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Points, Miles & Credit Cards

How to Book Award Flights Through United MileagePlus

Matt Ortile

Matt Ortile

September 6, 2023

7 min read

Table of Contents

Going has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Going and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities.

This guide has the information you need to book flights with points and miles through United MileagePlus, United’s airline loyalty program. 

What is United MileagePlus?

United MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program of both United. You can use United MileagePlus miles to book award flights on United or their partners—that includes other Star Alliance airlines like Lufthansa, TAP Air Portugal, and ANA All Nippon Airways.

To earn United MileagePlus miles, you can fly with United and/or Star Alliance airlines, then credit those flights to your MileagePlus account. Additionally, you can transfer credit card points from Chase to United MileagePlus at a one-to-one (1:1) ratio. That means 1,000 Chase points transferred to United become 1,000 MileagePlus miles.

How to book flights through United MileagePlus

Step 1: Go to United’s website and log in with your United MileagePlus account number.

If you don’t have a United MileagePlus account, get one by clicking “Sign up” in the upper-right corner of the screen.

You can still search for flights even when you’re not logged in, but MileagePlus members may have better luck seeing award availability based on elite status with the airline or co-branded credit cards they have linked to their accounts.

Step 2: Go to the flight search engine and check the “Book with miles” box.

Step 3: Enter your departure airport and your arrival airport, and pick your departure date.

Depending on your itinerary, you might have better luck finding award availability by searching for one-way flights and one passenger at a time. 

Once you find available flights for your desired departure and return, you can then try booking the flights as a roundtrip—or even as a multi-city trip—on one reservation. (Write down flight numbers and other details as you come across available flights, then use that info to make your complete booking.)

The same goes for the number of seats you need. When you search for multiple seats at once, United will present you with the total cost in miles for all passengers for each flight once you review your shopping cart.

And here’s a tip: You have the option to look for flights on specific days, but if you tick the “Flexible dates” box on the search engine, you can browse for award space (i.e. seats bookable with miles) in a monthly calendar view, which allows you greater visibility into what’s available.

Step 4: Browse through the flight options.

In the United award search tool, you can filter by number of stops, total duration of travel (including connections), aircraft, class of service, and more.

In addition to the monthly calendar view, there’s the option to look at flights week by week. If you can’t see a ticket you like on one day but are flexible on the dates you’re flying, you can select another day—in both the monthly and weekly views—without having to re-enter your search requirements.

Step 5: Review the award flight you want to book. 

To review the finer details of what’s included in your fare, click “Details” and a drop-down will appear with more information on your selected flight.

On flights operated by United, you can also click on “Seats” and you’ll be shown the plane’s seat map.

Step 6: Select your flight and finalize your booking.

Click on the flight you want to book (the square showing the award should turn purple when you hover over it). Proceed with your booking as you normally would. Enter your passenger details and payment information, and complete your purchase. The points you selected to pay will be deducted from your account, and you’ll get a booking confirmation email in your inbox.

Why should I (or shouldn’t I) book award flights via United MileagePlus?

To be honest, you shouldn’t default to using United MileagePlus to book award flights—at least not anymore. That’s because in the spring of 2023, the United MileagePlus program underwent a devaluation, meaning: United increased the points cost of their award tickets in all classes of service by roughly 30%. The United website’s search engine can still be a good tool for when you’re looking for award space on United or on most Star Alliance airlines, but more often than not, you’ll get more value out of your points by actually booking with another Star Alliance airline loyalty program, like Air Canada’s Aeroplan.

Here’s one example:  a one-way flight in economy on United from San Francisco to Honolulu, booked through United MileagePlus could cost anywhere between 25,000 miles to 41,100 miles and $5.60 in taxes and fees.

That same one-way flight—let’s use United 300, departing at 2:10 PM on March 20—booked through Aeroplan costs only 12,500 miles and about US$45 in taxes and fees. That’s half of the points cost.

Of course, all that doesn’t matter if you only have miles with one airline and not another. But in this example, both United miles and Aeroplan points can be transferred from Chase

So if you have 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points ready to go, you have two options: You could get a single one-way flight from San Francisco to Honolulu if you booked through United at the cost of 25,000 miles, or you could get two flights between San Francisco and Honolulu if you booked through Aeroplan at the cost of 12,500 points a ticket.

As always, your mileage may vary. Aeroplan prices its award flights based on distance, i.e. the farther you travel, the more points it’ll cost you. Meanwhile, United implements what’s called “dynamic award pricing,” which means that the cost in miles when booking award flights through United MileagePlus varies from day to day, route to route. (For example, at the time of writing, United flight 901 from San Francisco to London-Heathrow on March 20 costs 40,000 Aeroplan points, but only 33,400 United miles.)

What else should I know about United MileagePlus?

If you’re keen on flying with United, check out our guides to what it’s like when you’re one the plane:

Debating whether to book in business class or to splurge on first class? We’ll tell you the difference between business and first on most airlines in this guide.

Though finding award flights via airline loyalty programs can take some patience and practice, you’ll eventually get the hang of it. But if you want someone else to do the hard search work for you, we’ve got you covered. Sign up for an Elite membership today and we’ll alert you to the best deals on flights you can book with points and miles.

Going has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Going and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities.

Matt Ortile

Matt Ortile


Matt Ortile writes the Going With Points newsletter at Going. He is the author of the essay collection The Groom Will Keep His Name, a columnist at Condé Nast Traveler, and working on a novel about a flight attendant. He lives in Brooklyn.

Published September 6, 2023

Last updated December 21, 2023

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