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Best ways to redeem United miles

Summary

Get a full overview on good and bad options for redeeming United miles, including Saver and Everyday Awards, travel, merchandise and more.

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If you visit the United MileagePlus website, you’ll find a sprawling list of options for redeeming your United miles.

If you want to keep things simple for yourself, Saver Awards are generally the best way to go with United miles. However, you have a few other good options that require a small number of miles (as well as a lot of very poor options).

United℠ Explorer Card

United Explorer card

Why should you get this card?

With a generous sign-up bonus, the United Explorer Card makes it easy to earn a free flight quickly. If you fly United often, it is easy to make up for the card’s $95 annual fee (waived in the first year).

Learn more

More things to know:

  • 2 miles per dollar on hotels, restaurants and directly purchased United tickets and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases
  • 40,000 miles if you spend $2,000 in first 3 months
  • 2 one-time passes to the United Club lounge
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA Precheck every 4 years
  • Free checked bag

 

Read on to get an overview of your redemption options with MileagePlus and what each option is worth:

United redemption options

Mile Value (cents)
Saver airfare – economy1.4
Saver airfare – business/first class2.7
Everyday airfare – economy1.0
Everyday airfare – business/first class1.4
Airline statement credits1.0
Hotels0.8
Car rentals0.9
Cruises1.1
TSA Precheck0.9
In-flight Wi-Fi0.7
United Club membership0.8
Merchandise0.6
eGift cards0.6
Magazine/newspaper subscription2.4
ExperiencesVaries
Event awards0.7
Broadway shows0.7
Restaurants.com gift cards3.8
Airport dining0.7
Credit card annual fee0.8
Charity donation1.5

How many miles do you need for a free flight on United?

United recently migrated to a dynamic awards chart, so it is hard to estimate exactly how many miles you’ll need to score a free flight. If you do some digging, you might be able to find a one-way Saver Award for as little as 10,000 miles – but your total cost will vary based on time of year, destination and fare type.

Saver Awards

If you want to get the most out of your United miles, your best redemption option is generally Saver Awards. When we compare Saver airfare over a variety of destinations, we find that the value averages 1.4 cents per mile for an economy class ticket. You can get an even better value for Saver Awards for business and first-class fares – around 2.7 cents per mile.

Unfortunately, Saver Awards are capacity-controlled and may not be available for times and flights under high demand. When we peruse the calendar under various routes, we find that there is good availability for economy class Saver Awards, but much less for business and first class Saver Awards on domestic flights. International flights were more likely to have business and first class Saver Awards available. If you book well in advance, though, and have the flexibility to fly out on, say, Thursday instead of Friday, and are willing to take a less desirable flight time, you should be able to find availability for many destinations.

Everyday Awards

As an alternative to Saver Awards, Everyday Awards on United give you the option to use your miles for any flight that you please – as long as a seat is available on a United flight, you should be able to book it as an Everyday award.

That said, the value of Everyday Awards is low – when we compare awards over a variety of routes, we find them to be worth only 1 cent per mile on average for economy class tickets and 1.4 cents per mile for business and first-class fares. You’re generally best off avoiding this redemption and sticking to using your miles for Saver Awards.

Airline statement credits

You can redeem United miles for statement credits toward purchases made on United flights after the fact, for a value of 1 cent per mile. While convenient, this is far from the best option for redeeming United miles.

Other travel redemptions

Hotels

United allows you to use miles to book hotels through the United travel portal. The portal works much like Expedia, allowing you to book hotels at a variety hotel brands worldwide. In comparing redemptions over a variety of properties and locations, we find the value of hotel redemptions to be worth only 0.8 cent per mile on average.

Car rentals

You can use your United miles to book car rentals at a variety of rental agencies through the United MileagePlus site, including Hertz and Dollar. When we browse rentals over a variety of locations and dates, we find that the selection of rental agencies is very limited – only one or two agencies at many locations – and the value of miles when redeemed this way is poor – worth only 0.9 cent on average.

Cruises

You can use United miles to book cruises with cruise lines such as Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Celebrity Cruises. When we look at the value of miles over a variety of cruises and room types, we find that the redemption value for cruises isn’t terrible – around 1.1 cent per mile on average. However, this is only half the redemption value of a Saver Award, so you’re still better off redeeming your miles for airfare.

