Examine partners to earn more United miles

Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I like getting frequent flier miles on United Airlines because they have a lot of flights from the airport near my house. Last year I signed up for the MileagePlus Explorer card, which came with a lot of miles. What are some other ways for me to get United miles? -- Tracey

Answer Dear Tracey,
United frequent flier miles can be a valuable commodity, because it is easy to search for award availability on United's website and because United tends to have more award seats available than its competitors. Of the three biggest U.S. carriers by revenue -- Delta, American and United -- United had the best reward-seat availability, according to a survey from May 2015.

So, accumulating United miles is a smart strategy, especially if you live near an airport with a lot of flights. You've taken the smart first step of signing up for Chase's United MileagePlus Explorer card (annual fee: $95, waived first year), which currently comes with 30,000 United miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months. That's the low-hanging fruit of earning United miles.

To continue gathering United miles, you're going to want to look at a few other cards from Chase, which has a robust partnership with United. Consider cards that earn points that can be transferred to United. (In December 2015, we reviewed similar strategies for earning miles on American.)

Let's look first at Chase. Any Chase card that earns Ultimate Reward points would work, because those points transfer instantly to United on a 1-to-1 basis.

So, that means you will want to examine the Chase Sapphire Preferred (annual fee: $95, waived first year), which has a 50,000-point sign-up bonus; and Chase Ink Plus (business card, annual fee: $95), which has a 60,000-point sign-up bonus.

You might also examine cards that can't give you United miles directly, but that might allow you to take United flights using other airlines' frequent flier miles.

For instance, if you had 25,000 Starwood points from the sign-up bonus on the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card (annual fee: $95, waived first year), you wouldn't want to transfer those points directly to United, because it would cost you two points for every one United mile. However, you could transfer those points on a 1-to-1 basis to Air Canada, then book a United flight though Air Canada because the two airlines are partners in the Star Alliance.

You could also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Air Canada and book a United flight, so that opens up some card options. There is an Air Canada credit card available to U.S. residents, the TD Aeroplan Visa (annual fee: $95, waived first year), which comes with 25,000 Air Canada miles.

Similarly, you could sign up for Barclaycard's Lufthansa Miles & More card (annual fee: $89), which comes with 35,000 Lufthansa miles. Lufthansa miles can be used to book flights on United and other Star Alliance carriers.

The bottom line is that you have other options beyond the one that is most obvious. Some of these can be complicated, so the best advice is to start simple and then work toward the more complex redemptions as you become more comfortable.    

See related: Switching to a new card from the same bank, Avoiding your reward card's annual fee

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Updated: 02-18-2019