Maximizing value from the Mileage Plus program

United MileagePlus miles are some of the most versatile and easy to use miles that exist in the industry. While sweet spots exist within any mileage program, United’s advantage lies in the fact that there is often a huge number of award seats available for any given route. This is partially due to United’s being a member of Star Alliance, the biggest of the three major airline alliances. Another advantage of using United MileagePlus miles is that United doesn’t allow partner airlines to impose surcharges on award tickets booked through United. This means that you will never be forced to pay an exorbitant amount of money on top of the award price for a ticket as you would with many other airlines.

Best Uses of United Airlines MileagePlus Miles

  • Luthansa First Class from the US to Europe

    Lufthansa has one of the most highly desirable First Class products of any airline in the world; and cash flights are priced accordingly. Fortunately, you can use 110,000 United miles to book the product. While it can be booked for fewer miles through other Star Alliance partners, such as Lufthansa’s own Miles and More mileage program, United will not charge you any fuel surcharges. Through Lufthansa’s own program you can expect to pay hundreds of dollars in addition to the award price so United’s slightly higher award price is often worthwhile.

    How to book: Lufthansa only releases award availability to its partners two weeks before departure. While this does mean waiting longer to book, it also means award availability is often pretty good. Once availability is released you can easily search and book it on United.com

    Cost: 110,000 miles in First Class

  • The Excursionist Perk

    The Excursionist Perk with United Airlines is one of the more difficult redemption options to understand, but once you do understand, you can get some incredible value out of a booking it. The most basic idea, and the way that United intends for you to use it, is that it includes one free stopover in a round trip itinerary to a region outside of the region of your departure. For example, a round trip flight in economy from the US to Frankfurt will cost you 60,000 miles. However, using the Excursionist Perk, you can tack on an additional flight from Frankfurt to anywhere else in Europe (let’s say London) and then fly back to the US from London all for the same 60,000 miles.

    To get more specific, the free flight within Europe doesn’t even need to be out of your original entry city in Europe or to your eventual departure point in Europe. For example, if you fly into Frankfurt, you can then take a train to anywhere else in Europe (let’s say Paris) and then use your free flight to fly from Paris to Barcelona and then take a train from Barcelona to Madrid and fly back to the US out of Madrid all for 60,000 miles. This all works as long as the Excursionist Perk leg is within one region. Finally, the most complicated, interpretation is that the Excursionist Perk leg doesn’t need to be within your original destination region, but you do have to fly into and out of that region to begin and end your round trip itinerary. For example, you could fly from the US into anywhere in Europe (let’s say Madrid) and then independently make your way to Morocco outside of your itinerary with United. Then, you can use your Excursionist Perk flight to fly for free from Casablanca, Morocco to Cairo, Egypt. This flight is obviously not within Europe, but it is contained within United’s classification of North Africa. From Cairo, you can then make your own way back to anywhere in Europe and fly back to the US from there.

    All of this will cost you 60,000 miles in Economy: the same as if you had just booked a roundtrip flight to Madrid. You can also use fly Business or First class on your Excursionist Perk flight as long as departure and return flight are both also booked in that same class of travel.

    How to book: Use United’s multi-city feature while searching for award tickets. There is no specific option to check for the Excursionist Perk, but it should price accordingly if you follow the rules listed above.

    Cost: Free!

  • Turkish Airlines Business Class from the US to Istanbul and Africa

    Turkish Airlines flies to more countries than any other airline, and fortunately it has a great business class product. Turkish airlines is especially helpful when trying to redeem miles to fly to Africa; notoriously the most difficult continent to access with miles.

    How to book: Search and book on United.com

    Cost: 70,000 miles in Business to Istanbul/Europe, 80,000 miles in Business to Africa

  • United's Polaris Business Class

    While foreign airlines have held the crown for having the best First and Business classes for years, United has made a big leap forward with the introduction of their new Polaris Business class. Not all United planes are equipped with Polaris yet, so you will need to make sure that your flight is operated by a plane that is.

    How to book: Search and Book on United.com

    Cost: 60,000 miles in Business (Polaris) to Europe, 70,000 miles in Business (Polaris) to East Asia

  • Short Star Alliance Flights outside the US

    Using British Airways Avios is the most well known way to take short Oneworld Alliance flights for very few miles; but sometimes Star Alliance flights will be more readily available than OneWorld flights. In these cases you can use a sweet spot in United’s award chart that prices flights under 800 miles outside of the US for 8,000 miles in Economy. For example, a flight from Cairo, Egypt to Luxor, Egypt.

    How to book: Search and book on United.com

    Cost: 8,000 miles in Economy

  • Air New Zealand Business Class from the US to New Zealand or Australia

    Direct flights from the US to Australia and New Zealand are some of the longest flights currently being operated. This makes them a great choice of a flight on which to splurge for business class: and the most comfortable business class option with United miles will most likely be Air New Zealand’s business class. Bonus: The Cook Islands are classified as the same zone as Australia and New Zealand and so cost the same number of miles. For anyone looking for a tropical beach getaway in the South Pacific, this would be a great option.

    How to book: Search and book on United.com

    Cost: 80,000 miles in Business, 40,000 miles in Economy

  • Europe to Central Asia including India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives

    Central Asia, including Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, is one of the more difficult and expensive regions to access with miles or cash. But if you happen to already be in Europe, you will get great value redeeming United miles for any class of service on any airline for flights to central Asia.

    How to book: Search and book on United.com

    Cost: 30,000 miles in Economy, 55,000 miles in Business, 65,000 miles in First class

  • Flights within sub-Saharan Africa

    Traveling around some parts of the world like Europe and Southeast Asia is made much easier by extremely cheap regional flights. Africa is unfortunately nowhere near as easy due to very little competition among airlines and absolutely no budget carriers. Fortunately, United has two Star Alliance partners in sub-Saharan Africa: South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines; and even more fortunately the cost of business class award travel using United miles on these partners within Africa is extremely good value.

    How to book: Search and book on United.com

    Cost: 30,000 miles in Business

  • Flights from the US to Europe without surcharges

    Most carriers in Europe impose surcharges on their award flights and force their partner airlines (such as American and Delta) to impose these surcharges as well. When it comes to booking First or Business Class travel, these surcharges are sometimes worth paying as you’ll still often get a great redemption value; but when it comes to Economy class travel, surcharges can quickly cut into the money you’ll save from booking an award flight in the first place. This is why using United miles to travel to Europe can be a great deal, because they are one of only a few airlines left that never pass on surcharges. Many other airlines do have cheaper award costs to Europe, but it is worth checking to make sure you wouldn’t be better off spending more miles and less money on surcharges for a ticket to Europe. This can be a great way to visit popular summer destinations like the Greek Islands with points.

    How to book: search and book on United.com

    Cost: 30,000 miles in Economy class

  • ANA First Class from the US to Japan

    Trans-pacific flights are grueling no matter how much travel experience you have; so they are another great time to put your miles to work and book a premium cabin ticket to Japan. Two of the best First and Business class cabins you can find across the pacific are ANA’s First and Business classes. ANA, like Japan Airlines, is widely known for their impeccable premium cabin service and great soft and hard product onboard.

    How to book: Search and book on United.com

    Cost: 110,000 miles in First, 80,000 miles in Business