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United Airlines is one of the biggest airlines in the United States and the world, making its United MileagePlus program a fierce competitor among frequent flyer programs. Signing up for a United MileagePlus account is absolutely free, and you can do so online and from the comfort of your home.

With the potential for free flights on the table and nothing to lose, it’s smart to start your free account today, particularly if you fly United or its partners frequently or if you live near a city with a United hub such as Chicago, Los Angeles or Denver. This guide offers a quick overview of everything you need to know about this frequent flyer program, United MileagePlus credit cards, United MileagePlus awards and all the ways you can earn and redeem miles for maximum benefit.

How to earn United MileagePlus miles

While you can earn miles in several ways, the most popular way to rack up miles is through flying. As a United MileagePlus member, you’ll earn a base rate of 5x miles based on the fare you book. Elite status members also earn more base miles depending on their elite level: Premier Silver (7x fare), Premier Gold (8x fare), Premier Platinum (9x fare) and Premier 1k (11x fare). Members can also earn more award miles based on the distance of a flight and the fare they purchased, as well as each time they fly with United partner airlines (mileage accrued on partner airlines varies).

If you don’t fly very often but want to rack up miles, another option to consider is getting a co-branded airline credit card from United or a travel credit card that lets you transfer points to the airline. While co-branded United Airlines credit cards let you earn United MileagePlus miles directly, premier travel credit cards from Chase let you earn points that transfer to the United MileagePlus program at a 1:1 ratio.

Credit cards you can consider signing up for include:

Card Earning rate
UnitedSM Explorer Card Earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases and at restaurants and hotels and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases
United MileagePlus® Club Card Earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases and 1.5 miles per dollar on other purchases
United Explorer Business Card Earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases and at restaurants, gas stations, and office supply stores, and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Earn 2 points per $1 on dining and travel and 1 point per $1 on other purchases
Chase Sapphire Reserve Earn 3 points per $1 on dining and travel and 1 point per $1 on other purchases
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card Earn 3 points per dollar in select categories on up to $150,000 per year (1x points thereafter) and 1 point per dollar on other purchases

In addition to flying and credit card spending, there are a few more ways to rack up more United MileagePlus miles over time. Some of the best options include:

How to redeem United MileagePlus miles

Miles earned through the program are typically worth around 1.4 cents each, although you can occasionally get more value with the most lucrative redemptions. If you used 60,000 miles to book an economy flight to Europe that costs $1,500 on your dates, for example, you would score a cool 2.5 cents for each mile you redeemed.

When it comes to how to redeem your miles for flights, it’s important to note that United MileagePlus offers two types of awards — Saver awards and Everyday awards. Saver awards are capacity controlled and offered for fewer miles than Everyday awards. Everyday awards are also capacity controlled but may be more abundant in some cases, making them easier to book.

United MileagePlus offers an interactive award chart that says how many miles a specific flight will cost depending on your departure airport and your desired travel location. While there are plenty of factors that will dictate how many miles you’ll need to fork over for the flight you want, United’s award requirements are fixed and never fluctuate from day to day (unlike Delta SkyMiles® awards, for example).

While the miles you’ll vary depend on where you’re going, some examples of how to redeem miles for flights include:

  • Book a domestic one-way economy flight for as little as 10,000 miles
  • Book one-way in economy to Europe from mainland U.S. for 30,000 miles
  • Fly from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii for as little as 22,500 miles with a one-way Saver award

Also note that you can redeem United MileagePlus miles for non-flight options as well. For example, you can redeem miles for:

  • Hotel awards
  • Cruises
  • Rental cars
  • Merchandise, including Apple products
  • Gift cards
  • Experiences
  • United Club membership fees

Not all redemptions are the same

While you can redeem United miles in more than one way, some United MileagePlus awards are better — and more lucrative — than others. Some more valuable and less valuable redemption options include:

More value

  • Flights where you’re earning at least 1.4 cents per mile in value, and preferably more
  • Seat upgrades if you are getting 1.4 cents or more in value compared to the cash price of an upgrade (and if you value the upgrade to a premium cabin in that amount)

Less value

  • Merchandise is typically a poor redemption option since you’re normally getting less than one cent per point in value
  • Hotels, rental cars, and cruises where you’re getting less than 1.4 cents per point in value
  • Gift cards

Earning elite status

If you fly United Airlines and its partners often enough, it’s possible to reach an elite status level that can help you qualify for special perks. Elite status also helps you earn more miles each time you fly, which can have a snowball effect on your mileage balance in a hurry.

The four levels of elite status are included below, along with how you can achieve them:

Status level PQM, PQS, and PQD requirements (for U.S. citizens)
Premier Silver 25,000 PQM or 30 PQS (and $3,000)
Premier Gold 50,000 PQM or 60 PQS (and $6,000)
Premier Platinum 75,000 PQM or 90 PQS (and $9,000)
Premier 1K® 100,000 PQM or 120 PQS (and $15,000)

Basically, elite status with United MileagePlus is earned by flying often and spending money. The following terms describe each of their requirements and how they work in the chart above.

  • PQM = A Premier Qualifying Mile is based on the distance you fly
  • PQS = A Premier Qualifying Segment is a segment of your flight and counted each time you take off and land
  • PQD = A Premier Qualifying Dollar is a dollar spent on a United flight or a flight with one of their partners

Earning elite status can help you score elite benefits such as seat upgrades, priority check-in, free checked baggage and more. However, it’s important to note that many of the perks you can get with elite status are also available with United MileagePlus credit cards.

The bottom line

If you’re looking for a way to fly for free, United MileagePlus is a smart option to consider. You don’t necessarily have to fly to earn miles, and it’s not that hard to score 1.4 cents for each mile you earn in value (or more) depending on your travel plans.

Whether you want to explore Europe, see the Great Wall of China or travel close to home for a relaxing family trip, United MileagePlus may be exactly what you need.

Want to read more? Here are our latest rewards program guides.


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