Best ways to use United Airlines miles

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United Airlines miles are some of the easiest to both accumulate and use. That’s because:

One of the greatest features of United is that they don’t pass along fuel surcharges when booking award flights. Some programs will tack on hundreds of dollars in fees when booking an award, but United does not. Additionally, United has a great online search engine that actually makes it easy to use your miles, compared with other airlines. Many of us tend to collect miles for high-value awards that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars. You can use these examples to save money and book your next trip at a huge discount.

You can earn United miles with the following welcome offers:

  • United℠ Explorer Card – 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
  • United℠ Business Card – 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening

We estimate United miles value to be 1.3 cents on average (though they can be worth much more). That means you should get at least $1,300 in value from the United Business Card. You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines from cards like:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card – 80,000 Chase points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve® – 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
You can visit the beautiful Galapagos Islands and Ecuador on a single trip by making use of United’s Excursionist Perk, one of the best ways to use United Airlines miles! (Photo by Rene Holtslag/Shutterstock)

For more ideas on how to bolster your stash of rewards, read our guide on how to earn United miles.

I’ll highlight the best ways to use United Airlines miles.

Best ways to use United Airlines miles

The interactive United Airlines award chart is really easy to use for determining how much your award should cost. You can click on where you are starting and where you are ending, and it will show you the different available prices.

But keep in mind that on United’s own flights, they have started to introduce variable pricing. In other words, they’ve begun to charge whatever they feel like, instead of following an award chart. This is largely a negative thing, but you can find some killer deals every now and then!

Awards with United Airlines will also fall into two pricing categories:

  1. Saver – award seats that cost less and have more limited availability, but offer much better value
  2. Everyday – almost always available, but cost many more miles and typically don’t offer good value

For some international awards, United has different pricing for their own flights and partner flights. United tends to charge less for their own flights than for partner flights. For example, you can pretty well count on booking a fancy lie-flat business class seat to Europe on United Airlines for 60,000 miles one-way. Partner business class flights cost about 10,000 miles more. But since United has some amazing partners like Lufthansa, Thai, and Singapore Airlines, it might be worth paying a few extra miles to fly with a partner.

United Airlines is a member of Star Alliance. Here are all its partners from that alliance:

  • Adria Airways
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • Juneyao Airlines
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss International Airlines
  • TAP Portugal
  • THAI Airways
  • Turkish Airlines

United has a few other partners that are not part of Star Alliance:

  • Aer Lingus
  • Aeromar
  • Air Dolomiti
  • Azul
  • Boutique Air
  • Cape Air
  • Edelweiss Air
  • Eurowings
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Olympic Air
  • Silver Airlines

With that many partners, it’s easy to see why using United miles can take you just about anywhere you want to go!

For more information on how to use and redeem your miles, check out our United MileagePlus Review.

Here are the best ways to use United miles.

Round-trip flights with two destinations (Excursionist Perk)

United has a really cool feature called the Excursionist Perk, which basically allows you to visit two destinations on one trip without paying additional miles.

For example, you could fly from Chicago to London and stay in London for a week, then fly to Paris and stay in Paris for a week, and then fly back home to Chicago. The flight from Chicago to London would cost 30,000 United miles in coach and the flight from Paris back to Chicago would also cost 30,000 United miles in coach. The flight from London to Paris is the Excursionist Perk, and you wouldn’t be charged any extra miles for it!

You can use the Excursionist Perk on almost any round-trip flight booking with United miles. It’s my favorite way to get some serious extra value out of my United miles. There are some rules that you’ll have to know about to use the Excursionist Perk and plenty of strategies to get the most from it. Check out this post with more details on using the United Airlines Excursionist Perk.

To Europe (especially in first class!)

Since United currently has a zone-based award chart, flying from the U.S. to Europe will cost only 30,000 United miles in coach each way, no matter where in the Continental U.S. you start and where in Europe you end. This is an especially great deal if you live in a city where flight prices tend to be expensive, or if you’re flying to a part of Europe that is more expensive to get to (like Croatia).

Lufthansa owns one of the most coveted first class experiences! (Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock)

Additionally, since United doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges on award tickets, United miles are a great way to fly premium cabins like Lufthansa first class for barely anything out of pocket! You can fly on a world-class airline in first class and visit their first class Terminal in Frankfurt for only 110,000 miles and nominal taxes. If you were to book the same ticket with cash, you would easily pay over $4,000 each way or $400 in surcharges if booking with certain other programs’ miles. United Airlines is the clear way to go.

To Africa

Africa tends to be a pretty expensive continent to reach, but with United miles the prices are pretty reasonable. You can fly anywhere in Africa for as few as 40,000 United miles each way in coach.

