Tricks to Finding United MileagePlus Saver Awards

by Sam Roecker

Guide to using United MileagePlus Miles

Collecting frequent flyer miles and credit card points is the really easy part of the rewards travel game. It’s possible to rack up enough MileagePlus miles for an international vacation by signing up for just one credit card.

Finding ways to use those points and miles is where the challenge — and fun — begins.

One of the many reasons I love MileagePlus is the program’s simple two-tier structure for award tickets: Saver Awards and Everyday Awards (standard awards). In most cases, you can search for availability and book awards directly on united.com, including flights on Star Alliance partners.

☑︎  Saver Awards – great redemption value but harder to find

☑︎  Everyday Awards (standard award) – bad redemption value but readily available

Before I dive into the details, check out how to use United’s ‘featured’ award finder.This tool is often overlooked and makes it much easier to find sweet spot destinations available at United’s Saver Award tier.

United Mileage Plus (MileagePlus) Saver Award Availability Tool

United Featured Saver Awards Tool

Select one of eight departure cities¹ and pick a month; the tool generates a list of cities (domestic and international) with ample saver award availability. Cities marked with have additional saver awards available. Although the tool only displays added availability for United-operated flights, I still think it’s worth using if you plan to book a Star Alliance partner flight (there’s often overlap).

¹ Chicago (ORD), Cleveland (CLE), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO) 

 

It’s possible to leverage the Featured Saver Awards finder by checking destinations out of each of these hubs. Even when a connecting itinerary from a home airport isn’t showing good availability, it can be easy to shuttle over to another hub to take advantage of a Saver-level award (and maybe even those spiffy Polaris seats).

List of Countries and Regions 

MileagePlus Award Chart

How to Search United MileagePlus Saver Award Availability

  1. Login to the MileagePlus account you plan to redeem from. United Premier members and eligible United MileagePlus Chase cardmembers have unrestricted access to Everyday Awards (meaning available seat = available award). Award fees are waived for certain Premier members, so again, it’s best to search availability from the account you want to redeem from.
  2. You’ll want to start with a broad search first and then narrow down your options. Follow these tips:
How to Book United MileagePlus or Mileage Plus Award Flight Search Tool

United Award Flight Search

 

Award Search Tips 

✅ Search one-way: It’s easier to find availability searching one-way

✅ Check “My dates are flexible”

✅ Select desired month (e.g. September 2018)

✅ Select desired cabin from the drop-down menu

✅ Check “Search for award travel”

✅ Do not check “nonstop”

3. The two-month calendar shows available Saver Award seats in economy class (……solid line) and premium cabins (dotted line). Note, the tool does not break down availability by operating airline, but it’s still helpful to see general availability.

Another important tip: if you can’t find the award seats you want, try searching from a nearby large hub airport. It is often possible to find availability on large trunk routes (think Chicago to Frankfurt, Newark to London, Washington to Paris), when there isn’t Saver Award connections to smaller airports.

 

Here’s a Business Saver Award on Lufthansa:

United MileagePlus Saver Award Booking on Lufthansa

Lufthansa Business Saver Award [70K]

United MileagePlus Destinations and Regions

United MileagePlus award prices are based on regions, not countries. Check out United’s list for more details. Some region examples:

  • Mainland US, Alaska and Canada
  • Hawaii
  • Mexico
  • Caribbean
  • Europe (includes non-EU countries like Iceland, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, and Turkey)
  • Northern South America (Colombia, Equador, and Peru)
  • Southern South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay)
  • North Asia (China, South Korea, and Taiwan)
  • South Asia (Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam)
  • Japan
  • Australia and New Zealand

Star Alliance

The Star Alliance network includes 28 airlines with service to over 1,300 destinations in 193 countries (that’s 98% coverage, in case you were wondering).

United MileagePlus Awards: Mileage Prices

Given the difference in miles required for redemption, I (almost) never recommend booking an Everyday Award (standard award). For example, a one-way Everyday Award to Europe in economy class is the same price (70K) as a one-way Saver Business award on a Star Alliance partner!

Use United’s interactive award chart to determine miles required. I’ll list some examples for Saver Awards to popular destinations. Note: all prices are one-way and do not include taxes; Mainland US also includes Alaska and Canada for award price purposes.

Mainland US and Canada to Europe  

  • Economy Class: 30,000 miles
  • Business Class (United): 60,000 miles
  • Business Class (Star Alliance): 70,000 miles
  • First Class (United): 80,000 miles
  • First Class (Star Alliance): 110,000 miles

Mainland US and Canada to Southern South America 

  • Economy Class: 30,000 miles
  • First Class: 60,000 mile

Mainland US and Canada to Japan 

  • Economy Class: 35,000 miles
  • Business Class (United): 70,000 miles
  • Business Class (Star Alliance): 80,000 miles
  • First Class (United): 90,000 miles
  • First Class (Star Alliance): 110,000 miles

Mainland US and Canada to Australia and New Zealand  

  • Economy Class: 40,000 miles
  • Business Class (United): 80,000 miles
  • Business Class (Star Alliance): 90,000 miles
  • First Class (United): 100,000 miles
  • First Class (Star Alliance): 130,000 miles

United MileagePlus Awards: Taxes

Taxes on award tickets are determined by originating airport and connecting airport, if applicable. For example, an award flight departing the US to Europe without a connection in Europe is only $5.60. Adding a connection in Frankfurt, however, will add a tax of around $40. Considering the ticket is free, that’s not a substantial difference, but it may be something to pay attention to if you’re booking multiple award flights.

