United MileagePlus guide: The best ways to earn and use United miles

United Airlines' loyalty program is flexible and free to join. Here's how it works

Summary

Read our comprehensive guide to United MileagePlus to learn about the best ways to earn, redeem and maximize MileagePlus miles.

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There’s no way around it: If you’re flying around the country, there’s a decent chance you’ll be on a United Airlines flight sooner or later. And whether you fly a lot or you’re just looking to cut costs on occasional flights, you might be curious about whether United MileagePlus is worth signing up for.

It’s a more flexible program than many airlines offer, which is good because you’ll have plenty of choices. However, along with that comes analysis paralysis and anxiety over if you’re using the program to its fullest. This guide covers everything you need to know about how it works.

United MileagePlus program basics

The United Airlines MileagePlus program can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. It’s free to join and your miles won’t ever expire, so there’s no harm in joining even if you only fly with United once in your life.

Most travelers rely on two main ways to earn miles: by spending on United credit cards and flying with United or a partner airline. On the flip side, the best way to redeem points is to book future flights on United or its partners. In between those options, however, you’ll have a lot of opportunities to experiment with finding new ways to earn and spend miles.

Type of currencyMiles
Average point value (according to Bankrate.com)1.1 cents
Redemption optionsFlights, seat upgrades, rental cars, cruises, hotels, merchandise, Apple products, gift cards, event tickets, VIP experiences, United Club membership and donations
Minimum required to redeemVaries
Rewards expirationNo expiration
Transfer optionsAnother MileagePlus member
Best for
  • Frequent domestic flyers
  • Travelers who value flexibility
  • Travelers who frequent Europe and Asia mainly

Who is United MileagePlus best for?

We’d suggest signing up for the United Airlines MileagePlus program if you book United flights a lot or will soon. You’re also more likely to fly United if you live near one of the airline’s hub airport locations, which include:

  • Chicago
  • Denver
  • Guam
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • San Francisco
  • Washington, D.C.

United Airlines offers flights to all six inhabited continents, with the majority of them in North America, Europe and Asia. Frequent flyers to those places will likely find use in joining United MileagePlus. In addition, we recommend the program if you like having a lot of different options for how to redeem your rewards since the choices seem endless.

How to earn MileagePlus miles

It’s much simpler to earn miles with United than it is finding the best way to use them. There are a few ways to collect miles to fuel your travel further, but these are some of the top ways:

Fly on United or partner airlines

When you enter your United Airlines MileagePlus account number while you book your airfare with United or any of its partner airlines, you’ll be sure to earn miles. The exact number of miles depends on how far you’re flying, which class of ticket you bought, whether you’ve reached Premier status and more.

Book with other United partners

Much like its partner airlines, United also teams up with many other companies to offer you the chance to earn more United miles on those purchases. Quite a few of these companies are of course travel-related, including options to earn miles when booking with certain cruise lines, hotels, car rental agencies and more.

You can also earn miles through United’s non-travel partners, such as when closing a loan with a partner mortgage lender or dining with a participating restaurant.

Use a United credit card

United Airlines credit cards are great for earning more miles whether you’re flying or not. Depending on the card you choose, you’ll earn between 1 and 4 miles for every dollar you spend with the card.

The sign-up bonuses are an even bigger opportunity, offering you a one-time chance to earn a bonus pot of thousands of miles if you meet the spending requirements. As always, we recommend paying off your card in full each month if you’re using a travel card to earn rewards. That way you won’t run up a balance, and you won’t owe any interest that could negate the value of the miles you earn.

Below are some of the co-branded United cards, issued by Chase, and their respective sign-up bonuses:

CardWelcome bonusEstimated value**
United Gateway℠ Card30,000 miles if you spend $1,000 in first 3 months$330
United℠ Explorer Card60,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months$660
United Quest℠ Card80,000 miles if you spend $5,000 in first 3 months$880
United Club℠ Infinite Card100,000 miles if you spend $5,000 in first 3 months$1,100
United℠ Business Card*
  • Up to 150,000 bonus miles: 75,000 miles if you spend $5,000 in first 3 months
  • Additional 75,000 miles if you spend $20,000 in first 6 months
$1,650

**The value of MileagePlus miles is based on Bankrate’s 2022 point valuations. MileagePlus miles are currently worth an average of 1.1 cents.

Buy miles

Finally, if all else fails, you can buy miles. Given that MileagePlus miles will cost you 3.5 cents each but are only worth around 1.1 cents, it’s not exactly a winning proposition. But if you’ve already got a pile of points built up and you only need a few more to redeem an award, it could be worth it.

We should mention a couple of cheaper ways to buy points. While booking a United or partner airline flight, you can select the Award Accelerator option that lets you buy a discounted batch of miles.

United also offers a newer Miles by the Month subscription plan where you’ll get the choice of three options ranging from $94.50 to $210 monthly, with an extra bonus for every three months you stick with it. This way you can bring the price down to 2.1 cents per mile, which is still more than they’re worth but at least less than paying for them outright.

How to redeem MileagePlus miles

One of the strengths of the United MileagePlus program is the sheer number of options you have to redeem your points. You can use points to pay for almost anything you can think of. Here are some of the best options:

Book a flight

As a frequent flyer program, some of the best ways to redeem miles are booking a flight on United or a partner airline, upgrading your seat or using a combination of miles and money to book a flight if you don’t have quite enough miles saved up yet.

You can stretch these points further by checking out United’s flight award deals, a list of the lowest award fares of the day. There’s also the Excursionist option, a confusing program that essentially lets you book one leg of your multi-city itinerary for free if the other three (or more) legs are purchased using miles.

In addition, you can use your points to buy a lot of different things to make your flying experience as smooth as possible, including in-flight Wi-Fi, a United Club lounge membership, a TSA PreCheck application and more.

