How to Use United Miles to Book a Flight: A Complete Guide

Last updated
Fact Checked By
How to Use United Miles to Book a Flight

Have you ever wondered what to do with your collected United miles? You’re not alone! United Airlines carried 144.3 million passengers in 2022 alone. That’s a lot of people racking up miles!

But with so many questions surrounding miles – like how many you need for a flight, how to use them for upgrades, and whether they’re worth it – it can be challenging to know where to start.

So, buckle up as we’ll explore the ins and outs of using miles for flights and upgrades, uncover the truth about their value, and even reveal a little-known secret that could help you turn those miles into cold, hard cash.

What is United MileagePlus?

United MileagePlus is a loyalty program of United Airlines, designed to reward frequent flyers with a range of benefits and opportunities to earn and redeem miles. Members of MileagePlus can accumulate miles through flights with United, United Express, Star Alliance airlines, and other airline partners.

Beyond air travel, miles can be earned through everyday activities like dining, shopping, and co-branded credit cards.

MileagePlus offers several membership levels, from basic membership to Premier statuses, which provide enhanced benefits such as complimentary upgrades, priority boarding, and increased baggage allowances.

How to Use United Miles to Book For United Flights?

With one of the largest global networks, United Airlines connects hundreds of destinations worldwide through its own flights and those of its partner airlines.

Booking on the Website

The best place to start if you want to search for award flights on United is the United website.

  • Log in to your MileagePlus account(or sign up if you don’t have one yet). Then, enter where and when you want to fly, and check the box that says “Book with miles.” Hit the “Find flights” button, and you’re off!
  • One cool thing about United’s search engine is that it shows you a week’s worth of award prices at the top of the page. So, if your travel dates are flexible, you can easily see which days have the best deals.
  • When searching, you must decide if you want a round-trip or one-way flight. If your dates are flexible, choose “flexible dates” to see a calendar with all the available awards and prices.

  • If you’re planning a multi-city trip, click on “advanced search” on the United website or choose “multiple” on the United app. Remember that you can’t use the “flexible dates” option for multi-city searches. So, if your dates are flexible, it’s best to start with one-way searches to see what’s out there.
  • Speaking of multi-city trips, United has the “Excursionist Perk.” It gives you a free one-way flight within specific multi-city itineraries. To get it, you need to book at least three one-way award flights, and the free one has to be in a different region than where you started.
  • Once you’ve found the perfect flight, click “select” under the price and follow the steps to book it. And don’t forget to pay the taxes and fees with a credit card that earns bonus miles on airfare and gives you extra travel protections.
  • One last thing: if you have to book your award over the phone, United will charge you a $25 fee unless you have Premier Platinum status or higher. So, it’s always better to book online if you can.

How Many United Miles to Fly Free Domestically?

On average, you might need around 20,000 to 30,000 miles for a coach/economy ticket and 75,000 to 100,000 miles for a business class seat on a domestic United flight.

However, these are just baseline estimates, and the actual number of miles needed can be much higher due to factors such as:

  1. Destination: International flights and flights to popular destinations often require more miles than domestic or less-traveled routes.
  2. Travel dates: Peak travel times, such as holidays and summer, demand more miles for award tickets.
  3. Fare class: Business and first-class seats usually require significantly more miles than economy seats.
  4. Availability: Limited availability of award seats on high-demand routes can lead to higher mileage requirements.
  5. Dynamic pricing: United has shifted to a dynamic pricing model for award flights, meaning that the miles needed can fluctuate based on demand and other factors.

Additionally, having a United credit card or elite status in the MileagePlus program can sometimes help you access better award rates or seat availability.

However, even with these advantages, finding a low-cost award flight can be challenging, especially if you’re looking for specific dates or destinations

How to Use United Miles to Book an International Flight?

If you’re planning a free international trip using United miles, prepare for a wide range of mile requirements. A round-trip economy ticket from New York to London could cost between 70,000 and 120,000 miles.

A Business and first-class ticket starts at 80,500 miles but can soar over 300,000, with a one-way first-class award flight ranging from 70,000 to 345,000 miles. International award pricing varies based on region or specific itinerary and date.

