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United MileagePlus is one of the most versatile airline rewards programs around. Thanks to the numerous United Airlines credit cards and a transfer partnership with Ultimate Rewards, the miles are easy to earn. You can instantly transfer points earned with your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card directly to your MileagePlus account.

There is a world of possibilities for redeeming United miles. Whether you want to fly to Europe, jet off to Asia or hop on a domestic flight to visit family, you can do all of those things with your United miles. The airline is part of the Star Alliance, giving you access to a vast airline network serving hundreds of destinations worldwide. 

If you're looking for inspiration or curious about all the best ways to get value from your United miles, you've come to the right place. Here's a look at the best United miles redemptions, what your miles are worth and how you can earn more of them.

What are United miles worth?

United miles are worth about 1.4 cents each. This is the value you can expect when redeeming MileagePlus miles for flights. Of course, the exact amount will depend on where you're traveling and the cabin class. Business and first-class awards will get you more value for your miles since these fares tend to be more expensive. 

It's essential to keep in mind that valuations are guidelines. You should certainly aim to get at least 1.4 cents of value out of your United miles. However, you should also redeem miles however they make sense for you. The point is to save money on travel and if redeeming United miles for less than 1.4 cents saves you money, then go for it.  

People often get wrapped up in trying to squeeze the most value out of their rewards. The travel rewards game is only worth it if you actually use your points and miles.

The Best Ways to Use United MileagePlus Miles

traveling abroad

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Let's preface this with an important disclosure: The best way to use United MileagePlus miles depends on your travel goals and needs. Not everyone wants to fly first class or travel abroad. Some people prefer to stretch their miles further with domestic travel in coach. That's perfectly fine and you should use your miles in whatever way enhances your life and travel experience.

With that said, there are a few United MileagePlus redemptions that are worth considering if you're looking for maximum value from your miles. Here are the five best ways to use United MileagePlus miles:

1. United Excursionist Perk

The United Excursionist Perk is a great way to build multiple trips into a single itinerary without redeeming more miles. Essentially, the Excursionist Perk is a free stopover built into a round-trip itinerary. Some rules around the stopover that limit its use include:

  • The stopover can't be in the same region where your travel originates. For example, if you're flying from North America to Europe, your stopover can't be in North America.
  • The return region must be the same as the origin. For example, you can't fly from North America to Europe and then to South America.
  • The cabin class of the free stopover must be the same or lower as the previous segment.

The United Excursionist Perk is a great way to work in an extra segment into an already fabulous trip. Headed to Rome? Why not stopover in Paris or tack on a trip to Frankfurt? You can visit an additional city and get more time in the air. The latter is especially valuable if you're traveling in a premium cabin.

2. Lufthansa First Class to Europe (121,000 miles)

Lufthansa offers one of the best first-class experiences between the U.S. and Europe. At 121,000 miles each way, it's quite pricey. However, considering these tickets cost well over $1,000 round-trip, you're still getting significant value out of your miles. Not only does Lufthansa offer an incredible first-class cabin where guests can enjoy gourmet 3-course meals, but guests departing from Frankfurt have access to the famed First Class Terminal. 

Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal is a 20,000 sqft lounge reserved exclusively for first-class passengers. It offers nap rooms and an expansive bar with over 100 whiskeys on offer. Guests have access to shower rooms and a bathtub stocked with the iconic Lufthansa ducks.

Unfortunately, Lufthansa doesn't release first-class award space until 14 days before departure. That's why it's good to have a stash of United miles saved up or the ability to transfer points from Ultimate Rewards at a moment's notice. 

3. United Polaris Business Class to Europe (60,000 miles)

A few years ago, United Airlines rolled out an upgraded business class product called Polaris. Polaris offers several amenities and culinary upgrades, including restaurant-quality meals, luxury bedding and comfortable seating that converts to a flatbed. 

United has even opened Polaris airport lounges in select cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Newark. These luxurious lounges are exclusive to Polaris ticketholders and select Star Alliance business and first-class passengers. 

