Book Hidden Award Space with the United Credit Cards

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Chase recently announced limited-time offers of up to 100,000 bonus miles on the United℠ Explorer Card and United Club℠ Infinite Card. These cards offer valuable perks that can make award travel more affordable and more accessible. That's true even if you fly United only a handful of times per year.

However, one of the most valuable perks of these cards is poorly understood and often overlooked:

“MileagePlus Premier® members and qualified MileagePlus Chase Cardmembers are eligible for exclusive award travel availability.”

In other words, if you have an eligible co-brand card, you can use miles to book flights that aren’t available to everyone else.

More Award Flights, Just For You

There's a reason you may never have heard of this perk. United doesn't advertise this as a benefit in their marketing materials.

United only advertises “No Blackout Dates” as one of the key benefits of the card. This means you can use miles to book the last seat on a flight—effectively giving you the same options with miles as you have when paying with cash. Unfortunately, booking the last available seat will require a lot of extra miles. Those tickets are known as Everyday Awards, and they generally cost at least double the number of miles needed for a Saver Award.

So what are Chase and United leaving out? Cardmembers also get access to extra economy-class flights at the cheapest price in miles—also known as Saver Awards. You won't see these awards if you aren't a cardholder—or a MileagePlus elite. These awards are completely hidden from general members.

That means being a cardholder can make a huge difference in your options for using miles.

Related: Which Flights Can I Book with Miles?  (If you aren't familiar award space, this guide for beginners will explain everything you need to know.)

How to Find Expanded United Award Space

To unlock United's hidden award space, simply sign in to your MileagePlus account before searching United for award flights. United will recognize your status as a co-brand cardholder and display additional fare classes when you search for awards. Flights featuring expanded award space will be labeled, “Exclusively available to you as a MileagePlus Chase Cardmember.

United-MileagePlus-Expanded-Award-Availability

The expanded award space is labeled as a different fare class from the award space available to all MileagePlus members:

  • Additional Economy Saver Awards are labeled: (XN)
  • Additional Business Everyday Awards are labeled: (JN)

For example, you'll see in the flight details for this itinerary that the fare class for Economy Saver award space is labeled (X). That's the standard fare bucket for Economy Saver awards. However, the AUS-IAH economy segment on the Business Saver award is labeled with the (XN) fare class. That's the bucket that's only available to MileagePlus Chase cardholders and Premier elite members.

United-MileagePlus-Expanded-Award-Availability

Without access to the (XN) economy seat on the one-hour flight from Austin to Houston, you can't book the 60,000-mile business-class ticket all the way to Frankfurt.

The expanded award space can help you piece together much better itineraries on multi-segment, international awards. More award availability often leads to shorter connection times, and fewer stops to reach your destination.

The additional Business Everyday Award space with the fare class (JN) is also only available if you hold the United Explorer Card or another co-brand card. Everyday award space requires a lot more miles. However, it may come in handy if business class is a priority and cash fares are expensive.

In addition to the standard award search, the MileagePlus site also has a dedicated page for featured awards to help you explore your options.

Which United Co-Brand Cards Qualify for Additional Award Space?

United℠ Explorer Card
United℠ Explorer Card
Annual Fee$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Special Offer Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck™ Fee Credit
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $140 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and eligible delivery services including GrubHub, Caviar, Seamless and DoorDash
  • 2X miles per $1 spent on purchases from United
  • 2X miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • 1X mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
United Club℠ Infinite Card
United Club℠ Infinite Card
Annual Fee$525
Special Offer Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
The United Club Infinite is the top-tier United co-brand card, and offers some great perks like United Club℠ membership, priority check-in, security screening (where available), boarding and baggage handling privileges. If your not an elite, holding this card means you'll be treated like one of United's most loyal and valuable customers. If you already hold MileagePlus Premier status, the card also grants access to Complementary Premier Upgrades on United flights.
  • Earn 100,000 Bonus Miles
  • Earn 4 miles per $1 spent on United purchases including tickets, Economy Plus, inflight food, beverages and Wi-Fi, and other United charges.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining at restaurants and eligible delivery services including GrubHub, Caviar, Seamless and DoorDash
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck™ Fee Credit
  • Free first and second checked bags - a savings of up to $320 per roundtrip. Terms Apply
  • 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi onboard United-operated flight when you pay with your Club Card
  • Earn 4 miles per $1 spent on United purchases
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

With the current limited-time offers, the United Club Infinite (full review) and United Explorer Card (full review) are the best places to start. However, these cards also offer expanded award space:

Does Expanded Award Space Include Partners?

