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Best Ways to Spend Your United MileagePlus Points

Using United miles is the perfect way to travel the world for free this year.

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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

woman in paris
Credit: Unsplash

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. Chase is currently offering bonuses as high as 75,000 miles for the United℠ Business Card. That’s enough for a round-trip business class ticket to Europe or up to six domestic economy class tickets.

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! 

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. 

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.

Read More About Rewards Travel, Points & Miles:

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While we work hard on our research, we do not always provide a complete listing of all available offers from credit-card companies and banks. And because offers can change, we cannot guarantee that our information will always be up to date, so we encourage you to verify all the terms and conditions of any financial product before you apply.

Ariana Arghandewal
Ariana Arghandewal
Ariana Arghandewal is a rewards travel expert and founder of Pointchaser. She has covered all things points, miles and credit cards for over a decade and served as an editor at The Points Guy, NerdWallet, and FlyerTalk. Her work has also appeared in Forbes, Fodor's Travel, and U.S. News Weekly.

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