United MileagePlus Program: The Complete Guide

The U.S.-based airline's MileagePlus loyalty program lets passengers easily earn and redeem miles.
Sally French
Elina Geller
Gregory Karp
By Gregory Karp,  Elina Geller and  Sally French 
Updated
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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United Airlines is among the largest airlines in the U.S. and the world, with domestic hubs in Chicago, Houston, Newark, Denver, San Francisco, Washington-Dulles, Los Angeles and Guam. MileagePlus is the name of the airline’s loyalty program.

The airline operates 4,500 daily flights to more than 300 cities across five continents. In addition, United has partnerships with 18 airlines and is also a member of Star Alliance, which has 26 member airlines. These relationships mean you can earn and redeem miles on 44 airlines, and travel to a great many destinations.

If your home airport is a United stronghold, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with its frequent flyer program so you can start reaping the benefits of the airline’s vast reach.

Follow along as we discuss ways to earn and redeem MileagePlus miles, elite status, the best United credit cards and the airline’s Star Alliance and other airline partners.

What is United MileagePlus?

MileagePlus is United Airlines' frequent flyer loyalty program. When you fly on paid tickets on United Airlines, its airline partners and its Star Alliance partners, you can earn MileagePlus miles. You can also earn miles in many other ways, including using a United credit card, transferring from Chase Ultimate Rewards®, dining, shopping and much more.

Once you’ve accumulated enough miles, you can redeem them for free flights in first, business class and economy seats on United and its partner airlines. You can also redeem miles for flight upgrades.

Get up to 80,000 miles with our favorite United cards
Check out our nerdy picks for the best United credit cards and find the right card for you.

United Airlines frequent flyer sign-up

Before you can start earning miles with United Airlines, you’ll need to sign up for a MileagePlus frequent flyer account. It’s free to join, and you can register for an account here.

How much are United miles worth?

United economy plus seats. (Photo courtesy of United Airlines)

Based on our most recent analysis, NerdWallet values United MileagePlus miles at 1.2 cents apiece. To determine the value of reward miles, we compared cash prices and reward redemptions for economy round-trip routes across several destinations and dates. We divided the cost of the cash ticket by the cost of the reward ticket to determine a “cent per mile” value for each flight, then averaged this value across several flights and dates. Read more about how we arrived at these figures.

Therefore, this is a baseline value for United miles, based on real-world data collected from hundreds of economy routes, not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer 1.2 cents or more in value from your United miles.

To determine the value of your miles for specific flights, divide the cash value of the ticket (less any applicable taxes/fees if you redeem miles) by the number of miles required for the flight. So if the ticket costs either $100, or 15,000 miles + $10 in taxes/fees, the math would be as follows:

($100 – $10) / 15,000 = 0.006, or 0.6 cent per mile.

United MileagePlus miles value over time

During NerdWallet's last valuation, United MileagePlus miles increased in value for the first time.

United Airlines vs. competitors

While United MileagePlus can pay dividends for some travelers, here’s the bad news: United, as a whole, ranked seventh out of nine airlines in NerdWallet’s 2024 best overall airline analysis.

Its loyalty program, MileagePlus, didn’t fare much better, coming in fifth place in our airline rewards program analysis.

Here's a closer look at how United competed across subcategories:

How to earn United miles

You can earn miles when you fly on United or its partner airlines, by using a United Airlines credit card and by shopping and dining with partners.

MileagePlus miles can be redeemed for award flights and many other uses, though none of which are as fruitful.

Earn MileagePlus miles when you fly

United’s economy cabin. (Photo courtesy of United Airlines)

The miles total you'll earn for a flight depends on how much you spent on the ticket and your status level within the MileagePlus program. All statuses above basic membership earn mile bonuses.

For example, the basic member rewards rate is 5 miles per dollar. But at Premier Silver level, you earn a 40% bonus, which turns your rate into 7 miles per dollar. We'll have more on status levels below — or you can jump ahead to that part now.

Status level

Miles earned

Status bonus

MileagePlus member (basic)

5 miles per $1 spent.

None.

Premier Silver

7 miles per $1 spent.

40% bonus compared with basic.

Premier Gold

8 miles per $1 spent.

60% bonus compared with basic.

Premier Platinum

9 miles per $1 spent.

80% bonus compared with basic.

Premier 1K

11 miles per $1 spent.

120% bonus compared with basic.

NOTE: You earn miles only on airfare and airline fees. Government-imposed taxes and fees do not earn miles. Generally, the most you can earn on a ticket is 75,000 miles.

Earning on other airlines: When the ticket is issued by United (ticket number starting with 016), you’ll earn miles based on the cost of the fare. But if your ticket is booked through one of United’s partners, miles are awarded based on a calculation involving the price and class of the ticket and the flight distance.

