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Your Guide to Booking Award Flights on United

Sept. 9, 2019
Loyalty Programs, Reward Optimization, Travel
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United Airlines is phasing out its award chart as of Nov. 15, 2019. After that date, the airline will no longer publish an award chart indicating a set number of miles required for any given flight.

That’s bad news for those who like predictability — but it could be good news for those with the flexibility to travel when demand is lighter.

In this article, we’ll break down both the current award chart and what will change come November.

» Learn more: 3 easy ways to use United miles before the award chart vanishes

Award types

The MileagePlus award chart as it stands now features two award options: saver awards and everyday awards.

Saver awards

This award category is the best deal when it comes to redeeming miles for air travel. If your schedule is flexible, you’ll likely be able to find saver seats within a few days of when you’d like to travel. But this category offers a limited amount of seats at the lower redemption rate, so on popular routes or during peak season, they will likely be harder to find.

Most domestic saver-level flights require 12,500 miles each way. Flights of 700 miles or less require 10,000 miles.

Everyday awards

Everyday awards are more widely available than saver awards, but they require more points. They start at a much higher 30,000 miles for economy class and go up to 60,000 for business class, plus 10,000 more for premium transcontinental service between a handful of airports for first class tickets.

For transcontinental flight between some airports in the U.S., be prepared to shell out extra miles for first class service.

» Learn more: United Airlines MileagePlus program: The complete guide

The Excursionist Perk

One great benefit United offers that isn’t going anywhere is the Excursionist Perk. It lets you add a free one-way segment to your itinerary when you’re traveling round-trip between two different regions.

To book the Excursionist Perk, just use the multi-city option when searching for flights. For example, if you book a one-way award flight from New York to Munich and back to New York, you could add a stop in Frankfurt on the way there or back and it wouldn’t require any additional miles.

There are a few caveats, according to United’s website:

  • Travel must end in the same MileagePlus-defined region where travel originates. (If you left from North America, your travel must eventually end in North America.)
  • The origin and destination of the excursionist flight must be within a single MileagePlus defined region.
  • The cabin and award type must be the same.
  • If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.

These rules still leave room for some potentially creative routings. Play around with the booking tool to see what’s possible.

Changes coming Nov. 15, 2019

As mentioned earlier, United is moving away from a published award chart and toward dynamic award pricing, starting Nov. 15, 2019. That will make it harder to predict in advance how many miles you might need to fly on an award ticket.

Although some award travel will actually require fewer miles after the switch, award prices will increase during peak seasons and on popular routes. The higher the demand, the more miles will be required.

In this example, award travel from New York to Mexico during peak times in December jumps to as high as 40,000 miles, though on most days it’s available at the current saver rate of 17,500 miles.

The silver lining in all of this: United is doing away with its close-in fees of up to $75 for award travel booked less than 21 days before departure.

And even more good news for United MileagePlus members with Premier status and for those who carry United credit cards: There are no award blackout dates, which should make it easier to find seats.

Earning points with United credit cards

Ready to earn more United miles? A United MileagePlus credit card is a great way to give your account balance a boost. The United℠ Explorer Card nets you 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.. The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95. Plus, you get a credit of up to $100 toward the purchase of TSA Precheck or Global Entry every four years.

» Learn more: United Explorer: Richer rewards, perks you’ll actually use

The United Club℠ Card has the following bonus offer: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.. It also includes an annual United Club membership valued at $550 that gets you into United lounges all over the world. All of these perks do come with a higher $450 annual fee.

When flying United, you get one free checked bag with the United℠ Explorer Card and two with the United Club℠ Card. This benefit is incredibly valuable for anyone who travels often with United and needs to check baggage. Note that you must use your credit card to pay for the flight in order to have these bag fees covered.

The information related to United Club℠ 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 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
Benefits of United Airlines credit cards
4 things the United Airlines MileagePlus program gets right

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