United MileagePlus—How to Book an Award Ticket

Updated: Mar 13

The first time I rode my bicycle without training wheels—I crashed. For most of us, when we try something for the first time, we experience an undesirable result. Booking an Award Ticket for the first time may feel a bit overwhelming for some of us—especially if we have never done it before. Rest assured—you are not alone! The following article will provide you with a simple guide on how to book an Award Ticket through United MileagePlus®—the frequent-flyer program of United Airlines.


United MileagePlus is a popular loyalty program of United Airlines
United MileagePlus is a well-rounded frequent-flyer program to get started with Award Travel. Image courtesy of Unsplash

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Getting Started With United MileagePlus®


United Airlines is a major American airline that operates domestic and international routes; it is the third-largest airline in the world. There are eight hubs: Chicago—O'Hare; Denver; Guam; Houston—Intercontinental; Los Angeles; Newark; San Francisco; and Washington—Dulles. United Airlines is part of the largest airline alliance in the world—the Star Alliance.


Star Alliance airline partners:

  • Aegean

  • Air Canada

  • Air China

  • Air India

  • Air New Zealand

  • ANA

  • Asiana Airlines

  • Austrian

  • Avianca

  • Brussels Airlines

  • Copa Airlines

  • Croatia Airlines

  • EGYPTAIR

  • Ethiopian

  • Eva Air

  • Polish Airlines

  • Lufthansa

  • SAS

  • Shenzhen Airlines

  • Singapore Airlines

  • South African Airways

  • SWISS

  • Air Portugal

  • THAI

  • Turkish Airlines

  • United Airlines

Other airline partners:

  • Aer Lingus

  • Aeromar

  • Air Dolomiti

  • Azul

  • Boutique Air

  • Cape Air

  • Edelweiss

  • Eurowings

  • Eurowings Discover

  • Hawaiian Airlines

  • Olympic Air

  • Silver Airways

  • Vistara

Getting started with the United MileagePlus® loyalty program is a simple process that can be done online. When you create your account, be sure to enter your name and date of birth exactly as they appear on your government-issued ID. (E.g. driver's license, passport, etc.)


After you create your account, you will receive an email from United with your United MileagePlus® number. You will need this number when logging into your account, booking an Award Ticket, or earning miles while flying on United Airlines or other partner airlines.


United Airlines removed their award charts from their site and are now a dynamic program. That means they price their award tickets based on the demand/ cash price of the airfare. Although it can be more difficult to get outsized value, there are Saver Awards and other specials that make United MileagePlus® a loyalty program not to neglect!


Credit Cards to Earn United Miles


There are a number of ways to amass a plethora of United Miles that can be redeemed for an Award Ticket. One of the easiest ways for most of us is by selecting the right credit card(s). Specifically, selecting a credit card that offers a large welcome bonus!


Of course, not all credit cards earn miles or points that can be redeemed for an Award Ticket through United MileagePlus®. Thankfully, United Airlines is a transfer partner of Chase. This is great news! Chase, in my opinion, offers some of the best credit card products, and they have a robust transfer partner program. Any Chase Ultimate Rewards®-earning credit card can be used to accumulate points that can subsequently be transferred to your United MileagePlus® account—provided you have one of the following Chase credit cards to complete the transfer: Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, or Chase Ink Business Preferred®.


In my opinion, the best credit card to get started within Award Travel is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. The current welcome bonus is 60,000 Ultimate Rewards®! You can apply for this card here! If you would like to learn more about this credit card, please see the following post: Chase Sapphire Preferred—The Best Credit Card Just Got Better!


United Airlines also offers co-branded credit cards through Chase that directly earn United MileagePlus® Miles. Again, one way to "stockpile" miles is by means of the welcome bonus. United offers the following credit cards: United Gateway℠ Card, United℠ Explorer Card, United Quest℠ Card, United Club℠ Card, United℠ Business Card, or United Club℠ Business Card.


In my opinion, the best United co-branded card is United Quest℠ Card. The current welcome bonus is 80,000 United MileagePlus® Miles! You can apply for this card here! If you would like to learn more about this credit card, please see the following post: United Quest Card—The Best Airline Credit Card!


Strategically Working to Increase Your United Miles


There are a number of strategies you can use to increase your supply of United miles. This includes opening multiple credit cards—those that earn Ultimate Rewards® + those that earn United MileagePlus® Miles. Keep in mind that you will want to be cognizant of "Chase's 5/24 rule." This "rule" indicates you will not be approved a Chase credit card—including their co-branded credit cards— if you have opened five or more credit cards—across all banks—within the last 24 months. (I.e. American Express, Capital One, etc.)


Families can work together in "two-player mode." This is a way for two individuals to work together to increase their credit card rewards which can then be redeemed for Award Travel. To learn more about this strategy, please see the following post: Getting Approved for a Credit Card While Unemployed—Why You Don't Want to Miss Out!


