United MileagePlus Rewards Program: Your Complete Guide

A United plane prepares to taxi.
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United / Getty Images

United Airlines is the third-largest passenger airline in the world and its loyalty program offers surprisingly good value, especially for first-class and international travelers. But to get that value, you’ll need to know the ins and outs of the MileagePlus Rewards program.

What Is the United MileagePlus Program?

The United MileagePlus program is the frequent flier program for United Airlines. United officially launched the MileagePlus program in 1981.

You can earn MileagePlus loyalty miles in a lot of ways, such as flying on United Airlines or partner airlines, using a United Airlines credit card, or even eating at certain restaurants. You can redeem your miles for award flights, hotel stays, cruises, gift cards, and more.  

You’ll have plenty of award-flight choices, too: United Airlines operates nearly 5,000 flights per day to six different continents. It partners with over 35 different airlines throughout the world and is a member of the Star Alliance, too. 

How Can You Enroll in the United MileagePlus Program?

You can easily sign up for the MileagePlus program by filling out a form on the program website. You can also sign up for one of United Airline’s credit cards and, if you don’t already have an account, United will establish one for you so your miles have someplace to go. You’ll get a membership number as a part of your enrollment. It’s a good idea to write this number down somewhere since you’ll need it to make sure you earn miles in the future. 

What Are the United Airlines Hubs?

United Airlines is based out of Chicago, Illinois but operates hubs throughout the U.S.:

  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): Newark, NJ
  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD): Chicago, IL 
  • Denver International Airport (DIA): Denver, CO
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH): Houston, TX
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): Los Angeles, CA
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO): San Francisco, CA
  • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD): Washington, D.C.
  • Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport (GUM): Tamuning, Guam
Pros
  • Miles never expire

  • Thousands of domestic and international flight destinations

  • Multiple options for earning and redeeming miles

  • Miles have a lot of value, especially for international flights

Cons
  • Fees for changing your award ticket and booking over the phone

  • You may have to deal with blackout dates and award seat restrictions

How to Earn United MileagePlus Miles

There are many ways you can earn miles. We’ll start with the easiest ways and work our way downwards:

Fly United Airlines

The most straightforward way to earn miles with United is by flying on United flights. You’ll earn at least 5 miles per dollar spent on your fare on United and United-operated flights. You’ll just need to remember to enter your MileagePlus member number when you make the reservation. 

It’s a good idea to check your boarding pass when you get it to make sure your MileagePlus number is on it. Keep it after the flight, too, in case there are any problems. Your miles should be posted to your account within 48 hours after you land, but in case there are any hang-ups, your boarding pass serves as your receipt. 

It’s also important to keep in mind that your ticket will include government-imposed fees and taxes, and these won’t earn any miles. So, the final price of the flight isn’t necessarily how much you’ll earn in rewards—the base fare is. 

You’re limited to earning 75,000 miles per ticket. That’d be an expensive flight, but still something to keep in mind if you’re going on a first-class, round-the-world trip.

Fly Partner Airlines Such as Lufthansa or Air Canada

You can earn miles by flying with one of United Airlines’ 37 partner airlines through one-off partnerships and the Star Alliance group:

  • Aegean
  • Aer Lingus
  • Aeromar
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air Dolomiti
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian
  • Avianca
  • Azul
  • Boutique Air
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Cape Air
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • Edelweiss
  • Eurowings
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian
  • EVA Air
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Olympic Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Silver Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thai 
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Vistara

How many miles you earn on these partner airlines depends on how you book your ticket. If you book your ticket through United for a flight with a partner airline, you’ll earn the normal 5 miles per dollar spent. If you book directly with the partner airline, though, you’ll earn miles based on the distance of your flight and the class you booked.

