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The Complete Guide to United Miles

The Complete Guide to Miles Earning with Credit Cards

United Mileage Plus


United Mileage Plus is one of the best frequent flyer currencies out there. It is one of the frequent flyer programs that doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges when redeeming miles, on United Airlines or any of their partners. For that alone, United is a much preferred currency to earn miles with.
While its prices for economy are reasonable, many complain that the prices for premium cabins (business class and first class) are far too high compared to what it used to be, and compared to competitors like American Airlines.
Still, prices for economy flyers are decent and not having to pay fuel surcharges is worth it. But one incredible benefit is the ability to book award flights with stopovers – a second stop in a ticket that can be as long as you want.

The following guide will explain earning miles, using miles, using united.com to search for and book your tickets, and stopovers…

Earning United Miles…


United miles can be earned via particular Chase credit cards, and of course, by flying.

United Cards

The United credit card, and the United business credit card, both earn United miles. When you spend on these cards the United miles automatically deposit into your United account online.

Chase Cards

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points also transfer to United’s mileage program at a 1:1 ratio. The Chase Freedom,  Chase Sapphire, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Classic, Ink Bold and Ink Plus all earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. However, the Chase Freedom card, and Ink Classic don’t actually transfer to United, and thus you would first have to transfer your points to a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred (a card that does allow transfers) and then transfer to United.

To transfer, log onto your Chase account and navigate to the “Chase Ultimate Rewards”. You will then find a “Points Transfer” tab. Hovering over this tab will allow you to select United from a list of transfer partners.

Transfers are same day, if not instant.

“Miles” can refer to one of two things in this context.

  1. Redeemable Miles

    There are “redeemable miles”, which is what we’ve been talking about- the frequent flyer mile currency that allows you to buy flights.

  2. Elite Qualifying Miles

    Then there are “elite qualifying miles”, a way of keeping track of the amount you’ve flown and therefore, of your elite status. For example you need to to earn x amount of elite qualifying miles to get x status. And these miles are generally earned by actually flying.

Any time you fly on United Airlines you can earn United miles.

When flying, you would earn 100% of the actual miles flown as redeemable miles and elite qualifying miles. However in various situations, you may earn at different rates.

For instance a flight from New York to London is 3,466 miles oneway, and would earn that many miles if you flew it on a paid ticket. You would earn at a 100% rate. You earn 125% for full fare economy tickets, 150% – 175% for business class, 175% – 250% for first class.

But you don’t have to just fly United to earn United miles, you can fly on anyone in Star Alliance. A paid ticket that earns miles can be “credited” towards United. Just clarify your United # upon booking or checking in.  But again, some of these flights will earn at different rates.

  • Adria earns 50% for discount economy
  • Asiana earns 70% for discount economy
  • Air China earns 0% – 50% for discount economy
  • Air Canada earns 25% for discount economy within North America
  • Avianca earns 50% for discount economy
  • Croatia Airlines earns 50% for discount economy
  • Egypt Air earns 25% – 50% for discount economy
  • Eva Air earns 50% – 75% for discount economy
  • Lot earns 25% for discount economy and 50% for economy
  • Lufthansa earns 0% for discount economy within Europe, and 100% everywhere else
  • Shenzhen earns 0% – 50% for discount economy
  • South African earns 50% for discount economy
  • This only matters on paid tickets, as paid tickets are the only tickets earning miles.

    Elite Status with United…


    United has implemented an elite status program that is based on not only miles flown, but cash spent as well.

    There are four statuses set, each requiring different cash amounts to be spent, in $2,500 increments.

    However, you may notice that you also need to qualify via miles flown or segments flown. The column on the left shows requirements in (PQM) Premier Qualifying Miles and the column on the right shows (PQS) Premier Qualifying Segments.

    Again, you can qualify via miles or segments flown, plus you have to meet the revenue requirements.

    – Earn faster. Each of the four statuses allows you to earn miles quicker in 25% increments.
    – Each status gives different levels of upgrades.
    – Starting at Gold you get lounge access when traveling internationally.
    – Discounts, and waiving of fees.

    There are more benefits, and they vary by status, but click here to learn more.

    Searching for Award Flights…


    United.com is actually really easy to use. Just as you would go to the home page and search specific dates and destinations to find a flight, you do the same when using miles. It’s as simple as checking the box that says, “Award Flight”.

    The difference is that the prices will be shown in miles instead of dollars.

    You then want to find “Saver” award seats.

    Saver seats are actual award seats, and “Standard Award” seats are extra award tickets sold at nearly double the price. Avoid these.

    While you can use your United miles to book flights on any Star Alliance member, not every route and airline is shown in United’s award flight search results. United does search most Star Alliance airlines however.

    Here’s what you won’t find included in United’s award flight search results:

  • Singapore Airlines
  • Lot Polish Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
    If you’re hoping to find one of these airlines, you need to use a different search engine.  For instance you can use Aeroplan’s or ANA’s search engines.


    United’s search engine does however have a few extra partners outside Star Alliance.

