United Airlines isn’t exactly known for a providing a wonderful service in First and Business Class. United has been struggling to shine and while their new Polaris Business Class product has been revolutionary for the airline, major cuts to the experience have left many passengers disappointed.
However, United’s frequent flyer program, MileagePlus, is actually fantastic – it is one of the best Star Alliance frequent flyer programs. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio to United and you can transfer Starwood Preferred Guest points to United at a 1:0.5 ratio (not a great value).
United shines in that their Star Alliance award flight search function and calendar is amazing. Whenever searching for Star Alliance award space, everyone should use United.com and then call their desired frequent flyer program to book. United’s website will display endless options for award travel – so you’ll easily be able to find your desired flight combination.
United’s MileagePlus frequent flyer program offers some excellent award redemption rates. Here are my favourite ways to redeem United Airlines miles.
Short, Non-Stop Flights Under 800 Miles
Non-stop flights with a flight distance of under 800 miles cost just 8k United miles in Economy. The flights must be outside of North America (so flights on Air Canada and United Airlines are excluded).
Here are a few examples of flights that price for 8k miles in Economy Class:
- Frankfurt – Munich on Lufthansa
- Zurich – Paris on SWISS
- Lima – Cusco on Avianca
- Athens – Islands in Greece on Aegean
- Flights around New Zealand with Air New Zealand
- Flights around Japan with ANA
There are an infinite number of 800-mile flights which can be booked for just 8k miles. The beauty of this award is that sometimes last minute, short flights cost a fortune – so it is great to be able to redeem just 8k miles. Keep in mind that United Airlines charges a $75 USD close-in booking fee if booking flights within 21 days of departure (fees waived or reduced for elite members).
Flying Lufthansa First Class
As far as I am concerned, the best Star Alliance First Class is Lufthansa’s. There’s no better way to fly. Booking Lufthansa First Class can be a challenge as Lufthansa only releases First Class award seats to partner airlines at most 14 days prior to departure – so last minute booking is required.
While no fuel surcharges are imposed on Lufthansa, United Airlines does charge a fortune for partner airline First Class awards:
- Germany to North America: 110k miles one-way
- Germany to South America: 125k miles one-way
- Germany to Middle East: 60k miles one-way
- Germany to Asia: 115k miles one-way
Lufthansa First Class is worth every mile to me, and therefore I don’t mind paying such high costs – it is an amazing product and everyone should fly it at least once in their life.
Flights within the 48 States, Alaska, or Canada under 700 Miles
Sometimes last minute domestic flights can cost a fortune. Luckily, MileagePlus can save you a ton of money. United tens to release most domestic flight award availability closer to departure – so redeeming miles for a last minute flight can work in your favour. Normally one-way domestic flights cost 12.5k miles, however if the flight is under 700 miles, it will cost just 10k United miles. Examples include Seattle to San Francisco, San Francisco to Los Angeles, Newark to Boston, etc.
I recently needed to fly to San Francisco from Seattle last minute and most flights were pricing out for over $380 last minute. United’s flight cost me 10k miles + $5.60 (I didn’t pay the $75 close-in fee as I hold elite status so it was waived). Hell, sometimes it may even be worth paying the $75 close-in fee to save a few hundred dollars. It all depends on your situation.
Asia to Australia in First Class for 65k Miles
You can fly THAI Airways from Asia to Australia for just 65k miles in First Class. Now, of course, this 65k mile price also applies to other Star Alliance airlines in this region, however the only other option would be Singapore Airlines which rarely releases First Class award space to Star Alliance partners.
THAI features a wonderful First Class product with a fantastic First Class Lounge in Bangkok along with a Spa. You can fly something like Hong Kong to Bangkok to Sydney for 65k miles in First Class. You could even stop in Bangkok for up to 23 hours 59 minutes on a one-way ticket if you wanted to (since it would be considered a layover, if under 24 hours).
Business Class from North America to South Africa for 80k Miles
United Airlines charges 60k miles for their Business Class flights to Europe or 70k miles for partner Business Class flights to Europe (one-way). However, for an additional 10-20k miles, you can fly to South Africa (twice the travel time in Business Class). While there are direct flights available on South African Airways to South Africa, you can also route through Europe for a better experience.
Here’s a fantastic itinerary I was able to find for 80k miles plus taxes of under $100:
- Seattle – San Francisco in United Airlines First Class
- San Francisco – Los Angeles in United Airlines First Class
- Los Angeles – Vienna in Austrian Airlines Business Class
- Vienna to Zurich in Austrian Airlines Business Class
- Zurich to Johannesburg in SWISS Business Class
What’s even better is that I was able to build in a 23h Layover in both Vienna and Zurich – so I could explore those cities for a day. All of this on one ticket for just 80k miles – that’s a fantastic deal.
United Airlines Partner Airlines
You can redeem United Airlines miles on all Star Alliance airlines and also on ALL United Airlines partner airlines, which include:
- Aer Lingus
- Air Dolomiti
- Azul Brazilian Airlines
- Cape Air
- Edelweiss Air
- Great Lakes
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Silver Airways
You can even mix some of these airlines with United or Star Alliance flights on the same ticket!
United Airlines’ MileagePlus frequent flyer program features a great number of award redemptions. Those listed above are my favourite ways to redeem United miles. The best ways to earn United Airlines miles are through the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card which can earn you up to 3 miles per dollar spent (on travel and dining).
MileagePlus is a powerful frequent flyer program as it features an amazing number of partner airlines, decent award rates, doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on all airlines, and the website shows tons of different flight options when searching – so you can really customise your routing as you would like.