book these flights together as one award, United will discount the cost of the Amsterdam to Zurich flight to zero miles.

5. Round-trip to the Caribbean

Planning a warm-weather getaway to a Caribbean destination like Nassau, Bahamas? You can book a round-trip flight for as few as 18,000 miles + $117 in taxes on United.

Taxes and fees on award flights to and from the Caribbean can be more expensive than other destinations. So compare the cash cost of a flight to the out-of-pocket expense when using miles.

6. U.S. to Tahiti

There aren't many flight options between the U.S. and French Polynesia — which includes once-in-a-lifetime destinations like Bora Bora and Tahiti. But United has year-round direct flights from San Francisco to Papeete, Tahiti.

Award availability can be limited on this route, especially during peak travel times. However, it’s possible to book a saver award for as few as 45,000 MileagePlus miles each way in economy or 85,000 United miles in business class. A scan of the calendar showed very few awards at 85,000 miles in business class, so if you want to travel in Polaris, plan this redemption in advance.

If you’re not in San Francisco, it’s possible to use the same number of miles to fly from another United departure city and connect in San Francisco on your way to Tahiti.

7. Flights to Peru in economy and business class

United offers direct flights to Peru from both Houston and New York-Newark. You can book this route for as few as 30,000 miles in economy or 55,000 miles each way in business class. We scanned the calendar and found very few flights in business class for 55,000 miles, so if you’re thinking about this redemption, you’d want to plan it in advance.

If you end up flying on a partner airline like Avianca or Copa Airlines, you’ll likely pay a bit more for that award.

8. Intra-Africa flights

So far, we've focused on awards originating in the U.S. or Europe. However, there's a sweet spot worth mentioning for those who are building a more complex itinerary. United's hidden partner award chart designates most of Africa in the same award region.

That means you can find flights almost anywhere on the continent for just 22,000 miles (or possibly even less) in economy. That can be a great deal for flying from the vineyards of Cape Town to the Old Medina of Casablanca for just 22,000 United miles + taxes.

How to top off your United MileagePlus account

You've got options if you don't already have enough MileagePlus miles in your account to take advantage of these sweet spots.

First, United is a Chase Ultimate Rewards® transfer partner. Eligible Chase card holders can convert Ultimate Rewards® points to MileagePlus miles at a 1:1 transfer ratio. Chase warns that it may take up to seven business days for the transfer to complete.

However, travelers report that the transfer typically happens instantaneously. So, you can quickly top off your account when you find a great redemption option.

You can also transfer hotel loyalty program points to United — including from Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt.

Marriott Bonvoy is the best of these options. Bonvoy points transfer to United at a 3:1 ratio, but you'll get 10,000 bonus United miles for every 60,000 Bonvoy points transferred. That means you'll end up with 30,000 United miles if you transfer exactly 60,000 Bonvoy points.

The other way of building up your MileagePlus account is by earning miles directly through a United co-branded card like the United℠ Explorer Card.

Final thoughts on maximizing your United miles

Your United MileagePlus miles can take you all over the world, but some destinations are better than others for getting the most value out of your miles.

Keeping this in mind can help you know when it’s best to redeem your United miles for your next flight and when it’s best to save them for a dream trip that lets you make the most of them.


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 2024, including those best for:

United Cards from our Partners
Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card

on Chase's website

United℠ Explorer Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-2x

Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays and United® purchases. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

Miles

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Miles
Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer Business Credit Card

on Chase's website

United℠ Business Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-2x

Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, dining, at gas stations, office supply stores, and on local transit and commuting. Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Miles

Intro offer

100,000

Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Miles
Chase United Quest Credit Card

on Chase's website

United Quest℠ Card
4.6
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-3x

Earn 3x miles on United® purchases, 2x miles on dining, select streaming services & all other travel, 1x on all other purchases

Miles

Intro offer

70,000

Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Miles
See more United cards
Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.