    Of those it does search:

  • Hawaiian Airlines – Only partners for flights around the Hawaiian Islands
  • Aer Lingus – Only between North America and Ireland, and within the UK.
    It does not search:

  • Jet Airways – Within India, and to Hong Kong or London.
  • Cape Air – Within Puerto Rico and between San Juan and other Caribbean islands

    Booking Award Flights…


    Anytime United’s search engine is agreeable and you find a flight bookable online, you might as well book it online. But if it can’t be booked online, because of website errors or missing airlines (like Singapore), then we highly recommend calling. Don’t just assume because you don’t see it, you can’t book it.


    1) Check United.com for award flights, but if you don’t see what you need…

    2) Check partner sites like Aeroplan and ANA for award availability.

    3) If you find partner availability not seen on United’s search results, call United to book.

    Stopovers on Award Tickets…


    You are allowed 1 stopover and 2 open-jaws for roundtrip international awards.

    A stopover on an international award flight is an additional stop of 24 hours or more, like a second destination.
    An open-jaw is when you break up your flight with a gap in the ticket, returning home from a different airport than that of your destination or returning home to a different airport than the one you originally left.

    The example below uses both an open-jaw (at the destination) and a stopover.

    The crazy thing is that there are some situations where stopovers actually lower the price of your ticket.  This concept is a bit more involved than what we’ll discuss here, so I recommend reading this post about United’s stopover and routing rules if you’d like to learn more.

    1) Go to the award search tool on the homepage and click “Award flight” as you did before.
    2.) Then also select “multi-destination”.
    This will bring you to a new version of the search tool which will now allow multiple segments.

    To arrange your own flight segment by segment this way, you’ll need to know a bit about routing rules.

    Although rules are not technically published, I’ve published my best guesses based on personal research.

    Here is a summary.

  • An open-jaw can not be applied to a stopover.
  • When starting from North America the following regions can not be combined:
    – Europe and Oceania
    – Africa and Australia
    – Europe and Australia
    – Africa and Oceania
    – Middle East and Oceania
    – South America and Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia, Oceania

    How will you know if you’re route is illegal?

    If you are trying to put together a route that’s not legal, United’s search engine will give you an error message.


    However, this is not the only reason for an error message.

    When using the multiple destination search, many people get an error message. The error message comes for one of two reasons.
    1) It’s not a legal route
    2) United.com is just slow
    Because United.com is ancient, searches are limited in time. By adding more destinations to your flight, the search engine has more to search and quits before it gets to your results.

    There could be verified seats, but united is just too slow to find them and gives an error.

    If you get an error note the following things:

  • If it’s not a legal route it will give an error on the first screen.
  • If it is a legal route but the site is too slow, it may or may not give an error on the first screen. But if it displays any results at all, you know it’s a legal route.
  • If it’s a legal route but gives an error on the first screen, check a oneway first to make sure there are actually flights on that day.
  • If there are flights, and it is a legal routing, try changing dates and routes. By changing to a different city in the same region, or a different date, you can verify that the zones you’re trying to combine are legal if something shows up with a slightly different routing.  It doesn’t mean you need to use this routing, it just means you’ve identified that the problem is related to availability and not legality.
  • If the dates that do work on United.com don’t work for you, call.
  • Conclusion…


    In the beginning of this guide we made the claim that United Mileage Plus is one of the most valuable mileage currencies.

    Maybe now you agree? Let’s recap what we’ve discussed.

  • Where economy flights are concerned, United has a good award chart with reasonable “saver award” prices.
  • United miles can be earned via the United credit cards or by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned via Chase credit cards.
  • United miles can also be earned by making paid flights, though flyers should note that different kinds of tickets earn miles at different rates.
  • Elite status, earned by flying a certain amount of miles or segments and spending a certain amount of money, can give you a variety of benefits depending on your level.
  • United’s online award search tool is fairly thorough, but you’ll want to note a few missing partner airlines as well as a few additional non-alliance partners when you analyze search results
  • Booking can be made online for awards that come up in the search results, or over the phone.
  • United roundtrip award tickets allow 1 stopover and 2 open-jaws.
  • If you intend on booking your own flight with stopovers, you will need to familiarize yourself with a few unwritten routing rules.
  • If your flight search results in an “Error” message, it does not necessarily mean that your route is an illegal one, and you may want to experiment with changed dates and airports to further test the legitimacy of your route.
    Hope you’ve enjoyed this complete guide, created by Drew and Carrie of Travelisfree.com

    Related Posts:


    1. Drew,
      With United stopover rules is it possible to route for 12.5K each way Japan-Oceania where the routing is NRT-CNS(Cairns Stopover)AKL-NAD.

      I see regular routing to Fiji as NRT-CNS-AKL-NAD, so with that routing can I force a Cairns stopover?

      Thank you,


      • Honestly, I just tried and couldn’t get it to price out. I believe, it’s a legal routing to stopover in CNS, just as long as you don’t open-jaw to akl. However, I’m not sure if it would price as an australian or oceania ticket… that’s what I was trying to find out. Which, could determine whether or not the stopover has to be first or second… maybe. It’s an odd situation though as I seriously doubt they want your routing CNS – NRT via NAN. But they would likely let you do NAN to NRT via CNS. Again, haven’t look at that in a while and mix reports say it’s changed since I did it years ago. Would be a steal though.

