United Airlines MileagePlus is my go-to program for redeeming Economy Class awards to Europe or Asia. With great redemption rates and 1:1 instant transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards, MileagePlus provides some fantastic deals when redeeming for Economy Class flights.
Sadly the same can’t be said for Business Class or First Class bookings through MileagePlus. United does charge ridiculous amounts of miles for some regions where other frequent flyer programs charge much less. For example, a Lufthansa First Class ticket from Europe to North America will cost you 110k miles when redeeming through United… or just 70k Aeroplan miles when redeeming through Air Canada’s frequent flyer program.
Nevertheless, United’s MileagePlus is still a fantastic Star Alliance frequent flyer program with some interesting sweetspots. While MileagePlus is a region-based program, it does feature distance-based redemptions… to some extent. These are short, usually nonstop flights within a single region. The beauty is that these awards do not cost a ton of miles whereas they might cost a lot of cash if buying last minute.
5k: Flights in Japan
United has interesting pricing for flights inside of Japan. They cost just 5,000 miles one-way in Economy Class – that applies to all trips inside of Japan, not just nonstop flights. For example, a flight from Sapporo to Osaka via Tokyo will cost just 5k miles one-way on Star Alliance partner ANA – that’s an incredible deal.
If you do not have United Airlines miles, you could also use British Airways’ distance-based program and redeem Avios on Japan Airlines. The redemptions in Japan are quite interesting because United allows you connecting flights for no additional cost. With United’s 8k sweetspot (see below), the flights must be nonstop.
7k: Flights in Hawaii
United Airlines partners with Hawaiian Airlines (not a Star Alliance member) for flights in Hawaii, which means you can redeem your MileagePlus miles for these flights. Flights in Hawaii cost 7,000 miles in Economy Class one-way, even if you have connecting flights. You can fly, for example, from Lihue to Kona via Honolulu in Economy for 7k miles.
Flights in Hawaii can be expensive, usually around holidays or last-minute flights, so redeeming United miles is a great deal. Hawaiian Airlines has a ton of flights between the islands, so finding an award seat isn’t hard.
8k: Flights under 800 Miles
United Airlines recently introduced this new sweetspot and it hasn’t existed for a long time. You can book any Star Alliance flight outside of the United States and Canada for 8,000 United Airlines MileagePlus miles as long as the flight is under 800 miles in distance and it is a nonstop flight, of course in Economy Class.
This is great for intra-Europe travel on airlines like Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian, etc. that charge a fortune for last minute one-way flights. A simple Frankfurt – Munich flight can go for over $500 last minute… or just 8k United miles (transfer Chase points).
10k: Short U.S. Flights
The standard price for a one-way Economy Class flight in North America is 12,500 miles in Economy Class. However, for shorter trips, United will price certain flights for less than 12.5k. For example, Seattle – San Francisco is generally 10,000 miles one-way in Economy Class… even if the flight isn’t nonstop. Even with a connection through Los Angeles, it will generally still cost 10k. This applies to other shorter trips as well, such as Newark – Boston, which will also 10k miles.
The 10k and 12.5k price for a one-way trip will be booked into Economy (X) class and therefore X class must be available. If you see a trip costing more than 12.5k, then it likely isn’t a Saver Award but rather a more expensive non-Saver Award and won’t book into “X” Class.
12.5k: The “Standard” Price – Maximize It!
A one-way Economy Class trip in North America will cost you the standard price of 12,500 miles. However, did you know you can truly maximize that price when traveling to Canada? Star Alliance partner Air Canada operates flights to numerous Canadian destinations on which you can redeem your MileagePlus miles. The continental U.S. and Canada are considered the same zone, so Saver Awards will cost 12.5k miles one-way in Economy Class.
You could literally fly across the continent from Whitehorse to Miami via Vancouver and Montreal for just 12.5k miles one-way in Economy Class. This trip can cost more than $600 USD, so it is a fantastic use of miles. You will pay more in taxes and fees on the award ticket as there are Canadian fees added, but it still will be worth it compared to the expensive cash ticket.
United’s MileagePlus frequent flyer program has a few distance-based sweetspots which I consider to be fantastic and use them on a daily-basis when booking flights for clients. Most people have Chase Ultimate Rewards and therefore they easily have United miles.
Keep in mind that United Airlines does charge a $75 last-minute booking fee if redeeming miles for flights within 21 days of departure. If you are a MileagePlus elite member, this fee is lowered or waived. Elite Members and certain Credit Cardholders have access to more Economy Class saver-level award space, which is a great benefit.
Remember to check all of your options before booking, as the same flight might cost much less when booking through another program. Remember that if you have AMEX, Chase, Citi, or SPG/Marriott points, you can transfer them to a variety of programs, so be sure to check which redemption is the best!