5 Fantastic Uses Of United Miles

In the interest of full disclosure, One Mile At A Time earns a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the below links. These are the best publicly available offers that we have found for each card. Please check out our advertiser policy for further details about the partners we work with. Thanks for your support!

There are numerous ways to use United miles, and you can do some really fun stuff with stopovers and open-jaws.

For the purposes of this post I’m going to keep it simple and highlight the one-way prices for some of the “sweet spots” in the United award chart, along with a couple of regions where I find United miles to be particularly useful.

Mainland U.S./Alaska/Canada to Peru | 20,000 in economy, 35,000 in business

Peru-001
Hiking in to Machu Picchu

United considers “Northern” South America to be a separate region, with Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela all requiring fewer miles than the rest of the continent.

Paid tickets to Peru especially can be pricey, but award availability to Lima on Star Alliance partner Copa Airlines is generally quite good. Copa serves 14 cities in the U.S. and Canada, so while they don’t have lie-flat seats (few routes to this region do though), you can typically find a one or two stop routing rather easily.

If you want to go directly to Cuzco, check space on Avianca as well. Space is more rare, but that can be a great option for a business class itinerary from Los Angeles.

Europe without surcharges | 30,000 in economy, 57,500 or 70,000 in business

Exploring-Madrid-05
Exploring Madrid’s parks

11 of the 28 Star Alliance carriers are based in Europe, so there’s a wide variety of flights and schedules to choose from. If you stick to United, you’ll pay fewer miles for business class, but given the great availability on partner carriers it can be worth it to spend a few more miles.

The other nice thing is that there aren’t fuel surcharges on any United awards. If you were to book through Air Canada Aeroplan, for example, you can avoid some fuel surcharges by selectively choosing carriers like Swiss and Turkish. If you want to fly Lufthansa or Austrian, however, you’ll pay several hundred dollars in surcharges.

American passes along fuel surcharges on British Airways (which is almost all the oneworld availability to Europe), and Delta levies fuel surcharges for travel from Europe. A good strategy is to use Delta miles for the outbound, and United miles for the return to keep the cash outlay to a minimum.

Intra-Africa | 17,500 in economy, 35,000 in business

Mauritius-2
Beach in Mauritius

While United divides Africa into two regions, the price is the same whether you’re going within or between them. That means you can fly between Morocco and South Africa (or even the Seychelles) at these rates.

Africa isn’t that well-served by SkyTeam or oneworld, so this can be a great option for those looking to pair a safari with a beach getaway.

Take the family to Asia | 35,000 – 40,000 in economy, 80,000 in business

Hello-Kitty-Plane - 4
EVA Hello Kitty business class

If you’re looking to travel as a group, United miles can provide a fantastic option for travel to Asia. Star Alliance partners like Air China, Asiana, and EVA have lie-flat seats in business class, and frequently offer availability for four people or more.

Connections within Asia are typically wide-open, making it easy to connect to non-hub destinations.

Southeast Asia to Australia/New Zealand | 30,000 in business, 40,000 in first

Thai-Lounge-Bangkok
Complimentary massage at the Thai first class lounge in Bangkok

Finding award space to Australia can be extremely tough, so combining with a trip to Southeast Asia can make sense (or even just be fun!), and this is a bit of a sweet spot with United miles.

Business class is still a fair price, but if you can find first class availability on Thai, 40,000 miles is a bargain! Flying Thai out of Bangkok gives you access to their incredible ground services, including a spa with complimentary treatments.

Getting United Miles

For a limited time, Chase is offering an increased sign-up bonus of 50,000 United MileagePlus miles on the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You can also earn an additional 5,000 bonus miles when you add an authorized user and they make a purchase in the first three months.

That’s potentially a total of 55,000 MileagePlus miles, which is the best publicly available offer I’ve seen on the card in a long time (though we’ve also seen some bigger targeted offers in the past).