      • Been reading a lot about stop overs and open jaws but I’m a little embarrassed to say that even after all that I have read, I am still confused. Planning a trip from NYC JFK to Italy late September/early October 2015 using my United reward miles. Several months afterwards (February 2016) I plan on going to Hawaii-Maui. So I figure perfect time to take advantage of international stop overs & open jaws. I plan on flying to Venice and returning from Rome. Could someone tell me if this is a valid route: JFK to VCE; FCO to JFK; JFK to OGG.

    2. what about “view from the wing’s” recent blog post about UA no longer allowing USA-SE ASIA via EURO awards?
      ex: EWR-FRA-PRG(stopover)-FRA-BKK(destination)-FRA-EWR…now illegal?

    3. Great work, Thank You!
      Would You do such an amazing guide for Lufthansa M&M?

      • Thanks, glad you enjoyed!
        I think eventually, but we have others in the que first.

    4. Drew,

      south america, north america and europe can be combined with europe segment as a free oneway.

      • When starting in South America that’s sort of possible, is the oneway actually free though?
        Regardless, when starting in North America, you can not combine Europe and South America on a traditional roundtrip.

      • Thanks William! 😉

    5. WOW! And I thought the quality of your postings couldn’t get exponentially better.

      • I hope they always get better! 😀 Thanks!

    6. Amazing post. Must read for all. Clear, concise, no crappy selling and extremely valuable. This site is such a treasure house.

      • Awesome! Thanks Kumar!

    7. Nice fake UA logo 😉 But seriously, a really useful guide! Thanks again for being the best miles/points site out there.

      • Glad you notice quality logo designs!

    8. Nice overview and visually striking. You put a lot of time into making the presentation look nice and it shows Nice job!

      • Thanks Neil!

    9. Thanks for putting this resource together. Alas, am I right in surmising that United just changed the rules (as of next March), following Delta, so that miles earned from actual flights will be based on price paid, rather than distance flown? http://mileageplusupdates.com/ (LL just flagged this)

      • Guess I have til next march until I rewrite.

    10. Can you further explain what you mean here? Sorry if dumb question –
      •Lufthansa earns 0% for discount economy within Europe, and 100% everywhere else

      If I am flying Lufthansa this fall NYC-Greece RT, should I credit miles to United?

      • So you would not earn miles for the flights within europe, in this case Germany to Greece. And you would earn miles for NYC to Germany. Hope that helps.

    11. hi Drew,
      im trying to put JFK->JNB->KIX(Japan)->GMP(Korea)->JFK, it keeps giving me error….is it a legal route? i triple check there is flight on the dates i put in.

      • If JNB, KIX, and GMP are all stopovers, you have one too many. You get one destination and one stopover.
        Hope that helps.

    12. Drew!
      I am looking to do a trip next year from the US to SE Asia then to Europe, I know that is illegal, but if I fly to Morocco then open jaw from Europe, is that illegal? Can’t seem to get it to price.

      Any other thoughts or suggestions would be great, and as always, thanks!

    13. Hey Drew, just to let you know, on your “Complete Guides” widget on the top right of the site, this post, “The Complete Guide to United Miles,” is linked incorrectly to the British Airways Avios guide.

    14. I am trying to book IAD – (BCN or MAD) (stopover) – FCO (desintation) and PAR – IAD.
      United gave me an error. What did I do wrong here?

    15. I just learned of your blog & think it’s awesome- Very informative ! Thanks.

    16. Hi Drew,

      Do you know if it’s possible to go from Northern South America to Southern South America via Panama (Central South America) for 10k miles?

      • How many days in advance are mileage travel awards available to book flights? Is it 240 days? Thanks.

    17. Amazing post. I bow to you.

      Question: trying to book LAX-EWR (stopover) – VIE (destination) SZB (open jaws) – EWR.

      Agent spent an hour on the phone trying to do this and could not. Is it possible on one award ticket? Should I try again? Any advice would be appreciated.

      Thanks and keep up the fantastic work!

    18. Hi, I am able to find award tickets BKK-PER-JNB-BKK for 80k United miles, but BKK-JNB-PER-BKK errors out immediately. Is this an illegal routing? Or should I call? Any clarification would be helpful. I posted this on flyertalk to no avail. Thanks!

    19. Drew,
      Seems like the only United reward flights I can ever find require flying somewhere else first, spending the night, and then a full day of travel the next day. I’m only looking at Saver awards but is this typical? I’m searching from either Louisville, CVG or BNA to the various spots in the Caribbean and it’s the same result.

      I can understand dates being limited but when you add in only choosing from +1 travel days it’s extremely frustrating. I know you love United miles but this seems to be a major negative against them IMO. I’ve never booked awards with United and would like to use points I’ve gotten from the Explorer Card. Any insights are greatly appreciated.

    20. You might want to update the post… United PQD requirements are now 3K for silver. Also, United changed miles rewards (not PQM) to multiples of price paid, regardless of actual distance. I’d be interested to see what others are getting in terms of points valuation.


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