Business class flights are also a great deal, especially considering how long the flights can be. Business class flights cost 70,000 United miles each way on United flights or 80,000 miles if you fly strictly partner airlines like Ethiopian. Routing through Europe is also permitted, so you could even fly Lufthansa or Swiss.

United technically breaks Africa up into two regions: North Africa and Central/Southern Africa, but their Saver (cheaper) award prices are the same for both regions. Only for the more expensive Everyday awards will you see any difference in prices.

To Northern South America

United’s prices to fly to Northern South America is pretty amazing. They charge only 20,000 miles each way in coach. Or, if you prefer more comfort, you can book business class for 35,000 miles each way.

You can visit Machu Picchu in Peru for only 20,000 United miles each way. That’s an excellent price to see one of the wonders of the world. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

Northern South America includes:

  • Peru
  • Ecuador
  • Colombia
  • Venezuela
  • Guyana
  • Suriname
  • French Guiana

And don’t forget about using the Excursionist Perk to visit a second city or country for no additional miles (again, check out our post on the United Airlines Excursionist Perk to learn the rules)!

To Australia or New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand are top of the list for many people, but getting there involves a long, and often expensive, flight. But, you can use only 40,000 United miles each way to fly to Australia or New Zealand in coach. Or, if you’d rather be more comfortable for the long flight, you can fly in business class for 90,000 United Airlines miles on partner operated flights.

In fact, I even redeemed United miles to get home from Australia last year during the holidays! I found availability for two people on Thai Airways and Air Canada just a few days before Christmas. We elected to fly Business Class because a 36+ hour travel day was going to be brutal no matter what, and we wanted to return home well-rested enough to visit family.

(Image by Caroline Lupini)
I elected to fly Business Class home from Australia because 36 hours of travel is a long time! (Photo by Caroline Lupini/Million Mile Secrets)

It’s worth noting that United Airlines sells cheaper business class flights on their own planes, but they’re something of a white whale. If you can find one, pounce on it.

Flights within the U.S. and Canada (especially expensive short flights)

Flying within the U.S. might not be the most glamorous way to use your United miles, but it’s not a bad option. United charges 12,500 miles for most one-way coach flights within the U.S. and Canada, but flights that are under 700 miles cost only 10,000 United miles.

And this includes flights to all parts of Canada, which can be very expensive! But if you want to fly to Alaska you’ll have to pay an additional 5,000 miles each way in coach.

First class with Thai Airways

First class with Thai Airways is legendary. And it was actually the first time I ever flew in a premium cabin back in 2014. You can book first class from South Asia to the U.S. with United miles for 140,000 United Airlines miles each way. And while Thai Airway’s first class seats and food are amazing, they completely blow it away in their lounge. All first class passengers are eligible to get an hour-long massage for no charge.

Currently, Thai Airways doesn’t fly directly to the U.S. so you’ll have to connect in Europe if you want to use this option. But, that means you also could snag a First Class flight back to the U.S.!

To the Caribbean

United’s flight prices from the U.S. to the Caribbean aren’t the most amazing, in and of themselves, but considering that United’s search engine works pretty well, and availability tends to be good, it’s still a solid option!

If you need some R&R and don’t want to fly too far, redeem your miles for a quick hop down to the Caribbean. (Photo by Simon Dannhauer/Shutterstock)

United charges 17,500 United miles each way for flights from the U.S. to the Caribbean.

Flights within Oceania

Flights within Oceania are notoriously expensive, but once you’ve flown all the way there you probably want to visit more than one place. With United miles, most one-way flights in coach cost 12,500, though it’s possible to find short hops that are cheaper.

Bottom line

What are the best ways to use United miles? Glad you asked! Here are my top picks (all one-way prices unless otherwise noted).

  • Use United’s Excursionist Perk to visit more destinations for no additional miles on round trip tickets
  • Fly to Europe for only 30,000 United miles in coach
  • Africa is another expensive continent to visit, but United charges only 40,000 miles in coach regardless of where on the continent you are flying.
  • Flights to Northern South American countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia start at just 20,000 miles!
  • If you’ve been dying to visit Australia, you can get there for as few as 80,000 miles in Business Class! Or 40,000 miles in coach.
  • Flights within the U.S. and Canada that are under 700 miles cost 10,000 United miles. All other flights start at 12,500 miles in coach.
  • If you really want to treat yourself, consider redeeming 140,000 United miles for a flight from South Asia to the U.S. on Thai Airways. In Bangkok, you’ll be able to get a complimentary one hour massage at the lounge!
  • Flying to the Caribbean isn’t as good of a deal, but it’s still a decent option at 17,500 miles each way.
  • Once you’ve flown all the way to Oceania, pay 8,000 to 12,500 miles for flights instead of the exorbitant cash prices charged in that region.

Leave any questions in the comments. And remember to subscribe to our newsletter for more tips on how to be smart with your miles and points.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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