For example, United Airlines economy seats may cost 50,700-73,000 miles, business class 80,000-155,000 miles, and first-class around 121,000 miles or more. To find the best deal, research and compare prices, and consider being flexible with your travel plans.

How to Use United Miles to Book Partner Flights?

Guess what? You can also use your United miles to book flights on partner airlines! And the best part is it works pretty much the same way as booking flights on United itself.

United uses “dynamic pricing” for partner flights. That means there’s no set award chart, and the miles you’ll need can change depending on the flight. So, you might see different prices for partner flights, just like with United.

But don’t worry, booking partner flights is super easy. Almost all United’s partner flights can be booked on their website. Trust us; United has a ton of partners, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from!

When you search for award flights, United’s website automatically mixes and matches flights from different partners and United itself.

One thing to keep an eye out for is “saver awards.” When you see a flight listed as a saver award, that’s usually the cheapest price for that route. And here’s a fun fact: saver awards are often bookable using miles from other partner airlines, too!

So, if you’re looking to book a flight on one of United’s partners, head to their website and search for award flights like you usually would. With so many partners, you will find great deals and exciting destinations. Happy booking!

Who Are the Partners of United?

Did you know that United Airlines is a founding member of Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance? It’s true! Star Alliance has over two dozen member airlines, and United also has direct partnerships with more than a dozen other carriers.

The great news is that you can redeem your MileagePlus miles on almost all of these partner flights directly through United’s website. So, let’s take a look at some of United’s Star Alliance partners:

  1. Lufthansa (L.H.)
  2. Air Canada (A.C.)
  3. Singapore Airlines (S.Q.)
  5. SAS (SK)
  6. EVA Air (B.R.)
  7. ANA (NH)
  8. South African Airways (S.A.)
  9. Air China (CA)
  10. Austrian Airlines (O.S.)
  11. Aegean (A3)
  12. Asiana Airlines (O.Z.)
  13. LOT Polish Airlines (L.O.)
  14. Thai Airways (T.G.)
  15. Swiss Air Lines (LX)
  16. Air India (A.I.)
  17. Shenzhen Airlines (Z.H.)
  18. Avianca (A.V.)
  19. TAP Air Portugal (T.P.)
  20. Ethiopian Airlines (E.T.)
  21. Air New Zealand (N.Z.)
  22. Turkish Airlines (T.K.)
  23. Brussels Airlines (S.N.)
  24. Croatia Airlines (O.U.)
  25. Copa Airlines (CM)

But wait, there’s more! United also partners with several airlines outside of the Star Alliance, such as:

  1. Virgin Australia (VA)
  2. Eurowings (E.W.)
  3. Azul (A.D.)
  4. Emirates (E.K.)
  5. Aer Lingus (E.I.)
  6. Flydubai (F.Z.)
  7. Edelweiss (W.K.)
  8. Vistara (U.K.)
  9. Hawaiian Airlines (H.A.)
  10. Olympic Air (OA)
  11. JSX (XE) (only able to earn miles, not redeem)
  12. Discover Airlines (4Y)
  13. Airlink (4Z)
  14. Silver Airways (3M)
  15. Air Dolomiti (EN)
  16. Cape Air (9K)
  17. Boutique Air (4B)

And if you’re looking to use your MileagePlus miles for more than just flights, you’re in luck! You can redeem your miles for hotels, car rentals, cruises, and upgrades through United’s travel portal.

With such a wide variety of partners within and outside Star Alliance, the possibilities for using your United miles are endless. So, plan your next adventure and see where your miles can take you!

Factors Affecting Mileage Requirements For Flights

The number of miles required for a free flight can vary significantly based on several critical factors, including the origin and destination of your trip, the cabin type you choose, and whether you book through United or one of its airline partners.

Airlines typically use award charts establishing mileage requirements based on mileage tiers, such as 1,000-2,000 miles or 2,000-3,000 miles. The higher the mileage tier for a particular route, the more miles you’ll need to redeem for a free flight.

Another critical factor is the cabin type you select. Economy class requires the least miles but offers the most basic comfort and amenities.