The short answer is no. Holding the United Explorer Card or any other United card only opens up additional award space on United-operated flights, including regional subsidiaries like United Express. But the expanded award availability can make partner awards more accessible. In many cases, the extra availability eliminates the need to purchase a separate ticket to position to an international hub where saver-level partner flights are available.

What Miles Can I Use To Book Expanded MileagePlus Award Space?

You can only book the expanded award inventory using United miles, or points transferred to MileagePlus from your Ultimate Rewards or Marriott Rewards accounts. Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United at 1:1, and Marriott Rewards points transfer at 3:1.1 with an additional 5,000 United miles awarded when you transfer in blocks of 60,000 Marriott points.

There is no way of booking the expanded award space with partner miles from the likes of Singapore KrisFlyer or Avianca LifeMiles. Partners can only access the saver-level fare buckets for economy and business—not the expanded (XN) and (JN) fare classes reserved for United cardholders.

Strategies for Earning United Miles

The United cards aren't especially competitive for earning miles on everyday spending. You can generate more United miles by focusing your spending on cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards—many of which earn more than one point per dollar on select purchases. Ultimate Rewards transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio, so you can always turn them into United miles when needed.

If you collect Ultimate Rewards in two-player mode with a spouse or partner, only one of you needs to hold a MileagePlus co-brand card to access the extra award space. Chase allows you to combine Ultimate Rewards with a partner, and then you can transfer those points to the ‘enhanced‘ MileagePlus account to book.

It’s also worth noting that the United cardholder doesn’t need to be traveling to take advantage of the extra award space. MileagePlus will let you book travel for whomever you’d like using miles from your account.

Other United Card Benefits

Cardholders get most of these United benefits just for being a cardholder, but there are a few exceptions. For example, you'll need to use your United card to pay for your flight to activate the free checked bag benefit. These cards also offer primary rental car insurance which is activated by using the card for payment.

Other great benefits like free roadside assistance, priority boarding, and United Club access (with the United Club Infinite) are available even if the card stays in your wallet. You can learn more about other United card perks in our post about the current limited-time offer.

Final Thoughts

Just for holding the United Explorer Card or United Club Infinite, you automatically gain access to additional award space at both the saver and everyday award levels. While the extra saver availability is restricted to economy awards, it's still one of the most valuable features you get for being a cardholder.

The limited-time offers on these cards are set to expire on September 30, 2020, so now is the ideal time to score this great benefit—and earn a higher-than-normal stash of miles while you're at it.

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Comments

  • This perk helped me find award space on the Micronesia Island Hopper when flights weren’t available otherwise.

  • Sounds good. But i have question how we use it during Covid ? Be safe would be prefer.

    • Fair question. United miles can book flights up to 337 days in advance, so this could already be useful for future travel assuming we don’t have a massive setback. That said, there’s nothing wrong with waiting until you have more certainty about your travel plans.

  • So expensive card fee, I don’t want to go out travel during Covid. Good idea to stay at home.

  • This is a unique aspect of having a United Card with this perk. We’ve used it and saved miles and money!

  • Easy little trick I haven’t been using but will definitely start doing!

  • One of the best features of keeping one of these cards open – can really save you some miles or open up opportunities you otherwise would not have had.

  • I canceled the Explorer card and I can see the difference with award availability, I’d consider opening the Club card when travel goes back to semi-normal. Thank you.

  • Nice perk, but not really usable for me due to not traveling.

  • I wish they would make the awards available to all. It is a hidden reward as a credit card holder but they can just give first dibs to the card holder and if they dont get it, it should be opened all to the rest of us.

  • The feature is immensely invaluable during the normal times.

  • The AMEX Skymiles cards do not offer such invaluable perk.

  • I got this card last month and didn’t know about this perk. Makes the card exciting to have. great post!