Use United Airlines Credit Cards

You can boost your miles earnings even further by earning rewards on spending through one of United Airlines’ credit cards, issued by Chase Bank. You’ll want to do the math first, though, to make sure that you’ll come out ahead after any annual fees. The welcome bonuses and rewards earning rates on these can be particularly lucrative, especially for the top-tier cards:

  • United Gateway Card: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United, gas station, and local transit purchases, and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else.
  • United Explorer Card: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United, delivery services, restaurant, and hotel purchases (when booked directly with the hotel), and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. 
  • United Club Infinite Card: Earn 4 miles per $1 spent on United purchases; 2 miles per $1 spent on restaurants, travel, and delivery services; and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. 
  • United Business Card: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United, restaurants and eligible delivery services, gas stations, office supply stores, and local transit, and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else.

These cards offer plenty of perks, too. Each of them gives you a 25% back as a statement credit for inflight purchases like food, drinks, and W-Fi; and—importantly—there are no blackout dates. The Explorer and Club Infinite cards offer benefits like free checked bags, a credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck applications, United Club lounge use, and more.  

Stay at Partner Hotels Such as Marriott or Hyatt 

You can also earn miles by staying at any one of 15,000 partner hotels. The list of which partner hotels qualify is about a mile long, but you can also search through the United Hotels, Rocketmiles, or PointsHound booking portals to find a hotel. 

The amount of rewards you can earn at each hotel varies dramatically. For example, a stay at a Marriott hotel could earn you an extra 1,000 miles if you book a room via your flight reservation. But if you book through the United Hotels portal or choose MileagePlus miles as your earning preference for Marriott stays, you’ll instead earn 2 miles per $1 spent. 

Other Ways to Earn Miles

There are a lot of other ways you can earn too, even without taking your feet off the ground:

  • Go on a cruise: Book a cruise through the United Cruises portal and earn up to 45,000 miles.
  • Rent a car through Hertz, Thrifty, or Dollar: Earn up to 1,250 miles with Hertz, or 50 miles per day or 500 miles per rental of five days or more with Thrifty or Dollar.
  • Shop through MileagePlus Shopping: Earn various amounts of miles for shopping with more than 900 partners through the MileagePlus Shopping portal. 
  • Eat out with MileagePlus Dining: Earn miles at over 11,000 restaurants, bars, and clubs around the U.S. with the MileagePlus Dining program. 
  • Download the MileagePlus X app: Use this app to find restaurants and shops where you can earn even more miles.
  • Book a vacation package through United: You can earn an additional 2 miles per dollar by booking a vacation package through United Packages.  
  • Buy an e-gift card: Earn various amounts of miles for buying a digital gift card at one of over 270 merchants through the MileagePlus eGift Cards portal.
  • Get a mortgage: If you get a mortgage through Quicken Loans, you could be eligible for up to 25,000 miles when you purchase a new home or refinance your current one.
  • Featured deals: MileagePlus offers limited-time deals with certain partners. For example, in January 2021, you could earn 10,000 miles per night when you book hotels with Rocketmiles.
  • Buy miles: You can buy miles at a rate of $35 per 1,000 miles (minimum: 2,000 miles) if you need just a bit more to reach your target redemption. 

Do United MileagePlus Miles Expire?

Generally, no. There are no requirements to have activity on your account within certain time limits. However, you can lose your miles for certain things like not responding to communication requests about your account status, closing your account, or passing away.

How to Use United MileagePlus Miles

While there are many ways to use your miles, they have the most value when you redeem them for flights. 

Book United Airlines Flights

The most valuable way to use your miles is by booking a United flight. Each mile is worth 2.19 cents on average when you use them this way, but you can sweeten the deal even further by redeeming them for certain types of United flights. 

There are no round-trip award tickets. To book travel there and back again, you’ll need to book two one-way flights. 

Your miles are only worth about 1.03 cents each when you use them for domestic flights, but international trips are where United really shines. Your miles are worth an average of 3.03 cents each when you use them to book international economy seats, and a whopping 3.66 cents each when you use them for first-class or business seats on international flights.  

You can redeem your miles through the United rewards site or by calling United, but you’ll pay a $25 phone booking fee. You’ll pay up to a $75 fee for any changes to an award flight, and up to $125 if you miss the flight and want your miles back or cancel your flight. You’ll also have to pay any other fees that aren’t directly from the airline, such as terminal facility fees or federal inspection fees.