Business class typically requires 2-3 times more miles than the economy but provides lie-flat seats, enhanced food and beverage service, and priority boarding and luggage handling.

First class requires the most miles – sometimes even double the amount needed for business class – but offers ultimate comfort and luxury.

The booking channel and airline partners can also impact the miles needed for a free flight. When redeeming miles for flights with United’s Star Alliance partners, the mileage requirements may differ slightly from those for booking directly with United.

Finally, the pricing model used by the airline can affect the mileage requirements.

Some airlines, including United on certain routes, have adopted dynamic award pricing, which means that the miles needed for a flight can fluctuate based on factors like demand, seasonality, and remaining seat availability.

On the other hand, the traditional region-based pricing model uses award charts with set mileage requirements based on geographic regions.

Do You Have to Pay Extra for Fuel?

You might think booking an international flight with miles means getting a free ride, but there’s a little catch you should know about. When you use miles to book flights abroad, you may have to pay extra fuel surcharges and taxes.

These fees can range from just a few bucks to several hundred dollars, depending on where you’re going and which airline you’re flying with.

When you use miles to book a flight within the U.S., all the taxes are covered except for a small $5.60 departure security fee. But when you’re flying internationally, things work a bit differently. With many airline programs, you’re on the hook for all the international fees and taxes, even if you’ve paid for your entire trip with miles.

Let’s say you’re flying from the U.S. to London to give you an idea of what this might look like. Even if you’ve covered the cost of your economy ticket with miles, you could still be charged up to $151 in taxes for a one-way flight.

And if you’re looking to fly in style in a premium cabin, watch out! A one-way Upper-Class flight with Virgin Atlantic could set you back $826 in taxes and surcharges, even if you used miles to book it.

Is using miles for “free” flights always the best choice, especially when looking at premium cabins? It’s something to consider when you’re weighing your options.

So, while using miles can help you save on the base cost of your international flights, it’s important to remember that you might still have to shell out some extra cash for fuel surcharges and taxes.

How Many Miles to Upgrade on United?

So, you’re ready to use your United miles to upgrade your economy class seat to a higher fare class. But before you start dreaming of those cozy business-class seats, let’s talk numbers.

According to United, a United MileagePlus Program upgrade typically costs around 60,500 United MileagePlus miles plus a $125 co-pay, one-way. That might seem like many miles, but remember that this can vary depending on your route, fare class, and whether you’re flying on a United-operated flight or with a partner airline.

Now, here’s where things get a bit tricky. Remember that 47% devaluation we mentioned earlier? That means the number of miles needed for an upgrade could increase. So, if you plan to use your miles soon, it’s worth checking the current rates to avoid surprises.

To give you a clearer picture, let’s look at an example. Let’s say you’re flying from the United States to Europe. Before the devaluation, you could expect to pay around 40,000-60,000 miles for a main cabin seat or 80,000 miles for a Polaris business class seat. But now, with the devaluation, those prices have jumped to approximately 70,000-90,000 miles for economy class and a whopping 100,000 miles for business class.

Of course, these are rough estimates, and the miles needed for your United flight upgrade will depend on various factors. But one thing’s for sure: it pays to research and check the current rates before you commit to using your hard-earned United miles.

What are the Types of Upgrades?

A man reading a book on a dimly lit airplane, with a focus on his illuminated face by the reading light.

Now that you know how many United miles you might need for an upgrade, let’s get into the different types of upgrades available. After all, knowledge is power when maximizing your mileage plus upgrades.

MileagePlus Upgrade Awards

First up, we have MileagePlus Upgrade Awards (MUAs). These upgrades are your ticket to a swankier fare class on any United flight, no matter where you’re headed. The miles you’ll need can vary widely, from a mere 500,0000 on those long-haul journeys. But wait, there’s more! You’ll also need to shell out a co-pay, ranging from $75 to $600.

However, suppose you’re a premier member flying within the continental US, Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Alaska, or from the West Coast to Hawaii. In that case, you can say goodbye to that pesky co-pay.