  • I wish I can get this card… but Chase’s 5/24 rule….

  • Thanks for sharing the award codes. Back in April, I specifically applied for and received this card (and bonus) for the ability to access the additional awards. This will hopefully help when I start going through my stash of United Miles.

  • Not sure that it’s worth the fee for the card.

  • Does the business version qualify for this award space?

    • Yes, the (discontinued) United℠ Explorer Business Card and the new United℠ Business Card (which replaced the old biz card) both have access to the award space.

  • Unfortunately, this does not always work as advertised. I just looked at two different trips I am planning this fall. In both cases, the “Exclusive” awards are almost DOUBLE the number of points vs. alternatives on partner airlines. E.g. SFO-PPT is 300,000 points in Business on United in this “exclusive award, vs. 175,000 on Air NZ. Both show up on the same page. I think what is exclusive access to full and exorbitant awards.

  • Great tip! I haven’t opened a United card yet, but this blog is making me consider it.

  • Downgraded to the no fee card last month, as the fee was due and have no plans to travel until at least March.
    Couldn’t see any reason to pay a fee for such limited earning opportunities.
    Of course then the 5x on groceries came about.
    Win some, lose some.

  • It’s very good news.! It seems cards offer great benefits, like free checked bags, premium seats, riority boarding, complimentary etc.

    very good for United Club access !!!

  • Jameel Nicholson says:

    Thanks for this in-depth article about a really good benefit of this card. This is one of the three Chase cards I was weighing to add to my final 5/24 slot (Southwest Priority and Marriott Boundless being the other two), and along with it’s other perks, might have just tipped the scale.

  • Marlin Seevers says:

    I’m grateful for this blog, for the information like this. I don’t always even know what information to look for, and don’t have the time to read all the fine print on every option out there.

  • Marlin Seevers says:

    I appreciate knowing those things about the Explorer card. That’s one I’m considering next.

  • Liu Sheng says:

    Thank you for the information! Helps a lot!

  • There is huge value to increased reward availability.
    One additional point to mention. My parents were searching on united.com for award ORD-LHR flights for this summer. They are cardholders, but weren’t logged in. They didn’t know about this benefit and didn’t think they were able to use their United miles.
    When I asked them to search while logged in, they suddenly noticed a ton of flights were available.

  • Great redemption opportunities for card holders. May have to take another look at this card

  • May just have to get this card.

  • Seung Taek Lim says:

    I’m going to apply for it.

  • Great to know!

  • this is one card that I regret canceling. Along with the primary car rental insurance, this is a great perk.

  • @Lyn,

    Nothing was said up-thread about getting complimentary Premier Status. Do you have a different card?

    Thanks.

  • Thanks for the reminder of this perk! I definitely have noticed the difference when not logged into the UA website before searching for award space. I agree that this perk is worth the cost of the card! Plus, with the Club Card, I also get premier status, even if I’m only flying award space and not hitting their “numbers.”

  • Nice perk of having the card

  • I need to look into this since I have 300K+ UA miles that I’ve had difficulty using.

    Thanks for the tip!

  • UA has good redemption options for international flights, so will think about the card.

  • The problem with the card is that it is not really worth paying the $95 fee unless you fly United more than once a year. I don’t, so I cancelled my card last week when the fee came up.

  • elliot siegel says:

    very interesting, as I thought that the UA Explorer card does not provide XN.

  • The fees for checked baggage is the most I hated about the fees charged by Airlines. It is good that this card offered free checked baggage; It save more than $50 when I fly from NYC to MIA for golfing each time. I fly to MIA more than 10 times a year. So the card will save me more than $500 per year. It save a lot even I have to pay the annual fee. It is a great benefits. I will sure recommend to my golfer friends.

  • I have the no longer available United Mileage Select card and the benefit works for this card as well. I have found it to be very useful for domestic trips around the summer holidays. It is a great incentive to hold onto the card as I have definitely been able to use miles for trips that otherwise would not be available at saver rates.

  • Great benefit of this card. Never knew about the before. Card is worth another look for this alone.

  • Just got this card and didn’t know about this. Will definitely be taking advantage of the perk!

  • Might have to look into this card, thanks

  • Good reason to have the card if you fly United or its partners.