Earn United MileagePlus miles with a credit card

United Airlines offers co-branded credit cards through Chase. Bonuses between cards vary, so if you’re considering a credit card, take a look at its bonus history to take advantage of a high welcome offer.

NerdWallet's favorite credit card for the MileagePlus program is the United℠ Explorer Card. It gives you 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United, and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. You also get a great sign-up bonus to start. There's an annual fee, but the checked bag benefit on this card can make up for it quickly.

Here's a quick look at United card options:

United Gateway Card
United Gateway℠ Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card
United℠ Explorer Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase United Quest Credit Card
United Quest℠ Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase United MileagePlus(R) Club Card Credit Card
United Club℠ Infinite Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$0.

$0 intro for the first year, then $95.

$250.

$525.

Earning rates

• 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 at gas stations.

• 2 miles per $1 on local transit and commuting.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 at restaurants.

• 2 miles per $1 on hotels (when booked directly with the hotel).

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

• 3 miles per $1 spent on United purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel (including other airlines, hotels, car rentals and more).

• 2 miles per $1 on dining (including takeout and delivery).

• 2 miles per $1 on select streaming services.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

• 4 miles per $1 spent on United purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 on all other travel.

• 2 miles per $1 on dining.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

Other benefits

• No foreign transaction fees.

• First checked bag free for you and one companion on your reservation.

• 2 United Club one-time passes each year.

• Credit of up to $100 every four years for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or NEXUS.

• Priority boarding.

• No foreign transaction fees.

• First and second checked bag free for you and one companion on your reservation.

• $125 United purchase credit per year (good on airfare).

• Two 5,000-mile award flight credits per anniversary year.

• Credit of up to $100 every four years for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or NEXUS.

• Priority boarding.

• No foreign transaction fees.

• First and second checked bag free for you and one companion on your reservation.

• Access to United Club airport lounges.

• Credit of up to $100 every four years for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or NEXUS.

• Priority boarding.

• No foreign transaction fees.

Bonus offer

Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

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

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..

Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Horizontal scroll

Here are more resources for shopping United credit cards:

Earn United MileagePlus miles through partners

  • Hotels. You can earn additional MileagePlus miles at most major hotel chains. In some cases, you earn 1 or 2 miles per dollar spent; in others, you earn a flat number of miles per stay. See partner hotels and the earning rules here.

  • Dining. Register a credit card with MileagePlus Dining, and every time you use that card at a participating restaurant, club or bar, you'll earn up to 5 miles per dollar spent. There are more than 11,000 participating locations.

  • Auto rentals and other transportation. Hertz-owned rental agencies, including Dollar and Thrifty, offer the option to earn MileagePlus miles. See the rules here. Amtrak rail service and select shuttles and car services are also partners.

  • Shopping. When you shop online through the MileagePlus Shopping mall, you earn miles for every dollar you spend at more than 850 retailers.

  • Financial partners. Earn miles when doing business with lending and insurance partners, among others. Details here.

Buy United miles

If you want to buy United miles, you can do so on the MileagePlus website, but this is generally not a good idea. You'll pay far more than the 1.2 cents per mile at which NerdWallet values MileagePlus miles. However, if you need a few thousand miles to top up your account for a valuable award, it could make sense.

How to redeem United miles

United’s Premium Plus cabin. (Photo courtesy of United Airlines)

MileagePlus miles are redeemable for flights on United Airlines, on Star Alliance airlines and on United’s independent airline partners. Star Alliance has 26 member airlines and United has partnerships with 14 airlines. All of this means that you can use United miles to fly on 39 airlines, creating many opportunities for traveling the world.

🤓Nerdy Tip

MileagePlus members can pay for domestic United flights using a combination of miles and cash, called Money + Miles. You'll earn miles on the cash portion of the payment, excluding taxes and fees.

United has a user-friendly search engine, which means that In most cases, you can redeem miles directly on United’s website. Choose a flight, and you'll see what the price is in cash as well as miles.

United award tickets

United offers several levels of award seats, requiring more miles for more desirable seats and cabins. Flights can be booked as one-way tickets or round trips, and there is no benefit of booking a round-trip ticket.

Generally, there are two kinds of award redemptions:

  • Saver Awards seats are cheaper in terms of miles required to book them — ranging from 5,000 to 12,500 miles for domestic economy, for example. But they are scarcer and might not be available for the flight you want.

  • Everyday Awards seats are more available than Saver Awards seats but require more miles. Flyers with elite status, which United calls Premier, and eligible holders of MileagePlus credit cards have unrestricted access to book seats — even the last seat on the plane — at the Everyday Awards level.

United discontinued its published award chart for flights on Nov. 15, 2019, and does not have a set amount of miles required for each flight anymore. You can generally expect that prices that are cheaper with cash will also be cheaper with miles. It’s always best to compare the cost of each before booking.