Current Offer: Special offer: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
$0
Foreign Transaction Fee

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Card Bonuses: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

Apply Now
on Chase's secure site
Why we like this card: This is a great sign-up bonus, and the card comes with some worthwhile benefits for United flyers, especially the PQD waiver for $25k in annual spend.
$95
Annual Fee

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card is also offering 50,000 United MileagePlus miles after spending $2,000 in the the first three months, though there isn’t a bonus for adding authorized users.

It’s worth noting that both these cards are subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, so if you’ve been approved for several cards over the past two years you may have a difficult time being approved for the United Explorer cards.

You can also transfer points to United from Chase Ultimate Rewards. If you have any of the following, your points transfer instantly to MileagePlus:

And if you have one of those cards, you can combine them with points from the following cards:

United is also technically a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, but the transfer ratio is horrible. You can also theoretically transfer points from Marriott Rewards at a decent rate, but it does take some time, and you can’t place flights on hold in the interim, so make sure you have a backup option.

You can also buy United miles if you need just a few more for an award. They don’t seem to be offering any kind of promotion at present, so miles purchased this way will be pricey. But if you’re just a bit short it may still be a good option.

Bottom line

United miles are very useful, and while I am annoyed with how they’ve bungled their pricing for complex itineraries, there are still some fantastic values.

Most itineraries can be booked online, the fees are very low, and you can get super creative with the new Excursionist Perk.

Have you booked a United award lately? Where to?

Links:

Regarding Comments: The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. Shouldn’t the post be renamed to 5 fantastic credit cards? 😉

    It’s worthy to note that with the devaluation of United miles, First class is pretty unfeasible to reasonably redeem for, as well as removing stopovers and routing to Asia via Europe (to fly Lufthansa).

  2. First class to Asia is only 80k miles when on united metal. At first i was a lil bummed on taking an old 747 to Tokyo, but now i am excited as it may be the one and only times our kids will be able to fly the 747, and also will be the last in service Boeing aircraft they need to fly on.

  3. Very helpful article. Can you please write similar ones for BA Avios, Delta Skymiles, & Alaska miles?

    Thanks!

  4. @keitherson that is not correct, you can still route NA to Asia via Europe. I flew LH F-LHF via FRA this past christmas.

  5. My husband is from Peru so we travel there once or twice a year. United from Newark is our best option and we can always find something with miles; ocassionally even on the direct flight.

  6. Typically fantastic Tiffany post. Especially useful for us, as we both have UA miles from cc signups, but have never flown with UA on miles, and not even revenue tickets for many years.

  7. @ keitherson — anon is correct, it’s still possible to route that way (you just have to massage the advanced search), though the price is still a bit outrageous.

  8. @Tiffany sez: “United miles are very useful, and while I am annoyed with how they’ve bungled their pricing for complex itineraries, there are still some fantastic values.”

    You mean you still believe that line after it has been repeatedly shown all over that the purportedly “bungled pricing” actually offered more opportunities than it took away?

    You ought to get out more often and visit Drew’s TravelisFree blog for all kinds wonderful stopover tricks! 😉

    G’day!

  9. @ DCS — Umm, I linked to a post in which I describe (in detail) a bunch of lovely and complex stopover options. That doesn’t take away from the obnoxiousness of the new system not allowing many multi-segment routings without punitive pricing.

  10. Tiffany, great post. A couple of questions though. Under Intra-Africa, are both Seychelles and Mauritius considered Africa? I tried to look for award tickets between the two on the United website and always got an error saying that they can’t find any seats meeting my requirements. Is this routing possible and do I have to call into United to search for it? Thanks!

  11. Here’s an even greater (and perhaps useless for many people) usage of UA miles: Ulaanbaatar to Cook Islands [ULN-RAR]. 15K one way in Economy, 30K one way in Business.

  12. Hi Tiffany,

    I was just checking availability for August, one way China – JFK, and most of the Business class availability are gone. What are the chances of Air China opening up space last min?

