See the pros and cons of United miles and how they compare to other miles and points programs.
There’s much to be said in favor of the United MileagePlus program: United has a huge airline network that includes 28 Star Alliance partners covering most parts of the globe, and United is flexible enough in its routing rules to accommodate many destinations and itineraries.
However, determining the value of United miles mainly comes down to this question: Do you have the flexibility to book a Saver Award? If you are flexible in your days and flight times, you may find that United miles are a great value. If you are particular about which day and time you fly out on, you may find the United MileagePlus program to be a fizzle.
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 first year).
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United miles value
By our estimates, United miles are worth around 1.5 cents per mile – higher than some rewards program point, but not as valuable as many competing airlines’ miles.
See Related: Best United Airlines credit cards, 12 ways to earn United miles, Best ways to redeem 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
Why United miles are worth less than some competitors
The value of your United miles can vary drastically, depending on whether you redeem them for a Saver or an Everyday Award. While Saver Awards are usually a very good value, Everyday Awards are generally very expensive – for both economy and business/first-class fares. As you can see from the chart below, Everyday awards on United are worth only around 1 cent per mile:
|Fare type||Value per mile (cents)|
|Business/First Class Everyday||1.4|
Thus, while United’s Saver awards beat the value of awards on many other airlines, when we look at the average value of awards over various routes and times of year, the low value of Everyday Awards brings down the overall value of United miles.
How to value your United milesWe’ve told you how we value United miles, but, actually, the value of miles is subjective, depending on your redemption preferences and what you ultimately redeem your miles for. Here are some questions you should consider when trying to determine how much United miles are worth to you:
- Which redemption option do you prefer? Do you intend to redeem your miles strictly for airfare? Or, are you eyeing another redemption option, such as merchandise or a gift card? If the latter is true, you may have to shave a half a cent or more off the value of your miles, since the value of most other redemption options is low.
- Which class do you prefer to fly in? Are you more of an economy flyer, or do you aspire to fly in business or first class? While Saver Awards in economy class are a great way to stretch your miles on United, you will find that Saver Awards in business and first class on United and its airline partners offer an even better value per mile.
- Where are you flying to? The value of awards can vary by route, and, also, you may find that it is either difficult or impossible to find Saver Awards for certain destinations – especially very popular ones – so you should check ahead of time to see the value of United miles for your intended destination to make sure that the redemption value is good.
- When do you intend to fly? You will likely have a hard time locating a Saver Award around popular travel times, which could drive down the value of your miles if you have to redeem for an Everyday Award.
- How flexible are you? Flexibility is key to getting a good value on your United miles. If you are flexible on the time of day that you fly out on, and if you can adjust your date of departure by a day or two, you may have much better luck locating Saver Awards. Even better, if you are open to multiple destinations and times of year, you can find very good values, thus significantly increasing the value of your miles.
- How far away is your flight? Booking your flights far in advance with United is generally a good idea to improve your chances of finding a Saver fare. That said, since the prices of awards are fixed on United, booking at the very last minute can drastically improve the value of your miles, if you’re lucky enough to find a Saver fare still available. However, you’ll also have to factor in a 2,500 to 3,500 mile fee for booking less than 30 days in advance.
Calculating the value of United miles
Once you’ve decided on a redemption option and figured out the costs of that option, you can take the value in dollars of that item (minus any taxes and fees that you have to pay), and divide it by the number of miles to determine the value of your United miles:
United Miles Value = Reward Value (in dollars)/Number of Miles
Note – especially when it comes to airfare – this will be a rough estimate. There are countless factors that can affect the value of airfare, such as the miles that you lose out on earning when you pay for a flight with miles instead of dollars, the lowest possible price you could get on the flight by checking back with the site repeatedly over time, having to forego other promotions and discounts when you use miles, the lowest possible price you could get by booking a flight with a competitor, and so on.
But for a basic comparison of values across airline programs, this simple formula should do the trick.
How flexible are United miles?
With United miles, you have a large number of destinations and airline partners to choose from and United is fairly flexible on how you redeem miles, but you’ll have to familiarize yourself with a complicated awards chart and a maze of restrictions (including some unexpected booking fees) to get the best value. Here are the pros and cons of United miles:
- United miles don’t expire as long as you earn or use miles every 18 months.
- United has a vast flight network. With more than 21,000 daily flights to more than 1,300 destinations in more than 190 countries, United and its 39 airline partners can take you almost anywhere you want to fly.
- If your travel plans are flexible, Saver Awards offer an exceptionally good value.
- Business and first-class Saver Awards are an even better value than economy class Saver Awards, and you can find some great deals flying in luxury with United’s Star Alliance partners.
- United’s Excursionist Perk allows you to book a free stopover on a multicity itinerary (if you can figure out the routing restrictions).
- United doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on award tickets, unlike some competitors who charge hundreds of dollars in fees for overseas fares.
- United is fairly relaxed with its routing restrictions – you have the option to book round-trip, one-way and multicity award tickets, as well as open-jaw itineraries (itineraries arriving and departing from different destinations).
- There is limited availability of Saver Awards – you may not be able to find awards for popular times or destinations. (However, United has a fair amount of Saver Awards within its calendar).
- While United does offer Everyday Award tickets that you can book for almost any available seat on a flight, they are very expensive.
- There is a $25 fee for booking phone reservations with United.
- United also charges a $75 fee for booking reservations less than 21 days in advance and a $75 to $125 fee for cancelling or changing reservations (reduced or waived for some elite members).
- United miles underwent a devaluation in 2017 and will likely undergo further devaluations in the future, so you need to use your miles as soon as possible.
- United recently updated its award pricing. For United flights starting on Nov. 15 and later, award pricing will be dynamic rather than based on a fixed chart. This means that the number of miles required for a flight will fluctuate by date, and will likely be more expensive during peak times and less expensive for off-season flights.
- United miles are awarded based on revenue rather than distance flown for United flights, so you can’t strategize your routing to maximize your mile earnings.
Are United miles worth it?
For the most part, yes, United miles are very valuable and, if you can snag a large number of them through a sign-up bonus or because you fly often on United, you will find many good redemption options through United’s large flight network.
However, if you are weighing the pros of collecting United miles against a more flexible rewards program, say Chase Ultimate Rewards, you’ll need to consider whether you are flexible enough in your travel plans to seek out Saver Awards in United’s flight schedule. If you absolutely must fly out at the busiest travel times, you will likely get a subpar return on your United miles.