How to maximize United Miles for non-frequent flyers

How to maximize United Miles for non-frequent flyers

A Comprehensive Guide to Maximizing United Miles in 2023

United Airlines

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It’s easy to earn United miles without stepping on a plane, and because they don’t expire, you can use miles when you’re ready to travel. You can earn lots of United miles quickly with excellent credit cards like the United℠ Explorer Card. If you have an eligible Chase Ultimate Rewards card, you can transfer points to your United account. You can use United miles to book award flights on United Airlines and partners like Lufthansa and Air Canada. [^1^]

United is one of the largest airlines in the world, so it should come as no surprise that its frequent flyer program, United MileagePlus, has over 100 million members. If you’re one of them, there are myriad ways both to earn and redeem United miles for the best value, including some phenomenal travel rewards credit card offers. [^1^]

United Miles Guide 2023

Here’s what you need to know to maximize your United miles, all the ways you can rack them up quickly, and how you can redeem them for the rewards you want. [^1^]

How to Earn United Miles

From flying United and its partner carriers, booking certain hotels, signing up for promotions, and simply carrying the right credit card, there are plenty of ways to accumulate United miles in a flash. Because United miles never expire, you can focus on earning miles now without worrying about when you’ll be able to travel again. [^1^]

Earn miles with United, Ultimate Rewards, and Bilt Rewards credit cards

As is the case with many frequent flyer programs these days, the quickest, cheapest, and easiest way to accrue United MileagePlus miles is to open and use a co-branded credit card. United partners with Chase as its issuer, so in addition to the airline’s co-branded cards, you can transfer points from some of Chase’s other products to your MileagePlus account. [^1^]

There are six United Airlines credit cards to consider if you just want to earn United miles and enjoy some day-of-travel perks to boot. [^1^]

United℠ Explorer Card

The popular United℠ Explorer Card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. That’s worth $780, per Insider’s points and miles valuations. [^1^]

You’ll also get perks like two free day passes to United Club lounges each year, primary rental car insurance, expanded award availability for United Airlines flights, one free checked bag for you and a travel buddy on your reservation, and more. The card charges an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95. [^1^]

United Club℠ Infinite Card

A premium credit card, the United Club℠ Infinite Card comes with United Club airport lounge membership. The annual fee is $525, and it offers a welcome bonus of 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening — worth $1,040, per Insider’s valuations. [^1^]

United Quest℠ Card

The newest United card, the United Quest℠ Card offers a welcome bonus of 60,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, worth $780 on average, according to Insider’s valuations. It comes with perks like a free first and second checked bag on United flights (when you use the card to pay for your ticket), and up to $125 per year in annual statement credits toward United purchases (like airfare and incidental fees). The annual fee is $250. [^1^]

United Gateway℠ Card

The $0-annual-fee United Gateway℠ Card is relatively basic, but still a strong earner. It offers a bonus of 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (worth $260, per Insider’s valuations), and earns 2x miles on United purchases and at gas stations as well as on local transit and commuting, and 1x on everything else. [^1^]

United℠ Business Card

If you already have one of the other United credit cards, you could consider this small-business credit card instead. The United℠ Business Card is currently offering 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open — which is worth $650, per Insider’s valuations. You’ll be charged a $0 intro for the first year, then $99 annual fee. [^1^]

United Club℠ Business Card

The premium United Club℠ Business Card offers a welcome bonus of 75,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (worth $1,300 according to Insider’s valuations). You’ll earn 2x miles on United purchases and 1.5x miles on everything else, and, like the personal version, the card comes with United Club membership. The annual fee is $0 intro for the first year, then $99. [^1^]

If you prefer a credit card that earns transferable points, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to United MileagePlus (as well as over a dozen other Chase transfer partners) if you carry one of the following cards. Given that versatility, you might want to apply for one of them instead. [^1^]

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

This customer-favorite rewards credit card offers 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. The card earns 5x points on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs), 2x points on other eligible travel purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. The annual fee is $95. [^1^]

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can earn a welcome bonus offer of 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Further, you can earn 10x points on Chase Dining purchases through Ultimate Rewards, 10x points on hotel stays and car rentals purchased through Ultimate Rewards, 5x points on air travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on other travel and dining purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. [^1^]

There’s a $550 annual fee, but it’s worth it if you can use perks like up to $300 in annual travel credit, Priority Pass airport lounge access, and top-notch travel insurance. [^1^]

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Don’t forget about the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, which packs a points punch of its own. New cardholders can earn a whopping 100,000 points after spending $8,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. They also earn 3x points on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year, and 1x on everything else, for a $95 annual fee. [^1^]

Bilt Mastercard®

Bilt Rewards is a program that allows you to pay rent fee-free — and earn travel rewards while you’re at it. You can also open the $0-annual-fee Bilt Mastercard® to earn Bilt rewards for non-rent expenses. Here’s what you’ll earn: [^1^]

  • 3 points per dollar on dining (including food delivery services like Uber Eats and GrubHub)
  • 2 points per dollar on travel booked directly with airlines, hotels, car rentals, or cruise lines
  • 1 point per dollar on rent payments (with no fees) on up to $100,000 in rent payments every year
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases

Bilt is a 1:1 transfer partner of United Airlines. This is a great way to rack up United Airlines miles on some of your biggest monthly expenses. [^1^]

Travelers have some fantastic choices when it comes to credit cards they can use to accumulate United MileagePlus miles. But there are more ways to earn, too. [^1^]

