So you’ve got a United MileagePlus account, but you’re headed overseas and not sure which airlines might earn you miles, accept miles, or how to go about doing either.
Good news: United is part of the largest network of airlines in the world. Bad news: earning rates vary on a carrier-by-carrier basis, many flights aren’t eligible to earn MileagePlus miles, and choosing a partner for redemption can be daunting.
United Airlines is part of Star Alliance and has 28 partners on which it’s possible to book flights using your points and miles. In fact, it is possible to book a ticket with United miles on United’s website and not even set foot on a United airplane.
How to Book Partner Flights with United MileagePlus Miles
Here’s how to book United Airlines partner award flights with United miles. First, look for available award space on United and its partners on United.com. I really like the straightforward search engine and the calendar view.
Unlike other airlines’ websites, you don’t even need to log in to check award availability. However, United elites and United MileagePlus Explorer Card personal or business cardholders get better award availability on United operated flights.
Input travel dates, departure city and destination city and the search engine will display most available award redemption options on both United flights, Star Alliance Flights and Aer Lingus flights. United’s calendar view is flexible and shows availability for most partners, but it’s not perfect. If you have specific dates in mind and you’re not seeing dates or prices you like in the calendar, it never hurts to click into the date.
Another tip: click the blue boxes that say “Business Saver Award”. This pulls otherwise hidden partner awards up to the top of the screen. All awards that appear on United are bookable directly within the United website. Phone bookings cost $25 (waived for Premier Platinum and 1K frequent flyer elites), but if you encounter problems with the website agents should waive the fee when you call in.
If you aren’t sure where you want to go and looking for inspiration, try Monthly Featured Saver Award Tool. To get the best value out of your United miles, look for the lowest saver level award availability.
You will need more United miles for a partner operated flight that for a United operated flight. If you’re considering transferring points from a Chase Ultimate Rewards card, like the Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred card, United’s website has a an easy to use interactive award chart to calculate theoretical mileage.
Earning United Miles on Partners
United MileagePlus miles are earned on every United flight based on the amount spent. When flying on Star Alliance partners and other non-alliance partners, such as Aer Lingus, earning rates depend on fare class, and a surprising number of fare classes on partners no longer earn any MileagePlus credit.
As a rule, the bargain basement discount fares you might find on partner airlines won’t earn any United MileagePlus miles, at least not on short flights. Slightly more expensive economy fares earn a small pittance of mileage, perhaps 25 percent of miles flown.
Flying on a last-minute, pricy economy ticket still nets a handsome take of MileagePlus miles, and premium economy, business class and first class flights on all Star Alliance partners earn great bonus mileage.
Since these earning rates are so specific, we’ve decided not to list them all in this article. Rather, United MileagePlus’ offers a fairly navigable set of web pages for figuring out how many miles one may earn on a partner airline. Find those here.
Here’s a brief overview of United partners and the best redemption options on each.
Greek flag carrier Aegean doesn’t have any routes to the U.S. but has a lot of intra Europe flights. Shorter than 800 miles flights are 8,000 United MileagePlus miles and longer flights are just 15,000 miles.
Air Canada flies out of a lot of major U.S. airports and you can connect to any destination it flies at one of Canada’s major international airports, such as Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.
Air Canada has a very nice business class cabin with reverse-herringbone seat configuration with direct aisle access on long-haul transatlantic and transpacific flights. If you want to travel to Australia, Air Canada flies into Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne from Vancouver. Brisbane is not the most popular Australian destination and shows more award availability than Sydney or Melbourne.
Air New Zealand
Air New Zealand is a fantastic airline with economy seats that convert into a sky couch. The airline is also planning to upgrade its business class seats, making flying upfront even more comfortable. The catering on board Air Zealand is also top notch, they are even serving the food of the future “Impossible Burger” in business class.
U.S. Connections: Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston and soon to be added Chicago.
Fifth freedom routes such as Los Angeles to Rarotonga, Cook Island or Los Angeles to London.
Decent partner with direct flights to Beijing from a few East and West Coast gateways.
U.S. Connections: Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York JFK, Newark.
Best Redemptions: There aren’t that many options for direct flights between US and Beijing, so booking an award seat on Air China is a good way to get there, and Air China opens loads of seats to United and other Star Alliance airlines.
The carrier’s onboard service and seating products are not the best in the world, so we don’t recommend Air China to connect to other Asian destinations when space on other transpacific carriers (think ANA, Ariana or EVA Air), or on Air Canada or United are available. The airline is reliable however, and is often the best option to redeem miles.
See our review of Air China business cabin here.
Air India has a few direct flights to Delhi from major East and West Coast gateways but doesn’t offer the best service or reliably comfortable business class seats. Business class seats on flights operated by United on its Delhi and Mumbai routes are much better.
US Connections: San Francisco, Newark, New York JFK, Washington IAD.
