Why Global Traveler Got It Right: United MileagePlus Is Number One

by Bill Shuman

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the United Airlines MileagePlus program.

As someone who was born and raised in Chicago I could often be found traveling out of O’Hare on the Chicago based company, United Airlines. I’ve had a MileagePlus since I was five. My very first First Class flight was on United Airlines. Some years later, my wife and I took our first free flights as Mr. and Mrs. on our honeymoon to Maui using MileagePlus Miles.

United MIleagePlus

The very first miles I earned in United’s MileagePlus program on a flight from Chicago to Orlando in October, 1990!

Therefore, it didn’t surprise me one bit when Global Traveler magazine voted United’s MileagePlus loyalty program the Best Overall Frequent-Flyer Program in the world for the 15 consecutive year! Global Traveler is a publication written for mostly frequent business and luxury travelers. As United keeps improving services for business travels this award makes sense. 

Program Highlights

As United keeps improving services for business travels this award makes sense. 

In the last 12 months United has been offering members new ways to earn and redeem miles as well as increased benefits which include:

Other Awards

Global Traveler named MileagePlus Best Frequent Flyer Bonus Program for the sixth consecutive year. The United MileagePlus Club Card from Chase was named the Best Credit card card for the 7th consecutive year along. MileagePlus also won Global Traveler’s award for Best Credit Card Rewards Program, also for the 7th consecutive year.

United Explorer credit card

Why Global Traveler Got it Right

In a perfect world, United Airlines would still be one of my go to airlines, but moving away from their main hub means I’ve shifted some of my travel elsewhere.  A large part of that is due to the fact that I can fly my son for free on Southwest on every flight. However, the reason I believe that Global Traveler got it right is because the United MileagePlus program excels above all else in their ability to offer award fares to a variety of destinations.

United Airlines has the largest partner alliance – the venerable Star Alliance – which makes it exceptionally easy to book long distance travel using award seats. They also makes it easy to search for those seats on their website. I also love that United has retained some form of a stopover, in the form of the excursionist perk, unlike the other U.S. carriers.

  • Not sure how to book those stopovers or open jaw? Let Juicy Miles take care of that for you.

Another reason is that United Airlines has partnered with Chase to offer the United MileagePlus Explorer Card which has strong benefits. The sign up bonus gives a free one way business class ticket to Europe with some change left over. For those that don’t mind flying economy the signup bonus will get you over the pond and back. They also don’t add in those pesky fuel surcharges that other award programs add on.

As United Airlines and Chase are partners, it is incredibly easy to top up a MileagePlus account with Ultimate Rewards points from Chase’s suite of transferrable point cards.

Unlike Amex and Delta, Chase doesn’t charge a penny to transfer points to United MileagePlus.

Final Thoughts

Every year since 2004, United has been recognized by Global Traveler as Best Overall Frequent Flyer Program in the World. The ease in which you can earn and use MileagePlus award tickets puts United Airlines MileagePlus at the top of my list as well. Plus those memories of stepping onto the Premiere 1k red carpets just before boarding a United Airlines plane with my family will never go away no matter how many flights I take.


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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Omatravel December 28, 2018 - 4:11 pm

Looking purely at the FF program, I would agree as long as you don’t actually have to fly United.

Tom December 28, 2018 - 4:24 pm

Are you serious, or was it a long day of alcohol before this? Also I will add that although I am a Premier 1K member, I am also an Alaska MVP75K as well as fly out of IAH and there is NO WAY AT ALL United’s program beats Alaska, NONE.

Steve December 28, 2018 - 4:40 pm

You and Global Traveller must be smoking some good stuff. The Alaska Airlines mileage plan is best. Just to be brief, here are a few reasons:
You can’t earn less than 100 0/0 miles.
Excellent partner lineup.
Lower elite thresholds.
No spending requirements.

I am proud to be an Alaska MVP 75 K member. The best part is that they treat me like family. While you’re sitting in Y because your upgrade didn’t clear, I’m sitting in F and enjoying the ride.

Greg December 28, 2018 - 4:43 pm

Was this just an elaborate fantasy constructed to push year-end Chase card applications?

I’m not sure whether this post or the Global traveler awards generally are more of a hack job.

DM December 28, 2018 - 4:45 pm

Do you not realize how many more miles are required to redeem a business class award compare to ALASKA’s program.
ALASKA is hands down the best.

Henry December 28, 2018 - 6:05 pm

Bill, you wrote about the benefits of booking United for family members from Chicago and hardly talked about yourself or your experiences with other airlines. If critics prefer other airlines, they can so choose and it makes no difference. Alaska and other domestic airlines are just fine, yet they don’t work as well for family members who travel outside of the west coast, especially if you are booking direct flights. Airline preference will always remain situational based upon individual choices regarding location, price, etc.

Al December 28, 2018 - 6:33 pm

For those who think Alaska’s Mileage Plan is better than UA Mileage Plus, I completely disagree with you. Actually what plan is better depends on on your situation and what kind of flights you take. I’m based out of SFO and primarily fly international overseas flights. Sorry but UA has Alaska beat by a mile. Even when I book award flights on partner flights on Alaska website for international flights, good luck with that as the selection and routing are limited and horrible. I can fly CX, OZ and accumulate points on Alaska’s Mileage Plan but that ain’t gonna help me to upgrade on an overseas flight. With UA, not a problem, using dollars and miles, business class ain’t an issue from SYD to SFO. So for me, UA offers more choices, flexibility and benefits.

Al December 28, 2018 - 6:36 pm

To clarify, I meant QF, not OZ in my previous comment.

Christian December 28, 2018 - 7:43 pm

Alaska is much better IMO. Even with enhanced award availability, finding premium United saver space 10 months out is like finding 2 first class award seats to Australia on Qantas. Assuming that you find that award space, United will charge you more than Alaska would. Alaska allows stopovers on one way tickets. They also don’t care about regions for that stopover.
Has United gotten better? Arguably yes. Are they as good as Alaska? Not even close. That said, United absolutely has some advantages. Among them is a very good alliance, the MileagePlusX app, and a more robust network.


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