Additionally, United offers an “Excursionist Perk” where you can get a free award flight on certain multi-city itineraries. In order to qualify, you’ll need to book the trip with the middle leg being in a different geographic area and beginning and ending at the same location. 

Book Flights With Partner Airlines

You can also use your miles to book flights with any of the partner airlines mentioned above. Since United Airlines doesn’t control its partner airlines, it’s possible that there may be other award restrictions like blackout dates for award trips on its partner airlines. 

Buy Ticket Upgrades

United allows you to redeem your miles for ticket upgrades, too, but you can only do so on flights that you pay for, not award flights. Even then, if you purchase a Basic Economy ticket or a deeply discounted fare, you’re not eligible to upgrade your seat with miles at all. 

If you are eligible to book an upgraded seat, however, you can do so while you’re booking your flight. You can also request an upgrade with miles by calling United Reservations at 1-800-UNITED-1 (1-800-864-8331), inquiring at the gate or check-in counter within 24 hours of departure, or signing in to your MileagePlus account online.  

Other Ways to Use MileagePlus Miles

Since your miles don’t expire, there’s no harm in waiting until you’re ready to use your miles for flights. But if you really don’t anticipate flying on United at all you can also use your miles in other ways—you just likely won’t get as much value from them as for flights. You can redeem miles for a wide range of things:

  • Buy an e-gift card
  • Donate miles to a charity
  • Eat at certain airport restaurants
  • Buy magazine or newspaper subscriptions
  • Shop for merchandise, including Apple devices
  • Buy in-flight United Wi-Fi, United Club membership, or TSA Precheck
  • Book hotel stays, car rentals, events, Broadway shows, and cruises

United Airlines Elite Status

If you take enough flights (or spend enough money on them) you can earn elite status through the MileagePlus Premier program. There are four levels: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and 1K. 

How to Earn MileagePlus Premier Status

There are two ways to qualify for elite status with United Airlines. You can qualify based on the number of Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs) and Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) you earn, or you can qualify based on a higher threshold of PQPs. In addition to these tier requirements, you’ll need to fly at least four flight segments on United or United Express flights to qualify.

Each flight segment you book is worth 1 PQF and each PQP is calculated based on your fare. 

You’ll earn 80% fewer PQPs on preferred partner airlines and 83% fewer PQPs on other partner airlines.  

The exact amount you’ll need of each to reach each tier level varies. The following requirements are valid through 2022:

Tier Level Premier Qualifying Flights + Premier Qualifying Points Premier Qualifying Points alone
Premier Silver 8 PQFs and 3,000 PQPs 3,500
Premier Gold 16 PQFs and 6,000 PQPs 7,000
Premier Platinum 24 PQFs and 9,000 PQPs 10,000
Premier 1K 36 PQFs and 13,500 PQPs 15,000

You can also earn more PQPs by using certain United Airlines-branded credit cards. United Airlines has many older credit cards that are eligible to earn based on a certain schedule. But for the ones that are still available (except for the United Gateway Card), you can earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 you spend on the card, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQPs per calendar year for current cards and up to 4,000 PQP’s for older cards.

Benefits of MileagePlus Premier Status

Premier status comes with a lot of handy perks that can help you save money and enjoy a better flight experience. Each tier level lets you check at least one bag for free. You’ll also earn more MileagePlus miles on flights: You’ll earn an additional 2 to 6 miles per $1 spent depending on your tier level. At the highest tier levels, you can even get a free drink and snack if you’re flying in Economy. 

Each tier level comes with a lot of other benefits too. For a full list of perks, see the United Airlines website.  

Key Takeaways

  • United Airlines offers a lot of ways to earn miles through an extensive list of partners. 
  • You can earn additional miles by pairing your account up with a United Airlines credit card. 
  • The MileagePlus program offers an impressive list of ways to redeem your miles.
  • You get the most value out of your miles when you use them for international flights.