Best Ways to Use United MileagePlus Miles

There are several great ways to use United MileagePlus miles, especially in business class. 

United has a great benefit called the Excursionist Perk, which can get a you a free one-way flight within a region.

Plus, United does not pass on fuel surcharges, which can save you thousands in fees when using your miles on partners such as Lufthansa, SWISS, and Austrian Airlines. 

Post Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Airlines You Can Fly With United Miles

    United is apart of the Star Alliance, which allows you to use United miles on any of their Star Alliance partners. 

    Star Alliance Star Alliance Airlines
    Aegan Airlines Aegean Air Canada Air Canada
    Air China Air China Air India Air India
    Air New Zealand Air New Zealand ANA ANA
    Asiana Airlines Asiana Airlines Austrian Airlines Austrian Airlines
    Avianca Avianca Brussels Brussels Airlines
    Copa Copa Airlines Croatia Airlines Croatia Airlines
    EgyptAir EgyptAir Ethiopian Ethiopian
    EVA Air EVA Air LOT Polish LOT Polish
    Lufthansa Lufthansa SAS SAS
    Shenzhen Shenzhen Singapore Airlines Singapore Airlines
    South African Airways South African SWISS Airlines SWISS
    TAP Portugal TAP Portugal Thai Airways logo Thai Airways
    Turkish Airlines logo Turkish Airlines United Airlines logo United Airlines

    One of the biggest advantages of using United Miles to avoid fuel surcharges on airlines such as Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian Airlines, Thai Airways and Turkish Airlines.

    This can save you $1,000+ when booking on those airlines. For example, a business class flight on Lufthansa using United miles only costs about $160.85 in taxes and fees.

    United Award no fuel surcharges
    United Award on Lufthansa

    That same flight using ANA miles requires you to pay $1,457.19 in taxes and fees because of Lufthansa’s high fuel surcharges. 

    There is a trade-off because you use 66,000 fewer miles while paying more in fees. (But you could use ANA miles for business class on United for 88,000 miles round-trip plus $135)

    ANA Award on Lufthansa

    Star Alliance Tips:

    • Singapore Airlines rarely releases long-haul business and first class award space to partners such as United. Singapore Airlines instead prefers to release awards to their own KrisFlyer points members.
    • Air New Zealand long-haul award space is very hard to find.
    • Lufthansa and SWISS do not release first class award space to United until 15 days before departure. 
    • EVA’s business class is outstanding even on short-haul flights.
    • You should avoid South African Airways (currently in bankruptcy) and Air India (awful seats and experience). 

    United's Other Airline Partners

    You can also book award on United’s other partner airlines. Hawaiian Airlines and Aer Lingus will likely be the most relevant partners to your travel. 

    United Airlines logo United's Other Airline Partners
    Aer Lingus Aer Lingus Aeromar Aeromar
    Air Dolomiti logo Air Dolomiti Azul Airlines Azul
    Boutique Air Boutique Air Cape Air Logo Cape Air
    Edelweiss Edelweiss Eurowings logo Eurowings
    Hawaiian Airlines logo Hawaiian Airlines OlympicAir logo Olympic Air
    Silver Airways Logo Silver Airways Vistara Vistara

    Award Charts: How Much it Will Cost

    United Airlines no longer officially publishes an award chart, but we recreated their award charts below. 

    It costs fewer miles to fly on United Airlines than their partner airlines. 

    For example, a one-way flight to Europe would cost 60,000 in United’s Polaris business class or 77,000 on a partner airline. 

    United also classifies the world in various regions listed below. These region definitions will help you figure out what “South Asia” or “North Asia” is on the award charts below. 

    U.S. / Canada = Continental U.S. and Canada (does not include Hawaii or Alaska). 

    Caribbean = Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadalupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Netherland Antilles, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, U.S.  Virgin Islands.

    Central America = Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.

    Northern South America = Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.

