Using United MileagePlus To Your Advantage

You can score United Polaris seats using United MileagePlus Awards

United MileagePlus is United Airlines’ frequent flier program. The program, like all frequent flier programs, is free. All you have to do is sign up. There are a lot of ways to use MileagePlus to your advantage. Knowing how to use United’s search tool and what you need to look for award flights is the first step. Luckily, searching for award redemptions with United MileagePlus to book award travel is fairly easily.

Since November of 2019, United did away with their Award Charts and made their award flights based on a dynamic price rather than by region it flies to. However, partner airlines still had a set price within the United MileagePlus searches. But that just changed. There are some minor caveats and tricky things to be aware of though when booking through United.

In This Post About United MileagePlus…

  1. How To Earn United MileagePlus Miles
  2. Basic Steps To Book Award Travel Using MileagePlus
  3. Rules With Booking United Awards
  4. United Excursionist Perk
  5. Booking Fees and Added Miles
  6. Dynamic Award Pricing
  7. Bottom Line

How To Earn United MileagePlus Miles

Butt in the Seat (Actually Flying)

The hardest method to earn MileagePlus Miles, would be actually flying United Flights (Butt in the Seat method). Unless you are a road warrior traveling for work all of the time, or just constantly traveling, this could be difficult. Although, this method can easily earn you status with the airline giving you access to upgrades for Business Class and First along with other benefits. Long gone are the days of earning United Miles by the distance flown. The amount of miles you earn is based on a few factors. What fare class you paid for, was it a full fare economy ticket, main cabin economy, basic economy, first class, a partner airline? All of these are factored in.

United is part of the Star Alliance Network of Airlines. Any flight you take with an airline in this network, you can credit to your MileagePlus account. United also partners with several other airlines that you are able to credit your “BUTT-in-the-SEAT” flights to your account.

Star Alliance Airlines

United MileagePlus Miles can be used with all 26 airlines and even United’s partner airlines.

Non-Alliance Partner Airlines With United

  1. Aer Lingus
  2. Hawaiian Airlines (Inter-island flights only)
  3. Edelweiss
  4. Eurowings
  5. Aeromar
  6. Air Dolomiti
  7. Azul
  8. Boutique Air
  9. Cape Air
  10. Silver Airways
  11. Olympic Air
  12. Juneyao Air
Use MileagePlus to book award flights to Europe on Aer Lingus

Earn Miles With Credit Cards

This is probably the easiest way to earn miles with United MileagePlus. All you need to do is spend as you normally would, using a credit card to earn miles. Below is a list of credit cards that can earn you Miles with united.

  1. United Explorer Card-Earn 40,000 Bonus Miles when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.
  2. United Business Card(s)-Earn 100,000 Bonus Miles when you spend $10,000 in the first 3 months.
  3. Chase Sapphire Preferred-Earn 60,000 Points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months.
  4. Chase Sapphire Reserve-Earn 50,000 Points when you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months.
  5. The Chase Business Ink Preferred-Earn 100,000 points when you spend $15,000 in the first 3 months.

Shopping Through United MileagePlus Shopping Portal

On top of the sign-up bonus you earn, you are also earning on the spend required meet that sign-up. A great way to earn more miles on your spending is to shop online using United MileagePlus Shopping Portal.

Search for a store, click the link and start shopping to earn miles with United MileagePlus.

Everything from home improvement, car parts, you can get a lot back and earn more than the 1:1. If you have already hit the spend bonus, you can Double-Dip and earn points with a separate card. To Double-Dip, use a card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, or Citi Double Cash Card. You earn Points on these cards, as well as earn the miles with your United MileagePlus account.

Double Dip With United MileagePlus Dining

Another easy way to earn miles with United and Double-Dip, is using their MileagePlus Dining program. All you have to do is link whatever card you use for dining out. I would suggest cards like the Citi Prestige Card that earns 5x the points on dining. The Amex Gold that earns 4x the MR points. Or the Chase Sapphire Reserve that earns 3x the UR points. Make a mental note that you are able to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to your MileagePlus account. So that might be the best option if you are looking to double dip.

You can easily search restaurants in your area by using your zip code. The more you dine at these locations, the more points per dollar you eventually start earning.

Basic Steps For Booking Award travel.

Booking using you united miles is pretty straight forward. When setting up your itinerary, make sure you select “Book With Miles.” The flight availability will promptly pop up and show you your options.

Saver awards are the way to go when booking award travel with MileagePlus.

I used LAX to Hong Kong as an example. You can see that it shows EVA Airways Business class at a SAVER award of 90,000 miles and $5.60. Your goal is to find SAVER AWARD availability. If your specific date doesn’t give you a Saver Award and you are flexible, tryusing the 30 day calendar view. This gives you a 30 day outlook for any Saver Award space available in that time frame.

30 day calendar outlook.

Be Aware of Saver Awards that say in red letters above the fare, “Mixed Cabin.” Mixed cabin is a segmented flight where only a portion of your itinerary is in business class. If the economy portion is only a few short hours and the longest portion of the flight is in Business or First, this could be worth the amount of miles you are using.

Mixed Cabin can sometimes be valuable. But be sure to click on flight details before selecting.

It should be noted that United sometimes shows “Ghost Award Availability.” That is where it will show an award flight, however that flight is not actually available. A call to a United agent can always confirm if the availability is really there. Once you are ready, book the flight! Award space does not last, especially on popular routes. I have lost great flights before because I waited. Don’t let it happen to you!

United Excursionist Perk

Welcome to becoming a savvier traveler. When I explain how this little gem works, the look on people’s faces is just priceless. They look at me like I just explained how to split and atom. But really, I’m splitting up a trip for ADAM. Anyone? No? ok, no more jokes.

The Excursionist Perk is a handy trick that United allows on a multi-city trip. It requires that you book 3 one-way segments and the 2nd one-way segment will cost you zero miles. You only have to pay for the taxes and fees associated with that segment of your flight. It is a great tool to be used in order to visit more than one destination on your trip. Please note, you can always take separate flights to go elsewhere on complete separate bookings from your destinations.

Quoted from United’s Website…

“The Excursionist Perk is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries. Members who book an itinerary with three or more one-way awards will be eligible to receive one of those one-way awards for free, if it meets all of these conditions:

The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates. (For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.)”

  1. Travel must end in the same MileagePlus-defined region where travel originates.
  2. The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk are within a single MileagePlus defined region.
  3. The cabin of service and award inventory of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
  4. If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.

Example of The Excursionist Perk

If I wanted to visit Thailand and then go to Hong Kong, I would be traveling within the same region. So this itinerary would follow United’s rules and I want to fly in business class. (Making This Simple)

  1. LAX to BKK -90k Miles $31.30
  2. BKK to HKG -0 miles $23 (one-way segment cost)
  3. HKG to LAX -90K Miles $43.95
$98.25 and all in business class.

The Excursionist Perk is a very useful tool to have in your pocket. It can also be very complicated to understand but it allows for some very off the wall itineraries. That stuff is advanced however. I would note though, if you call United to try and book something like this, they may not know what you are talking about. I have called a few times before and have had to explain how THEIR OWN system worked on a few occasions.

Booking Fees and Added Miles

United, being the cash mongering airline it is, has a few fees and things to be aware of.

Close-in Booking Fee and Added Miles

If you are looking to book a flight within the next 30 days, you can expect to be charged a “Close-In Booking Fee” to the tune of $75. Unless you have acquired status with United, then that fee is waived. This $75 is on top of the amount you are already paying, for your award ticket. Not only that, United will also require 1,500-3,500 miles extra on top of the normal saver award. Even if you hold status with United, you can expect this. You will not only see this on United flights, but its partner flights as well.

A flight from LAX to HKG is normally 90K with the saver award. With close-in bookings, the mileage requirement jumps 3,500 miles to 93.5k miles.

Booking With an Agent Via Phone

If you are booking with a United Agent, you can expect to pay and additional $25. This isn’t always the case however. When there are complicated itineraries, I have had the fee waived before. Never hurts to ask.

Cancelling an Award Flight

If you have to cancel an award flight, it is best to do it ASAP to avoid mileage redeposit fees. The Closer you are to your flight, the more you will be charged. You can find all the information for mileage redeposit fees with United with this link. United’s Redeposit Fees.

For Cancelling or changing an Award flight:

  1. 61 days out or more – $75
  2. 60 days out or less – $125

If You hold Status with the airline, the fees are less, unless you are Premier 1K. Then you only pay $125 for no shows to a flight if you want to redeposit miles.

Dynamic Award Pricing

This is something that every traveler would agree is absolutely dreadful. Gone are the days of the United Award Chart that based flights by regions. United now bases how many miles are required for a flight, simply by what the demand of that particular route.

For example, If I was looking to book a Business Class flight to Sao Paulo from LAX, I would see Saver Awards at 60k miles. With dynamic pricing, I might be seeing mileage prices upward of 300k for business class. I did a comparison to show you the difference. This is not just for flights on United Metal, this now includes partner airlines as well.

A business award is completely over priced in miles. Normally, it would be 155k for an everyday award and 60k for a saver award.

The dynamic pricing for partner airlines isn’t across the board yet. If you have travel plans, I would book them sooner than later to lock in a lower fare.

Bottom Line

United still has a lot of value currently. Albeit that doesn’t last for very long however. The ability to search availability through United will always come in handy. I can easily still see myself using United as a search tool to find award space and even using them to book that award space. Tools like the Excursionist Perk can bring any traveler extreme value. It should be used as a beginners guide to booking flights using points and miles due to how easy it is to use and the amount of award flights they post and make available within the star alliance and partner airline network.

Finance disclosure

Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.