Daily Drop's Guide to United MileagePlus

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United Airlines is a U.S.-based carrier and is one of the largest programs in the world. Despite its devaluation earlier this year (booo 😒), it remains one of the leading competitors to help you jet-set across the globe.

If your home airport happens to be a United hub (and even if it isn’t!), it’s worth becoming familiar with their program in order to utilize the benefits of its expansive network.

AT A GLANCE

➡️ United is a member of Star Alliance (plus 14 additional airlines).

➡️ United miles are worth around 1.1-1.2 cents apiece.

➡️ You can join the MileagePlus program here (for free!).

What is United MileagePlus?

MileagePlus is United’s frequent flyer loyalty program. When you have a MileagePlus account and fly on a paid ticket for United, its Star Alliance partners, or its additional worldwide airline partners, you will earn those tasty United miles and have them deposited into your account after each journey.

There are other ways to earn United miles (which we will talk about later), but once you have accumulated enough of them, you can use them for free or significantly discounted travel.

Want to sign up for a MileagePlus account? It’s free! 🎉

Why should you care about United MileagePlus?

The airline has major hubs in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, San Francisco, Washington-Dulles, and even in Guam and Tokyo.

So if you frequently fly to/from one of these airports, then United will become an invaluable program to be a part of.

To feed you even more stats, they operate thousands of daily flights to more than 350 airports across five continents.

United is also a Star Alliance member (which has 26 member airlines in total) 👇

All Star Alliance members

In addition to this, United partners with 14 other airlines which further adds to their massive network. Some of these worldwide partners include Are Lingus, Emirates, Hawaiian, and JSX (among others) which you can find here.

So by joining United’s MileagePlus program, you are getting access to 39 airlines across the world which opens up nearly endless possibilities to travel wherever you want!

Plus, miles never expire with the MileagePlus program 👌

How do you earn United miles?

There are lot’s of answers to this question, but we’ll highlight some of the most common ways here. Strap in and get ready, kids 🚀

1. Earn when you fly

You will earn MileagePlus miles when you fly on United or its partner airlines (as long as the ticket is issued by United); however, the number of miles you will earn depends on what you spent on the ticket (airfare and fees) and if you hold any elite status.

All United members will receive 5 base miles per dollar, but Premier (elite) members will earn bonus miles based on the level of their status 👇

Courtesy of United

To be clear, if you are flying on a partner airline (but your ticket was still issued by United), you will earn miles based on the cost of the airfare and fees.

But if you booked your ticket through one of United’s partners, you will earn miles based on a combination of the price of the ticket, the class of the ticket, and the flight distance.

It’s not as straightforward, but just know that you will still be earning in some way 👍

💡Pro tip: You can still earn miles on United’s Money + Miles fare option, but you will only receive miles for the cash portion of the base fare that is paid (excluding taxes and fees).

2. Spend on a credit card

United has several co-branded cards with Chase that offer varying levels of perks and earning structures.

For instance, if you’re shopping for a first-time United card, our vote would go to the UnitedSM Explorer Card due to its $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then just $95 a year after that.

Plus, not only will you earn a healthy welcome offer of thousands of United miles, your card will also get you a free checked bag, two United Club one-time passes per year, and up to $100 Global Entry®, TSA PreCheck® or NEXUS fee credit (among some other perks!)

United also offers some higher-tiered cards that come with additional perks. Check ‘em out to learn more about their benefits 👇

I should also mention there are two other programs that allow you to turn their points into United miles 👇

You can transfer both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Bilt Rewards Points to United’s MileagePlus program at a 1:1 ratio.

So in theory, if you hold cards from either of those programs, you can technically also earn United miles that way.

And even though Chase and Bilt points are typically valued higher than United miles are, it may still make sense to transfer them if you find a good deal with United.

Just do you research beforehand so that you’re never blindly transferring these points over to United.

In fact, I transferred points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to United way back when I was first starting out with this whole miles and points thing.

Was it the best redemption? Probably not. But did I get to fly United’s Polaris business class to Europe for nearly free? Yep!

💡Pro tip: If you want to calculate the value of your points and determine if you should redeem them this way, we’ve got a handy equation at the end of this article. Stay tuned!

3. (Responsibly) dine and shop ‘til you drop 

If you register a credit card (and this can be any card, not just a United one) with MileagePlus Dining, you could earn up to 5x miles per dollar spent at more than 11,000 participating restaurants.

United also has the MileagePlus online shopping portal where you can find deals and bonus earning rates for over 850 retailers.