Taking advantage of the United Mileage Plus X app, United MileagePlus Shopping, and other promotions offered by United are some additional ways to increase miles. Chase also has their own shopping portal, Shop Through Chase, which rewards its cardmembers with Ultimate Rewards® points.


Let the Award Booking Begin!


Let's assume that you applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and received the 60,000 Ultimate Rewards® welcome bonus—along with the points earned by meeting the minimum spend amount—and are ready to book your first Award Ticket! Your origin is Columbus, Ohio. Your destination is London, England. Your date of departure is Saturday, May 28, 2022, and your date of return is Saturday, June 4, 2022.


During your trip to Europe, you would also like to visit Athens, Greece for a few days. You will also need to purchase a roundtrip ticket for this part of your trip.


Cash Price


Your first step is to determine the cash price of these routes. Using Google Flights, we are able to find a cash price for the economy roundtrip at $949 between CMH and LHR. Below are the departure and return flights:


Google Flights departure CMH to LHR
CMH to LHR departure cash flight. Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights
Google Flights LHR to CMH
LHR to CMH return cash flight. Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights

The departure on the cash flight is with United Airlines; the return on the cash flight is with another Star Alliance carrier—Air Canada. The total cost, assuming we have one checked bag ($140), is $1,089:


Total costs from Google Flights between CMH and LHR
The sum total of Basic Economy + one checked bag is $1,089. Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights

Next, we need to plan our roundtrip between London, England, and Athens, Greece. The departure on the cash flight is on May 31st with British Airways and the cash price for the economy round trip is $181:


Google Flights LHR to ATH departure
LHR to ATH departure cash flight. Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights

The return on the cash flight is on June 3rd with Sky Express:


Google Flights ATH to LHR return
ATH to LHR return cash flight. Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights

The total cost, assuming we have one checked bag ($83), is $264:


The sum total of Basic Economy from LHR to ATH on Google Flights is $264
The sum total of Basic Economy + one checked bag is $264. Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights

The total cost for both roundtrip itineraries is $1,353. That is a good bargain to pay cash.


Award Booking


Now, let's see how we could book a similar itinerary using our 60,000 + United miles, and compare it to the cash fare. Our first step would be to go to United's website and "Book a flight." Be sure to log in to your account and select "Miles" and "Multi-city:"


United's Award Booking portal
Be sure to select "Miles" and "Multi-city." Screenshot courtesy of United

Here is a pro tip: When booking an Award Ticket, it generally is better to book one way as opposed to roundtrip or multi-city. This gives you more control and flexibility when booking your ticket.


However, in this instance, we are going to take advantage of United's Excursionist Perk, and you need to book it as "Multi-city" to benefit. Essentially, this allows you to add a free one-way award segment to your booking. It also allows for an open-jaw itinerary; however, there are requirements that must be met in order to qualify for this perk. The example we are using fits within the scope of United's guidelines.


Next, add your first destination—Columbus, Ohio to London, England:


The first destination within United's Excursionist Perk
Your first destination in your multi-city itinerary. Screenshot courtesy of United

Then, add your second destination—London, England to Athens, Greece. This is your "free" segment—you will only need to pay the fees for this ticket:


The second destination of United's Excursionist Perk
Your second destination in your multi-city itinerary. Screenshot courtesy of United

Finally, add your third destination—Athens, Greece to Columbus, Ohio. This is your ticket back home:


The third destination as part of United's Excursionist Perk
Your third destination in your multi-city itinerary. Screenshot courtesy of United

The total miles required to book all 3 destinations—60,000 miles + $144.59 in fees!


60,000 miles + $144.59 in fees for CMH-LHR-ATH-CMH on United
60,000 miles + $144.59 in fees. Screenshot courtesy of United

And, by using select United co-branded credit cards through Chase, you will not have to pay for one—or two—checked bags. My wife has the United Quest℠ Card, which comes with free 1st and 2nd checked bags, and a $125 annual United purchase credit! Using this credit would essentially reduce the $145.57 in fees to $19.59. You can apply for this card here!


Chase's Travel Portal


If you have enough Ultimate Rewards®, you will also want to use Chase's Travel Portal to compare the points you would need to book a ticket there versus booking using United miles. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you will receive a 50% points boost! If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, or Chase Ink Business Preferred® you will receive a 25% points boost.


In this instance, using the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the number of points needed to book the roundtrip itinerary from Columbus, Ohio to London, England is 74,616:


Chase's Travel Portal booking a roundtrip ticked from CMH to LHR
The number of Chase Ultimate Rewards® Points to book on their Travel Portal—74,616. Screenshot courtesy of Chase

And, the number of points needed to book the roundtrip itinerary from London, England to Athens, Greece is 18,984:


Booking a roundtrip ticket on Chase's Travel Portal from LHR to ATH