How to Get More Value From United Airlines Miles

By Jason Steele on 19 April 2018 0 comments

United Airlines is one of the largest carriers in the world, and it actually has a pretty good frequent flyer program. United's MileagePlus program offers award flights on a wide variety of partner airlines, and it's one of the few frequent flyer programs remaining that doesn't slap fuel surcharges or "carrier imposed" charges on any of its award flights.

Nevertheless, the MileagePlus program has still suffered through numerous devaluations. This term refers to changes to the program that have increased the price of many popular award flights, while reducing the number of available award seats offered at the lowest mileage levels. These devaluations occur with nearly all frequent flyer programs, making it harder to find the best ways to redeem your miles for the most value. (See also: Which Airline's Frequent Flyer Miles Have the Best Value?)

Have a MileagePlus credit card

One of the biggest problems with most frequent flyer programs, including United's, is that there's a scarcity of award seats available at the lowest mileage levels. Thankfully, travelers with any of the United MileagePlus credit cards receive expanded access to Saver level award seats (the cheapest seats in terms of points required) in economy class on flights operated by United.

This little trick often makes the difference between finding available awards at the Saver level and being asked to pay double the miles to book the same seat at the Standard award price. To ensure that you see the expanded Saver award space, be sure to log into your MileagePlus account before you search for award flights. (See also: How to Use Miles and Points for a Big Award Trip)

Use the Excursionist Perk

The MileagePlus program used to offer one free stopover and two open jaws on award flights, but it no longer does. Instead, it replaced this feature with something unique that it calls the Excursionist Perk. This gives you a free one-way flight within a MileagePlus defined region when you book two or more one-way flights to and from that region.

For example, if you book an award flight from San Francisco to Athens, and a return award flight from London to San Francisco, then you are entitled to a free, one-way flight within Europe. You could use that one-way flight to travel from Athens to London, or between any other two cities that United's program includes within its definition of Europe.

Look for short-haul economy Saver awards

It always seemed unfair that a very short award flight would cost the same amount of miles as a very long one within the same region. For example, a flight from Iceland to Cyprus would require as many miles as a short hop from Frankfurt to Munich.

Now, United is offering reduced price international partner awards for nonstop flights of 800 miles or less. For example, a nonstop Lufthansa award from Frankfurt to Rome will cost only 8,000 miles. This gives you an affordable way to travel around a region using your miles.

Within the United States, you can book Saver award flights of 700 miles or less for just 10,000 miles, rather than the usual 12,500 miles.

Find the sweet spots

Most frequent flyer programs offer a few sweet spots, which are routes that give you exceptional value for your miles. For example, Saver award flights within central and southern Africa are just 17,500 miles each way in economy and 30,000 miles each way in business or first class. Furthermore, you can redeem your United MileagePlus miles with its partners South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines, which both offer extensive service there.

Another sweet spot are flights from North America to Central America. When you fly to Central America from anywhere in the mainland U.S., Alaska, or Canada, you pay only 17,500 miles each way for Saver awards in economy and 30,000 in first or business class.

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