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How to Earn and Use United Miles in 2021

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United is one of the largest airlines in the world, so it should come as no surprise that its frequent flyer program, MileagePlus, has over 100 million members. If you’re one of them, there are myriad ways both to earn and redeem MileagePlus miles for the best value, including some phenomenal United credit card offers.

Read more: Guide to the best travel rewards credit cards

Here’s what you need to know to maximize your United MileagePlus miles, all the ways you can rack them up quickly, and how you can redeem them for the rewards you want.

How to earn United miles

From flying United and its partner carriers, booking certain hotels, signing up for promotions, and simply carrying the right credit card, there are plenty of ways to accumulate United miles in a flash. Because United miles never expire, you can focus on earning miles now without worrying about when you’ll be able to travel again.

Earn miles with Chase United and Ultimate Rewards credit cards

As is the case with many frequent flyer programs these days, the quickest, cheapest, and easiest way to accrue United MileagePlus miles is to open and use a co-branded credit card. United partners with Chase as its issuer, so in addition to the airline’s co-branded cards, you can transfer points from some of Chase’s other products to your MileagePlus account. 

There are six United credit cards to consider if you just want to earn United miles and enjoy some day-of-travel perks to boot.

United℠ Explorer Card

Annual Fee

$95, waived the first year

Regular APR

16.49% to 23.49% Variable

Credit Score

Good to Excellent

Featured Reward

60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Annual fee is waived the first year
    • Earns bonus miles on several purchase categories, including dining
    • Includes an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
    • Gets you a free checked bag on United when you pay with the card
    Cons
    • Not the most rewarding card for most non-United travel purchases
    • Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
    • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United purchases
    • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® fee Credit
    • 25% back on United inflight purchases
    • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $140 per roundtrip) when you use your card to purchase your ticket
    • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United ClubSM with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining including eligible delivery services


    Read Our Review
    Read Our Review A looong arrow, pointing right

    The popular United℠ Explorer Card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. 

    Read more: United Explorer credit card review

    United Club℠ Infinite Card

    Regular APR

    16.49% – 23.49% Variable

    Featured Reward

    100,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

    Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Great sign-up bonus
    • If you want United Club membership, this card gets you it for less than buying it outright
    • Get two free checked bags on United
    • Earns 4x miles on United purchases
    Cons
    • Steep annual fee, especially for an airline credit card
    • The non-United bonus categories (travel and dining) only earn 2x miles
    • Earn 100,000 Bonus Miles
    • Earn 4 miles per $1 spent on United purchases including tickets, Economy Plus, inflight food, beverages and Wi-Fi, and other United charges
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining including eligible delivery services
    • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
    • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® fee credit
    • Free first and second checked bags – a savings of up to $320 per roundtrip. Terms Apply
    • 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights when you pay with your Club Infinite Card.


    Read Our Review
    Read Our Review A looong arrow, pointing right

    A premium credit card, the United Club℠ Infinite Card comes with United Club airport lounge membership. The annual fee is $525, and it offers a welcome bonus of 100,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. 

    Read more: United Club Infinite credit card review

    United Quest℠ Card

    Regular APR

    16.49% – 23.49% Variable

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    80,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

    Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Substantial sign-up bonus of up to 80,000 miles
    • A free first and second checked bag can save you and a companion up to $320 round-trip
    • Up to $125 in annual credits toward United purchases can offset half the annual fee
    • 5,000-mile award flight credit can help you stretch your United miles
    Cons
    • High $250 annual fee
    • Card doesn’t offer United Club lounge access or passes
    • Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
    • $250 Annual Fee
    • Earn 3x miles on United® purchases, 2x miles on dining, select streaming services & all other travel, 1x on all other purchases
    • Earn 3x miles on United purchases
    • Earn 2x miles on dining and select streaming services
    • Earn 2x miles on all other travel
    • Earn 1x mile on all other purchases
    • Each year, receive a $125 credit on United® purchases and two 5K-mile anniversary award flight credits. Terms apply.


