United is one of the largest carriers in the world, along with American and Delta, with a strong frequent flyer program that allows you to earn airline miles that can be used for seat upgrades and award flights on United and its many partners. While the program has undergone big changes recently, including a switch to dynamic award pricing, MileagePlus miles are definitely worth earning, even for the infrequent traveler.
Ready to start earning United Airlines miles? Here's why you should get started with a MileagePlus account and how to earn United miles with options that include flying, credit card spending, dining, and shopping.
To start earning and redeeming United Airlines miles, you'll need a free MileagePlus account. Enrolling in MileagePlus only takes a few minutes and gives you a unique MileagePlus number you will use when you book airfare, hotels, rental cars, or spend with partners. Click here to enroll in United MileagePlus.
Once you've made the decision to join an airline loyalty program and start working toward award flights, one of the biggest challenges you face is choosing the right program. The United Airlines MileagePlus program has a lot going for it thanks to miles that are easy to earn, a large network of partner airlines, and, most importantly, the best award flight availability in the industry.
Here's why it's worthwhile to start earning United Airlines miles.
A big problem with airline loyalty programs is they often make it easy to earn miles but offer few award seats at the lowest mileage amount -- or make it difficult to find award seats at all. A benefit of the MileagePlus program is United usually offers more saver award space than other programs. You even get access to greater award availability if you have one of the United credit cards with an annual fee.
One of the biggest surprises with award flights is the fuel surcharge, an extra fee on your "free" flight that can cost hundreds of dollars. While Delta does have fuel surcharges for many award flights, its own fuel surcharges on Delta flights are low -- flying from the U.S. to Europe usually costs about $6 each way in surcharges. While some carriers don't have surcharges on their award flights like American Airlines, Delta still isn't a bad offender by any means.
You can also use United miles for award flights with many Star Alliance partners like ANA and Lufthansa without fuel surcharges.
As a general rule, United Airlines miles are worth 1.3 cents each, but the value depends a great deal on the fare class and flight cost. United has switched to a dynamic pricing model for award flights rather than a simple award chart so the number of miles you need now depends largely on the cash price of a ticket. Dynamic pricing can result in more costly award seats, but it can also help you get better deals on award fares outside the busy season or on less popular routes.
By comparison, American Airlines miles are worth about 1.2 cents each (and they have an award chart with predictable award prices), Delta SkyMiles are worth 1.2 cents each (with similar dynamic pricing), Miles & More miles are worth around 1.4 cents each, and Avios are worth 1.5 cents each.
The MileagePlus program gives you more than a dozen ways to earn miles, from flying on United Airlines and partner airlines to shopping, dining, and staying at partner hotels. Here's a look at the many ways to earn United MileagePlus miles and begin earning award flights.
As a MileagePlus member, you earn United Airlines miles when you fly on United and United Express operated flights. The number of miles earned is based on your MileagePlus elite status, fare class, ticketing airline, and operating airline.
When you fly United, you earn miles based on the fare whereas you will earn miles based on flight distance and fare class with Star Alliance and non-alliance partners with tickets issued by an airline other than United. In the past, you would earn miles based on the miles flown, but United has changed to a fare-based system.
Here's how the bonus miles break down based on MileagePlus status on United flights or tickets on partners issued by United.
You don't just earn miles on United Airlines flights -- you also earned MileagePlus miles when you fly with a United Star Alliance or non-alliance partner and use your MileagePlus number.
How miles are earned depends on how you book the flight and how it's ticketed.
When a flight is booked through United and ticketed with a United ticket number, you'll earn miles just as if you were on a United-operated flight and miles will be based on the base fare and MileagePlus status.
When the ticket is booked through a partner airline, miles are based on the flight distance and fare class.
Because mileage rates vary by partner airline, you'll need to check your booking class then review the list of United partner airlines to see how many miles you will earn.
Want to earn United miles fast? The United credit cards are the perfect way to earn thousands of United miles -- even without flying! United MileagePlus credit cards are issued by Chase and there are four United credit cards, including one business card and a United card that doesn't actually earn United miles or offer travel perks like free checked bags.