Note that if you pay for a flight with miles, you don’t earn frequent-flyer miles for that flight.

Good redemption options

  • Free flights. Because we value MileagePlus miles at an average of 1.2 cents each, redemptions that give you at least that much value are a decent option. For example, break-even would be a flight that costs $480 or 40,000 miles (40,000 miles x .012 per mile). If you can book a $480 flight for 25,000 miles, that’s a better use of miles (1.9 cents per mile). United has many opportunities for sweet spot redemptions.

  • Upgrades. Upgrading your seat to a premium class can be another good use of miles because doing so can return a value greater than 1.2 cents per mile. Some upgrades to business or first class require payment in the form of a cash co-pay as well as miles. As with award seats, upgrades are based on one-way flights. The price of an upgrade depends on the fare class of your current ticket — upgrading from a cheaper fare will generally cost more.

Bad redemption options

Generally, redemptions at a value lower than 1.2 cents per mile aren’t good. Other redemption options include United Club membership fees, hotel stays, car rentals, cruises and gift cards. These options tend to offer a lower value than 1.2 cents per mile, so we recommend avoiding them.

United elite status

United Polaris business class. (Photo courtesy of United Airlines)

Anyone can sign up for the MileagePlus program. It's free to join. With basic membership, though, pretty much all you get is a frequent-flyer number and an account where your points accumulate.

The real goodies come when you fly or spend enough to earn United Airlines elite status. There are four levels of United MileagePlus elite status, which are (in order from lowest to highest):

Here’s what each level entails, and what it takes to get there:

MileagePlus elite levels and benefits

On United, elite statuses are called Premier levels.

With Premier statuses, you’ll qualify for mileage bonuses, seat upgrades, priority check-in, complimentary checked baggage, better award-seat availability, discounted and waived fees and other benefits. And if you get Gold status or better, you’ll also have lounge access when traveling internationally. Here’s a full list of all the perks you’ll receive at each level.

Note that some of the most valuable elite status perks are available through some of the airline’s co-branded credit cards. They include free checked bags, priority boarding, better access to award seats and even United Club airport lounge access.

How to get elite status on United

To earn MileagePlus Premier elite status, you need to do things the airline cares about as a business: fly often, fly far and spend money. This will earn you a combination of Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs).

  • PQPs are earned on the base fare, carrier surcharges, economy plus seats or subscriptions, preferred seat purchases, upgrade award co-pays, paid upgrades and flights ticketed and operated by Star Alliance partners.

  • A PQF is one flight. Each segment flown (except basic economy) will count as one PQF. Flights taken in basic economy will not earn any PQFs.

You don’t need to track all this math yourself; United does that and displays it in your online MileagePlus account. But the chart below shows how it works. United, like other airlines, labels fare classes with letter codes. For example, F is first class, Y is full-fare economy and N is basic economy. Your fare class for each flight segment is displayed during booking and when viewing a ticketed itinerary on united.com.

PQPs and PQFs are all credited to the person flying, not the person paying for the tickets. And if you used frequent flyer miles to pay for a flight, you won’t earn any PQPs or PQFs.

United elite status requirements

To become an elite member, you need a specific number of PQFs and PQPs or PQPs only. Here are the requirements to earn status in 2024:

Status level

PQF + PQP

PQP only

Premier Silver

12 PQF + 4,000 PQP.

5,000 PQP.

Premier Gold

24 PQF + 8,000 PQP.

10,000 PQP.

Premier Platinum

36 PQF + 12,000 PQP.

15,000 PQP.

Premier 1K

54 PQF + 18,000 PQP.

24,000 PQP.

Since United can’t determine how much money you spend on flights with Star Alliance partners, if you choose to earn United miles on those flights, PQPs will be earned based on an airline’s designation as a “Preferred” or “MileagePlus” partner:

Earning Premier status is based on flying and spending during the previous calendar year. Once you qualify for a Premier status, it is valid from the date you qualified through the end of the following program year. So, it could last more than 12 months. For example, if you qualify for Premier Silver status in June 2024, you’ll keep your status through Jan. 31, 2026.

🤓Nerdy Tip

You can request a United status match up to United Premier Platinum for 120 days.

United Airlines partners

The United Airlines website identifies these as its partner airlines.

Star Alliance members

In general, you can earn MileagePlus miles on flights with Star Alliance partners and redeem your miles for flights on Star Alliance airlines.

  • 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.

Other partner airlines

On airlines outside the Star Alliance, your ability to earn and/or redeem miles is more limited. For example, you may be able to earn miles but not redeem them, or you may be able to redeem only for certain flights.

  • 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.

Credit cards that earn United miles

United Airlines co-branded credit cards are issued by Chase. Cards that earn MileagePlus miles include:

  • 2 miles per dollar on eligible United Airlines purchases, gas, local transit and commuting.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases.