4. Stay at hotels

I just have to say it… If you’re hoping to earn (and maximize) miles and points from hotel stays, you are generally better off earning with the hotel’s own loyalty program.

BUT, if you are a die-hard United loyalist and want all possible miles to go towards United, they do have some partner hotel programs that you can view here.

💡Pro tip: If you hold Marriott Bonvoy® Ambassador Elite or Titanium Elite status, you can status match with MileagePlus to unlock United’s Premier® Silver status. Alternatively, United Premier® Gold members (and above) can status match to Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status.

5. Buy United miles

Straight up, this isn’t the best way to get United miles, and I would not recommend you do this on the regular for large sums of miles.

But if you need a few thousand to top off your account to book an award flight, for example, then this could be a good solution.

It usually costs 3.5 cents per mile if you purchase them within your account. So for example, if you wanted to buy 10,000 miles, you’d have to pay $350.

You’ll usually find that United will offer you a bit of a discount if you want to purchase miles while you’re booking a current flight with them.

Plus, you may also see targeted sales come through from time to time to stock up on some miles. So again, this isn’t a good use of your money on a regular, long-term basis, but it is an option if ever you needed it.

How do you get elite status and benefits?

The saying, “You get what you pay for,” definitely rings true when it comes to most loyalty programs 🥴

As mentioned earlier, anyone can sign up for a free MileagePlus account. With that, you will basically just get a frequent flyer number and the ability to earn miles… and that’s about it.

If you start to chase elite status, that’s where the real fun begins! Here’s a nice summary chart straight from United that details these qualifiers and benefits 👇

Courtesy of United

This chart is laid out very nicely for us, but I’m guessing you already have questions about those random PQF and PQP letters sprinkled throughout.

Your progress toward United status is measured by two types of qualifying activities during each calendar year, and you will keep that status from the day you earn it until the end of the following January.

Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) are the number of flight segments you have flown (four of which need to be on United).

Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) are based on the standard fare and carrier-imposed surcharges for flight purchases (which can also include seat purchases and paid upgrades).

So you can see above that in order to reach Premier Silver status, you would need a combo of 12 PQFs and 4,000 PQPs OR 5,000 PQPs.

If you opt to earn the higher PQP in order to reach status, it’s important to know that you will still need to fly a minimum of four segments on United (which they don’t mention in that chart).

You can also expedite your PQP earning (and therefore reach status) based on annual spending on an eligible credit card 👇

This is another reason to pursue one of United’s co-branded cards if you are dead set on climbing the United ladder.

How do you redeem United miles?

The best (and most simple) way to redeem United miles is going to be booking award flights with United or its partner airlines.

I have also used United miles for the occasional seat upgrade, which always feels good.

To redeem your miles for a flight, simply login to your MileagePlus account, and make sure you select the Book with miles box.

Put in your dates and destination, and search away! But remember, not all award seats will be easy to find, so having some flexibility and patience to find yourself a good deal is always key.

The nice thing with this process, though, is it does not require any transfer of points from a credit card account to your frequent flyer account. 

Points are already sitting pretty in your MileagePlus account and will be automatically deducted when you go to purchase (use miles for) a flight.

When should you use miles instead of cash?

There is no right or wrong way to use your miles to get a nearly free flight. BUT, if you want to maximize the value out of your miles, there is an equation you can use to determine if the award seat you are looking at is a good deal or not 👇

(cash price) - (taxes and fees) / (miles cost) = value per mile

The travel world has deemed United miles to be worth around 1.1 - 1.2 cents each.

So for example, if you come across an award booking that costs 55,000 United miles with $5.60 in taxes and fees, and the cash prices of the same flight cost $820, you could plug your numbers into the equation to determine the value 👇

($820) - ($5.60) / (55,000) = .015

Since we are talking about dollars, you move the decimal to get 1.5 cents per mile in this redemption.

This is pretty spot on with (and even a little above) what United miles are valued at, so I would say this is a fair deal, but not a crazy amazing one.

If you want to save yourself over $800, go ahead and book this flight!

You may find redemptions that are lower than this, and you also might find some that are much higher…

All I can say is welcome to the game that is figuring out how to travel with miles and points 🙃

Bottom Line

United is truly a gateway to the world with the ability to book and fly on 39 worldwide partners. Their award seat booking process is straightforward and easy to use which makes your travel experience seamless even from the first step.

United MileagePlus is a program that all regular flyers should be part of—especially if your home airport is one of United’s major hubs.

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