Complimentary Premium Upgrades

Next, let’s talk about Complimentary Premium Upgrades (CPUs). These upgrades are the ultimate perk for elite members but are only available on specific routes. If you’re a frequent flyer, you might have seen these upgrades pop up on the boarding gate screens.

But did you know you could be confirmed for an upgrade well before entering the airport? That’s right, if you’re booked into the Y or B fare classes (the highest economy class fares) and there’s space on the plane, you’ll be instantly confirmed. And if you’re a Premier 1K or Global Services member flying in the M fare class, you’re also in luck!


Last but not least, we have PlusPoints. These are for Premier Platinum and 1K members. With PlusPoints, you’ll sit pretty at the top of the upgrade list, just below Global Service members. The best part? You only lose your PlusPoints when your upgrade clears, so you can book multiple upgrade requests and remove them if a higher one comes through.

And if you’re aiming for that coveted Polaris business class seat, you’ll only need to spend 30 PlusPoints from Premium Plus or 40 from Economy. Just remember, PlusPoints expires at the program year’s end, so use them or lose them!

Skipping the Waitlist

United has introduced Skip Waitlist awards, allowing Premier 1K members to instantly confirm upgrades on select international flights by spending double the PlusPoints. This means 110 PlusPoints from Economy to Polaris and 70 from Economy to Premium Plus.

However, there are significant drawbacks: these awards cannot be changed, must be booked 30 days in advance, and have a limited scope of use.

Using Skip Waitlist wisely is recommended, primarily for necessary flights or when points are close to expiring, and avoiding using it for Premium Plus upgrades. Travelers should carefully consider these factors before opting for Skip Waitlist awards.

Other Ways to Redeem United Miles 

The miles we discussed in the program can be redeemed for flight tickets, upgrades, hotel stays, and car rentals in the 10 ways we discuss now.

1. For Getting Some Extra Cash

If you’ve been saving up United MileagePlus miles, you might want to pay attention to some recent changes in the program.

Earlier this year, United increased the miles needed for award flights by up to 47%. That’s a pretty big jump, meaning your miles won’t stretch as far as they used to.

To make things even more confusing, United stopped publishing award charts. So, when booking a flight using miles, you won’t know how many you’ll need until you search for it. It’s kind of like a guessing game, which can be frustrating.

With all these changes, you might wonder if holding onto your United miles is still a good idea. If the value of miles keeps decreasing, your rewards could be worth less and less over time.

That’s where selling your miles to Top Dollar Payouts could be smart. By selling your miles, you’ll turn them into real cash you can use for anything. Plus, cash won’t lose its value like miles sometimes can.

2. Using United Miles For Hotels

Using your miles to book hotel rooms through United Hotels can be handy, but it’s often not the best luck for your miles. For example, a one-night stay at the Andaz Singapore costs $578.19 or 80,000 to 100,000 miles for a February 2024 stay, translating to about 0.7 cents per mile. Paying cash or using hotel loyalty points for such stays is typically more cost-effective.

3. Booking Cruises


Did you know your United miles could take you to the seas? United’s cruise partnership allows you to convert air miles into sea miles. The United cruise portal often features special promotions, allowing you to snag a voyage at a discounted rate.

Whether it’s the Caribbean blues or the Mediterranean sunsets, your miles can help you board a maritime adventure without dipping into your savings.

4. Club Membership

A United Club membership might be worth considering if you’re a frequent flyer looking for a more comfortable airport experience. With over 45 lounges worldwide, you can access quiet spaces to work or relax before your flight.

An annual membership costs 85,000 miles or $650, providing a per-mile value of just under 0.8 cents. While this may not seem like a great deal, the benefits, such as complimentary snacks, beverages, and Wi-Fi, could justify the cost for regular travelers who value comfort and convenience.

Ultimately, whether a United Club membership is worth your miles depends on your travel style and preferences, but it’s an option worth considering if you spend a lot of time in airports.

5. Cover TSA Pre Check

Additionally, you can redeem miles for TSA PreCheck. 11,000 miles, worth about 0.7 cents per mile, cover the $78 application fee.