Unfortunately, not all United international flights are equipped with the full range of Polaris benefits yet. Some planes only feature an upgraded experience, while others are equipped with the new Polaris business class seats. As your search United's site, you'll need to pay attention to the type of plane listed so you can tell if it includes the upgraded seats and amenities. If the flight is aboard United's Boeing 777-300, it has Polaris seats. Other aircraft, like the 767-300 and 777-200, are being retrofitted now. Before booking, you should call United to verify you're on an upgraded aircraft.

You'll save many miles if you can find a business saver award for Polaris flights, but they may be hard to come by unless you plan ahead. A one-way Polaris saver award will set you back 60,000 miles plus $5.60 in taxes and fees. If saver awards aren't available, these seats can run upwards of 155,000 miles.  

4. Short-Haul Domestic Flights (from 5,000 miles) 

You don't have to fly international first class to get value out of your United miles. Another way to extend your United miles is by redeeming them for short-haul flights. Short-haul flights are local or regional flights under 700 miles and sometimes price out as cheap as 5,000 United miles.

This can work well for people who want to use miles for domestic travel and stretch the credit card sign-up bonuses for as many flights as possible. 

For example, United flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco (and vice versa) start at 5,000 miles plus $5.60 in taxes and fees. If you earned a large sign-up bonus through one of your United co-branded credit cards, you could use it for weekend trips down the California coast.

5. U.S. to Africa (70,000 Miles Each Way)

Getting to Africa can take 40 hours or more of flying and layovers. Normally, spending that long on a plane and shuffling through airports would be tedious, but not when you're flying in business class. Flights from the U.S. to Africa start at just 70,000 miles each way in business class. That's if you're flying United.

If you're traveling on a partner carrier like Egyptair or South African Airways, you'll need about 88,000 miles. These carriers don't have the most aspirational products on these routes. But you'll still get a comfortable seat with bedding, a great meal and a superior travel experience over coach.

A one-way business class ticket to Cape Town, South Africa will set you back around 88,000 United miles each way. The taxes and fees are also reasonable, making it a fantastic value.

Flights to Africa on United start at just 70,000 miles each way in business class. Right now, United offers non-stop flights to Africa on the following routes:

  • Washington-Dulles (IAD) - Accra (ACC)
  • Washington-Dulles (IAD) - Lagos (LOS)
  • Newark (EWR) - Johannesburg (JBD) (seasonal)

Here's a look at an IAD-ACC non-stop United award pricing out at just 70,000 United miles in business class.

6. U.S. to South America (from 66,000 Miles Each Way)

Whether you're looking for culture, history or food, South America has lots to offer adventurous travelers. Rio De Janeiro is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region and getting there can be quite a haul. United offers several excellent options for getting to Rio on miles, starting at just 66,000 miles each way for business class.

You can fly partner carrier Avianca or Copa Airlines. Both airlines offer a minimum of angled-lie-flat seats on these routes when flying business class, along with fantastic food and a comfortable travel experience. If you manage to snag these seats during a busy travel period like Carnival, you can get even more value from your United miles.

7. U.S. to Tokyo in ANA Business Class (88,000 Miles)

All Nippon Airways' "The Room" business class offers an experience on par with most first-class cabins. The Room has one of the largest business class seats in the air. It also has the distinction of offering an enclosed suite for maximum privacy. Few first-class products offer fully-enclosed suites, so ANA's Room is in a league of its own.

You can experience The Room on ANA's New York (JFK) - Tokyo (HND) route. You'll not only get to visit a fantastic city, but you'll have a fantastic time getting there. While the 88,000-mile price tag might sound outrageous, keep in mind that this is essentially a first-class product. For that, it's a fantastic value. The taxes are also very reasonable at just $5.60.

Other Mileage Plus Redemptions

Using your miles towards free flights is almost always the best way to redeem your United miles. With that said, other MileagePlus redemptions may be a better fit, depending on your needs. Other United MileagePlus redemptions include: 

  • Flight upgrades
  • Hotels and resorts
  • Rental cars
  • Cruises
  • Online shopping
  • Apple products
  • Gift cards
  • Exclusive experiences
  • United Club membership
  • TSA Pre✓® fees
  • United WiFi
  • Airport dining
  • Magazine and newspaper subscriptions

There are also options to transfer your miles to other travelers or donate them to charity. Redemption possibilities are nearly limitless within the United MileagePlus program.