  • Always knew about the additional space but not the direct link to see the routes covered by it. Thanks for that!

  • Looks like time to get the explorer card

  • TheChzBurger says:

    I got this card last month and didn’t know about this perk. Makes the card more worth it!

  • Extra award space is an amazing benefit, I wish other airlines offered a similar card.

  • Juyeon Kim says:

    Awesome post.
    I recently applied this credit card but received a rejection letter. They said I opened too many cards within 2 years. Actually, I opened 5 credit cards in the past 2 years and it seems Chase does not allow to open 5 or more credit cards within 2 years. Is this true? If so, is there any other way to get approved for this card?

  • A nice perk for people having these cards and want to redeem some miles on United.

  • I’ve used this benefit and it saves miles on redemption. I hope other travel cards copy the benefit.

  • Great tips!

  • Thanks for the information!

  • Interesting benefits on thus card.

  • If only it wasnt united

  • I have this card but I am undecided on renewing. I’ll make an attempt to have the renewal fee waived.

  • Very useful thanks

  • I really hope Chase opens this card back up so that it is not limited to 5/24!

  • Great info, thanks as always!

  • I am always amazed that airlines do whatever they can to restrict use of frequent flyer miles that you, in effect, have already paid for. Now you can pay (annual card fee) for “hidden award availability”.

  • Primary auto rental insurance is news to me! I wish the sign up was better thou, not going to get it for only 40,000 basically, not going to spend that much for 65,000.

  • These are great things to find out about when trying to decide which airline card would best suit my needs.

  • Does this card fall under Chase’s 5/24 rule when applying?

  • Considering to apply the card. Thanks for the info!

  • Thanks! Great tip.. I have this card but wasn’t aware of the benefit.

  • Farid Kassam says:

    This blog is a great reminder. thanks.

  • Eric Fleischman says:

    Another nice little known perk of this card is that elite members can get complimentary upgrades on award flights. Many of the agents don’t know this. If you have an award ticket and don’t see your name on the upgrade list tell the agent you have the credit card and ask to be added to the list. Note you have to use the Chase United card to pay the award ticket fees when you book the flight for this to work.

  • Good info, Thanks

  • Sounds like pretty decent perks, too bad the last seat type awards booking are so expensive but they might come in handy at some point.

  • Great reasons for United flyers to get this card.

  • Glad I hold this card!

  • Just having access to reserved seats is a massive bonus.

  • I had no idea! Thanks.

  • Awesome!
    thanks for posting this

  • After you book the hidden award, you have to worry about not being dragged off the plane!

  • Gareth Waugh says:

    Does an AU receive the same benefits? Or just the primary account holder? Thanks in advance.

  • Bill from Maine says:

    That little perk definitely came in handy for me last year on a point redemption.

  • I wish I could make this card 🙁
    (Chase 5/24)

  • I’ve been flying United more often. May have to give this card some serious thought. No, then low, fee and primary car rental insurance along with the extra availability. Not a bad offering.

  • I have the United MP Club card and this benefit has certainly helped me many times in getting a connecting domestic XN leg to make up a whole international end to end leg. One of the reasons i continue to keep my club card (along with the United PQD waiver if you spend $25K on a United card.

  • I wish I had sufficient miles or Ultimate Reward points to make this card worthwhile.

  • That’s an amazing sign up bonus!

  • I canceled my united cards a while back.. but might look at opening again. thanks

  • Wow this actually sounds quite nice.
    The UA card looks pretty valuable just for this one feature alone.

  • This is a great perk – thanks for the information

  • In theory having this card allows Elites to go complementary upgrade list on a United issued award ticket
    (But not award ticket on United metal issued by a Star Alliance partner)

    However, even as a 1-K, the odds of ever actually getting a complimentary upgrade is damn small unless you book at a very hight fare class.

    Generally much better off booking the cheapest available business class

    Unrelated to the Chase credit card – I know you can book a United Saver Award and ” waitlist” for a Business Saver seat, but has anyone had success booking an award on United metal through a star alliance partner and using United Miles to get on the PR-1 list?

  • Wow, I hold this card and never knew about this. Thanks for sharing. Will definitely make sure I sign in to my Mileage Plus account before I search for award travel next.