    Thank you

  13. @ Buddy M. — Yep, they are. The challenge is that the website isn’t very robust anymore, which makes searching these routes more difficult. Mauritius is served from Johannesburg, and the Seychelles from Addis Ababa, so try searching just those segments to start.

  14. @Tiffany — That’s the point. Things are not as bad as you make them sound initially (worse then DL!) or now. UA simply fixed a bug that’d violated their own written rule for years by giving away way more stopovers than the rule stated. The idea then was to fix the bug to stop bleeding revenue when the company was trying to turn things. But then they lifted the limit on the number of open jaws that were previously allowed so that imaginative folks can have fun, which I thought you’d started having except that you’re still complaining about something that’s done!

    Oh, well…

  15. Claiming that fixing what is nothing more than a “long tail” bug that is the ultimate rounding error is the height of intellectual foolishness, especially since this just went into effect after multiple years of multi-billion dollar profits. No, this is not about “stopping bleeding revenue when the company is turning things”.

  16. Regarding Southeast Asia to Australia/New Zealand, it’s worth noting that an intra-Asia First Class segment will only bump the cost up to 35k. A few weeks ago I flew MEL-BKK in TG J, overnight in BKK, then BKK-HKG in First Class on the A380. For 35k. Admittedly, it’s only a 2.5hr flight, but when you factor in the ground service, it’s a lovely treat for just 5k more.

  17. I wouldn’t just single out Peru – the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) are also in the same category and, for me anyway, have always been a much pricier destination to reach than Peru.

  18. 30k Business class from South Asia to Australia is a steal or 45k for first class on say Thai for that same route. Best use in my opinion

  19. I don’t know if I would put 140K business to Europe or 160K business to Asia in the “Fantastic Uses Of United Miles” Not hard to find $2000-$3000 paid fares in those markets. That’s barely over a penny a mile redemption. Not sure if I would say that is fantastic.

    But maybe in this sad state of affairs today, that is a fantastic use of United miles.

    However, criticism aside, great seeing articles like this pointing out some of the better use of a programs miles. Would love to see some of the better uses of other miles too.

  20. Booked IKA-VIE-ORD-MCI business class for 70k in early May. Seemed like a decent value. Flying Etihad on way out with AA miles also for 70k in business.

  21. Thank you Tiffany, nice write up as usual. I didn’t realize SE Asia to Aus-NZ was such a relative bargain.

  22. Thanks for this post. Have a question – I am currently 2/24 per Chase rules and considering the CSR and have targeted offers from United Explorer (70k miles) and United Club Card (75k miles with $450 fee). Order to apply is definitely CSR followed by Explorer.

    Am debating between the Club Card and Marriott Rewards – do you think the Club Card is worth it – live in ATL so no use of the Clubs – essentially see it as picking up United miles for 0.6 cents and maybe no close in award booking fees – is it worth it?

    Marriott definitely better value for the fee – 1 night stay plus 80k points which can be converted into Starpoints as well – what do you suggest?

  23. At least the unhinged imposter has not tried to post garbage pretending to be ‘DCS’. Anyway, like I said, there is only one poster unhinged enough to try such a stunt. Too bad to see the poster back; but, it’s encouraging that s/he seems to be getting the picture, considering the subdued tone, as hard as that is to imagine.

    Cheers!

  24. Hint to DCS – if you think everyone else is unhinged…you’re probably the unhinged one. It’s been nice not having your dogmatic nonsense on the blogs lately. Keep it up.

  25. I’m in austrailia now and last Saturday took THAI airways 1st class and I must say it was amazing and even with the hi expectations of many blog posts – THAI experience was top shelve – the treatment was amazing
    most times ill just fly business on overseas flights but for 10,000 extra miles and all the hype let me try it and to anyone thinking business or 1st class – please spend the extra 10,000 amazing
    p.s. I have 2 videos on 12 step nomad on facebook

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *