United Mileage Plus has devalued their program effective November 1st 2017. Reward charts have been updated to reflect these changes.
MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program for United Airlines, a founding member of the Star Alliance. United and its partners fly to all corners of the world and the program has excellent reward availability in all classes of service.
- Competitive saver reward chart on United aircraft
- Does not collect carrier imposed surcharges on any reward tickets
- Change fees are reasonable for Premier members with status
- Points can be easily extended and should never expire
- Allows stopover on international travel with Excursionist Perk
- Allows for open jaws and has generally good routing rules
- Reward search returns more possibilities than any other program, albeit many are standard rewards
- By using Multi-City search you can string together one-way rewards that offer multiple stopovers.
- Status members as well as United credit card holders get better reward availability
- Ability to waitlist on United international flights for premium class with reward tickets
- Reasonable upgrade policy
- Offers best ways to earn points by non-flying or non-credit card with MP shopping portal and MileagePlus X
- One of the better point purchase programs that allows for buying points on reward tickets as well as regular fares
- Some premium Partner rewards are expensive
- Non-elite change fees are expensive at $75 for date and time changes
- Can only redeem a reward that search engine provides, no piecing together itineraries
- Agents can not create itineraries that abide by layover rules
- Rewards on Singapore apparently can only be booked as individual rewards and not part of other itineraries
- Reward search calendar is unreliable for accuracy
- Requires cash co-pays on some upgrades
United publishes 3 reward charts; a Saver and Everday chart for travel exclusively on United aircraft as well as their Partner/Star Alliance chart that is used anytime a carrier other than United is included in the itinerary. This could mean a connecting regional flight on a Star Alliance carrier (in the same class) where the international portion was on United aircraft. If service class was lower, i.e. United first international and Star Alliance business or economy, then the United chart prevails.
This table is for one-way flights to/from North America including Canada and Alaska. The "incr" column shows the increase in points required from the previous redemption. The new values are not effective until 11/1/2017.
United Everday awards are available for most flights. In fact as a Premier member / United credit card holder you are guaranteed availability provided the flight is not sold out. The Everday award is the biggest change announced with the November 2017 change. Everyday awards are to be priced dynamically with the published reward chart shown below being the maximum amount that is ever charged. The "Incr" column shows the increase from previous Standard reward redemptions.
Partner / Star Alliance
The Star Alliance chart applies when a segment is flown on a carrier other than United except as explained above. Effective November 1st 2017 several redemption values increased as indicated by the "incr" column.
Use this link to United's complete reward/upgrade chart.
Reward tickets are valid for one year from the date of issue. No refunds are granted on unused tickets after one year and points will not be reinstated.
A reward ticket may be issued by a member to anyone. Name changes are not allowed.
United does not collect carrier imposed surcharges on any reward tickets.
The October 2016 program change brought about a new fee structure. For rewards ticketed before the change, the old fee structure applies, unless the first segment is changed. In that case the new fee structure applies.
Fees are based on United status. There are positives and negatives to the new fees. Overall they are reasonable. While some programs allow date/time changes for no charge, the new fees do not allow any free changes for non-upper elite members.
For those without status who require a simple change of date or time face an expensive fee of $75.00
United points are valid until 18 months from the last earn/redeem. To extend simply add or subtract at least 1 point from your account.
Layovers / Open Jaws / Stopovers
In October 2016 United changed their rules for reward ticket routing. Numerous changes were made that affected stopovers, itinerary selection, carrier segment selection as well as the elimination the their round the world program. While the new program is not as generous, it still remains one of the better routing programs available.
Official routing rules are not published. However a couple of rules from North America are common knowledge:
- You can't route to/from Australia/New Zealand/Oceania through Europe or South America
- You can't route to/from Europe through South America
- You can't route to/from Northern Asia through Southeastern Asia
- You can travel to/from Northern or Southern Asia via Europe
- You can travel to/from South Africa via South America
Layovers are allowed to the extent that the reward search engine provides an itinerary with a layover. You can no longer build flights, or contact United for a specific flight combination that falls within the 24 hour international layover rule. This is a major disadvantage to the new program and is restrictive.
The new change indicates in order to redeem a Singapore Airlines regional flight using United points it must be booked as a separate reward.
Open-jaws are allowed on either end. The Excursionist Perk is based on an open jaw at the destination while the only rule on the return is it must be in the same region as the origin.
United eliminated the generous stopover rule they had prior to October 2016 and replaced it with what they call an "Excursionist Perk". Basically this is a single free one-way flight within a region of a round-trip. A round-trip is considered departing a region and returning to a region, with the destination either in a single region or multiple regions, but NOT the starting region. So you can't get an Excursion Perk with a round trip inside the North American. Confused? Here are some before and after examples.
The intend of the Excursionist Perk was to continue allowing for a stopover under the new rules. Prior to the changes you could to this route: The round trip was Chicago to Tokyo. This routing was within the limits (I know, I did it.) Chicago to Frankfurt to Tokyo. Stay in Tokyo for a few days. Return Tokyo to Frankfurt and stay in Frankfurt for a few days. Then return to Chicago. So; ORD-FRA-NRT-FRA-ORD. The stopover was in a different region of the world.
There were many combinations you could do. For example another I booked, ORD-FRA-DUS (Stopover)-NRT(Layover)-PVG (Destination)-VIE (Layover)-ARN-ORD, This was possible using the multi-city tool.
Both of these were done on a single round trip ticket. Too generous? Most likely. While it is unfortunate these types of routes are not available anymore, the current program has some benefits as well.
As mentioned, the intent of the new Excursionist Perk is to retain the stopover rule but eliminate these overly generous routings. Now the extra stopover is allowed in the region of the destination. The regions table is below. The region with the most destinations would be Europe so we'll use that as an example.
Let's say you wanted to go to Europe from Los Angeles to see both London and Athens. Basically you get a round-trip ticket to Europe that is:
- LAX-LHR: Outbound
- ATH-LAX Inbound
Under most other programs that allow open jaws you would be responsible for transportation between London and Athens. With United's Excursionist Perk you get a free one-way flight from London to Athens in the same class or less than your reward ticket.
How to build the Excursionist Perk itineraries can be found under Reward Search / Multi-City below.
These are the regions for United's MileagePlus routings. Excursionist Perk free flights must be within a region, outside of the origination region.
(Note: Some of the following examples may be priced with prior reward redemption values.)
United.com / United Mobile App
You can search for rewards on both United.com and their mobile app. Under the new program the results of a search are what you can redeem. The days of calling United to piece together an itinerary are gone. Agents are unable to change, reprice or be fed segments to construct a ticket. They will tell you what they see is what you see when doing a search.
The search engine produces more results than any other frequent flyer program around. Sometimes the results are in the 100's of itineraries. The issue is they are often standard rewards and you can't filter them under the new website. So it's important to look down the complete list to see what's available.
The website and mobile app sort available flights differently. I've seen where an itinerary is on top with a web search and on the mobile app doesn't appear until the second load of itineraries which happens when you scroll down to the bottom of the initial list.
Both search tools automatically return a 2 month "availability calendar".
Don't believe it. Always check everyday regardless of what the calendar shows. Here is an example (it only took me one search to find this example.) Chicago to London, notoriously poor United availability in premium class. This particular date 2/14 does not show the 5 dot "Saver Award Premium Cabin" on the calendar. Yet on page 3 of the results we find:
SAS, Swiss, LOT, many great options to fly a premium class cabin to LHR on 2/14.
Multi-city is simply a string of one-way rewards. If the multiple segments first flight and last flight are in the same region, the FIRST inter-regional flight is free. Based on the example of Los Angeles to London to Athens and back, this is what it looks like:
Select your flights and for 60K points in economy you have the trip:
The Round the World reward was eliminated. However you can easily build your own itinerary that doesn't have some of the restrictions, such as a single cross of either the Atlantic or Pacific. This itinerary visits Europe, South Africa and South America.
The route is:
- ORD-FRA Stopover
- FRA-ADD Stopover
- ADD-CPT Stopover
- CPT-GRU Stopover
Total cost is 235,000 points for first and business class travel. The first inter-regional flight is ADD-CPT in South Africa, so that is the free one.
- ORD-FRA Stopover (United First to Europe)
- FRA-ADD Stopover (Ethiopian Business to Addis Ababa
- ADD-CPT Stopover (Ethiopian Business to Cape Town) This is the free Excursionist Perk
- CPT-GRU Stopover (South African Business to Sao Paulo)
- GRU-ORD (Air Canada Business to North America)
There are other less conventional ways to use the Excursionist Perk. Let's say you wanted to go to Sydney and didn't have enough points for a round-trip (or was flying a different carrier on return) and there wasn't any reward flights to Sydney. However in your research you found a flight to Auckland. The standard business class fare is 70K points to Australia or New Zealand from the US on United and 80K on a partner. For another 30K points you could get a flight to Sydney from Auckland.
However you can still employ the Excursionist Perk and get a stopover in Auckland, then fly to Sydney for LESS than the 100K point total. Here's how.
Select Multi-city. Add the individual routes and dates. This example has a 3 day stay in AKL, you can make it longer.
Then the key is to complete the round-trip. The lowest point total on UA's chart is 10K for an economy saver reward of less than 800 miles. That's what you want and the date doesn't matter as long as it's within the year time frame.
Building the itinerary is simply selecting the flights:
The total is 80K points to Sydney (which it would have been under the old system anyway because you have a Star Alliance carrier in the reward.) And you have a one-way from LA to use at a later date. And this is actually better than the old program because you get a stopover in Auckland, where before you'd have to continue with a maximum layover of 24 hours. The only way to have gotten the stopover was to have ticketed a round trip, but you would have had to depart from Australia, not LAX-SFO.
Here is another example on how to get a stopover, as well as fly a Star Alliance partner for the United aircraft fare. This example is Chicago to Singapore. In United first the one-way fares is 80K or round-trip fare 160K points. If a Star Alliance carrier is involved in first class the one-way jumps to 130K.
Here is a United aircraft only ORD-SIN 160K reward which stops in Hong Kong for a couple hours.
Now let's stay in Hong Kong for a couple days, continue by taking Thai Airways first class from HKG-BKK then business class to SIN. The return is the same.
The prior program would have priced this at 130K outbound and 80K return because a Star Alliance carrier was involved in the outbound segment. But with the Excursionist Perk you save 50K points.
Status / Credit Card
United has the following policies in place for rewarding it's Premier members as well as branded credit card holders:
- Premier members and United credit card holders may redeem points for a standard reward on any flight provided there is an available seat.
- Premier members have better economy saver reward availability on United Aircraft.
- Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services have better access to Saver rewards on United Aircraft.
Comparing United's international saver rewards with American and Delta reveals some potentially good redemptions on United aircraft. In particular first class redemptions. These better redemptions won't last forever as United has made it clear they are eliminating first class on their international aircraft over the coming years. (Note: United has closed first class reservations effective May 2018.)
The best "Sweet Spot" with United's reward program is partner reward availability. United economy saver rewards are plentiful. However United's domestic premium rewards are scarce and international premium rewards can be spotty. But carriers like ANA, Thai, Asiana, Air China, Austrian, SAS, Swiss, Turkish and Air Canada frequently have excellent international premium class rewards available. Lufthansa seems to be the only Star Alliance partner that premium class is difficult to get, unless you wait until last minute when they open premium space.
United allows points to be used for upgrades. The complicated system incorporates cash co-pays on discounted fares. Upgrade rules are:
- Full fare economy and business tickets do not require a co-pay
- Co-pays are calculated by United based on region and booking class
- Premier members do not have co-pays on flights within North America with the exception of p.s. transcon flights
- Premier members do not have co-pays on North America to Hawaii flights except out of DEN,EWR, IAD,IAH and ORD
- Premier members do not have co-pays within Oceania
Points and co-pays are collected when the upgrade is requested. If the upgrade does not materialize then both are refunded.
This table shows upgrade points and co-pays from North America.
You can also upgrade on Star Alliance flights when purchased through United using United points. There are no co-pays.
United Reward Waitlist
As a Premier member if you book a reward in a premium class where space is not available you can be placed on a waitlist for the premium cabin. Contact the United to have you placed on the waitlist. This only applies to the United flights. If the upgrade doesn't clear then you are refunded the premium class point difference for no charge.
- IAD-LAX: Pay for a First Class reward at 35K points and get waitlisted. If the waitlist does not clear you fly economy and get a refund on the 22,500 point difference.
- DEN-LAX-NRT: The intenational segment is available but DEN-LAX is not so you get waitlisted for first. If it does not clear then you do not get a refund because your LAX-NRT was in the premium cabin.
While the documentation does not say this, according to anecdotal evidence, you are placed at the top of the waitlist in these situations.
Purchase, Upgrade or Reward?
Looking at an exapmle of Chicago to Hong Kong on United's direct flight shows good point value for both upgrades and reward redemptions, other than redeeming for coach.
The calculation returns a value for the points. To upgrade from Economy to Business the difference in fares ($6061-$1391 + Copay $1,000) =$3,670) is divided by the points required to upgrade. $3,670 / 60,000 = .0612 cents is the value received for each point.
This calculation is the same except the dollar basis is the Purchase Fare plus any surcharges as well as taxes and fees.
- Below 2 cents is shaded red
- 2-4 cents is shaded blue
- More than 4 cents is shaded green
Better point value simply compares the value of points for the specific class. Any outright reward that has 3 cents or more redemption value will show it is the better option.
United recently introduced revenue based earning for United points. Earnings are based on dollars spent for tickets and status.
- All members receive 5 points per $1USD of air airfare
- Premier Silver members receive an additional 2 points for a total of 7
- Premier Gold members receive an additional 3 points for a total of 8
- Premier Platinum members receive an additional 4 points for a total of 9
- Premier 1K members receive an additional 6 points for a total of 11
In additional you can earn United points by flying other Star Alliance carriers as well as United partners. Find your airline here, to determine the number of points you may earn.
United partners with Chase for their US branded credit card. They have two versions of both personal and business cards. These cards have subtle differences in how many points you earn. The major difference is the "Club" cards give you access to United Clubs. The annual fee for these cards is close to what the annual fee is to simply pay for the Club. Currently the Club cards give you a better point earn at 1.5 points per $1USD spent, however there is no sign-up bonus. Review the cards here.
United has these transfer partners.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: 1 : 1
- Starwood Preferred Guest 2 : 1 (Plus 25% bonus on 20K increment transfers)
- Choice Privileges 5:1
- eRewards: $25 - 500 points
- Hilton HHonors 10:1
- Hyatt: 5 : 2
- IHG: 5:1
- Marriott Rewards 8K :2 K to 112K : 50K scale based on transfer amount
- Wyndam Rewards 6:1
- Hertz: 600 : 500
Note: Starwood transfers at TWO SPG points to ONE United point which is not something you would want to do. However due to the recent merger you can transfer Starwood points to Marriott points at 1 SPG to 3 Marriott and transfer Marriott points to United. United and Marriott often have bonus points on United transfers. In addition Marriott has Hotel and Air packages where you convert your Marriott points and get Marriott free stays PLUS airline points. You can get points for most airlines with this program, however United is the best value. This link provides the table.
This is a partial list of hotels where you can earn United points. The full list is here.
- Marriott: 1-2 points per $1USD based on property
- Hilton: 1 points per $1USD
- SPG: 2-3 points per $1USD (based on SPG status)
- IHG: 1 point per $1USD
- Club Carlson: 500 points per stay
- Hyatt: 500 points per stay
- Choice Privileges: 250 points per stay
- Wyndam: Either 2 points per $1USD or 500 points per stay based on property
- Hertz: 500-1,250 points per rental based on United status
- Dollar: 50 points each day
- Thrifty: 50 points each day
MileagePlus Shopping is one of the better shopping portals available. You can literally earn tens of thousands of points by purchasing everyday items online. Wait for specials where bonus points are awarded. This is a simple example of buying food and earning 2,891 points.
MileagePlus X app
Unique to United is this app that you can earn points at local stores and restaurants, as well as online purchased. It is easy to use. Determine how much you are going to spend. You can even do this at the cashier's line, the process is instant. Enter the amount in the app and select the credit card you pay with. Instantly you get a coupon that you give to the cashier and your purchase is complete. This example earned 62 points when having lunch at Panera Bread. Tip: attach a United credit card to your payment options and get an extra 25% even when you use a different card to pay!
Mileage Plus Dining
Sign up for Mileage Plus dining and earn points at participating restaurants.
There are many other ways to earn points with United. Visit this page to see what programs fit your lifestyle.
You can earn United MileagePlus points when booking hotels on these sites:
United has a couple of ways to purchase points. You are limited to 150,000 points per year under their standard purchase program. The charge is $35 per 1,000 points plus tax. However numerous times during the year they have point sales where you get bonuses that reduce the cost down to around 2 - 2.2 cents. Sometimes these sales are only applicable MileagePlus members or members get a better offer than non-members.
The other way is to purchase points when you have a ticket. You can even purchase points on reward redemptions. The cost varies but typically the cost is about 1.8 cent per point without tax.
The United program is a favorite. While the partner redemptions are possibly a little more expensive, the United chart is very reasonable. United does release international rewards for their own aircraft, however the partner availability is outstanding to all areas of the world. Then add in the fact that United does not collect surcharges and it becomes easy to get inexpensive reward travel.
United also is the easiest program to collect points. While it does not have AMEX or Citi as transfer partners, it has Chase and now SPG with the Marriott connection. The ancillary earning tools are great as well. MileagePlus shopping consistently offers the better specials over American and Alaska's shopping sites and the MileagePlus X app is an incredible way to accumulate a large number of points for simple everyday purchases.
Even though recently the routing rules have been changed, the new Excursionist Perk still allows you a free stopover internationally. American and Delta do not offer this benefit.
With United's new Polaris premium class offering, the new business class seating and 45 Airbus A350 aircraft on order to complement their large 787 fleet, MileagePlus could become the number one domestic program available for international premium class travel.