However, consider this: applying for a United℠ Explorer Card not only covers this cost but also offers additional perks and a chance to earn a sign-up bonus. This approach maximizes both your savings and mile usage, providing more value in the long run.

6. Inflight Wifi

Using your United miles to snag some inflight Wi-Fi is an excellent way to stay connected, even when cruising above the clouds!

While this option is available on domestic flights, the cost in miles varies depending on the flight’s duration. United also offers a monthly Wi-Fi pass for $49 or 7,500 miles, which equates to a redemption value of about 0.65 cents per mile.

7. Airport Dining

Then, redeem United MileagePlus miles to settle your dining bills at select airports like Newark and Houston-Intercontinental. Scan your boarding pass when ordering at participating restaurants and choose to pay with miles at checkout.

The redemption value for dining with miles is roughly 0.7 cents per mile. This could be a convenient option if you want to use up some miles while enjoying a meal before your flight.

8. Get Exclusive Deals

MileagePlus members can use their miles for more than just flights. The program opens the door to exclusive events and unique experiences through MileagePlus Exclusives. You can bid on special inaugural flights or secure seats at major sporting events, among many other exciting possibilities.

Additionally, Chase cardmembers and United Premier members have access to extraordinary experiences like piloting a United flight simulator.

The program even extends to purchasing Apple products and e-gift cards with miles through the MileagePlus awards search tool, especially if you log into your account for potential special pricing.

9. Transferring United Miles to Mariott Bonvoy

Transferring your United miles to Marriott Bonvoy is possible at a 1:1 ratio, but consider this carefully. With Marriott Bonvoy points valued at 0.84 cents each compared to a higher valuation for United miles, you’d be taking a hit on the exchange.

This move should be reserved for situations where you need just a few more Marriott points to redeem for a precious stay, ensuring you maximize the potential of every point transferred.

10. On Merchandise

While it’s possible to spend your United miles on various merchandise ranging from electronics to home goods via United’s online store, the value you get back is not compelling.

For instance, the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, priced at 66,800 miles in the store, would be a poor choice as their retail value is $379—yielding a mere 0.58 cents per mile. Such redemptions generally do not offer good returns on your miles.

Another option, although not a particularly good one, is to redeem miles for newspaper and magazine subscriptions. However, using your miles offers a very low redemption value, making it an inefficient choice.

Another way to use your miles is to donate them to charity. United allows you to donate at least 1,000 miles to various charitable organizations. While this may not be the most value-efficient use of miles, it provides a meaningful way to contribute to causes you care about.

How Much Are United Miles Worth?

The worth of United miles can be determined by comparing it to other airline loyalty programs.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: Known for its significant value on routes to and from Alaska and some partner airlines, Alaska’s miles are particularly beneficial if Alaska is a frequent destination or departure point for you.

American Airlines AAdvantage: American’s miles shine on international travel, especially when booking premium cabin seats. If your travels often take you abroad, American miles could provide more value than United’s, offering flexibility and potentially lower costs for international routes.

Delta SkyMiles: Delta’s program is comparable to United’s in terms of redemption flexibility. The value of miles with both airlines tends to be similar, depending heavily on your specific destination and the availability of flights.

JetBlue TrueBlue: If your travel is primarily domestic, especially along the East Coast, JetBlue points may offer more value. They are often considered more advantageous for short-haul domestic flights within the U.S.

Southwest Rapid Rewards: Southwest points are highly valuable for domestic travel due to their lack of blackout dates and additional perks like free checked bags. For travelers focusing on U.S. destinations, Southwest can often surpass United in terms of value for domestic flights.

Ultimately, the value of your airline miles depends on your travel preferences and habits. Consider where you travel most often and which perks matter most when deciding which loyalty program offers the best value for your needs.

Why is Using United Miles Not Worth It?