    Read Our Review
    Read Our Review A looong arrow, pointing right

    The newest United card, the United Quest℠ Card offers a welcome bonus of 80,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. It comes with perks like a free first and second checked bag on United flights (when you use the card to pay for your ticket), and up to $125 per year in annual statement credits toward United purchases (like airfare and incidental fees).

    Read more: United Quest credit card review

    United Gateway℠ Card

    Regular APR

    16.49% – 23.49% Variable

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    20,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

    Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • No annual fee
    • Good bonus categories (including gas stations and local transit/commuting)
    • Access to expanded United award availability
    Cons
    • Other United credit cards have much higher welcome bonuses
    • No free checked bag benefit like other United cards
    • Few United perks other than 25% back on inflight purchases
    • Earn 20,000 bonus miles
    • No annual fee
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, at gas stations and on local transit and commuting
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at gas stations
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on local transit and commuting
    • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases


    Read Our Review
    Read Our Review A looong arrow, pointing right

    The $0 annual fee United Gateway℠ Card is relatively basic, but still a strong earner. It offers a bonus of 20,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, and earns 2x miles on United purchases and at gas stations as well as on local transit and commuting, and 1x on everything else. 

    Read more: United Gateway credit card review

    United℠ Business Card

    Annual Fee

    $0 intro annual fee the first year, then $99

    Regular APR

    16.49%–23.49% Variable

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    75,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

    Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Solid travel benefits with United, including a free checked bag and priority boarding
    • $100 annual United travel credit is relatively easy to earn
    Cons
    • Beyond the sign-up bonus, it will take a while to earn a lot of miles through everyday spending on this card
    • Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
    • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.
    • Receive a 5,000-mile “better together” bonus each anniversary when you have both the United℠ Business Card and a personal United credit card.
    • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, dining (including eligible delivery services), at gas stations, office supply stores, and on local transit and commuting.
    • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, employee cards at no additional cost – miles earned from their purchases accrue in your account so you can earn rewards faster.
    • Enjoy a free first checked bag – a savings of up to $140 per roundtrip (terms apply), 2 United Club℠ one-time passes per year, and priority boarding privileges.
    • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for one year with DashPass, DoorDash’s membership service. Activate by 12/31/21.
    • $100 United travel credit after 7 United flight purchases of $100 or more each anniversary year.


    Read Our Review
    Read Our Review A looong arrow, pointing right

    If you already have one of the other United credit cards, you could consider this small-business card instead. The United℠ Business Card is currently offering 75,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. 

    Read more: United Business credit card review

    United Club℠ Business Card

    Regular APR

    16.49% – 23.49% Variable

    Featured Reward

    75,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

    Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Full United Club membership
    • Earns 1.5 miles on all non-United purchases
    • Cardholders can get 2 free checked bags on United
    Cons
    • High annual fee
    • No bonus miles-earning categories beyond United
    • The information related to the United Club℠ Business Card has been collected by Business Insider and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
    • Earn 2x miles on United purchases
    • Earn 1.5x miles on all other purchases
    • Employee cards at no additional cost
    • First and second checked bags free (terms apply)
    • United Club access

    The premium United Club℠ Business Card offers a welcome bonus of 75,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You’ll earn 2x miles on United purchases and 1.5x miles on everything else, and, like the personal version, the card comes with United Club membership. 

    Read more: Guide to the best Chase credit cards

    If you prefer a card that earns transferable points, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus (as well as over a dozen other Chase airline and hotel partners) if you carry one of the following cards. Given that versatility, you might want to apply for one of them instead.

    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

    Regular APR

    15.99%-22.99% Variable

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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • High sign-up bonus starts you off with lots of points
    • Strong travel coverage
    Cons
    • Doesn’t offer a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit
    • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
    • Enjoy new benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
    • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
    • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
    • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
    • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
    • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.