  • Very good information, great article.

  • Good reminder to log in when looking for award space Happy New Year!

  • Nice to know… Think I have previously overlooked this.

  • A very good reminder. I don’t hold this card, and probably won’t with less than stellar United options near me, but good tip.

  • Sweet. I’ll be looking for this extra space as we plan return trips to the Maldives & Thailand, as well as our first to ZA.

  • ron_vaughn@hotmail.com says:

    great info. thx!

  • FYI, this benefit should apply to all Chase United MileagePlus credit cards. I have a legacy no-annual fee MileagePlus card (1 mile/$2 spend) and I also get access to the additional award inventory. Perhaps others can comment to see if a no-annual fee product is still offered, or if one is available for a product change after carrying an annual fee MileagePlus card.

    • I am very interested in knowing the answer to this if anyone has knowledge.

    • So your card is no longer available correct? But you think you can product change to it?

    • I can confirm as well the no fee version of the card opens the exclusive award space. I downgraded to it earlier this year and still get the benefit. Good to know for those who want to hold it for that reason.

      • Patty Hales says:

        Thank you Teddy. I would like to have my husband downgrade his card, but I was really worried about the award space. Things are going to be tight on our available miles as it is. 🙂

  • This perk has helped me with a few awards in the past year.

  • I do not use the United Explorer credit card. I put all my spend on my Chase CSR. I usually only fly United once a year and I just bring a small bag which fits under my seat.

  • Some great tips and advice, thank you.

  • This benefit is a great reason to hold this card. Thanks for explaining!

  • Thanks for emphasizing this wonderful information. We’ve used this before and it is a definite advantage!
    Happy New Year, everyone! Enjoy some amazing travels!!

  • John Lortscher says:

    Great tip, detail and examples … thank you!

  • Thanks for the tips!

  • Good outline of nice benefit

  • Awesome post! Another reason to keep my UA card.

  • Camilla A Sauder says:

    That perk has been helpful to me as well as free checked baggage.

  • Thanks for letting us know about things like this we probably didn’t know about. I guess this makes United a good first place to search for a near term flight.

  • The perks are definitely getting better (I don’t recall 2x on dining and hotel before) but I’d still rather have CSR. You can transfer miles to United if you want, or elsewhere (transfer to British Airways to book on American too). If you’re exclusive to United, this card is good, but I’m all about options and finding the best deals. I’ll never travel enough to reach any real status on any airline.

    • Separately, what are the downgrade options for this? Can you downgrade to a free card?

      • You can downgrade; my spouse did – it’s a non advertised card; you get 1 mile for every $2 spend, but you don’t have many perks (like early boarding or anything).

        • Darren Hullet says:

          If it’s enough to keep your miles active, that’s a huge bonus in itself. But I semi-recently just discovered the shopping portals so keeping miles active for me is a thing of the past. 🙂

        • JRG, thanks for confirming the downgrade option. Always best to go in knowing that option exists.

      • You can downgrade this card to the no fee version. You lose out on the expanded award availability though 🙁

  • I am thinking about this card. I have read about this perk on their website and elsewhere. It’s the one reason I’m considering the card, otherwise I don’t think I’d get it. I see the other benefits but since I live at an AA hub I have theirs.

    Is it limited to a ticket or reservation with the card holders name on it or can I use that benefit and redeem for my husband out of my account?

    • Hey great question. The benefit is tied to the United Account, so you’ll get those extra seats regardless of who is traveling. If you and your spouse both have Chase points, you’ll want to transfer to the account that is tied to the MileagePlus card.

  • I honestly had totally forgotten about these; thanks for the reminder!

  • I suspect that we’ll see more and more of this. Extra award space for cardholders. Can’t kill off the golden goose with too much of “I can never find the award flight I want – what’s the point of having the card…”

  • Wow! Thank you – very useful analysis and I’m sure going now to consider this card.

  • All good points. My Explorer card is coming up for renewal; I’ll probably keep it because of the items you’ve mentioned. The card also qualifies for extra miles when using the MPX app.

  • Nice little perk, crappy airline!

  • I do keep this card specifically for the extra award space. I do like the other benefits but I can get greater earnings from other cards.