United credit cards offer a very unique and valuable perk. Along with earning miles, United credit cards give you expanded award availability. While miles are easy to earn, it can be tricky to find available award space on a flight. With a United card, you'll have more award seats available with the "XN" class reserved for cardholders and those with MileagePlus elite status. Note that the expanded saver award availability only applies to economy class award seats.
Here's an overview of the United credit cards that can help you earn United award flights even faster.
United Explorer Card
The United Explorer card is an entry-level airline card that actually offers impressive benefits including bonus miles at hotels and restaurants, two United Club passes every year, Global Entry (a $100 value), and -- importantly -- access to additional award space.
United Club Card
The annual fee may be high, but the United Club card is worthwhile if you travel frequently on United. In addition to lounge access, you'll earn boosted United Airline miles on all spending plus get expanded award availability. You can use your miles to book any United flight with no blackout dates or restrictions. That's a major perk since award availability is the biggest problem with airline loyalty programs.
United TravelBank Card
The United TravelBank card is a good choice if you don't travel often but tend to fly United. You won't get free checked bags or other perks common with airline credit cards, but the card has no annual fee and it does help you earn free or reduced cost United flights without worrying about award seat availability or blackout dates. $1 in TravelBank cash is equal to $1 when used to buy United tickets.
United Explorer Business Card
The United Explorer Business card is very similar to the regular United Explorer card except it offers an even more impressive welcome offer plus bonus miles at gas stations and office supply stores but not hotel stays. Only the personal version of the card includes free Global Entry or TSA Precheck.
Want to know how to earn United miles fast? Qualify for a United credit card welcome bonus and get enough points for several award flights. Credit card offers change regularly and depend on the United card, but you can earn up to 50,000 or even 100,000 United miles once you meet the spending requirement within the first 3-6 months.
Right now, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles with the premium United Club card or up to 65,000 bonus miles with the popular United Explorer card. With access to additional award space as a United cardmember, you'll be taking your first award flight in no time.
If you have one of the United credit cards, you may be eligible for a refer-a-friend bonus from United. Referral bonuses change occasionally and not all cards are eligible.
Currently, United Explorer cardholders can earn 10,000 bonus miles for every referred friend who gets approved for the card and up to 50,000 bonus miles per year.
You don't need to earn hotel points when you stay at major hotel chains. If you'd rather earn miles or you aren't committed to a single hotel brand, you can earn United Airlines miles instead.
Want to know how to earn United miles at hotels? The United MileagePlus program gives you several options to earn miles by booking through a partner booking service or directly at over 15,000 hotels around the world.
Don't want to book directly with a hotel or don't belong to a hotel loyalty program? You can earn United Airlines miles by booking through one of three hotel booking websites:
United Hotels works just like Hotels.com with a flat 2 miles per dollar. Rocketmiles and PointsHound are competitors that vary in a couple of ways. Rocketmiles has a curated selection of hotels with more limited options and sometimes higher prices than elsewhere. Pointshound works like Expedia and allows you to book almost anywhere with a low-price guarantee, but this sometimes means you earn fewer miles.
Marriott Bonvoy and United have a lucrative RewardsPlus partnership if you're a member of both loyalty programs. You can enjoy reciprocal elite status if you're a United MileagePlus Premier Gold, Platinum, or 1K member to get complimentary Marriott Gold elite status. With Marriott Bonvoy Titanium or Ambassador elite status, you get complimentary United Premier Silver status. You can also convert Marriott Bonvoy points to United miles or even transfer United miles to Marriott.
The best benefit of the partnership? When you pair United flights with Marriott stays, you can earn Marriott Bonvoy points AND United miles to double dip. With this perk, you get 500 bonus miles per completed Marriott stay if you have Marriott Gold elite status or higher.
If you convert Marriott Bonvoy points to United MileagePlus miles, you get 5,000 bonus miles for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer at a 3 points to 1 mile ratio.
In addition to the Marriott partnership, United Airlines partners with other loyalty programs. You can set United MileagePlus as your preferred earning option to earn United miles for hotel stays instead of hotel points with the following loyalty programs:
From car rental and rail partners to airport transportation, you can earn United miles with several transportation partners on your next trip.