    Read Our Review
    Read Our Review A looong arrow, pointing right

    This customer-favorite travel rewards credit card offers 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. The card earns 5x points on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards,  3x points on dining, select


    streaming

    services, and online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs), 2x points on other eligible travel purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

    Read more: Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review

    Chase Sapphire Reserve®

    Regular APR

    16.99%-23.99% Variable

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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Annual travel credit can effectively shave $300 off the annual fee if you use it
    • Strong travel insurance
    • Strong bonus rewards on travel and dining
    Cons
    • Very high annual fee
    • The new DoorDash statement credits may not be useful for everyone, which can make the recently increased annual fee harder to justify
    • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
    • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. Through December 31, 2021, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
    • Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
    • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
    • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
    • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
    • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓™
    • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more


    Read Our Review
    Read Our Review A looong arrow, pointing right

    With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Further, you can earn 10x points on Chase Dining purchases through Ultimate Rewards, 10x points on hotel stays and car rentals purchased through Ultimate Rewards, 5x points on air travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on other travel and dining purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

    Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

    Regular APR

    15.99%–20.99% variable APR

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    100,000 points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

    Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • High sign-up bonus
    • Offers 3x bonus points on several spending categories, including travel and advertising purchases
    • Includes comprehensive travel coverage
    Cons
    • Welcome bonus has a very high minimum spending requirement
    • Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
    • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
    • With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring
    • With Zero Liability you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information
    • Redeem points for cash back, gift cards, travel and more – your points don’t expire as long as your account is open
    • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
    • Purchase Protection covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account.


    Read Our Review
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    Don’t forget about the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, which packs a points punch of its own. New cardholders can earn a whopping 100,000 points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. They also earn 3x points on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year, and 1x on everything else.

    Travelers have some fantastic choices when it comes to credit cards they can use to accumulate United MileagePlus miles. But there are more ways to earn, too.

    Earn United miles by flying United and its partners

    Of course, the other main way to stock up on a lot of United MileagePlus miles is to fly United and its other airline partners. Regular MileagePlus members (i.e. those without elite status) earn 5x miles per dollar spent on airfare with United or United Express. Those with Premier Silver status earn 7x, Premier Golds earn 8x, Premier Platinums get 9x and finally, Premier 1Ks earn 11x miles per dollar.

    Read more: 7 ways to earn points and miles without traveling, from maximizing credit cards to shopping online

    United also has 25 Star Alliance airline partners and 13 non-alliance airline partners with whom MileagePlus members can accrue miles when traveling. They include major carriers like ANA, Air Canada, EVA Air, Lufthansa, SAS, and Singapore Airlines, among others.

    The earning rates vary from partner to partner, but are usually based on the fare class purchased and the distance flown. For instance, tickets on Singapore Airlines earn between 0-150% of the distance flown, while those on SWISS earn 0-200%. So it pays to check the mileage rates on each individual partner page before committing to a ticket.

    Earn United miles with other travel

    In addition to just flights, you can earn United miles by booking stays with United’s hotel partners, sailings through United Cruises, and entire trips through United Vacations, as well as partner car rentals.

    Earn United miles through shopping and dining rewards

    Aside from travel, you can rack up miles by keeping a few other opportunities in mind. United offers an online shopping portal – kind of like an online mall – with hundreds of retail partners where MileagePlus members can earn bonus points on purchases. New members with a United co-branded card can currently earn up to 1,000 bonus miles by signing up and spending $25 within two weeks.

    Read more: The 3 steps I take to save money and earn more than 100,000 points each year shopping online

    Members can also register for MileagePlus Dining and earn between 3x and 5x miles on tabs at thousands of participating restaurants around the country.

    And don’t forget that Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United MileagePlus instantly at a 1:1 ratio, so if you’re just a few thousand miles short of an award, this is one of the best ways to top up your account.

    How to use United miles

    Speaking of awards, there are plenty of ways to redeem your United miles when the time comes.

    Use miles for United award flights

    It’s to be presumed that one of the primary reasons to focus on United miles is to use them for award flights on the airline itself. First, the bad news: United has removed award charts with fixed rates between various regions from its website and gravitated to a dynamic pricing model for award tickets.

