August 17, 2022

Best ways to earn and use United MileagePlus miles in 2020

This article is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. It has not…

Best ways to earn and use United MileagePlus miles in 2020

This article is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. It has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the issuers listed. Some of the offers you see on the page are from our partners like Citi and American Express, but our coverage is always independent. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page.

United is one of the largest airlines in the world, so it should come as no surprise that its frequent flyer program, MileagePlus, has over 100 million members. If you’re one of them, there are myriad ways both to earn and redeem MileagePlus miles for the best value, including some phenomenal United credit card offers.

Here’s what you need to know to maximize your United MileagePlus miles, all the ways you can rack them up quickly, and how you can redeem them for the rewards you want.

From flying United and its partner carriers, booking certain hotels, signing up for promotions, and simply carrying the right credit card, there are plenty of ways to accumulate United miles in a flash. Because United miles never expire, you can focus on earning miles now without worrying about when you’ll be able to travel again.

Earn miles with Chase United and Ultimate Rewards credit cards

As is the case with many frequent flyer programs these days, the quickest, cheapest, and easiest way to accrue United MileagePlus miles is to open and use a co-branded credit card. United partners with Chase as its issuer, so in addition to the airline’s co-branded cards, you can transfer points from some of Chase’s other products to your MileagePlus account. 

There are five United credit cards to consider if you just want to earn United miles and enjoy some day-of-travel perks to boot.

Annual Fee

$95, waived first year

Regular APR

16.49{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} to 23.49{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} Variable

Credit Score

Good to Excellent

Featured Reward

60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open (plus, an additional 10k bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months)

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  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • 60k bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 10k bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months.
    • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays, and on United purchases
    • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck™ fee credit
    • 25{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} back on United inflight purchases
    • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $140 per roundtrip) when you use your card to purchase your ticket
    • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and eligible delivery services including GrubHub, Caviar, Seamless and DoorDash
    Pros
    • Annual fee is waived the first year
    • Earns bonus miles on several purchase categories, including restaurants
    • Includes an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
    • Gets you a free checked bag on United when you pay with the card
    Cons
    • Not the most rewarding card for most non-United travel purchases

    Read Our Review
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    United℠ Explorer Card

    This popular option is currently offering a fantastic welcome bonus: 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open (plus, an additional 10k bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months). 

    Annual Fee

    $0 for the first year, then $525

    Regular APR

    16.49{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} – 23.49{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} Variable

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Earn 4 miles per $1 spent on United purchases including tickets, Economy Plus, inflight food, beverages and Wi-Fi, and other United charges.
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining
    • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
    • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck™ Fee Credit
    • Free first and second checked bags – a savings of up to $320 per roundtrip
    • 25{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi onboard United-operated flight when you pay with your Club Card
    Pros
    • Great sign-up bonus
    • If you want United Club membership, this card gets you it for less than buying it outright
    • Get two free checked bags on United
    • Earns 4x miles on United purchases
    Cons
    • Steep annual fee, especially for an airline credit card
    • The non-United bonus categories (travel and dining) only earn 2x miles

    Read Our Review
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    United Club℠ Infinite Card

    A higher-end option, this card comes with United Club airport lounge membership. It is not currently offering a sign-up bonus, but the $525 annual fee is waived the first year. 

    Regular APR

    16.49{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} – 23.49{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} Variable

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    10,000 miles after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening

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  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Earn 10,000 bonus miles
    • No annual fee
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United Airlines purchases, at gas stations and on local transit and commuting
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United Airlines purchases
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at gas stations
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on local transit and commuting
    • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
    • Earn 3 miles per $1 spent at grocery stores, on up to $1,500 per month through 9/30/2021

    United Gateway℠ Card

    This is the newest United credit card, and it’s relatively basic, but still a strong earner. It has no annual fee, but accumulates 3x miles on grocery purchases up to $1,500 per month through September 30, 2021; 2x miles on United purchases and at gas stations as well as on local transit and commuting; and 1x on everything else. 