TSA Precheck

You can use 10,000 MileagePlus miles to cover the $85 fee for TSA Precheck. At a value of 0.9 cent per mile, this is a poor use of miles.

In-flight Wi-Fi

United gives you the option to use miles to purchase monthly and annual subscriptions to Wi-Fi services on its flights. While unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi may sound tempting, this is a poor use of United miles – subscriptions are worth only 0.7 cent per mile on average.

United Club membership

You can use miles to purchase a membership to United Club lounges for you and your spouse. Unfortunately, the redemption value for United Club membership is poor – worth only 0.8 cent on average.

Shopping

Merchandise

Like many rewards programs, you can redeem United miles for a selection of merchandise through the MileagePlus site – including Apple products, FTD flowers, electronics, style and beauty products and more. Also like most rewards programs, merchandise generally gives you a terrible redemption value – we estimate 0.6 cent per mile on average.

eGift cards

The United MileagePlus offers electronic gift cards from a selection of retailers in a range increments – from $5 to $2,000. The value of gift cards is poor across the board, worth only 0.6 cent per mile.

Note, these gift cards are separate from the gift cards that you purchase to make purchases through the United MileagePlus X app. The MileagePlus app is actually a great option for earning United miles. See our article on MileagePlus X to learn how it works.

Magazine and newspaper subscriptions

The MileagePlus website offers a selection of magazines and newspaper subscriptions for United miles. The value of United miles for subscriptions is actually good – we estimate around 2.4 cents per mile on average – and could be a good option to burn off a very small number of miles that are due to expire.

Experiences

MileagePlus experiences

United offers an array of experiences – such as VIP tickets to sporting events or a private dinner with a celebrity chef – that you can bid on using United miles. It’s a limited list compared to similar rewards programs that offer experiences and the value of experiences varies greatly and depends on how much you value – for instance – a private dinner with a player from your favorite football team. But the list is worth a look, since there are unique items on the list that you won’t find anywhere else.

MileagePlus event awards

You can use MileagePlus miles to purchase seating at concerts, sporting events and other types of events. Unlike MileagePlus experiences, you purchase the seats outright rather than bidding for them with this option, and the value is almost always poor – around 0.7 cent per mile on average.

Broadway shows

United is partnered with Broadway’s Audience Rewards program, allowing you to earn and redeem United miles for Broadway shows. While it may be worth it to earn a few hundred miles on your next Broadway show, this is not a wise way to redeem United miles – miles are worth around 0.7 cent apiece when redeemed for Broadway tickets.

Dining

Restaurants.com gift cards

You can redeem your miles for Restaurant.com certificates at a good value – either 650 miles for a $25 gift card or 2,600 miles for a $100 gift card. This amounts to a value of 3.8 cents per mile, which beats redeeming your miles for airfare – provided you like the restaurant options on Restaurants.com.

Airport dining

Not to be confused with the Restaurants.com program, United lets you use miles for dining at restaurants in the New York, Newark and Houston Intercontinental airports. On top of a too-limited geographic range, the redemption value for this option is terrible – around 0.7 cent per mile.

Other options

Credit card membership

You can also use United miles to cover your membership fee for the United MileagePlus Explorer card. While we think the MileagePlus Explorer card is a good card to own, we don’t recommend using miles to pay the annual fee – you only get 0.8 cent per mile on average for this option.

Charity donation

You can donate miles to a selection of charities, such as the Red Cross or the American Cancer Society. Since you are donating your miles for travel rather than exchanging them for cash donations, your miles maintain their value. In other words, this is a good value for your miles, especially if you have a small number of miles to burn off – donations start at only 500 miles. Note, however, that donations aren’t tax deductible.

Bottom line

MileagePlus miles can be extremely valuable – you can net up to 3.5 cents per mile (or more) for a Saver Award seat in business or first class. With a few exceptions, you’re best off redeeming your miles for airfare on United or one of its many flight partners if you want to go the full distance on your United miles.

See Related: How much are United miles worth?, Best United Airlines credit cards, 12 ways to earn United miles, United Airlines partners, United Airlines elite status benefits, A guide to United Club lounges, How to book a United flight with miles, United MileagePlus Shopping guide

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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