How Much are United Miles Worth — and How Can I Maximize Mine?

With some time and research, you can get far more than the average value.
Last updated Oct 18, 2019 | By Ben Luthi
United airplanes on the tarmac

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Learning how to maximize your credit card rewards is an important skill, and it’s no different with United MileagePlus miles. You can earn the loyalty program’s currency with a co-branded United credit card or transfer from certain cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.

But how much are United miles worth? That depends on a number of factors. But with the airline eliminating its award chart in November 2019, it’s more important now than ever to know how to value the points you’ve earned.

Here’s what you need to know about how much United MileagePlus miles are worth, as well as what you can do to maximize the value you gain from the frequent-flyer program.

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How much are United miles worth?

There’s no set value for United miles, and their dynamic pricing structure is common among airline and hotel rewards programs.

Based on several reports, you can generally expect to get an average of 1.35 cents per mile in value. But your actual redemption rate can vary based on your airport of origin and destination, fare class, travel dates, and the cash price of the fare.

For example, a domestic flight will typically cost you fewer miles than a flight to Europe or Southeast Asia, and the number of miles it requires doesn’t always increase at the same rate as the cash price of the different fares.

Also, you’ll often get a better redemption rate when booking business- or first-class tickets over the main cabin — although there’s never a guarantee.

To find out how much value you’re getting from a specific redemption, simply divide the cash price of the fare by the number of miles required to book it. Here are a few examples:

New York City to Los Angeles

Let’s say you live in New York City and want to book a flight to Los Angeles. We found a nonstop flight from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in the main cabin for $333 or 25,000 miles.

To find your redemption value, you’d divide the $333 cash price by 25,000 to get 1.33 cents per mile, which is about average. Note that this doesn’t include the taxes and fees you’d pay on the award ticket, but we’re leaving that out to avoid overcomplicating the calculation.

If you were to book a first-class flight on the same dates, it would cost you $1,317 or 100,000 miles, giving you a value of 1.32 cents per mile.

In this scenario, your points get about the same value with each cabin, so choosing first class over economy wouldn’t give you much of an advantage other than the actual experience. And if you can get four round-trip, main-cabin flights for the price of one first-class fare, trading that for a few extra amenities on a six-hour flight likely won’t make sense.

San Francisco to Bangkok

If you’re planning on making a trip to Thailand, we found a main-cabin ticket from San Francisco via United-partner All Nippon Airways (ANA) that would run you $1,380 or 80,000 miles. This redemption would give you 1.73 cents per mile in value, which is much higher than the average of 1.35 cents.

But if you’re looking for a business-class experience, the cash price would be $4,793 with ANA versus 180,000 miles with Asiana Airlines and Thai Airways. With this redemption, you’d get a whopping 2.67 cents per mile, which is roughly double the average.

If you have enough miles in this scenario, it’s almost a no-brainer to take the business-class ticket over economy. Even if it costs more than double the amount of miles, you’ll get a much higher rewards rate and better amenities for a trip that will have you in the air for 16 to 19 hours.

How to maximize your redemptions

Maximizing the value of your United miles can take a lot of time and research. But if you’re planning a big trip, the savings could be well worth the effort. As you try to squeeze as much value out of your rewards as possible, here are some helpful tips.

Use your miles with an airline partner

If you’re planning a domestic trip, it’s likely that you’ll be flying on a United-operated flight. But international trips are often provided by one of the airline’s 35-plus airline partners.

But as you can see from our second scenario above, booking a business-class trip with Asiana Airlines and Thai Airways — both of which are members of the Star Alliance with United — is much more lucrative than paying cash.

Keep in mind that you typically don’t need to transfer your miles to one of United’s partners to book flights. Instead, you can usually book partner flights directly through the United website. With so many partners, this opens up a lot of opportunities to shop around to make sure you get the best redemption value possible.

Use United’s Excursionist Perk

The Excursionist Perk is one of the United MileagePlus program’s most valuable features. The idea is that if you book an award itinerary with three or more one-way trips, you can get one of them for free.

For example, let’s say you live near Chicago and want to visit London and Paris. By booking three one-way tickets — one from Chicago to London, one from London to Paris, and one from Paris back to Chicago — you’d only have to pay for two of those tickets.

There are, of course, some limitations to this perk. For example, you can only use the perk in a different region from your airport of origin. So if you’re flying from Chicago, you need to travel outside of North America to get it. Also, your origin and final destination need to be in the same region.

Check United’s award page for more details on the Excursionist Perk.

Transfer credit card points to United

You don’t need a United credit card to rack up rewards in the airline’s loyalty program. If you’re looking to boost your MileagePlus balance, you can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United at a 1:1 ratio if you have an eligible card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred.

You can also transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to United MileagePlus at a 3:1 ratio, plus a 10% bonus.

Before you transfer your points from another program, though, consider what you may be leaving on the table. For example, the Ultimate Rewards program also has many other international airline partners. If you can get a better rewards rate on a trip to Southeast Asia by transferring your points to Singapore Airlines instead, for instance, moving them to United may cause you to lose value.

Figuring out how to maximize rewards when there are multiple transfer partners available can require a higher level of savviness. But if your priority is to get the best value, it’s worth taking the time to research all your options.

Shop sales

Sometimes, maximizing the value of your rewards includes not using them at all. United often runs special flight deals on certain routes, which can make it worth paying cash instead of using your miles.

As with any flight, be sure to check the price in both cash and miles to find out what the redemption rate would be. If it’s below the average of 1.35 cents, consider paying out of pocket instead of spending your hard-earned rewards.

Also, keep in mind that the lowest price shown is typically for United’s basic economy fare, which doesn’t allow you to choose or upgrade your seat, bring a full-size carry-on bag, or request a ticket change or refund.

Use United credit cards to get even more value

Understanding how to maximize your United miles for free flights is an essential skill for any MileagePlus member. But getting free flights isn’t enough if you want to get the best experience possible.

By applying for the United Explorer Card or the United Club Card, you’ll not only have the chance to rack up rewards with the program, but you’ll also get a suite of other valuable perks whenever you fly with United.

That includes things like priority boarding, statement credits on inflight purchases, free checked bags, and complimentary access to the airline’s airport lounge network. Depending on how often you fly with United, compare the two cards to determine which one will provide you with the most value relative to their annual fees.

Best Rewards for United

Benefits

  • 40,000 mile sign-up bonus
  • 2X miles on United purchases and at restaurants
  • 3X points on grocery purchases — up to $1,500 per month (ends June 30, 2020)
  • Free first checked bag
  • 2 United Club Passes annually