Here’s why United Miles doesn’t provide good value when compared to cash price:

  1. Limited availability: Finding award flights for popular routes and peak seasons can be challenging, forcing you to use your miles on less desirable flights and reducing their value.
  2. Inconsistent award charts: Redemption rates can vary depending on the route, travel dates, and booking time, making it difficult to know if you’re getting the best value for your miles.
  3. Fuel surcharges: United may impose fuel surcharges on award flights, significantly reducing the value of your miles, especially for long-haul flights.
  4. Blackout dates: When award flights are unavailable, Blackout dates reduce your flexibility in using your miles for travel.
  5. Change and cancellation fees: Changing or canceling an award flight can incur fees deducted from your miles balance, making it less convenient to use your miles.
  6. Limited transferability: You cannot directly transfer your miles to another person unless there’s a specific promotion, limiting your options for using your miles to help others.
  7. Slow accumulation: Earning miles through everyday spending can be slow, which might not be ideal if you have a specific travel goal.
  8. High cost of buying miles: While United offers occasional promotions, buying miles outright is generally expensive and can negate any potential value advantage over selling your miles for cash.

These challenges might make the United MileagePlus Program appear less appealing. However, selling your miles to services like Top Dollar Payouts can offer a better return on investment than redeeming them through United Airlines partners.

This approach allows you to recover value effectively without any restrictions.

Why Does Selling Your Miles Make Sense?

Airline miles aren’t what they used to be. If you’ve been saving them, you might be disappointed to learn they’re losing value fast. Take United Airlines as an example. As we discussed, the value of their miles has dropped by 47%.

That’s right—nearly half of what they were worth just a few years ago. And it’s not just United. Other airlines are doing the same thing.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to sit back and watch your miles become worthless. You have options. And one of the smartest moves you can make is selling your miles to Top Dollar Payouts.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Fill out our simple online form with your name, email, contact number, loyalty program, and the number of points you wish to sell. Don’t worry if you don’t have a massive stockpile – our minimum point requirements vary by program.
  2. Check your inbox. You’ll receive a preliminary quote within 15 minutes. It’s your first glimpse into the cash potential of your miles.
  3. Next, a Top Dollar Payouts representative will discuss your quote in detail. We believe in transparency and will work with you to negotiate the best possible deal.
  4. Once you’re happy with the offer, we’ll guide you through our secure account verification process. This crucial step ensures the integrity and security of the transaction.
  5. After a thorough review of your account, we move quickly to payment. Choose PayPal, and you can see funds in your account within a day. Prefer a bank wire transfer? We’ll confirm a flight booking before initiating the transfer to your account.

Using United miles for free flights may seem appealing, but its limitations can reduce its value. Selling your miles to Top Dollar Payouts is the simplest way to maximize your rewards.

Our secure platform and competitive rates ensure you receive fair value for your miles, often exceeding what you’d get through traditional redemptions. Click here to get an initial quote and discover the true worth of your United miles.


How Much is 50000 United Air Miles Worth?

50,000 United MileagePlus miles are typically valued at approximately $600. However, this estimate can fluctuate based on current redemption options and market conditions.

How Many United Miles to Fly to Europe Round Trip?

The number of United Miles required for a round trip to Europe can vary. An economy ticket typically starts at 70,000-100,000 miles, while business and first-class tickets can range up to 300,000 miles or more.

How Do I Use My Miles to Pay for a Flight?

When booking a flight, you can choose your payment method. Options include paying 100% with a credit card, 100% with Miles (except for taxes & fees), or a combination of credit card and Miles.

How to Get Free Seat Upgrades on United?

Complimentary Premier Upgrades are free, space-available upgrades for Premier members on select United and United Express flights. Cardholder Premier members may be able to use this type of upgrade on award flights. You can get a Complimentary Premier Upgrade for one travel companion on some flights.

Can You Use Miles to Pay For Part of a Ticket With United?

Yes, United offers a “Money + Miles” option that allows you to pay for part of your ticket with miles. However, this option will use up all of your miles and may not provide the best value for your miles.

How Do I Cash Out My United Miles?

You can use your United Miles through your United account and then sell your miles to Top Dollar Payouts. This way, you can get real money for your miles instead of dealing with the limitations of traditional redemption options.

How many United Airlines miles for a free ticket to Europe?

Typically, you would need around 70,000 to 100,000 United miles for a free ticket to Europe. This estimation assumes standard award availability and could vary with flight options and booking times.