    Southern South America = Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

    Europe = Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine,  and the United Kingdom.

    North Asia = China, Mongolia, South Korea, and Taiwan.

    South Asia = Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

    Central Asia = Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

    The Middle East = Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

    North Africa = Algeria, Canary Islands, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.

    Central/Southern Africa = Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotto, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion Island, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

    Australia/New Zealand = Australia (include Tasmania), New Zealand, and Norfolk Islands.

    Oceania = American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Guam, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Western Samoa.

    The region definitions are also very important for the Excursionist Perk, which is detailed below.

    Flights on United Airlines

    Below are the one-way award prices for flights operated by United or United Express. 

    United Airlines logo United Airlines
    Region Economy Business
    U.S. and Canada 12,500 25,000
    Alaska 17,500 30,000
    Hawaii 22,500 40,000
    Mexico 17,500 30,000
    Central America 17,500 30,000
    Northern South America 20,000 35,000
    Southern South America 30,000 60,000
    Europe 30,000 60,000
    Africa 40,000 70,000
    Middle East 42,500 75,000
    Japan 42,500 70,000
    North Asia 35,000 70,000
    South Asia 40,000 70,000
    Central Asia 42,500 75,000
    Australia/ New Zealand 40,000 80,000
    Oceania 35,000 70,000

    There are also a few exceptions to the award chart:

    • Flights within 21 days have a 2,500 to 3,000 mile surcharge.
    • Flights under 700 miles or highly competitive routes may have prices starting at 5,500 miles.
    • United charges a 10,000-mile surcharge for flights within the U.S. or to Canada, Hawaii, or Alaska that feature a segment in lie-flat business class, which is typically on the Newark to Los Angeles or San Francisco routes.

    Flights on Partner Airlines

    Below are the one-way award prices on Star Alliance and other partner airlines from the United States and Canada. 

    You can check the prices between other regions by doing a “Book with miles” search on United.com.

    Partners
    Region Economy Business
    U.S. and Canada 14,000 27,500
    Alaska 19,500 33,000
    Hawaii 25,000 44,000
    Mexico 19,500 33,000
    Central America 19,500 33,000
    Northern South America 22,000 38,500
    Southern South America 33,000 66,000
    Europe 33,000 77,000
    Africa 44,000 88,000
    Middle East 47,000 93,500
    Japan 38,500 88,000
    North Asia 38,500 88,000
    South Asia 44,000 99,000
    Central Asia 47,000 93,500
    Australia/New Zealand 44,000 99,000
    Oceania 38,500 88,000

    If you are interested in first class, the pricing is:

    • 121,000 miles for Europe.
    • 132,000 miles for North Asia
    • 143,000 miles for Africa or Australia/New Zealand
    • 154,000 miles for the Middle East, Central Asia, or South Asia. 
    On interesting thing about the pricing is that United gives a mileage discount for flying United plus a partner airline and for flying a routing with two stops. 
    United airlines award search partners

    Upgrades on United

    You can also use United Miles to upgrade from economy class to premium economy or business class on both United and Star Alliance flights. 

    For flights on United, the cost to upgrade depends on where you are going and your fare class.

    You should expect to pay a large cash co-pay in addition to points if you want to upgrade from economy class to business class. 

    The only way to avoid the co-pay is to upgrade instead into premium economy or book a more expensive fare class typically reserved for business travelers.

    United upgrade
    Example of one-way upgrade prices from the U.S. to Asia

    You can also use United miles to upgrade on Star Alliance flights, but only the fairly expensive fare classes are eligible. These fares are typically twice the cost of the cheapest economy class tickets.

    United Airlines upgrades
    Upgrade Prices for the U.S. to Europe

    We recommend you don’t use United Miles to upgrade since you are better off redeeming points directly for an award ticket based on our calculations below.

    Cash + Upgrade= 30,000 miles + $1,000 ($600 for co-pay + $400 average one-way cash flight).

    Award= 70,000 miles + $5.60 in taxes and fees (departing U.S.). United has previously sold miles during a sale for 2 cents each, so the 40,000 extra miles for an award would cost you $800. 

    In the end, you would save about $194 by booking an award instead of a cash booking and upgrading later.

    (We generally don’t recommend you buy miles, but it was the only way to an apples to apples comparison for this example. We would instead transfer Ultimate Rewards or Marriott points to United, or get a sign up bonus from a United credit card.)

    Excursionist Perk

    The Excursionist Perk is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries.

    It is a really nice benefit of using United miles that you should try to utilize when booking an award. 

    In the example below, you could add the London to Paris flight for free when booking a round-trip award. 

    United excursionist perk

    But you can also do some very creative awards including adding a 13-hour connecting flight in Africa for free when booking a round-trip domestic flight. It even works on short flights such as Los Angeles to San Diego or San Francisco.

    To book the Excursionist perk, you need to find an award through United’s multi-city award search. You will also need to follow the rules we outlined below.

    The date of the free flight has to be in between the dates of your flights you are using miles for. You can book as many segments as you want, but only the first segment that is eligible for the Excursionist Perk is free.

    In the example above, I planned a one-way flight to San Diego in September, the one-way intra-Africa flight in March, and a one-way flight to San Francisco in April.

    You would then use other points or a cash booking to fill in the missing flights. 

    You could also book another Excursionist Perk routing to get another free flight somewhere in Africa (e.g., SAN-LAX; free flight in Africa; SFO-LAX).

    United excursionist perk route map

    You have a lot of flexibility on where you can use your Excursionist Perk as long as you follow the below rules. You can even use it for business or first class flights.

    We recommend you consult the “Region Definitions” outlined above because these regions play a key role in what you can and cannot do with the Excursionist Perk.

    We detail several examples on the route maps below. The red lines equal flights using United Miles and black lines equal free flights using the Excursionist Perk.  

    Rule 1: Start and End Must Be in Same Region.

    Your first flight must start in the same region that your last flight ends.

    If you start your flight in the U.S. / Canada region, the last flight must end in the U.S. / Canada region to utilize the Excursionist Perk. 

    This routing works because the U.S. and Canada are in the same region. 

    This routing is proper because the first flight (CLT-IAD) starts in the U.S. and the last flight (ORD-STL) ends in the U.S.

    This routing is improper because the final flight from London to Hawaii via Denver does not end the U.S. / Canada region. Both Hawaii and Alaska are in separate regions. 

    Rule 2: Free Flight Must Be in Different Region Than Origin.

    Your free flight must be outside of the region where you started your journey. 

    For example, if you started your journey in the United States / Canada region, your free flight would have to be outside that region.

    That free flight could be in Europe, South Asia, Africa, Australia, etc. 

    This routing is proper because the free flight is in Europe and the journey was started in the U.S.

    This routing is proper because the U.S. and Hawaii are in different regions. You could add that free flight in Hawaii or any other region in the world as long as it was in between the two flights with miles.

    This routing is improper because the U.S. and Canada are in the same region. 

     

    Rule 3: Free Flight Must be Within the Same Region.

    Your free flight must be within the same region, and if there a connection, it must also be within the same region.

    Some regions are quite large including:

    • Europe (includes both Iceland and Russia)
    • Central / Southern Africa
    • U.S. and Canada

    This is proper because the free flight is within the North Asia region. 

    This routing is improper because  the connection point (Tokyo) is in the Japan region and Beijing is in North Asia.

    This routing is improper because Taipei is in North Asia and Hong Kong is in South Asia despite the two cities only being a two hour flight from each other.

    Rule 4: Free Flight's Cabin of Service Must the Same or Lower.

    The free flight’s cabin of service (economy, business, or first) must be the same or lower than flight before it. 

    This means you could do: Business Class – Business Class (free flight) – Economy Class.

    But you could not do: Economy Class – Business Class (free flight) – Business Class because the first flight is in a lower class than the free flight. 

    Award Change and Cancel Fees

    United charges fees to change or cancel an award based on your elite status.

    If you have no elite status, you should expect to pay $25 to book by phone (free if online booking), $75 to make a change or cancel 61+ days before departure, or $125 to make a change or cancel within 60 days of departure.

    United Airlines award fees

    United no longer charges a $75 fee for booking awards within 21 days, but United instead added a 2,000-3,000 mile surcharge for these last minute bookings.

    Best Ways to Redeem United Miles

    Below are our ten favorite ways to redeem United miles. We generally like to focus on business class since that offers the best value for your miles.

    The mileage prices below are for one-way travel. You can double those numbers for round-trip travel.

    1. Long-Haul Flights on United

    United gives a large mileage discount for booking business class awards on United rather than their partners. This makes United flights a good deal when redeeming your miles. 

    • Europe = 60,000 miles (United) vs. 77,000 miles (Partners)
    • Japan and North Asia = 70,000 miles (United) vs. 88,000 miles (Partners)
    • Australia and New Zealand = 80,000 miles (United) vs. 99,000 miles (Partners).
    United’s new Polaris business class is much better than their old and outdated business class that was flying five years ago.
     
    Most United long-haul aircraft should have the new Polaris seats by the end of 2020. United has a cool tool to track the progress of their retro-fit.
     

    It is worth booking United Airlines with the mileage discount if you can book the newer Polaris seats. 

    If the route has United’s older business class seats, you may want to consider flying on a partner airline for a better experience. Especially if you have the option to fly EVA or ANA to Asia. 

    You can easily check what seats your United flight has when booking an award by clicking on the “Seats” option, which displays the seat map.

    United Seat Map
    United's Newer Business Class

    United uses the blue color above to identify their newer business class, which is typically in a 1-2-1 or 1-1-1 configuration. 

    United uses the orange color below to identify their older business class offerings, typically in a 2-1-2 or a 2-4-2 configuration. 

    United older seat map
    United's Older Business Class

    2. U.S./Canada to Japan and North Asia on Partners

    You can fly business class to Japan, China, Mongolia, South Korea, and Taiwan on EVA, ANA, or Asiana for 88,000 miles for business and 38,500 miles for economy class. 

    All three options are great, but EVA’s business class is my favorite. 

    3. U.S. and Canada to Africa on Ethiopian, Lufthansa, or Turkish.

    You can fly from the U.S. and Canada to Africa for 88,000 miles in business class or 44,000 on partner airlines.

    United also offers a seasonal flight between Newark and Capetown, South Africa for 40,000 miles for economy class and 70,000 for business class. However, award space on that flight is very hard to book.

    You most likely will be flying on Ethiopian Airlines, which has a vast route network throughout Africa and good award avaliablity. 

    The other options are flying through Frankfurt on Lufthansa, Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, Vienna on Austrian, or Zurich on SWISS. 

    4. U.S. / Canada Flights to Guam and Oceania

    Flights to Guam and Oceania are very expensive. Typically $1,700+ for economy class from the United States. 

    You can book these flights for 35,000 miles for economy class and 70,000 for business class. However, finding award space in business class is very difficult, but award space for economy class is very easy. 

    United only charges 33,000 miles for business class and 19,500 miles for  economy class within the very large region of Central / Southern Africa.

    You can also book this flight for free with the Excursionist Perk, even in business class. 

    You most likely would fly Ethiopian Airlines with a connection in Addis Ababa, which is the Africa’s best airline.

    5. U.S. / Canada to Europe on Partners

    You can fly on partner airlines to Europe for 33,000 miles in economy class and 77,000 in business class.

    United does not pass on the high fuel surcharges typically imposed by Lufthansa, SWISS, and Austrian, which can save you $1,000+ on a business class flight. 

    SWISS is probably the best flight experience, especially if you can book one of their throne seats.

    6. Flights Within Central / Southern Africa

    United only charges 33,000 miles for business class and 19,500 miles for  economy class within the very large region of Central / Southern Africa.

    You can also book this flight for free with the Excursionist Perk, even in business class. 

    You most likely would fly Ethiopian Airlines with a connection in Addis Ababa, which is the Africa’s best airline.

    7. Lufthansa and SWISS First Class to Europe

    You can book Lufthansa or SWISS first class for 121,000 miles for an amazing experience to Europe. 

    You can only book this award within 15 days of departure since both airlines reserve first class award space for their own points programs before that date.

    8. U.S. / Canada to Northern South America

    You can fly on United to Northern South America for only 20,000 miles in economy class and 35,000 miles in business class. 

    This can be a very good deal if you live in a smaller city since round-trip cash prices can be $700+ for economy class. 

    9. Flights Within Japan

    Flights within Japan are only 5,500 miles for economy class and typically do not have any taxes or fees. This can be a really good deal if you want to jet around Japan to the smaller cities. 

    United award on ANA

    10. Between Europe and Central Asia

    You can fly between Europe and Central Asia for 30,000 miles in economy class and 55,000 miles in business class. 

    Central Asia includes the Maldives, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

    You best flight option for this award is likely Turkish Airlines, who has a vast route network into this region from their hub in Istanbul. 

    Other Ways to Spend United Miles

    There are several non-flight ways to redeem your United miles. However, most of these ways are not as valuable as redeeming miles for flights. 

    We reviewed and calculated the values for each option. The only two that were above our recommended value of 1.5 cents per mile were Newspapers and Magazine subscriptions.

    The Verdict

    The United MileagePlus points program is pretty good overall if you want to fly business class on United Airlines.

    One of the most interesting award options is the Excursionist Perk, which gets you a free flight within a region. 

    Another great benefit of United miles is the lack of fuel surcharges, which can save you thousands when booking on Lufthansa, SWISS, and Austrian Airlines.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    The best ways to use United miles are:

    1. Business class on United to Europe for 60,000 miles.
    2. Business class on United to Asia for 70,000 miles.
    3. The United Excursionist Perk.
    4. Business Class on ANA or EVA to Asia for 88,000 miles.
    5. Lufthansa or SWISS first class to Europe for 121,000 miles.

    You can use United miles on any Star Alliance airline and United's partner airlines. These airlines are:

    • Aegean Airlines
    • Air Canada
    • Air China
    • Air India
    • Air New Zealand
    • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
    • Asiana
    • Austrian
    • Avianca
    • Brussels Airlines
    • Copa Airlines
    • Croatia Airlines
    • EgyptAir
    • Ethiopian Airlines
    • EVA Air
    • LOT Polish Airlines
    • Lufthansa
    • Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
    • Shenzhen Airlines
    • Singapore Airlines
    • South African Airways
    • Swiss
    • TAP Portugal
    • Thai Airways
    • Turkish Airlines
    • Aer Lingus
    • Aeromar
    • Air Dolomiti
    • Azul
    • Cape Air
    • Edelweiss
    • Eurowings
    • Hawaiian Airlines
    • Silver Airways

    United miles no longer expire. 

    We value United miles at 1.8 cents each, so 25,000 miles would be worth about $450 in flights.

    With 50,000 United miles, you could get:

    • Two round-trip economy class flights within the U.S.
    • One round-trip first class flight within the U.S.
    • One round trip flight between the U.S. and Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.

    You can transfer United miles, but at a very high cost of $7.50 per 500 miles plus $30 per transaction. Transferring 10,000 miles would cost you $180, which is why we don't recommend you transfer United miles to someone.  

     

    Alternatively, you could just book an award flight with miles for free under their name. 

    Sign up for our Daily Points newsletter