    Annual Fee

    $99, waived the first year

    Regular APR

    16.49{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5}–23.49{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} variable APR

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    60,000 bonus miles after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Earn 60,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases and enjoy $0 intro annual fee.
    • Receive a 5,000-mile better-together anniversary bonus when you have the United Business Card and a personal United credit card.
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, at gas stations, office supply stores, restaurants (including eligible delivery services), and on local transit and commuting.
    • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. Enjoy no blackout dates – plus, miles never expire for MileagePlus® members.
    • Free checked bag – save up to $140 per roundtrip. (Terms apply.)
    • 2 United Club℠ one-time passes after account opening and on each anniversary* – over a $100 value per year.
    • $100 United travel credit after qualifying purchases, 25{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} back on United in-flight purchases and priority boarding.
    • Add employee cards at no additional cost – miles earned from their purchases accrue in your account and you can set individual spending limits on each card.
    • 2 United Club℠ one-time passes at account opening and on each anniversary over a $100 value per year
    Pros
    • Solid travel benefits with United, including a free checked bag and priority boarding
    • $100 annual United travel credit is relatively easy to earn
    Cons
    • Beyond the sign-up bonus, it will take a while to earn a lot of miles through everyday spending on this card

    Read Our Review
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    United℠ Business Card

    If you already have one of the other United credit cards, you could consider this small-business card instead. It’s currently offering 60,000 bonus miles after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. 

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  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

  • Pros
    • Full United Club membership
    • Earns 1.5 miles on all non-United purchases
    • Cardholders can get 2 free checked bags on United
    Cons
    • High annual fee
    • No bonus miles-earning categories beyond United

    United℠ Club Business Card

    This premium credit card offers a welcome bonus of 50,000 United miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. You’ll earn 2x miles on United purchases and 1.5x miles on everything else, and, like the personal version, the card comes with United Club membership. 

    If you prefer a card that earns transferable points, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus (as well as a dozen other Chase airline and hotel partners) if you carry one of the following cards. Given that versatility, you might want to apply for one of them instead.

    Regular APR

    15.99{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5}-22.99{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} Variable

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  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
    • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
    • Get 25{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
    • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
    • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
    • Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.
    Pros
    • High sign-up bonus starts you off with lots of points
    • Strong travel coverage
    Cons
    • Doesn’t offer a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit or any other statement credit benefits

    Read Our Review
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    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

    This customer-favorite travel rewards credit card offers 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. The card earns 2x points on travel and dining. 

    Regular APR

    16.99{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5}-23.99{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} Variable

    Chevron iconIt indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
    • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. From 6/1/20 through 6/30/21, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
    • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
    • Get 50{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
    • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
    • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
    • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
    • Earn 3x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services
    Pros
    • Annual travel credit can effectively shave $300 off the annual fee if you use it
    • Strong travel insurance
    • Strong bonus rewards on travel and dining
    Cons
    • Very high annual fee
    • The new DoorDash statement credits may not be useful for everyone, which can make the recently increased annual fee harder to justify

    Read Our Review
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    Chase Sapphire Reserve®

    You’ll earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Further, you can earn 3x points on travel (after you earn the $300 travel credit) and dining. 

    Regular APR

    15.99{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5}–20.99{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} variable APR

    Featured Reward

    100,000 points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

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  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • New Offer! Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
    • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
    • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn
    • Points are worth 25{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
    • Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more – your points don’t expire as long as your account is open
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • Employee cards at no additional cost
    • $95 Annual Fee
    Pros
    • High sign-up bonus
    • Offers 3x bonus points on several spending categories, including travel and advertising purchases
    • Includes comprehensive travel coverage
    Cons
    • Welcome bonus has a very high minimum spending requirement

    Read Our Review
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    Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

    Don’t forget about this business credit card, which packs a points punch of its own. New cardholders can earn a whopping 100,000 points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. They also earn 3x points on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year, and 1x on everything else.

    Travelers have some fantastic choices when it comes to credit cards they can use to accumulate United MileagePlus miles. But there are more ways to earn, too.

    Earn United miles by flying United and its partners

    Of course, the other main way to stock up on a lot of United MileagePlus miles is to fly United and its other airline partners. Regular MileagePlus members (i.e. those without elite status) earn 5x miles per dollar spent on airfare with United or United Express. Those with Premier Silver status earn 7x, Premier Golds earn 8x, Premier Platinums get 9x and finally, Premier 1Ks earn 11x miles per dollar.

    United also has 24 Star Alliance airline partners and 12 non-alliance airline partners with whom MileagePlus members can accrue miles when traveling. They include major carriers like ANA, Air Canada, EVA Air, Lufthansa, SAS and Singapore Airlines, among others.