Best Redemptions: The only Star Alliance carrier with direct flights from the West Coast to India.
All Nippon Airways (ANA)
ANA is widely considered one of the best airlines in Star Alliance, and one of the best airlines in the world. ANA is famous for its Japanese perfection in customer service, wide seats in economy class, and amazing meals and drinks in business and first class. ANA serves caviar, Krug Champagne and the rare Hibiki 21 Whisky in first class. You can find good amount of award space available on United.com, ANA is pretty generous with releasing award space to partners.
Award seats on ANA are most often open 335 days before departure and within a few weeks of departure.
U.S. Connections: Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Chicago, New York JFK, Washington IAD. With so many U.S. gateways you should be able to find a way to travel to Japan in the front of the plane.
Best redemption is, of course, snagging a business or first class award seat on a transpacific flight to Japan. You get a lie-flat seat, amazing service and great food. Add an excursionists perk to get the maximum value of your trip to Asia.
Asiana is often overshadowed by its rival, Korean Air, but in many ways is just as great of an airline. Better yet, Asiana opens a lot of availability to partners. You can often find three or four award seats in business class. This is a great way to get the entire family over to Asia in comfort.
U.S. Connections: Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York JFK.
Best Redemptions: Great option to get to Korea or other countries in Asia, especially if you need more than one award ticket.
Great way to get to Europe from the U.S. Like Asiana, Austrian offers great award availability to partners. You can often snag three to four award seats, so it’s a great option for families. Austrian has very nice transatlantic business class with great meal service and outstanding coffee menu. Austrian has a chef on board who prepares meals and coffee for business class passengers. Intra Europe business class, on the other hand, is just an economy cabin with an empty middle seat and slightly better meals than what you would get in economy.
US Connections: Chicago, Newark, New York JFK. Miami and Los Angeles – seasonal service.
Best Redemption: US to Europe or US to Israel in business class. It is hard to find more than one award seat to Israel on other partners, but Austrian often has good availability, especially if you book early and often has last-minute award availability to Europe.
Colombia’s flag carrier offers lots of great redemption opportunities for South America. Avianca releases good number of award seats to partners so it’s a great way to fly the whole family to South America.
US Connections: Los Angeles, Chicago (starts November 2018), Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, New York JFK, Washington IAD.
Best Redemptions: United divides South America into two regions, Northern South America and Southern South America. Business class to Northern South America is only 35,000 United miles one way and 20,000 in coach. Even if you connect in Colombia (considered Southern), United assess awards based on the final destinations. This can be great value.
Brussels Airlines is a Belgium-based airline that mostly flies within Europe.
US Connections: New York JFK, Washington IAD (seasonal).
Best Redemptions: Space on their U.S. to Brussels services is rarely open on United, but if you can get to Brussels, this airline can be good for connecting flights within Europe.
Panama-based airline that flies from many major US airports to Central and South America. Copa is in the process of installing new lie-flat seats in business class on some of its fleet. This would significantly increase the number of lie-flat seats on Central and South American routes.
Copa opens abundant award space to United virtually year round, and offers a very efficient and conveniently located hub in Panama City, making it a great option for travel to South America.
US Connections: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, New York JFK, Washington IAD, Boston.
Best Redemptions: Lie-flat seats in business class to South America, easy and reasonably timed economy connections to just about anywhere in Central and South America.
Croatia Airlines has a good number of short intra European flights, especially in the summer, but doesn’t offer any U.S. service.
US Connections: New York JFK
Best Redemptions: the only Star Alliance carrier that operates direct flights between US and Cairo. Great option if you are on the East Coast and want to avoid connections and has decent business class award availability.
Getting to Africa on miles and points is not always easy. Ethiopian Airlines has good award availability in both economy and business class from major U.S. gateways.
US Connections: Chicago, Newark, Washington IAD.
Best Redemptions: Ethiopian Airlines used to operate a fifth freedom route between Los Angeles (LAX) and Dublin (DUB), but announced the end of that service this week. Ethiopian still flies from Newark to Lomé (Toga) and Chicago and Washington to Addis Ababa.
Another decent redemption option is to use 30,000 United miles to fly one-way in business class in central and South Africa.
EVA Airways is a great airline to fly to and from Asia. Recently, EVA started putting its Hello Kitty planes on select routes (Taipei to Los Angeles flight BR6, Los Angeles to Taipei flight BR5, Taipei to Chiago flight BR 56 and Chiago to Taipei flight BR 55). If you, or someone in your family, is a big Hello Kitty fan, or you are just looking for a unique flying experience, this can certainly be a great redemption.
Hello Kitty or not, EVA operates one of the best all-around business class services on the planet.
U.S. Connections: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Chicago, New York JFK.
Best Redemptions: Direct flights between major U.S. gateways and Taiwan, especially if you can find award availability on Eva’s Hello Kitty planes.
