6 Things the United Airlines MileagePlus Program Gets Right

Joan Kornblith, Sally FrenchSeptember 1, 2020

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Everyone loves a bargain – but maybe not at the expense of comfort. When you’re crammed into a middle seat between a sneezer and a snorer, you start to reconsider if the ultra-savings was worth it.

United Airlines, while not considered a low-cost carrier, could be a solid option for flyers looking for comfort and easy ways to save money with travel rewards. This legacy carrier’s frequent-flyer program has a lot to offer, and with 4,600 daily departures to 354 airports in 48 countries, United and the Star Alliance take you where you want to be.

Here are six things the United Airlines MileagePlus program gets right.

1. Earn miles with a credit card

With generous sign-up bonuses and at least 1 miles per $1 spent on eligible United purchases, restaurants, hotel nights and more, miles add up quickly.

If you book with the United℠ Explorer Card, get perks such as one free checked bag, get 25% back on in-flight purchases, priority boarding privileges and up to a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit.

2. Saving on various fees

In general, you can earn MileagePlus miles on flights with Star Alliance partners and redeem your miles for flights on Star Alliance airlines. If you have Gold elite status or above your partner flight benefits include an extra baggage allowance and access to the airport clubs around the globe.

And if you are booking an international trip, United’s Excursionist Perk — a free one-way award with certain multi-city itineraries — can add savings to a trip. Members who book an itinerary with three or more one-way awards will be eligible to receive one of those one-way awards for free if it meets specified conditions.

MileagePlus elite members can also save on fees for tickets booked within 21 days of departure. Fees are reduced or waived for MileagePlus elite members.

3. Flexibility around changing or canceling flights

Whether or not you’re in the United Airlines MileagePlus program, United is one of the best airlines for changing or canceling flights. In August 2020, United removed change fees on most domestic flights (though after Dec. 31, 2020, you’ll still have to pay change fees on basic economy tickets).

As of Jan. 1, 2021, all United passengers can opt for a standby flight for no extra cost. But it gets even better if you’re a MileagePlus Premier member. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, you can request a same-day flight change for no extra charge, as long as your new flight occurs within 24 hours of your originally scheduled flight, has the same origin and destination, and the same fare class is available. However, if changing your flight class, you’ll have to pay the difference.

3. A comfortable flying experience

Before you even step onboard, you might find yourself having a more pleasant journey through the airport. MileagePlus Global Services and Premier 1K members receive complimentary Clear membership, a security program separate from TSA Precheck or Global Entry that allows passengers to skip the ID check portion of security, instead using dedicated lanes to verify their identity at Clear kiosks with facial recognition technology and fingerprint scanning. Clear membership normally retails for $179.

Flights with United Private Screening offer films and TV shows you watch on your own device via the United app. Wi-Fi is available on most planes, with United promising more coverage and better service to come.

5. Miles don’t expire

You no longer have to worry about losing your miles because you didn’t keep your MileagePlus account active over the last 18 months. As of the summer of 2019, United miles no longer expire.

6. Use miles on non-travel expenses

MileagePlus Exclusives offer members the chance to bid on one-of-a-kind adventures, including VIP access to Broadway shows, sporting events and foodie events with Michelin starred chefs.

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