    The earning rates vary from partner to partner, but are usually based on the fare class purchased and the distance flown. For instance, tickets on Singapore Airlines earn between 0-150{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} of the distance flown, while those on SWISS earn 0-200{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5}. So it pays to check the mileage rates on each individual partner page before committing to a ticket.

    Earn United miles with other travel

    In addition to just flights, you can earn United miles by booking stays with United’s hotel partners, sailings through United Cruises, and entire trips through United Vacations, as well as partner car rentals.

    Earn United miles through shopping and dining rewards

    Aside from travel, you can rack up miles by keeping a few other opportunities in mind. United offers an online shopping portal – kind of like an online mall – with hundreds of retail partners where MileagePlus members can earn bonus points on purchases. New members with a United co-branded card can currently earn up to 1,000 bonus miles by signing up and spending $150 within two weeks.

    Members can also register for MileagePlus Dining and earn between 3x and 5x miles on tabs at thousands of participating restaurants around the country.

    And don’t forget that Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United MileagePlus instantly at a 1:1 ratio, so if you’re just a few thousand miles short of an award, this is one of the best ways to top up your account.

    Speaking of awards, there are plenty of ways to redeem your United miles when the time comes.

    Use miles for United award flights

    It’s to be presumed that one of the primary reasons to focus on United miles is to use them for award flights on the airline itself. First, the bad news: United has removed award charts with fixed rates between various regions from its website and gravitated to a dynamic pricing model for award tickets.

    This means that the number of miles you’ll need for a flight now depends more on how much paid airfares are running. That usually makes it cheaper to fly less expensive routes. On the flip side, however, if you’re looking for seats in business or first class, the mileage prices have risen recently and can be downright astronomical for Polaris business class on busy international routes.

    These days, one-way domestic economy award tickets start at a mere 5,000 miles, but can range up to over 30,000 miles. You can find saver business or first-class awards within the US for as few as 25,000 miles, but also as high as over 60,000 miles.

    Internationally, it’s hard to pinpoint exact values for routes these days given how few the airline is actually operating due to the COVID pandemic. But in general, expect one-ways from the US to other regions to start at around 32,500 miles in economy and 63,000 miles in business class and to skyrocket from there.

    Redeem United miles for partner flights

    Just as you can earn United miles on flights with partner airlines, you can also redeem them for award tickets on the carrier’s Star Alliance and non-alliance partners. United stealthily raised award prices across the board by around 10{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} earlier this year, and then bumped them up again for close-in bookings in October — all of which has driven these prices higher still.

    While the number of miles you need for a specific flight will also depend on the route, airline, and dates, expect to pay about 33,000 miles each way from the US to Europe in economy and 77,000 miles in business class. Flights from the US to Asia start at around 44,000 miles each way in economy and 88,000 miles in business class.

    How to search for awards using United miles

    On the bright side, United has one of the most robust award-search engines – both for its own flights and those of its partners – of any airline out there. To search for tickets, just go to United.com, enter in your origin, destination, and flight dates, and make sure the box that says, “Book with miles” is checked. You can even check “Flexible dates” to see a month’s worth of award availability and filter your search by cabin class, which makes it easier to find the flights you need.

    In terms of value, you should try to get at least 1 cent per redeemed mile in value for any award flights that you book, and aim higher for tickets in business or first class.

    Other ways to redeem United miles

    Beyond award tickets, United lets you redeem MileagePlus miles for other travel-related purposes, such as seat upgrades and United Club memberships. The latter costs $650 or 85,000 miles, meaning you’re only getting 0.76 cents per mile in value, which is definitely not worth it. You can also purchase inflight Wi-Fi passes or subscriptions using miles – but this is an even worse value.

    Among the other options are redeeming miles for TSA PreCheck applications, merchandise, gift cards (many of these only net you a measly 0.3 cents per mile), various experiences like concerts and Broadway shows (once they resume), charitable donations, and even for hotels and cruises. Unfortunately, these redemptions are less than ideal if you’re looking to maximize value. 

    Given what a large presence United and its partners have around the world, the airline’s MileagePlus frequent flyer program is an excellent choice when it comes to travel loyalty. Not only does United boast several great co-branded credit cards that make it easy to earn miles quickly, but the fact that you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to MileagePlus make the program even more useful.

    When it comes time to use your miles, save them for flights on United and its partner carriers rather than for things that don’t get you nearly the same value, such as merchandise and gift cards. With a little spending and travel strategy, you can boost your United MileagePlus earning astronomically and then redeem your miles for some great options when you’re ready to travel again.