LOT Polish Airlines
Many may raise an eyebrow at the prospect of flying on this former Soviet state carrier, but LOT operates a modern fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner with lie-flat seats and modern entertainment systems. Warsaw’s Chopin Airport has a fairly new international terminal complete with amenities one might expect to find at any major European airport.
LOT releases abundant award seats to partners, bookeable on united.com.
Warsaw is a convenient connection to many places in Eastern and Western Europe. You can also connect to countries beyond Eastern Europe, including Turkey, Georgia, Israel and Asia.
Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, New York JFK, Newark to Warsaw.
Miami to Warsaw starting in June 2019.
Chicago to Krakow.
New York JFK, Chicago O’Hare to Budapest.
Best Redemptions: LOT is a great option for traveling to Eastern Europe, especially the direct flight from JFK to Budapest. There aren’t that many direct flights from the U.S. to Budapest, so if you are on the east coast or can get to JFK easily, this might be a great redemption opportunity. You can find decent award availability in economy and business all throughout the available calendar for this four days a week flight. Don’t think about this as just going to Budapest (you should, it’s an absolutely magical city), but think about this option as another way to get to Europe. Other amazing cities, such as Vienna or Prague, are an easy train ride away.
Finding award space on Lufthansa can be hit or miss. However, Lufthansa typically releases award space in first class two weeks prior to departure.
San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Miami, Boston, Washington IAD, New York JFK, Newark.
Finding award space in first class might not be easy, and it’s definitely not the “cheapest” way to fly to Europe, but you will get a fabulous, one of a kind, experience, both on the ground and in the air.
Scandinavian carrier occasionally makes award seats available to United and other partners. SAS has very nice premium cabin with excellent service.
US Connections: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Newark, Washington IAD.
Doesn’t have direct routes to the US but could be useful when connecting in Asia.
Considered by many to be the best airline in the world, Singapore usually saves it’s best seats for members of its own frequent flyer program, KrisFlyer, which is an American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. Singapore does often release economy seats to partners, including United, and will release a smattering of business and first class tickets at the last minute.
US Connections: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Newark, New York City JFK.
Best Redemptions: Singapore Airlines operates a few fifth freedom route flights. New York JFK to Frankfurt and Houston to Manchester are two great ways to get to Europe. Los Angeles to Tokyo and San Francisco to Hong Kong are great options for Asia. If you can find award space, anyone of these will be a fantastic redemption. Singapore Airlines operates the longest flight in the world from Newark to Singapore; the flight only has premium economy and business class seats.
South African Airways
Great way to get to South Africa if you can find award space.
US Connections: New York JFK, Washington IAD
Best Redemptions: Just like with Ethiopian Airlines, you can fly one way in business class for 30,00 United miles in central and southern Africa. If you have a multi-stop Africa trip planned, this is a great way to use your United miles. South African also operates fifth freedom routes from Washington IAD to Accra and Dakar, great way to fly direct to these hard to reach destinations.
Excellent airline with great service in economy and premium cabins. SWISS regularly releases some award space to partners and it’s a great way to fly to destinations beyond Europe like Africa or Israel. Unlike its partner Austrian, SWISS’ premium cabin on its intra Europe flights is top notch.
US Connections: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Boston, Newark, New York JFK.
Best Redemption: There are no bad redemptions with SWISS. If you can snag the “throne seat“, you will have lots of privacy and work space and enjoy excellent food and beverage service.
TAP recently upgraded its transatlantic fleet with new lie flat seats in business class. This is another great option to get to Europe as TAP releases a good number of award seats to partners.
US Connections: Boston, Miami, New York JFK, Newark.
Best Redemption: There are lots of other destinations in Southern Europe and even Northern Africa you can connect to from Lisbon.
Another United partner that doesn’t fly to/from the US, Thai offers an amazing redemption opportunity in first class between Bangkok, Europe and other Asian cities. Thai often releases business and first class seats on its Australia flights, as well.
Flying first, passengers will be able to access the beautiful Thai Airways first class lounge in Bangkok, which offers hour-long complimentary massages.
Best Redemption: You can fly from Sydney to Bangkok for 25,000 in economy and 50,000 in business class. Good value for a 9-hour flight.
Turkish Airlines flies to more destinations worldwide than any other Star Alliance carrier. You can book an award ticket on Turkish to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and even onward Asia.
Turkish has an excellent business class soft product, and a downright gigantic business class lounge at Istanbul Airport. If you have a long layover in Istanbul, you can take a free city tour.
Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New York JFK, Newark, Washington IAD.
Boston, Miami or Atlanta airports aren’t served well by other Star Alliance carriers, so having a Star Alliance partner fly out of one of these airports opens lots of opportunities for one stop flights to many destinations worldwide.
As you can see, there are lots of great ways to use United miles to book partner airlines award flights. Share with us your best redemptions and how you’ve used United miles in your travels.