5 best ways to maximize United MileagePlus miles

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These offers are no longer available on our site: United℠ Explorer Card, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve®

United Airlines MileagePlus® is United’s frequent flyer program. And with more than 250 U.S. destinations and 80 destinations abroad, United offers plenty of ways to earn and redeem.

Your United miles never expire, and you can use them to cover the cost of trips plus perks like free baggage check, seat upgrades and more.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can maximize earning and redeeming MileagePlus miles.

How to earn United Airlines MileagePlus points

While you can earn MileagePlus points by flying with United or its partners — or through eligible hotel stays, vacation rentals, car rentals and cruises — the best way to earn miles is by using a United Airlines credit card.

Here are some of our top picks.

  • United Gateway℠ Card: Best for commuters
  • United℠ Explorer Card: Best for getting perks
  • United Quest℠ Card: Best for optimizing MileagePlus points
  • United Club℠ Infinite Card: Best for luxury travelers

Learn more about United credit cards.

United Gateway℠ Card: Best for commuters

From our partner

United Gateway℠ Card

5.0 out of 5

From cardholders in the last year

See details, rates & fees

For travelers who want to earn United miles for commuting and everyday spending, United’s entry-level credit card, the United Gateway℠ Card, may be a good fit.

The card has a $0 annual fee and offers a sign-up bonus of 20,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases during the first 3 months after account opening.

The United Gateway℠ Card offers two miles per $1 spent on United purchases, as well as on commuter spending categories like gas stations, taxis, rideshare, mass transit and local transit options. Plus, you’ll earn one mile for every $1 spent on everyday purchases.

You’ll also get 25% back on purchases you make in flight — including Wi-Fi, food and drinks. And if you’re traveling abroad, you won’t have to worry about foreign transaction fees.

Check out our review of the United Gateway℠ Card to learn more.

United℠ Explorer Card: Best for getting perks

From our partner

United℠ Explorer Card

4.2 out of 5

From cardholders in the last year

If you’re looking for more rewards and extras, the United℠ Explorer Card could be a good fit.

When you sign up for the card, you can earn up to 70,000 bonus miles: You’ll earn 60,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases during your first three months. And if you spend $6,000 total on purchases in your first six months with the card, you’ll earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles. The card has a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then it goes up to $95.

You’ll get two complimentary United Club℠ passes each year, free checked baggage, priority boarding and 25% back on in-flight purchases. There are also no foreign transaction fees and you’ll get access to exclusive cardholder experiences and complimentary perks at luxury hotels.

Cardholders don’t have to worry about blackout dates and can earn up to 1,000 qualifying miles toward Premier status each calendar year. Plus, you’ll get two miles per $1 spent on United purchases, dining and hotels, and one mile for every other $1 you spend.

Learn more about the United℠ Explorer Card.

United Quest℠ Card: Best for maximizing MileagePlus points

From our partner

United Quest℠ Card

3.7 out of 5

From cardholders in the last year

See details, rates & fees

The United Quest℠ Card was built for frequent travelers who want to maximize their United travel rewards. With this card, you get an annual United purchase credit of up to $125, plus two 5,000-mile anniversary award credits.

The annual fee is $250. If you spend $4,000 on purchases during the first 3 months you have the card, you can earn a sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles and 500 Premier qualifying points.

With the United Quest℠ Card Card, you’ll earn three miles per $1 spent on United purchases, two miles per $1 spent on all other travel purchases, as well as dining and select streaming services. All other purchases earn one mile per $1. Cardholders will also get two free checked bags.

United Club℠ Infinite Card: Best for luxury travelers

If traveling in comfort and style is your aim, the United Club℠ Infinite Card is a great luxury option. The card charges an annual fee of $525. New cardholders can earn a sign-up bonus of 100,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases during the first three months after account opening.

Most importantly, this card comes with United Club membership, giving you access to 45 United Club and Copa Club locations — and participating Star Alliance™ affiliated airport clubs worldwide.

The United Club℠ Infinite Card rounds out its offering with four miles per $1 spent on United purchases, two miles per $1 spent on other travel and dining, and one mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. You’ll also get two complimentary checked bags.

Plus, this card comes with other useful perks: You’ll get reimbursement for a Global Entry, TSA PreCheck® or Nexus membership, as well as 25% back for in-flight Wi-Fi, food and beverage purchases. And you’ll have access to priority security screening, check-in and boarding.

How to redeem United Airlines MileagePlus points

United Airlines MileagePlus miles are worth an estimated 2.18 cents each, based on Credit Karma’s point valuations. Here are a few tips to consider if you’re looking to maximize your miles.

1. Book a stopover on your next international flight

United Airlines’ “Excursionist” perk is a free stop-over nestled within an international travel reservation. This is a great program that can help your rewards miles go further and take you to more destinations.

2. Transfer rewards from Chase

If you have one of Chase’s Sapphire credit cards, you can pool your Chase Ultimate Rewards points and transfer them over to the United MileagePlus program at a 1:1 rate. Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

3. Catch a limited-time flight award deal

If you’re flexible on dates and locations, United offers limited-time flight award promotions. These discounted fares can be a great way to stretch your rewards miles much further than typical redemptions options may allow.

4. Upgrade your seats

Upgrading your ticket can be a solid way to use points to squeeze a bit more comfort into your trip. The number of points required for an upgrade varies on the route, seat type, fare class and Premier status.

5. Use your points with one of United’s travel partners

In addition to booking flights with United, you can also use your United miles with a variety of United’s travel partners. United is part of the Star Alliance, meaning you can earn and use miles with any Star Alliance partners, including major airlines like Air New Zealand, ANA and Lufthansa.

Beyond air travel, you can also use United miles to book car rentals, hotel stays and even cruise ships through the United Airlines website portal.

Next steps

If you want more out of your United miles, achieving MileagePlus Premier status will help you get more perks. With elite status you’ll get access to benefits like complimentary seat upgrades, pre-boarding and complimentary bag check. Plus, you’ll earn more miles on every flight.

Learn more about what each elite tier offers in our guide to United Airlines MileagePlus Premier status.

About the author: Sean McQuay is a long-time personal finance nerd. He’s passionate about budgets, credit cards, and earning useful rewards with minimal effort. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a father to three rambunctious kids. Read more.