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.
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 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.
There are “redeemable miles”, which is what we’ve been talking about- the frequent flyer mile currency that allows you to buy flights.
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.
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:
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:
It does not search:
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.
- 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:
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.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this complete guide, created by Drew and Carrie of Travelisfree.com