Is United MileagePlus the Best FF Program or Worst. I’m Confused

by John Harper

Two days, two news releases. United MileagePlus is the worst frequent flyer program, United MileagePlus is the best frequent flyer program.

Why do we even read anymore.

We learned Tuesday that about half of frequent flyers surveyed by J.D. Power and Associates don’t know how to redeem rewards for free flights. The most difficult and poorly navigable in the survey: United MileagePlus.

United wasted no time responding with another consumer survey, this time conducted from readers of a magazine called Trazee Travel, a website I’ve never read before today but which calls itself “The Smart Source For Millenials.” Surprise ending: Trazee’s poll listed United MileagePlus as readers’ favorite frequent flyer program.

On both counts, this is really screwed up. While I’m totally sure many, if not most, flyers struggle to redeem their frequent flyer miles, and I’m sure that J.D. Power winners JetBlue and Southwest have programs that are simplified and much easier to use, I believe that United cannot be either the best or the worst frequent flyer program by any measure.

Lufthansa First Class bed round-the-world award Star Alliance ANA Mileage Club American Express Membership Rewards points

Lufthansa First Class bed onboard the Boeing 747. United MileagePlus members can ALMOST ALWAYS USE MILES TO BOOK THIS INCREDIBLE SEAT to almost anywhere on planet earth within about two weeks of a departing flight. No other U.S. frequent flyer program offers such reliable luxury.

There are programs with better earning rates and better redemption prices for long-haul travel (Alaska, American). There are programs with far worse award seat availability in desirable premium cabins and on flights close to departure time (American, Delta).

Shame, Shame: Delta Kills Partner Awards With Huge Devaluation

JetBlue and Southwest have frequent flyer programs that guarantee seats on every flight. They also offer a fraction of the value that United MileagePlus — or really any of the major airline Frequent Flyer programs — do on long-haul flights.

When you convert your frequent flyer miles to cash fares, as JetBlue and Southwest do, you eliminate one of the great value propositions of mileage travel — the ability to compensate for expensive last-minute flights or long-haul flatbed redemptions.

United MileagePlus has become a personal favorite of mine, not because of anything to do with United, but because of how often its partners have award seats available on long, long, very long overseas flights.

Tips and Tricks To Finding United MileagePlus Saver Awards

The United website is also among the easiest to use when finding awards. A simple ‘Search for Award Travel’ check box in the home page reservations window allows anyone to pull up mileage award results that include every single Star Alliance member airline, with interconnections.

United Chase Points Miles to Portugal Lisbon Porto

United also offers club passes with its basic Explorer credit cards, in addition to often generous intro bonuses for new cardholders — enough to fly long-haul business class.

MileagePlus is perhaps the easiest and most reliable transfer partner for Chase Ultimate Rewards members who earn points from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Reserve and Ink Business cards.

Click Here to Access Travel Cards Like This, Useable Through United

I wish I could tell you how J.D. Power’s survey results yielded a score that put United at the bottom. Unfortunately, I can’t. The full survey is sold to the airlines themselves for unknown troves of cash.

For those who still need help redeeming their United miles, spare yourself the headache and just try Juicy Miles.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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rjb August 17, 2018 - 7:37 am

Definitely the worst airline of the legacy carriers with the worst employees. Consequently, if you never fly on United or choose to book away at every possible chance, then the FF program doesn’t matter, does it?

Cj August 17, 2018 - 7:47 am

Gets my vote for the worst

Doug August 17, 2018 - 7:52 am

I agree with your analysis. Lousy redemption rates, but easy to use.

JE August 17, 2018 - 8:14 am

“You can almost always use miles to book Lufthansa first class”, really? Oh boy, quit smoking that…

John Harper August 17, 2018 - 12:23 pm

Hi JE,

So sorry you’ve had trouble finding Lufthansa first class seats. In my capacity as an award consultant for Juicy Miles, I’ve actually never had a problem finding space for a client in Lufthansa first class within three days of their desired departure date. Have probably done half-dozen or so in the past year, and have never actually had to tell a client seeking Lufthansa first they are out of luck.

Let me know if you need any help.

John Harper December 5, 2018 - 3:25 pm

If you ever need help with redeeming miles for Lufthansa First, we can usually help at Juicy Miles. Just send us a note at

Byron August 17, 2018 - 9:12 am

I fly our kids to come see us and I generally can find some pretty good point deals on United. As I live in one of those cities where AA and UA only have a couple of non stops to the big cities up north, those saver seats are as rare as hen’s teeth. This makes using avios and avianca points very difficult. I do like UA’s website. I find both AA and UA to provide pretty decent service. Delta on the otherhand has just wrecked their program. I will fly them only when paying cash and they are the cheapest.

Christian August 17, 2018 - 9:22 am

Frankly, I find most of these polls to be highly suspect. J D Power may be better known than most, but I certainly don’t trust them any more than the others. To see why, look no further than the skewed methodology they almost always employ.

Greg August 17, 2018 - 10:58 am

The Trazee Awards voted AA as the favorite international airline. I think that tells you all you need to know about the the thoughtfulness of its voters…

Henry August 17, 2018 - 3:31 pm

JD Power is about as relevant as the US News and World Report’s college and school ratings. Nobody should pay much attention to ratings from firms that don’t engage in critical self-checking and independent evaluations of their own systems. As a consumer it’s best to make independent evaluations based upon your own needs and service expectations.

Anna August 19, 2018 - 12:33 pm

I like United MileagePlus a lot, I’ve been using it for years to find business class award tickets to Israel. Nonstop flights aren’t easy to find but there’s usually something on Star Alliance partners. Austrian seems to have availability more than most. Trying to book United awards on Singapore was hit or miss for me. You need fewer miles but the agents don’t always see the same award space I can see on United’s site, even when I am not logged int.

Denver Tick December 5, 2018 - 9:36 am

coming from a frequent flier and 1K, United is by far the worst airline and frequent flier program, hands down

John Harper December 5, 2018 - 2:43 pm

Ever flown Ukraine International?


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