Flying United with Points: How to Earn and Redeem United MileagePlus Miles [2020]

This detailed guide teaches you how to earn and redeem United MileagePlus miles on both United and its partners, so you can see the world using travel rewards.
Last updated Sep 21, 2020 | By Lee Huffman
Flying United with Points

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United Airlines is one of the three big legacy airlines that most travelers know about. It operates 4,900 flights a day to 358 airports across five continents. Frequent travelers earn United MileagePlus miles by flying with the airline, using its travel partners, and making purchases with its credit cards. These miles can be redeemed for flying United with points and miles, booking travel, one-of-a-kind experiences, and more.

Here’s everything you need to know about flying United with points — which really means, everything you need to know about the United MileagePlus program so you can travel the world for nearly free.

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About United Airlines

United Airlines operates out of seven hubs within the United States to serve over 150 million passengers each year. United flies to 238 domestic and 120 international destinations in 48 countries with 4,900 daily departures.

The airline began as Varney Air Lines in 1926 by Walter T. Varney. He also started Varney Speed Lines in 1934, which ultimately became Continental Airlines. United acquired Continental Airlines in 2010 to form the world's largest carrier.

Frequent travelers participate in the airline's loyalty program — United MileagePlus. Members can earn and redeem MileagePlus miles with United and its partners. Travelers can also enjoy time in the airline's United Club airport lounges. There are 49 United Clubs, five United Polaris Lounges, and one United Arrival Lounge across 32 airports.

The United Polaris business-class experience was designed to bring a new level of quality to premium cabin travel. Passengers enjoy Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, restaurant-quality dining, and sleep-themed amenities. These flights include access to the Polaris Lounges in Chicago O’Hare, Houston Intercontinental, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, and San Francisco.

United Airlines partners

United is part of the Star Alliance, which was formed by five airlines back in 1997. The Star Alliance is now a collection of 26 airlines from around the world that partner together to serve their customers. Through this alliance, travelers can fly to almost 1,300 destinations that serve 98% of the world's countries.

While flying on any Star Alliance airline, you can choose which participating loyalty program you would like to have credit your flight, including United MileagePlus. Additionally, you can also redeem your MileagePlus miles on United or any of the alliance airlines. United Club members and travelers with qualifying tickets can also visit eligible airport lounges of Star Alliance members around the world.

Partner airlines in the Star Alliance include:

  • Aegean
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • CopaAirlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • Egyptair
  • Ethiopian
  • Eva Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thai
  • Turkish Airlines

Aside from its Star Alliance partners, United has relationships with 12 additional airlines. You can earn United MileagePlus miles when flying on these non-alliance partners, and you may redeem MileagePlus miles to purchase tickets on them. Only certain flights will be eligible, though, so visit the non-alliance partner page of your choice for full details.

These non-alliance partners include:

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

MileagePlus: the United Airlines loyalty program

MileagePlus is the frequent flyer loyalty program of United Airlines. It is free to join and will enable you to earn MileagePlus miles by flying on United and its partners. Miles can also be earned with United’s travel partners, online shopping portal, MileagePlus X app, and credit cards.

Each of these activities earns United miles in a different way, but most are based on how often and how much you spend. Miles earned usually show up in your account within a few business days, but the timing will vary based upon the method you are using to earn your miles.

MileagePlus Premier status levels

As you fly on a regular basis with United Airlines, you'll move up the ladder in its loyalty program. The higher you go, the more benefits you'll receive as you achieve higher “status.”

Starting in 2020, there are two methods to qualify for higher elite status. You can qualify based on one of these two:

  1. A combination of Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) and Premier Qualifying Points (PQP)
  2. A higher PQP goal

Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) are based on the number of segments flown. Although you may credit airline partner flights to United to earn status, at least four segments will need to be flown on United or United Express.

Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) are based on the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges on your flight purchases. Seat purchases and paid upgrades also count toward your PQP total.

Eligible cardholders can also earn PQP based on their United credit card spending. For example, the United Explorer Card earns 500 PQP per $12,000 spent, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQP, per calendar year.

Status level Qualifying method #1 Qualifying method #2
Premier Silver 12 PQF and 4,000 PQP 5,000 PQP
Premier Gold 24 PQF and 8,000 PQP 10,000 PQP
Premier Platinum 36 PQF and 12,000 PQP 15,000 PQP
Premier 1K 54 PQF and 18,000 PQP 24,000 PQP

United MileagePlus loyalty program members earn five miles per dollar spent on the fare plus any carrier-imposed surcharges. As you move up in elite status, an increasing number of bonus award miles are also awarded. Higher levels of elite status also receive other perks to reward travelers for their loyalty.

