United MileagePlus has long been a go-to program for those looking to book Star Alliance award tickets with miles. As a member of Star Alliance, United miles can pretty much get you anywhere in the world you want to go — okay, maybe not Antarctica. Even better, United doesn’t hit you with surcharges on award tickets so paying the taxes/fees on these tickets won’t be a problem.
Now, the elephant in the room is that United is moving to dynamic award pricing and getting rid of its award charts for its own flights. This means it will be tough to determine how many miles you’ll need for any given United flight as the airline can change the number of miles required on a whim. Fortunately, award tickets booked on partner airlines aren’t impacted by this and that’s where there’s some real value to be had.
Even if you don’t have United miles yet, they’re easy to earn so you can take advantage of some of these opportunities too. With just a little planning, you’ll be booking a trip with United miles before you know it — and you can do it all on United’s site.
How To Earn United MileagePlus Miles
Many of you are probably set when it comes to earning United miles but, if not, here’s what you need to know: The best way to get more United miles is by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to your account. These transfers process instantly so you don’t have to worry too much about award space being snatched while you wait for the transfer.
While the United Explorer Card and United Explorer Business Card are a great supplementary way to earn miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards cards have lucrative bonus categories. Our go-to Chase cards include:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Chase Ink Business Preferred Card
- Chase Ink Business Cash Card
By taking advantage of bonus categories, you’ll earn miles even faster. Additionally, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points that you earn through hotel stays and/or co-branded Chase and Amex cards (Learn More).
Business Class To Europe
Star Alliance has a big presence in Europe and that means you’ll have tons of options if you have United miles to burn. All you have to do is figure out which business class product you’d like to try. If inflight catering is your top priority, it’s hard to go wrong with Austrian Airlines. There’s something especially fun about seeing the crew plate your appetizer at your seat. If you have an intra-European connection, the seat might not blow you away but the food is still quite impressive on these short-hauls.
Alternatively, SWISS provides a solid all-around business class product plus a ton of space if you can land a “throne” seat. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is another great option if you can find your way onto one of its Airbus A330s. While not a Star Alliance partner, you can also book Aer Lingus business class as it also partners with United. Regardless of which partner you choose, using 70,000 United miles for a one-way business class ticket to Europe is a solid way to book.
Business Class To Africa
Flying from the US to Africa can be expensive whether booking a ticket with cash or miles. Depending on the dates you travel, you can expect to see business class options on Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa, SWISS, South African Airways and Turkish Airlines.
Many of your options would incur surcharges if you booked with other Star Alliance programs such as Aeroplan or ANA Mileage Club. However, this is where United again comes through. Not only is 80,000 miles for a one-way business class ticket a great way to book, but keep the cash component to a minimum makes it that much sweeter.
If you fly Turkish Airlines, you can check out their new business class lounges at the new Istanbul airport. Another fun option is South African Airways if you can find a date in which it operates an A330-300 out of Washington Dulles (IAD). I realize that’s very specific but it’s easily the best business class option South African offers in which everyone not only has a lie-flat seat but also has direct aisle access.
United Polaris Business Class To Hong Kong
While we’re mostly focusing on options on partner airlines, we wanted to touch on one particular United flight. United has been slowly rolling out its flagship Polaris business class product which provides direct aisle access for all passengers as well as a lie-flat seat. One of the routes where you can find this product is from Newark (EWR) to Hong Kong (HKG).
Sure, most of you probably think of flying Cathay Pacific when you think of flying to Hong Kong, but booking Polaris business class for 75,000 miles one-way is a great way to get there. You can even take advantage of the Polaris lounge before you’re flight. I’ll actually be taking this flight later this year, so I’ll report back with the whole experience.
Short Flights Abroad On Star Alliance Partners
British Airways Avios aren’t the only way to book cheap short-haul flights when you’re abroad. You can book non-stop flights up to 800 flight miles on Star Alliance partners for only 8,000 United miles. Not bad if you need a quick hop in Europe or Asia. Even better, you can book flights within Japan on All Nippon Airways (ANA) for only 5,000 United miles. Some of these flights don’t even have taxes and fees so your total cost really is simply 5,000 miles.
We like this one so much we included it in our piece on the best ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Thai First Class Asia To Australia
Thai Airways doesn’t fly to the US at this time but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try its first class if you have the opportunity to do so. If you find yourself in Asia or Australia, consider booking it between Sydney (SYD) and Bangkok (BKK) for 65,000 miles. If you want more time in Thai first class, use Bangkok as a connection on your way to/from Tokyo.
Now, the real key to enjoying this experience is to make sure you fly out of Bangkok so you can check out the first class lounge. As a first class passenger, you can get a complimentary full body massage. A good shoulder rub can be nice after (or before) a long flight but a full body massage is just next level. Make sure you give yourself enough of a layover for the full 60-minute massage.