Book a hotel, rental car, or a cruise

You can also use your points to book many other travel options, although keep in mind that flights are almost always the best way to get the most from your rewards. United has its own travel booking portal for cruises, hotels and rental cars, and it partners directly with many popular hotel chains such as Marriott Bonvoy and IHG Hotels & Resorts.

Book entertainment

Perhaps less popular but still a great way to use miles is to attend live events, such as sports matches, Broadway shows and concerts. It even offers exclusive opportunities, such as being able to book the first-ever flight to Brisbane or get free tickets to watch football inside the United Club at certain sports venues.

Buy merchandise

Using your points to buy merchandise is generally the lowest-value redemption option. But if you don’t plan to fly anytime soon, it’s still a way to make good use of your rewards. United offers many options, including newspaper and magazine subscriptions, Apple products, gift cards to many popular retailers, random merchandise through its award store and more.

Premier status and benefits

United offers several different tiers of Premier status, each with increasingly juicy benefits.

The way you can meet Premier status can be a little confusing because there are two metrics at play: Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs) and Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs). Any money you spend with United on tickets and fare-related expenses will be worth 1 PQP per dollar spent. Each United flight you take, except for Basic Economy fares, will earn 1 PQF.

You can earn Premier status by either taking lots of flights and spending some money, or just by spending a lot of money. See the following chart for the full breakdown:

Premier statusHow to earn itNotable benefits
Silver8 PQF and 3,000 PQP, or

3,500 PQP

  • Free checked bag
  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus at check-in
  • Earn 7X miles on each flight
Gold16 PQF and 6,000 PQP, or

7,000 PQP

  • 2 free checked bags
  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus at booking
  • Earn 8X miles on each flight
Platinum24 PQF and 9,000 PQP, or

10,000 PQP

  • 3 free checked bags
  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus at booking
  • Earn 9X miles on each flight
1K36 PQF and 13,500 PQP, or

15,000 PQP

  • 3 free checked bags
  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus at booking
  • Earn 11X miles on each flight
  • Free drink and snack in Economy

How much are MileagePlus miles worth?

One of the trickier things about United MileagePlus miles is that their value of different redemption options isn’t as straightforward as with other programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards. You’ll have a lot of options, but United doesn’t have a standard price-per-point ratio.

That doesn’t mean you cannot figure out how much your points are worth if you’re eyeing a particular redemption option. You’ll just need to calculate the MileagePlus point value yourself by dividing an item’s cost in dollars by its cost in points, then multiplying that by 100.

For example, if you want to spend 56,400 miles on a set of AirPods that normally cost $169, your miles would be worth 0.3 cents — not a great value. You can compare it with the 1.1 cents-per-mile value as a yardstick for whether it’s a good value or not.

How do MileagePlus miles value compare?

United MileagePlus miles are similar or slightly less valuable than miles from its airline competitors, such as Alaska Airlines (1.1 cents), Delta (1.3 cents), Frontier (1.3 cents) and Southwest (1.5 cents). Some flag carrier airlines offer more value, such as Cathay Pacific (3 cents), while others are lower, such as Aeromexico (0.6 cents).

MileagePlus miles are also worth much less than points from issuer rewards programs such as American Express Membership Rewards (2.1 cents).

United MileagePlus transfer partners

You can’t transfer your MileagePlus miles to any travel partners per se. However, United Airlines has a number of airline and hotel partners with which you can make bookings and earn miles, or redeem your miles for such reservations.

Airlines

United Airlines is a partner of over 35 other airlines, including those in the Star Alliance network. These include other popular airlines such as Air Canada, Hawaiian Airlines, Lufthansa and many others. You can use MileagePlus miles to pay for flights operated by these airline partners and earn MileagePlus miles from partner flights too.

Hotels

Similarly, United offers thousands of hotels where you can earn and redeem your United MileagePlus miles.

Top credit cards that earn MileagePlus miles

United offers more options for points-earning credit cards than most other airlines. Here are some of the most liked ones:

United Gateway Card

True to its name, the United Gateway Card is a good introduction to the United MileagePlus program, especially if you don’t fly often enough to warrant a card with an annual fee. This card offers a minimum of 1 mile for every dollar you spend and 2 miles for each dollar you spend at gas stations, local transit, commuting and United Airlines purchases.

United Explorer Card

The United Explorer Card is the next level up. It earns about the same amount as the Gateway card — 2X miles on hotels, restaurants and directly purchased United tickets and 1X mile on other purchases. The downside is it charges a $95 annual fee, but at least it’s waived for the first year.

United Club Infinite Card

United’s highest-level credit card for serious flyers, the United Club Infinite Card, charges a hefty $525 annual fee but also gives the most opportunities to earn miles if you fly a lot. You’ll earn 4X miles on United purchases, 2X miles on dining (including eligible delivery services) and other travel and 1X mile on everything else.

Frequently asked questions

How many miles do you need for a free flight?

It depends. United Airlines doesn’t use a standard award chart. Rather, just like the price in dollars, the mileage cost for a given flight varies depending on your destination, the fare class and what day you fly out, among other factors.

Do MileagePlus miles expire?

No, MileagePlus miles do not expire.

Can I share points with friends and family members?

Yes, you can transfer points to any United MileagePlus member. It’ll cost you a $30 processing fee, plus $7.50 for every 500 miles you transfer.

Can you buy United MileagePlus miles?

Yes, you can buy MileagePlus miles for yourself or someone else at a rate of $35 per 1,000 miles. You can buy miles in 1,000 increments from 2,000 to 100,000 miles and in 5,000 increments from 100,000 to 175,000 miles.

*Information about the United Business Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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