How to Book a Flight with United Miles

Many airlines make it difficult to redeem miles, but booking a flight with United miles is very straightforward. You can book nearly every award on the United website. Simply type in your travel information, check off "book with miles," then choose the flight you want.

Thanks to United's expansive partner airline network and membership in the Star Alliance, MileagePlus has excellent award availability to virtually any destination in the world. United is pretty generous with saver award space, meaning you won't shell out an excessive number of miles for a flight due to demand and limited inventory. 

Book in advance (or close to departure with partners like Lufthansa) and you'll see plenty of award space and ways to redeem United miles for maximum value. 

How to Earn United Miles

If you're ready to start earning United miles for one of the above redemptions, you have many options. The best way to earn United miles quickly is through a credit card welcome bonus.

Bottom line: You can earn United miles without even stepping on a plane.

United co-branded credit cards

United MileagePlus partners with Chase on a line of co-branded credit cards. Many offer welcome bonuses substantial enough for a one-way international business class ticket. If you're aiming for domestic travel, some of these bonuses offer enough United miles for up to 15 round-trip tickets! 

United Club℠ Infinite Card

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 4.0/5 How our ratings work
  • APR21.99% - 28.99% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$525
  • Sign Up Bonus 80,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

    Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,120 (80,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

United’s premier card comes with a sizable annual fee, but if you’re a serious United flyer, want lounge access and can use other perks like free checked bags or the TSA PreCheck credit, you could eke a lot of value out of this card. Those who can’t use enough of the perks to offset the high annual fee may be better off with a different card.

Overview

If you love United Airlines, can fly with the airline often and enjoy benefits like airport lounge access free checked bags and quick trips through airport security on busy travel days, then the United Club Infinite Card is made for you. It’s loaded with travel perks such as statement credits and valuable insurance benefits.

Pros

  • You and your eligible travel companions can enjoy complimentary access to United Club locations
  • Up to $100 statement credit for your Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS application
  • Check up to two bags for free

Cons

  • $525 annual fee will only be worth it for United loyalists

United Gateway℠ Card

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 4/5 How our ratings work
  • APR21.99% - 28.99% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$0
  • Sign Up Bonus 30,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

    Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Dollar Equivalent: $420 (30,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

United’s only no-annual-fee card is a good fit for infrequent United flyers who want to earn decent miles on travel and gas purchases. You won’t get many of the perks that come with other United cards, such as free checked bags, but this is a good entry-level option if you’re just starting to explore travel cards.

Overview

The United Gateway Card doesn’t offer a ton of perks, but it does offer some travel insurance and purchase protections such as rental car insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, extended warranty protection and purchase protection. This card can be a good way to try out the airline or travel rewards in general. 

Pros

  • No annual fee to worry about
  • Good entry point to earning United miles
  • 2x miles on United purchases, gas stations and local transit and commuting.
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • No free checked bags with this card
  • May make more sense to upgrade to an annual fee card with United perks

United Quest℠ Card

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 4.5/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR21.99% - 28.99% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$250
  • Sign Up Bonus 70,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

    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. Dollar Equivalent: $980 (70,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

If you’re a frequent United flyer who can offset the relatively high annual fee with the wide range of travel perks, this card could be a good fit. Those looking for lounge access, though, should consider the cheaper Explorer card or go for the Infinite if they can justify its big annual fee.

Overview

The United Quest Card comes with a lot of flair, and it can be an excellent choice for United enthusiasts who don’t travel quite enough to justify paying for the airline’s premium credit card.

Between the annual United purchase credit and award flight bonuses alone, you should be able to recoup the cost of the card’s annual fee. And if you regularly check bags, this card can be a lifesaver — most airline cards only offer the first checked bag free, so this would be a solid card to use for international flights.

Pros

  • Ways to easily offset the annual fee including an $125 United Airlines statement credit and anniversary flight credits
  • Your first and second checked bag fees are waived, saving you up to $320 per roundtrip flight
  • Up to $100 back for your Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS application fee, every four years

Cons

  • Does not come with United Club passes
  • Only makes sense for those that fly United with some frequency

United℠ Business Card

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 4.0/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR21.99% - 28.99% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$99
  • Sign Up Bonus 100,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

    Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Dollar Equivalent: $1,400 (100,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

United’s lower-tier business credit card is made for occasional United flyers looking for a solid travel card with a modest annual fee. If you’re looking to try a travel card for your business without a big commitment, this is a good option. And you can also earn more in categories like dining and gas with this card, which isn’t available with the higher-end business card.

Overview

The United℠ Business Card features an impressive bonus offer, which is among the best travel bonuses currently offered.

This card’s perks include a $100 annual United travel credit after seven United flight purchases over $100, two United Club passes, a free first checked bag each flight, 25% back on inflight purchases and priority boarding.

Pros

  • Free first checked bag on United flights
  • Two United Club passes per year
  • Low $99 annual fee with the ability to add free employee cards

Cons

  • Other cards can provide better rewards on business-related purchases

United℠ Explorer Card

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 4.5/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR21.99% - 28.99% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$95 More info

    $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95

  • Sign Up Bonus 60,000United MileagePlus Miles More Info

    Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Dollar Equivalent: $840 (60,000 United MileagePlus Miles * 0.014 base)

United’s mid-tier card offers some nice perks you don’t always get with comparable cards, like two lounge passes annually, along with a free year before the annual fee kicks in. If you’re an occasional flyer not ready to commit to a bigger annual fee, this card is a good middle ground.

Overview

The card’s benefits really help it stand out from the crowd. Here’s what you’ll get: One free checked bag for each flight, priority boarding, 25% back on inflight purchases, two United Club airport lounge passes every year and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years. The card also offers trip protections, including primary rental car insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and trip delay reimbursement. The card’s annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95 after that, which will give you some time to confirm that it’s a good fit before the fee hits.

Pros

  • Free first checked bag on United flights
  • Up to $100 back for your Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS application fee, every four years
  • Two annual United Club℠ passes
  • Annual fee is waived the first year (then $95)

Cons

  • Not the best card for those that fly United more than a few times per year
  • $95 annual fee after the first year

Transfer Miles from Chase Ultimate Rewards

If you don't want to commit to a United credit card, you can get a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards, a 1:1 transfer partner of United MileagePlus. These cards are a great way to supplement your MileagePlus balance outside of United credit cards. Just be aware of the Chase 5/24 rule and how it may impact your application approval. The last thing you want to do is waste a credit inquiry on a card you're ineligible for. 

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 4.5/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR21.24% - 26.24% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$95 More info

    This fee includes extra cards for authorized users, such as employees, at no additional charge.

  • Sign Up Bonus 100,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $8,000 in the first three months Dollar Equivalent: $2,300 (100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * 0.023 base)

Those with travel and advertising expenses will like the high earning rates in these categories, plus cardholders can eke out even more value with fully transferable rewards through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. One drawback is the modest annual fee, though many can offset this with the card’s earning potential.

Overview

This card offers a whopping 100,000 bonus points after you spend $8,000 in the first three months — with the card’s 25% bonus on travel booked through Chase, that’s worth $1,250. But you could potentially get more through one of the bank’s transfer partners. The rewards you earn from the Ink Business Preferred Card can be transferred to 10 different airline partners including United, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore and British Airways, as well as hotel partners Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott.

Unlike the other two Ink Business cards, you can use this card to transfer your rewards directly to airline miles and hotel points. Travelers may also like this card’s cellphone protection policy that will cover up to $600 per claim.

Pros

  • 3x points on 5 different categories (up to $150,000)
  • Robust travel, purchase and cellphone protections
  • Ability to earn transferable points to use on travel partners
  • No additional charge for extra cards for additional authorized users

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Businesses that don't spend on the category bonuses won't benefit

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 5/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR21.49% - 28.49% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$95
  • Sign Up Bonus 60,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,380 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * 0.023 base)

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the gold standards for earning travel rewards. It has a generous sign-up bonus and you can earn points on travel and dining expenses. The card does have an annual fee, but you can continue earning points through bonus categories and an anniversary points boost.