United's exclusive car rental partner is Hertz, plus Thrifty and Dollar, both earned by Hertz. To earn miles on Hertz car rentals, you need to book with your United MileagePlus account and use discount code CDP 62455. The miles you earn depends on your MileagePlus status:
With Dollar and Thrift, you will earn 50 United miles per day on rentals of 1-4 days or 500 miles per rental of 5+ days.
GroundLink rides also earn United miles. GroundLink is a black-car vehicle service with professional drivers aimed toward professional and business travelers who need scheduled rides. You'll earn 200 miles for every GroundLink ride.
You can also earn United miles on Amtrak. You earn 500 miles for every Business class segment and 750 miles for every First class segment on Acela Express trains at select stations and 250 to 325 United miles on qualifying Coach and Business class fares when you fly United and make a connection at select destinations.
Sitting on a lot of Chase Ultimate Rewards points? You can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus at a 1:1 ratio in 1,000-point increments. However, this may not be the best use of your Chase points, which are among the most valuable in the industry. You may also get a better deal on a flight by booking directly through the Chase travel portal rather than transferring the points to miles.
One of the most lucrative ways to earn miles outside of flying is the MileagePlus shopping portal. It's easy to overlook shopping for earning miles, but you can get anywhere from 1x to 20x miles at more than 900 retailers. After signing up for a free account, you can use the portal to earn miles on top of any miles you earn using one of the United credit cards.
There are also frequent promotions to learn bonus miles through the shopping portal, potentially earning 1,000 or more bonus miles on top of what you earn at your favorite retailers.
Love to dine out? The MileagePlus Dining program rewards you with up to 5x miles when you dine at participating restaurants. To earn miles on dining, you need to sign up for a free MileagePlus Dining account linked to your account then link the debit and credit cards you'll use for dining. You can earn up to 3,000 bonus miles during your first 30 days by spending at least $25 at a participating restaurant in the program.
Planning to take out a personal loan or mortgage? If you use one of United's partners, you can earn thousands of United miles!
With Quicken Loans, you can earn 25,000 points when you take out a mortgage or refinance your home loan.
Need a personal loan? Use your MileagePlus number with Lending Club and earn 1x United miles up to 40,000 miles.
Need more ways to earn miles with United Airlines? Here are some other options that can be lucrative.
While the MileagePlus program has some quirks, United is one of the biggest U.S. and global airlines with dozens of partner airlines where you can earn and redeem miles. The MileagePlus program gives you plenty of options for earning miles, even without stepping foot on an airplane, to redeem for award flights with possibly the industry's best saver award availability.
MileagePlus is United's frequent flyer program that allows you to earn and redeem miles for award flights on United and its partner airlines. By earning elite status, members can earn free upgrades, priority boarding, free checked bags, and other perks.
There are many ways to earn United Airlines miles:
There are three credit cards that earn MileagePlus miles:
Absolutely, if you want to earn award flights faster. A United card allows you to earn miles on all spending with perks when you fly United and automatic elite status in MileagePlus to earn miles faster.
United miles are worth about 1.3 cents each, but the value depends on how they're used.
United is part of the Star Alliance with alliance partners that include: Aegan, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss International Air Lines, TAP Air Portugal, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines
Non-alliance partners include: Aer Lingus, Aeromar, Air Dolomiti, Azul, Boutique Air, Cape Air, Edelweiss, Eurowings, Hawaiian Airlines, Olympic Air, and Silver Airways.
United miles do not expire. They used to expire after 18 months of inactivity, but that, fortunately, has changed.
The fastest ways to get miles in MileagePlus are flying with United and partner airlines, using a United credit card, shopping through the MileagePlus shopping portal, and staying at partner hotels.
You can transfer up to 100,000 United miles to another MileagePlus account at $7.50 per 500 miles transferred.
United no longer publishes an award chart and has switched to dynamic pricing that makes it tricky to figure out how many miles you need for an award flight. As a general rule, you usually need at least 5,000 miles for a one-way short domestic flight.