United MileagePlus Awards: Fees

United charges fees on award tickets in two categories: booking award tickets and changing award tickets. Fees apply to both United-operated and Star Alliance partner-operated flights and are (mostly) nonrefundable. Note the following general rules regarding fees:

☑︎  Fees apply to each ticket individually (e.g. if two people are traveling, double the fee)

☑︎  Changes must be made at least 24 hours before departure for Star Alliance partner flights¹

☑︎  Fee level is based on MileagePlus status of the member whose miles were used to book the award

☑︎  Service fees are nonrefundable (although it never hurts to ask)

¹four days for ANA-operated flights within Japan

United MileagePlus Booking Fees 

Two fees apply when booking MileagePlus awards: booking over the phone ( 📞 ) and close-in booking ( 🗓 ), meaning less than 21 days before departure. Calling United to book an award tickets carries a $25 fee for general members (no status), Premier Silver, and Premier Gold members. The fee is waived for Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members. It never hurts to ask nicely if United can waive the booking fee, especially if there’s an error on united.com that won’t allow you to book online.

The close-in booking fee is a bit less flexible, unfortunately. The close-in booking fee applies to general members (member, no status), Premier Silver and Premier Gold members (no fee for Platinum or 1K):

🗓 Member = $75 |  🗓 Premier Silver = $50  |  🗓 Premier Gold = $25

United MileagePlus Service Fees 

Service fees apply to changing or canceling a flight ( 🔀 )  and apply to both online and over-the-phone itinerary modifications. Fees vary based on the number of days before departure, defined as 60+ days before departure or less than 60 days before departure:

The fees below are [ more than 60 days / less than 60 Days ] 

🔀 Member = $75 / $125 |  🔀 Premier Silver = $50 / $100 |  🔀 Premier Gold = $25 / $75 |  🔀 Premier Platinum = $0 / $50

There is also a flat $125 fee (regardless of status) to deposit miles after a no-show.

General Member: 📞 $25

General Member 
📞 = $25
🗓 < 21 Days = $75
🔀  > 60 Days  = $75  |  < 60 Days = $125

Premier Silver 
📞 = $25
🗓 < 21 Days = $50
🔀  > 60 Days  = $50  |  < 60 Days = $100

Premier Gold
📞 = $25
🗓 < 21 Days = $25
🔀  > 60 Days  = $25  |  < 60 Days = $75

Premier Platinum 
🔀 < 60 Days = $50

Premier 1K 
No fees, except no-show redeposit fee

 

MileagePlus Award FAQs

What if I do not show up for my award flight or forget to cancel before departure? 

There is a $125 redeposit fee that applies to all members, regardless of status. At least it’s better than forfeiting the miles.

Can I book a MileagePlus award ticket for someone else? 

Yes! You can book a MileagePlus award ticket in someone else’s name. 

Upshot

United MileagePlus is among the most versatile frequent flyer programs out there. With so many partners, it is also among the easiest to use, if you know how to search.

What are your favorite MileagePlus redemptions?

 

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.

5 comments
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5 comments

Patrick August 14, 2018 - 2:41 pm

While I agree that using points / miles for Everyday awards is not a GREAT deal it still can be a good one. (Depending on your point of view)
My flight from STL – LIH in F (lay flat seats from Den – LIH) were valued at .017 a point. Flying in coach on a saver award would have given me a .029 value. I’ll spend extra to get the better seats. Plus there weren’t any Saver awards available for the route I wanted to take.

Reply
NorwayNick December 7, 2018 - 12:44 pm

So, do the partner airlines also show up during an award availability search?

Reply
Jim December 11, 2018 - 4:30 pm

As a MileagePlus Chase Cardmember, I followed your advise by searching on United for “premium award saver cabin” for flexible dates. However, even though the calendar shows the Dots for a particular date, it shows Unavailable for “premium award saver cabin.” I’m flying from Japan to Phenix.

What do you suggest?

Reply
Elize Sprott-Kwa February 10, 2019 - 5:31 am

I am a UA Mileage member for more than 20+ years and i live in the Netherlands. Now I am 62 years and like to use my 215,949 Miles (237.701 lifetime flight Miles) for a nice belated Honeymoon trip. Can you please advise me how to use my Miles from Amsterdam to Denpasar or Thailand as sufficiënt as possible, using Singapore Airlines or an other partner from The Star Alliance

Reply
John Harper February 11, 2019 - 5:52 pm

Hi Elize,

This is a service we offer through Juicy Miles, our affiliate award booking service. Email me at john.harper@juicymiles.com. Thanks for reading!
John

Reply

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