Overview

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is pretty flexible as it lets you transfer rewards points into miles or points several airlines and hotel programs. You can take advantage of strong transfer partners such as United, Southwest, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Hyatt. Similarly, you can book any reservation you want through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Although the card might not be ideal for the most frequent travelers, it has a built-in upgrade path, so when it’s time to level up your travel rewards game, you won’t have to start from scratch.

Pros

  • Points are easily transferable to airlines and hotel partners
  • Accelerated earnings on dining, travel & household purchases
  • Excellent travel and purchase protections
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • Not ideal for the highest spenders
  • $95 annual fee

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Apply Now

Secure application on issuer’s website

Rates & Fees
  • Our Rating 4.5/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR22.49% - 29.49% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$550
  • Sign-Up Bonus 60,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after using your card to spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,380 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * 0.023 base)

This card features an annual credit for travel purchases, which can offset the annual fee, plus bonus points when you sign up. You'll also get free access to tons of Priority Pass lounges and restaurant options around the world, along with access to the upcoming Chase Sapphire Lounge network.

Overview

If you’re looking to elevate your travel experience, look no further than the Chase Sapphire Reserve. When you first get approved, you’ll earn a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months—that’s worth at least $900 in travel-related spending booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards® and potentially more if you transfer your rewards to one of Chase’s airline or hotel partners.

Pros

  • An array of premium travel perks including access to Priority Pass lounges
  • Easy-to-use $300 travel credit that helps offset card's annual fee
  • Generous rewards rates for spending

Cons

  • High annual fee may be a deterrent for some
  • Perks are starting to get stale relative to newer competition

MileagePlus Shopping

The United MileagePlus Shopping portal is a great way to earn miles on online shopping purchases. Not only will you earn bonus miles on spending at popular online retailers, but you can also bank up to 1,000 bonus points on your first purchase. We all shop online, so there's nothing easier than clicking a few buttons and earning rewards on those purchases. 

MileagePlus X App

The MileagePlus X app is a great way to rack up extra United miles during those times when you're shopping in-store. Simply download the app and shop at a participating retailer. When you're ready to pay, you will buy a gift card from MileagePlus X in the exact amount due. You'll earn up to 5 United miles per dollar spent.

This is an effortless way to earn United miles on everyday purchases you will make anyway.

MileagePlus Dining 

MileagePlus Dining is the restaurant equivalent of a shopping portal. You register your credit card with the program, dine at a participating restaurant, and receive up to 5 United miles per dollar spent. As a new MileagePlus Dining member, you can earn a 3,000-mile bonus after spending $25 within the first 30 days and completing a review of your experience.

While this may pale in comparison with the 100,000-mile bonuses offered by credit cards, it gets you more than halfway to a short-haul domestic award.

Do United Miles Expire?

When saving up miles for one of the awards mentioned above, you won't have to worry about expiration. That's because United miles do not expire. This is great news during this ongoing pandemic when people are accruing miles through generous credit card sign-up bonuses and then having to postpone their travel plans. While United miles don't expire, the program could devalue at any time without notice. So it's crucial not to hoard miles or accrue them without intending to redeem them.

Final thoughts

Whether you have a large stash of United miles saved up or you've been looking for reasons to do so, hopefully this gives you a dose of inspiration. Many pandemic-era travel restrictions have eased and it's possible to see the world once again (and do it safely). There is an abundance of United credit card welcome bonuses out there to replenish your balance. So while you're able to, go ahead and book that bucket list trip you've always wanted to take with your United miles.

AA

Ariana Arghandewal

Ariana Arghandewal is a rewards travel expert and founder of Pointchaser, an online publication dedicated to rewards travel topics. She brings over a decade of experience writing about travel, points, miles and credit cards. Her expertise includes her roles as an editor for distinguished travel and finance publications such as NerdWallet, The Points Guy and FlyerTalk. She has also authored many articles featured in major financial news & travel channels like Forbes, U.S. News Weekly, Business Insider & Fodor’s Travel.