Lufthansa First Class (No Surcharges)
We’ve raved about Lufthansa first class plenty of times before, but it’s still worth mentioning. The inflight is experience is great but the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt (FRA) is quite simply out of this world. From an extensive champagne list to a relaxing bath experience complete with a rubber ducky collectible to a Porsche ride to your flight, it’s hard to go wrong.
You can book a one-way Lufthansa first class ticket with 110,000 United miles. You could save 2,500 miles by booking with Singapore KrisFlyer but United has a huge advantage in that it doesn’t pass on the steep surcharges. This will save you several hundred dollars. Just remember, Lufthansa only releases award space to its partner airlines 14 days from departure and sometimes not even that far out.
Economy Class To Europe
If you want to fly economy class to Europe, surcharges are perhaps an even more important consideration. When you think about it, what’s the point in booking a ticket with miles only to have to pay $200 in taxes/fees on top of that? We all understand that we’ll be responsible for government taxes and fees on award tickets, but surcharges can really wreck the value of an economy ticket.
With 30,000 United miles, you can book a one-way economy ticket without surcharges. With economy cash fare deals popping up to Europe pretty regularly, it doesn’t make sense to book an award ticket that will have a cash component that’s nearly half the cash ticket. Fortunately, with United miles, you won’t have to worry about that.
EVA Air Business Class To Taipei
While Qatar Airways Qsuites gets all the press, don’t sleep on EVA Air business class. EVA basically blends a first class experience into a business class cabin. You can book a one-way business class flight to Taiwan on EVA for 80,000 United miles.
On my flight from Taipei to New York a few months ago, I enjoyed a few glasses of Krug champagne which is often found in first class cabins on airlines like Cathay Pacific. You’ll also get a set of pajamas — which, sadly, don’t fit me. To top it off, you’ll get a Rimowa amenity kit just as you would if you flew Thai Airways first class.
Hop Down To The Caribbean
Sometimes, you want to relax on a beach but don’t have time to fly across the world to the Maldives or Bora Bora. Fortunately, the Caribbean is much closer and has plenty of fun, relaxing destinations just waiting for you. Since it’s a shorter flight for many, you might just want to book a one-way economy ticket on United for 17,500 miles — we’ll see what happens to this mileage rate after November 15.
On the other hand, even a non-stop flight from Newark to Port of Spain (POS) in Trinidad and Tobago is listed at over 5 hours. If a domestic first class recliner will make that trip more comfortable, you can book “business” class for 30,000 United miles one-way. Even it’s not a lie-flat, it’ll be nice to stretch out a bit and have a better meal.
Bounce Around Central And Southern Africa
If you’ve decided to explore the continent of Africa, United miles can make it easy to hop around central and southern Africa. For 17,500 miles, you can book an economy ticket on Ethiopian Airlines or South African Airways to any number of countries in the region. If business class is more your style, you can book one-way business class tickets for 30,000 United miles. In fact, Ethiopian Airlines operates an Airbus A350 between Addis Ababa (ADD) and Johannesburg (JNB).
Stopovers – The Excursionist Perk
If you use your United miles to book a round-trip award ticket, you can include a stopover to help you see more for no extra miles. United calls this The Excursionist Perk and it’s not a true stopover, rather it’s a free one-way ticket within a single region. For most people, this will function as a simple stopover.
For example, let’s look at what you could do with a business class trip to Europe. If you booked a round-trip ticket on partner airlines — we’ll use SWISS and Lufthansa for this exercise, you’d need 140,000 miles for the trip.
You could book a non-stop flight from Chicago (ORD) to Zurich (ZRH) on SWISS then spend a week in Zurich — This is your destination. After that, you could fly to Vienna (VIE) on SWISS or Austrian Airlines. — this is your free one-way/stopover. If you wanted to get creative, you could then take a train to Salzburg and visit a few days before taking another train to Munich — this is an open jaw. From Munich (MUC), you could fly home to Chicago on Lufthansa.
In this example, we actually took things a bit further by including an open jaw which just means you have to figure out your own travel between cities. Since Salzburg is close to both Vienna and Munich, it was easy to include all three on this trip with just two train rides.
One thing to keep in mind when booking these free one-ways — and United award tickets, in general — is that United will only let you book what the online search shows you. Even if you can find individual segments on partner airlines, if United’s search doesn’t show the option when you search an origin/destination pair, you won’t be able to book it.
Understandably, there is always a concern when an airline moves to dynamic award pricing removes award charts. There’s no way to spin that as a positive — no matter how hard airlines try. However, there are still some great opportunities to book award tickets on United’s partner airlines with United miles. Additionally, there are still some flights on United that aren’t showing egregiously high pricing on dates beyond November 15, 2019, so now is a good time to book those.
So, if you have Chase points — possibly even Marriott points — and there’s a good chance you can find your way to some amazing destination with United miles.