Earn United miles by flying United and its partners

Of course, the other main way to stock up on a lot of United MileagePlus miles is to fly United and its other airline partners. Regular MileagePlus members (i.e. those without elite status) earn 5x miles per dollar spent on airfare with United or United Express. Those with Premier Silver status earn 7x, Premier Golds earn 8x, Premier Platinums get 9x, and finally, Premier 1Ks earn 11x miles per dollar. [^1^]

United also has over three dozen Star Alliance and non-alliance airline partners with whom MileagePlus members can accrue miles when traveling. They include major carriers like ANA, Air Canada, EVA Air, Lufthansa, SAS, and Singapore Airlines, among others. [^1^]

The earning rates vary from partner to partner, but are usually based on the fare class purchased and the distance flown. For instance, tickets on Singapore Airlines earn between 0-150% of the distance flown, while those on SWISS earn 0-200%. So it pays to check the mileage rates on each individual partner page before committing to a ticket. [^1^]

Earn United miles with other travel

In addition to just flights, you can earn United miles by booking stays with United’s hotel partners, sailings through United Cruises, and entire trips through United Vacations, as well as partner car rentals. [^1^]

Earn United miles through shopping and dining rewards

Aside from travel, you can rack up miles by keeping a few other opportunities in mind. United offers an online shopping portal – kind of like an online mall – with hundreds of retail partners where MileagePlus members can earn bonus points on purchases. Members can also register for MileagePlus Dining and earn between 3x and 5x miles on tabs at thousands of participating restaurants around the country. And don’t forget that Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United MileagePlus instantly at a 1:1 ratio, so if you’re just a few thousand miles short of an award, this is one of the best ways to top up your account. [^1^]

How to Use United Miles

Speaking of awards, there are plenty of ways to redeem your United miles when the time comes. [^1^]

Use United miles for award flights

It’s to be presumed that one of the primary reasons to focus on United miles is to use them for award flights on the airline itself. First, the bad news: United has removed award charts with fixed rates between various regions from its website and gravitated to a dynamic pricing model for award tickets. In addition, United recently increased award prices to Europe by about 33%. [^1^]

This means that the number of miles you’ll need for a flight now depends more on how much paid flights cost, along with other factors. That usually makes it cheaper to fly less expensive routes. On the flip side, however, if you’re looking for seats in business or first class, the mileage prices have risen recently and can be downright astronomical for Polaris business class on busy international routes. [^1^]

Beginning in 2023, United Airlines award flights count toward the requirements necessary to earn elite status. You’ll earn Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) just as you would have if you bought your airfare with cash — and you’ll earn 1 Premier Qualifying Point (PQP) for every 100 miles you spend. [^1^]

These days, one-way domestic economy award tickets start at a mere 5,000 miles, but can range up to over 30,000 miles. You can find saver business or first-class awards within the US for as few as 25,000 miles, but also as high as over 60,000 miles. Internationally, it’s hard to pinpoint exact values for routes these days but in general, expect one-ways from the US to other regions to start at around 32,500 miles in economy and 63,000 miles in business class and to skyrocket from there. [^1^]

There’s also a newer redemption option called “Money + Miles,” which is similar to Delta’s Pay With Miles feature. Money + Miles is currently available on select United flights, and it allows you to pay for part of your fare with cash and the rest with miles, at a fixed rate of 1 cent per mile. [^1^]

Redeem United miles for partner flights

Just as you can earn United miles on flights with partner airlines, you can also redeem them for award tickets on the carrier’s Star Alliance and non-alliance partners. United stealthily raised award prices across the board by around 10% a few years ago, and then bumped them up again for close-in bookings — all of which has driven these prices higher still. [^1^]

While the number of miles you need for a specific flight will also depend on the route, airline, and dates, expect to pay about 40,000 miles each way from the US to Europe in economy and 80,000 miles in business class. Flights from the US to Asia start at around 44,000 miles each way in economy and 88,000 miles in business class. Insider’s points and miles valuations peg United miles value at 1.3 cents each, on average. If you’re considering a redemption, compare the cost of your award flight to that of a paid ticket. If your redemption results in a rate of 1.3 cents per mile or higher, you can be confident that you’re getting a good deal. [^1^]

How to search for awards using United miles

On the bright side, United has one of the most robust award-search engines – both for its own flights and those of its partners – of any airline out there. To search for tickets, just go to United.com, enter your origin, destination, and flight dates, and make sure the box that says, “Book with miles” is checked. You can even check “Flexible dates” to see a month’s worth of award availability and filter your search by cabin class, which makes it easier to find the flights you need. In terms of value, you should try to get at least 1 cent per redeemed mile in value for any award flights that you book, and aim higher for tickets in business or first class. [^1^]

Other Ways to Redeem United Miles

Beyond award tickets, United lets you redeem MileagePlus miles for other travel-related purposes, such as seat upgrades and United Club memberships. The latter costs $650 or 85,000 miles, meaning you’re only getting 0.76 cents per mile in value, which is definitely not worth it. You can also purchase inflight Wi-Fi passes or subscriptions using miles – but this is an even worse value. Among the other options are redeeming miles for TSA PreCheck applications, merchandise, gift cards (many of these only net you a measly 0.3 cents per mile), various experiences like concerts and Broadway shows, charitable donations, and even hotels and cruises. Unfortunately, these redemptions are less than ideal if you’re looking to maximize value. [^1^]

United Miles Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)