Status level Miles earned per $1 spent Other benefits
Member 5
  • Earn miles towards free flights, travel, shopping, and more
Premier Silver 7
  • Eligible for complimentary upgrades
  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus at check-in
  • One complimentary checked bag
Premier Gold 8
  • Two complimentary checked bags
  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus at booking
  • Star Alliance Gold status
Premier Platinum 9
  • Phone booking fees, close-in booking, and change/cancel fees greater than 60 days are waived
  • 40 PlusPoints for upgrades
  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus for you and eight companions at booking
  • Three complimentary checked bags
Premier 1K 11
  • Phone booking fees, close-in booking, and change/cancel fees are waived
  • 280 PlusPoints for upgrades
  • Pre-boarding
  • One free snack and drink in Economy
  • Complimentary CLEAR membership

How to book with points on United Airlines

To book an award flight on United Airlines, start at United.com. Enter your desired dates of travel, number of passengers, class of service, and departure and arrival cities. Before clicking on "Find Flights," make sure the "Book with miles" box is checked. This tells United you want to use miles to pay for your flight instead of dollars.

Flying United with Points

Once the search results populate, you can sort the options based on departure time, arrival time, number of stops, flight duration, or price of award ticket. You can click on "details" for any flight option to see the type of plane being flown, layover city (if applicable), if WiFi is available, and meal options. Take note that the prices shown for each flight are one-way.

Flying United with Points

After you've selected your flights, you'll pay for your ticket with your United miles plus cash for any taxes and fees that are due.

How much is each United Airlines mile worth?

How you redeem your United miles will determine how much value you are receiving from each mile. In general, the highest value comes from redeeming for international premium-class travel. But on average, one United MileagePlus mile is worth 1.3 cents per mile based on reader feedback.

To determine the specific value you're receiving for your miles, take the cash price of the ticket you are buying and subtract any taxes and fees. Divide that result by the number of miles required for the award ticket.

For example:

  • An Economy ticket from Chicago to Frankfurt on January 17, 2020, is 65,000 miles and $116.75 in taxes. Alternatively, the cash price for this ticket is $746.
  • If we subtract the $116.75 in taxes from the cash price, we get $629.25.
  • Then we divide that number by 65,000 miles and get 0.00968
  • That shows us the value of this ticket comes out to only about 0.9 cents per mile.

Based on these calculations, this is a below-average redemption of United miles. In this situation, you’d be better off paying for the ticket in dollars or with Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Examples of how you can fly United Airlines with points

With so many destinations to choose from with United and its partner airlines, you can fly almost anywhere in the world on an award ticket. Here are three examples to inspire you.

Chicago to Frankfurt in Economy for 31,500 miles

You can take a non-stop flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany in Economy for only 31,500 miles and $5.60 in taxes.

Flying United with Points


Frankfurt to Paris in Business Class for 25,000 miles

Use your United miles for short-haul flights outside of the U.S. for tremendous savings. For example, book a one-way Economy flight for 8,000 miles or a Business Class flight for 25,000 miles plus $48.70 in taxes.

Flying United with Points


Newark to Liberia, Costa Rica in Economy for 17,500 miles

Flights from the continental U.S. to Central America are only 17,500 miles plus taxes and fees each way. In this example, you can fly from Newark, New Jersey to Liberia, Costa Rica for 17,500 miles and $22.58 each way.

Flying United with Points


How to earn enough miles to fly United with points and miles

There are many ways to earn United Airlines miles in addition to buying a ticket and flying somewhere. Here are some of the most popular options for you to earn miles to fly with United.

Fly with United

The traditional way to earn United miles is to purchase a United ticket. All MileagePlus members earn a base five miles per dollar spent on their tickets. This includes the base fare and any carrier-imposed fees. Government taxes and other fees are not included. Travelers with elite status earn additional miles.

Be aware that flights operated by United or United Express do not provide a bonus based on the fare class selected.

Earn miles with United partner airlines

When flying on a United partner airline, the number of miles you earn is based upon the ticket issuer. If United issued the ticket, you'll earn miles based on the fare you paid and your MileagePlus elite status. For flights issued by partner airlines, the number of miles earned is based on the fare class and flight distance.

Book hotels, cruises, and rental cars with United partners

United has several different partners through which you can book hotels, rental cars, cruises, and more.

You can earn two miles per dollar spent through United Hotels, 1,000 to 10,000 miles per booking with Rocketmiles, or up to 10,000 miles per booking with PointsHound. Marriott also offers complimentary United Silver status to its Titanium and Ambassador Elite members.

Rental cars and transportation services can earn up to 1,250 per reservation depending upon your elite status level and length of reservation. For example, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members receive 1,250 United miles on every rental with Hertz when using the MileagePlus discount code CDP 62455.

Travelers wanting to book cruises can earn up to 45,000 miles on reduced rates on getaways. Participating cruise lines include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Princess Cruises.

Dine with the MileagePlus Dining Program

If you register your credit cards with United’s MileagePlus Dining Program, you'll earn up to five miles per dollar spent at over 10,000 participating restaurants. These miles will be in addition to any rewards earned directly from whichever credit card you use. This program is free to join at United MileagePlus Dining.

The easiest way to find participating restaurants is to search on the United MileagePlus Dining website. You can refine the results based on your location and type of food you want. You'll find many restaurants to choose from, including fast food, casual, and fine dining.

Use United co-branded credit cards

United co-branded credit cards allow you to easily turn everyday expenses into United MileagePlus miles. There are several personal and business credit cards to choose from.

Most travelers will benefit from the United Explorer Card. It offers a welcome bonus of 60,000 miles based on your spending. With it, you can earn 2X miles at restaurants and delivery services, hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel, and eligible United purchases; and 1X miles on everything else. There is a $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee reimbursement, and the first checked bag is free for you and one companion.

Best Rewards for United

Benefits

  • 60,000 mile sign-up bonus
  • 2X miles on United purchases, restaurants, and delivery services
  • Free first checked bag
  • 2 United Club Passes annually

Frequent United travelers may opt for the United MileagePlus Club Card. This premium credit card has an annual fee of $450 and includes complimentary access to the United Club and participating Star Alliance affiliate airport lounges for you and your eligible companions, making it one of the best airline credit cards for frequent travelers with this carrier. New applicants can earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. This card earns 2X miles on United purchases, and 1.5X miles on all other purchases. Cardholders can also check two bags for them and one companion.

Use Chase credit cards

If you’re earning Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can transfer them on a 1:1 basis to 13 airline and hotel loyalty programs — including United MileagePlus. That means you can fly United with points even though you earned them through a non-United credit card.

If you only fly United occasionally, you can still earn rewards with one of the best travel credit cards that has some flexibility. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the cards that can transfer points to United. With this card you can earn 80,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. These points are worth $1,000 toward travel, $800 in statement credits, or can be transferred to an airline or hotel partner. Spending on this card earns 5X on Lyft rides, 2X points on eligible dining and travel, and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred also has no foreign transaction fees and comes with several travel benefits, like primary rental car collision coverage and baggage delay insurance. Chase does charge a $95 annual fee, but the benefits more than balance this out.

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Benefits

  • 80,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 5X points on select streaming services (up to $1,500) until September 30, 2020
  • 3X points with Instacart (up to $3,000), and at gas stations (up to $1,500) until September 30, 2020
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits

Additional Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards to consider are the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.

Use Marriott credit cards

Members of the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program can transfer points directly to United at a 3:1 ratio. Additionally, for every 60,000 points transferred, you'll receive a bonus of 5,000 United miles. This means 60,000 Marriott points convert into 25,000 United miles. You can transfer up to 240,000 Marriott points per day. And through a special partnership between Marriott and United, you'll receive a 10% bonus on all transfers from Marriott to United.

Marriott also offers travel packages consisting of a combination of airline miles and a one-week hotel stay. These packages start at 255,000 points to receive 55,000 United miles and a stay at a Category 1-4 Marriott hotel. These already include the 10% bonus for transferring Marriott points to United versus other airlines. Package prices go higher based on the number of United miles you want to receive and the category of Marriott hotel where you'd like to stay.

Flying United with Points

Marriott offers several credit cards that earn its hotel points. The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card is a good option for travelers. This credit card offers 6X points on purchases at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy, automatic Silver status, and an annual free night worth up to 35,000 points. Additionally, you can earn a second annual free night after spending $60,000 on your credit card each calendar year.

The Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card has similar earnings and benefits, and is a great option if you or your employees are traveling for business purposes.

Shop with the MileagePlus X App

One of the unique options that sets United apart from competing airlines is their mobile app. With the MileagePlus X app, you can earn extra miles from your purchases at participating retailers.

You can earn miles by online shopping in the app or by buying gift cards. The gift cards can then be used in-store or online. The best part of using this app is that you can literally buy a gift card for the exact amount of a transaction while you're standing at the register and earn miles at a wide variety of retailers. For example, as of January 2020, you can earn 5 miles per $1 spent at Domino's, 4 miles per $1 at Coldstone, and 5 miles per $1 at Dave and Buster's.

And not only do you earn miles from the app, but you'll also earn rewards from whatever credit card you are using. The app is available free for both iOS and Android.

Flying United with Points


Use the United shopping portal

United offers an online shopping portal called MileagePlus Shopping. There is no cost to use the portal. On this site, you'll find over 900 retailers and services that allow you to earn additional miles on your shopping. These stores include popular retailers like Nike, Lowe's, Best Buy, and Groupon.

Flying United with Points

To start earning, sign up for your free account and bookmark the United MileagePlus Shopping portal for easy access. As of January 2020, United is offering up to 1,000 extra miles when you spend $150 in two weeks shopping through its portal. These miles are in addition to what you'll earn based on your purchase and from your credit card.

The best credit cards to earn you more United Airlines miles

There are many different travel rewards credit cards that earn United miles or points that can be converted into United miles. Here are five that you should consider for your personal or business expenses.

United Explorer Card United MileagePlus Club Card Chase Sapphire Reserve Card Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card
Welcome bonus Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months Earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months
Rewards rate 2X miles at restaurants and delivery services, hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel, and eligible United purchases; and 1X miles on everything else 2X miles on United purchases, and 1.5X miles on all other purchases 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else 5X points on Lyft rides; 3X points on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel, shipping, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines; and 1X points per $1 on everything else 6X points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels; 4X points on U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, U.S. purchases on shipping, and wireless telephone services purchased from U.S. providers; and 2X points on all other eligible purchases
Free checked bags First bag for cardholder and companion First and second bag for cardholder and companion No No No
Priority boarding Yes


Yes


No


No


No


Annual fee $95 (waived first year) $450 $550 $95 $125
Foreign transaction fee None


None


None


None


None


Commonly asked questions about flying United with points

How many United miles do I need for a free flight?

The number of miles needed to fly United with points and miles will vary based on the type of flight you want to take. On average, domestic one-way flights in Economy are 12,500 and Business or First Class are 25,000. However, some flights can be found for much less. For example, United offers Featured Award Deals between specific destinations for as low as 5,000 miles plus taxes each way.

How do I transfer United MileagePlus miles to a spouse?

You can transfer miles to your spouse, family member, or a friend through the United MileagePlus buy miles page. Transfers must be between 500 and 100,000 miles. The fees for these transactions are $7.50 per 500 miles plus a $30 transfer fee. To avoid these fees, consider using miles in your own account to book an award flight on behalf of your spouse, family member, or friend.

Do United MileagePlus miles expire?

Yes, if there is no activity in your account for 18 months, your account will be closed and all miles will be lost. The simplest way to keep your account open is to shop through the United MileagePlus shopping portal or use your United credit card.

If your miles have expired within the last 18 months, you will have a one-time opportunity to regain those miles. The cost to regain them starts at $50 and depends on how many miles have expired.

You may also complete a “reinstatement challenge” where you pay $100 and either take a United flight or get approved for a United credit card and make one purchase within 90 days of taking on the challenge.

Are United MileagePlus miles refundable?

Yes, if you book an award flight with your miles and need to cancel, you may have your miles redeposited by paying a fee. The fee varies based on your elite status and when you cancel the flight.

For example, top-tier Premier 1K members do not pay any fees for changing or canceling a flight at any time before departure. In contrast, a general member without status will pay $75 if canceling 61 or more days before departure and $125 at 60 days or less.

How much does it cost to buy 10,000 United miles?

Members may buy miles to boost their account at a cost of $35 per 1,000 miles (or 3.5 cents per mile), plus taxes and fees. For 10,000 miles, the cost would be $350 plus $26.25 in taxes and fees, for a total of $376.25. Because the cost is so high, buying miles is usually only a good deal if you need just a few to top off your account for a specific award ticket.

Purchased miles post to your account within 48 hours of when the transaction is complete. You may purchase a maximum of 175,000 miles each calendar year.

Occasionally, United offers bonus miles based on the number of miles you purchase. For example, in December 2019, United offered up to 85% bonus miles. Be aware that if you take advantage of a promotion like this that the bonus miles also count toward the 175,000-mile maximum you can purchase per year.


The bottom line on flying United with points

There are many ways to earn and use United Airlines MileagePlus miles. You can fly on United and its partner airlines, spend money with its partners, or use its credit cards. The miles can be used to book flights, hotels, rental cars, and so much more.

As you earn higher levels of status, you'll receive more miles when flying with United. You'll also receive more perks as you move up the ranks. These perks include complimentary upgrades and free checked bags, airport lounge access, and waived fees.

The easiest way to earn United miles quickly is by getting one of its credit cards, like the United Explorer Card. You'll receive a welcome bonus after meeting the minimum spend requirement and earn miles based on your spending. Plus, perks like priority boarding and complimentary checked bags will enhance your travel experience.

Best Rewards for United

Benefits

  • 60,000 mile sign-up bonus
  • 2X miles on United purchases, restaurants, and delivery services
  • Free first checked bag
  • 2 United Club Passes annually