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years after ditching its award chart, the lowest-level saver awards still appear to generally be priced according to an unpublished award chart — particularly on international itineraries.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.
44,000 MileagePlus miles on non-alliance partners.
Still, there can be value found in booking awards 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.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
7 smart money moves with 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. So here are some sweet spots you should be aware of. 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. Short-haul economy flights — in the U.S. and abroad
If you’re booking a short-haul flight, it’s worth looking into booking the flight with MileagePlus miles. Depending on your travel dates, you can book an award for as little as 5,000 United miles each way. For example, United prices award flights between Los Angeles to Las Vegas as low as 5,000 miles each way.
Applying its rather consistent partner surcharge, United charges 5,500 United miles for short-haul domestic flights on partner airlines — such as intra-Japan flights on All Nippon Airways.
Or, for 6,000 United miles, you can fly intra-Europe flights such as:
Brussels to London on Brussels Airlines.
Frankfurt to Munich on Lufthansa.
Zurich to Rome on SWISS regional partner Helvetic Airways.
2. Use United credit cards to get expanded availability and discounted pricing
You can get even cheaper award rates on domestic United flights by being a United credit card holder. Both United credit card holders and Premier elite members 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 me around a 30% discount on awards from Los Angeles to Las Vegas as a "valued MileagePlus Premier member and/or United MileagePlus Cardmember."
3. A 0-mile award flight using the United Excursionist Perk
Believe it or not, 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.
4. 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 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.
5. 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. Thankfully, 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 44,300 MileagePlus miles each way in economy or 85,000 United miles in business class.
If you’re not in San Francisco, it’s possible to use around the same number of miles to fly from another United departure city and connect in San Francisco on your way to Tahiti.
6. Flights to Peru in economy
United offers direct flights to Peru from both Houston and New York-Newark. You can book this route for as few as 23,700 miles in economy or 55,000 miles each way in business class. You’ll pay a bit more if you fly to Peru on a United partner like Avianca or Copa Airlines.
7. Intra-Africa flights
So far, we've focused on awards originating in the U.S. 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.
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.
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.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
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 2023, 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