    This means that the number of miles you’ll need for a flight now depends more on how much paid airfares are running. That usually makes it cheaper to fly less expensive routes. On the flip side, however, if you’re looking for seats in business or first class, the mileage prices have risen recently and can be downright astronomical for Polaris business class on busy international routes.

    Read more: United credit cards give you access to expanded saver award availability

    These days, one-way domestic economy award tickets start at a mere 5,000 miles, but can range up to over 30,000 miles. You can find saver business or first-class awards within the US for as few as 25,000 miles, but also as high as over 60,000 miles.

    Internationally, it’s hard to pinpoint exact values for routes these days given how few the airline is actually operating due to the COVID pandemic. But in general, expect one-ways from the US to other regions to start at around 32,500 miles in economy and 63,000 miles in business class and to skyrocket from there.

    There’s also a new redemption option called “Money + Miles,” which is similar to Delta’s Pay With Miles feature. Money + Miles is currently available on select United flights, and it allows you to pay for part of your fare with cash and the rest with miles, at a fixed rate of 1 cent per mile.

    Redeem United miles for partner flights

    Just as you can earn United miles on flights with partner airlines, you can also redeem them for award tickets on the carrier’s Star Alliance and non-alliance partners. United stealthily raised award prices across the board by around 10% in early 2020, and then bumped them up again for close-in bookings — all of which has driven these prices higher still.

    Read more: The best ways to fly to Europe with points and miles

    While the number of miles you need for a specific flight will also depend on the route, airline, and dates, expect to pay about 33,000 miles each way from the US to Europe in economy and 77,000 miles in business class. Flights from the US to Asia start at around 44,000 miles each way in economy and 88,000 miles in business class.

    How to search for awards using United miles

    On the bright side, United has one of the most robust award-search engines – both for its own flights and those of its partners – of any airline out there. To search for tickets, just go to United.com, enter in your origin, destination, and flight dates, and make sure the box that says, “Book with miles” is checked. You can even check “Flexible dates” to see a month’s worth of award availability and filter your search by cabin class, which makes it easier to find the flights you need.

    In terms of value, you should try to get at least 1 cent per redeemed mile in value for any award flights that you book, and aim higher for tickets in business or first class.

    Other ways to redeem United miles

    Beyond award tickets, United lets you redeem MileagePlus miles for other travel-related purposes, such as seat upgrades and United Club memberships. The latter costs $650 or 85,000 miles, meaning you’re only getting 0.76 cents per mile in value, which is definitely not worth it. You can also purchase inflight Wi-Fi passes or subscriptions using miles – but this is an even worse value.

    Read more: 11 travel rewards credit cards that will reimburse your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every 4 years

    Among the other options are redeeming miles for TSA PreCheck applications, merchandise, gift cards (many of these only net you a measly 0.3 cents per mile), various experiences like concerts and Broadway shows (once they resume), charitable donations, and even for hotels and cruises. Unfortunately, these redemptions are less than ideal if you’re looking to maximize value. 

    Bottom line

    Given what a large presence United and its partners have around the world, the airline’s MileagePlus frequent flyer program is an excellent choice when it comes to travel loyalty. Not only does United boast several great co-branded credit cards that make it easy to earn miles quickly, but the fact that you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to MileagePlus makes the program even more useful.

    When it comes time to use your miles, save them for flights on United and its partner carriers rather than for things that don’t get you nearly the same value, such as merchandise and gift cards. With a little spending and travel strategy, you can boost your United MileagePlus earning astronomically and then redeem your miles for some great options when you’re ready to travel again.

    Featured credit cards from our partners

    Featured Reward

    60,000 points

    Credit Needed

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    3 free nights (each valued up to 50,000 points) after qualifying purchases and 10x total points on eligible purchases in select categories

    Credit Needed

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    $200 after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening

    Credit Needed

    Good to Excellent

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