  • Annual fee: $0.

  • 2 miles per dollar on eligible United Airlines purchases, hotel stays and at restaurants.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases.

  • Annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $95.

  • 3 miles per dollar on eligible United Airlines purchases.

  • 2 miles per dollar on restaurants, select streaming services and all other travel.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases.

  • Up to $125 in annual United credit.

  • Annual fee: $250.

  • 4 miles per dollar spent on United purchases.

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on dining and all other travel.

  • 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

  • United Club membership.

  • Annual fee: $525.

  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on restaurants, gas stations, office supplies stores, transit and United purchases.

  • Earn 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.

  • Annual fee: $99.

  • 2 miles per dollar on United ticket purchases.

  • 1.5 miles per dollar on every purchase.

  • Annual fee: $450.

Another United co-branded card for consumers, the United℠ TravelBank Card, does not earn MileagePlus miles. This card is no longer accepting applications.

United fare classes

The United fare classes are (in order from finest to most basic) are:

All United fare classes (aside from basic economy) allow you to pick your own seat. Here’s your ultimate guide to selecting seats on United.

United baggage fees

On United, your free baggage allowance depends on factors including your elite status, whether you paid with a United credit card, your route and the fare type you’ve purchased.

Typically, economy class passengers on domestic flights owe $40 (or $35 if prepaid) for the first checked bag and $50 ($45 if prepaid) for the second checked bag on domestic flights. Business and first class passengers typically receive up to two checked bags free of charge.

United change and cancellation fees

These two types of fees can affect your trip, so it's best to know what you can expect to pay ahead of time if plans change.

If you need to change or cancel a United flight

If you need to cancel a United flight, terms vary by the type of airfare you bought. Most United tickets are technically nonrefundable, but there’s an exception if the cancellation request is made within 24 hours of booking.

Some tickets are refundable, but you may need to pay a cancellation fee.

With most United nonrefundable tickets (except basic economy), there’s also a silver lining: Typically, you can apply the value of your ticket toward the price of a new ticket. If you cancel your nonrefundable ticket, you'll receive United travel funds that you can apply toward a new reservation. Flight credits expire a year after the original issue date of the ticket, and you can find travel funds in your United account's Wallet.

If United cancels your flight (or just delays it)

If the canceled flight was United’s choice, not yours, you have more options. You’re entitled to a full refund on flights canceled by United, regardless of fare class, if you choose to not take another flight when the airline cancels. If you still need to get to your destination, United will accommodate you on another departing flight at no additional cost — even if the cash fare is more expensive.

If you opt not to fly and want a refund, contact United customer service by calling the airline at 800-864-8331.

If your flight is canceled, you can rebook on United's website or app by choosing an alternate flight or sometimes another departure or arrival airport other than your original one.

If your United flight is delayed, you’re not necessarily entitled to compensation; it depends on the situation. Sometimes United will cover a hotel room night (or at least a discount). It also doesn’t hurt to ask to join the standby list of other flights or to switch to another flight to another nearby airport, as United will typically accommodate such requests for no additional charge.

Frequently asked questions

The simplest way to redeem United miles is to use them for award flights on United and its partner airlines. You will need to log in to your United MileagePlus account to search for available flights. Other ways to use United miles include: flight upgrades, hotel bookings, shopping and gift cards.

No, you cannot transfer your United miles to other airlines. However, you can use your United miles to book flights on partner and Star Alliance airlines.

United no longer has an award chart and instead uses dynamic pricing, so the price of an award ticket fluctuates based on the date of travel and the airline. To see a list of the lowest award fares, check out United’s flight award deals to various destinations for as low as 5,000 miles.

United has a Money + Miles payment option, giving flyers the ability to pay for domestic United flights using a combination of miles and cash. If you’re short on miles when paying for an award ticket, choose the Money + Miles option when submitting your payment info and designate the amount of miles you want to use. The remaining amount can be paid for in cash, which will also earn miles.

NerdWallet values United miles at 1.2 cents each, which means that 10,000 United miles are worth $120. Although there is no hard and fast rule that applies in every instance, generally it makes sense to use your miles when you can extract a value greater than 1.2 cents from each mile. So, if a flight costs 10,000 miles or $50, you’d be better off paying cash. However, if that same 10,000-mile flight costs $200, it would be preferable to use your miles.

It's free to join United’s MileagePlus loyalty program. All you need to do is head over to United’s website and sign up for an account.

Need more help deciding?

We've covered all the basic details of the United Airlines MileagePlus program. But if you still aren't sure whether a frequent flyer program is worth the effort, see our absolute beginner's guide to frequent flyer programs.

The information related to the United℠ TravelBank Card and United Club℠ Business Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.


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
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