Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards

Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards

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United Airlines is the airline that I have flown the least, historically. But I expect that to change soon. One of my new home airports is a major United hub. Because of this, I expect to do a fair amount of travel domestically with the airline and its partners. That led me to dive into the United MileagePlus sweet spots

Despite removing all award chart information from the web, a rough award chart still exists for the airline. And through this unadvertised award chart, United MileagePlus still offers plenty of value. I have highlighted some of the routes that stand out for United Airlines MileagePlus flight redemptions below.


Earning United MileagePlus Miles

Anyone looking to take advantage of United sweet spots will want plenty of United MileagePlus miles.

Thankfully, earning United miles is almost too easy, courtesy of a number of credit card offerings. Sign-up bonuses for United credit cards reach as high as 100,000 miles, letting travelers with absolutely no miles build up a balance quickly. Better yet, most of these cards offer MileagePlus members an avenue to access expanded United award availability.

In addition to United co-branded credit card bonuses, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer directly to United at a 1:1 rate. That means a hefty stash of Ultimate Rewards points could become a hefty stash of United miles with one immediate transfer.

Pair one of the five Chase cards allowing access to transfer partners with the Chase Freedom Unlimited® — which earns 1.5x points or more on all purchases — to expedite earnings of points to transfer to United.

In the case that a MileagePlus redemption is just out of reach, remember that Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to United at a ratio of 3:1.1. Converting at least 60,000 Bonvoy points at once triggers a 5,000-mile bonus — which also gets a 10% bonus. That means a transfer of 60,000 Bonvoy points turns into a total of 27,500 United miles.

Take advantage of the mile-earning potential of the shopping portal, dining programs, and other opportunities to earn United miles. With these, diligent MileagePlus members will rack up miles in no time.

Cheap U.S. Domestic Flights (Under 12.5K Economy)

Short, inexpensive flights within the United States can be cheap and easy to book through United.

Other programs — such as Avianca Lifemiles — typically charge at least 7,500 miles to book. That can be an excellent deal for some domestic awards. But United starts at just 6,000 miles on its own flights.

Aeroplan charges as low as 6,000 points for short-haul flights, but the flat award fee attached to such a booking drives down the value of those points.

United hits a sweet spot of both low mileage cost and minimal taxes and fees — just charging the government-mandated $5.60.

Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards: Cheap domestic flights

For flights such as these, make sure to check the cash rate as well. Even if the miles cost is very low, the cash price might be such that it makes sense to pay out of pocket.

Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards: Cheap domestic flights

United Excursionist Perk

The United Airlines Excursionist Perk remains one of the most fascinating aspects of any frequent flyer program. Put simply, the Excursionist Perk allows travelers a flight in the middle of a larger trip (round-trip, open-jaw, or multi-city award itinerary) for no additional mileage cost.

Just note that this perk comes with a number of limitations, too:

  • The entire trip must begin and end in the same award region.
  • The “free” Excursionist segment must be contained to a single region.
  • That single region must be different than the start/end region.
  • The “free” Excursionist segment must be in the same or lower cabin of travel as the rest of the trip.

As an example, let's examine a trip from Houston to Europe.

Europe includes many different places worthy of a visit, letting the Excursionist Perk shine. Using the “multi-city” award search option to find flights from Houston to Lisbon, then from Lisbon to Istanbul, and finally from Istanbul back to Houston.

United's award search tool automatically recognizes where the Excursionist Perk applies. For a proper award search, that middle flight within Europe shows up with a cost of 0 miles:

Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards: United Excursionist perk

The examples above shows just one application of the United Excursionist Perk. More discerning travelers can likely use the Excursionist Perk to get a bit more creative with trips.

Business Class to Europe on United Metal (60K Business)

United Polaris business class flights to Europe offer a great product and come at a great price of 60,000 miles. Plus, taxes and fees on MileagePlus awards from the U.S. to Europe start at just $5.60.

Sometimes, availability for these flights is tough to find. But, when pinpointed, these flights offer a fabulous way to travel. United has plenty of direct flights to Europe as well.

Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards: Flights to Europe

Fly in style between Chicago and Frankfurt on a new 787-10 Dreamliner in United Polaris business class. Even better, the award pricing in business class beats the premium economy price on the same flight!

Contiguous U.S./Canada to Oceania (35K/70K Economy/Business)

Finding business class award space on flights to Oceania from the United States happens very rarely.

When it does, it might only be for one traveler. Economy class travel remains a more realistic option for such a journey, and United operates a flight from San Francisco direct to Tahiti. Economy class award space comes up reasonably often, with a reasonable award price to match.

Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards: Contiguous flights

If you’re lucky, like in the above, business class space exists too for just 70,000 United miles.

United States to Northern South America (20K/35K Economy/Business)

South America offers countless cities to visit and sights to see. Many airline award programs — including United MileagePlus — split South America into multiple distinct regions (typically north/south).

Therefore, Northern South America presents itself as a gateway to the rest of the continent. Getting there for just 20,000 miles in economy makes for a fantastic start to such a trip.

Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards: United States to Northern South America

Intra-Japan (5.5K+ Economy)

Visitors to Japan might instantly think of a ride on the bullet train for any travel between big cities in the country. However, the domestic flying experience in Japan is just as seamless and efficient.

United miles allow travelers to fly within Japan as low as 5,500 miles. Even just flying from Sendai to Fukuoka, a flight over two hours long, costs just 5,500 miles + $3.

Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards: Intra-Japan

Flights to and from spots such as Sapporo and Okinawa will cost slightly more, at 8,800 miles.

Close-In North America to Europe First Class (121K First)

How can 121,000 miles be a sweet spot of a program? Easily – it’s actually possible to book!

Sure, other, cheaper redemptions exist for Lufthansa first class (think 87,000 Lifemiles for the same award). But, dealing with United customer service and technology is typically a much smoother experience than the same with Avianca. For an itinerary like the one below that includes SWISS first class, Lifemiles and other partner programs do not enjoy the same award access as United.

Sweet Spots with United Airlines MileagePlus Awards: Close-In North America to Europe First Class

Final Thoughts

My personal experience with United Airlines MileagePlus is limited (for now). In spite of that, the wide array of award sweet spots entices me to change that as soon as I can.

Whether domestic or international, United miles help travelers see more places using fewer miles. These sweet spots are not limited to a single cabin of travel, either. With economy, business class, and first-class sweet spots, United miles have a use however you like to fly.

Plus, you can earn United miles quickly by using United credit card sign-up bonuses, transfer partners, and all other earning opportunities.

5 / 5 - (5 votes)
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  • Good offer. I recommend getting the Chase UA business card(75k SUB), $99 Annual fee.
    Cheap U.S. Domestic Flights (Under 12.5K Economy) – good mileage award fare.

  • I was not aware of how the United Excursionist perk worked. This allows for some great flexibility. Will work on using this on the next European trip to see more territory.

  • If I flew BOS>EWR, what are some possible Excursionist Perks? Thank.

    • Unfortunately, you only get the Excursionist Perk if you fly between regions. A solely domestic route (like BOS-EWR) wouldn’t trigger the Excursionist Perk. That said, you can get BOS-EWR for free through the Excursionist Perk if you fly other qualifying flights (e.g. BOS-LHR-BOS,BOS-EWR)