United MileagePlus miles can be used for award travel on United Airlines and on 38 international and domestic partners. The number of miles and the fees required for an award ticket will depend on which airline you choose to fly. This guide will walk you through the process of finding and booking an award.
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Compare Award Prices
In many cases travel on flights operated by United Airlines flights will require fewer miles, especially in business or first class. However, the quality of the service and overall experience may be better on some partners, such as Lufthansa or Singapore Airlines — and United can charge a lot for partner flights in premium cabins. Some other programs like Aeroplan may charge fewer miles. One benefit of using United miles is that they have more flexible routing rules, so those miles are potentially easier to use. Taking a simple round-trip? Flexibility may not matter.
Compare award prices from United MileagePlus and other programs.
Estimate Taxes, Fees, and Surcharges
Because the same award space is generally available to all partners, you should also consider the possible fees and surcharges that will apply before you redeem your miles. If you have miles with both United Airlines and Aeroplan, for example, they probably have different award prices for the same ticket. But they will also have different fees, and Aeroplan’s fees are likely to be higher. I recommend that you familiarize yourself for these fees before you begin searching for award availability.
Learn more about taxes, fees, and surcharges when booking through:
- United MileagePlus
- Air Canada Aeroplan (coming soon)
- ANA Mileage Club (coming soon)
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (coming soon)
Review the Award Routing Rules
One last thing before you start searching: make sure you are familiar with the United MileagePlus routing rules. Next to Alaska’s Mileage Plan, I consider them to be among the most liberal of any major program. You shouldn’t have a problem in most cases because United’s website includes so many partners in its search engine. However, some people get in over their head. That’s where you need to know if your routing is actually legal and the site is creating an error, or if you’re the one who is mistaken.
Generally speaking, United does not many place limits on how you’re permitted to travel between regions. You’re even allowed to fly from North America to Asia via Europe. Add in a free stopover (on round-trip tickets only), and you can easily visit a couple cities for the price of one.
You may get lucky and find results on your first try, searching from your origin to your destination. In many cases, however, it’s easier to find the flights you want if you break up your search and look one leg at a time. For example, if you want to travel from the U.S. to Europe, create a list of all the gateway airports in each region. (Gateway airports are international departure and arrival points. They may be big hubs like New York or smaller cities like Portland.)
The logic here is that when you submit a search the airline’s computers will consider all possible connecting points and then look to see if there is award space on all segments of your journey. But computers take shortcuts and sometimes miss things. If you do the work yourself you will be more certain that you have exhausted every option. So if you live in Seattle you might look for flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and even Newark. Then from each of those cities you might look for flights to Zurich, Frankfurt, Brussels, and so on. (Don’t forget to look for flights from Seattle to each of these European cities, too!)
As you find award availability, you can piece together an entire trip — always staying within the award routing rules. You can visit an airline’s website or OpenFlights.org to get more information about which airlines serve which cities.
Learn more about the United MileagePlus routing rules.
Find Award Availability
Find Award Space Using United Airlines
Award space for nearly all Star Alliance carriers and most non-alliance partners should be visible on the United Airlines website. Four partners cannot be found on United’s website, but of these, Singapore Airlines is still accessible if you use a different tool.
|Not Available Online
Singapore Airlines is the most significant omission. Some believe that its absence is a result of compensation disputes between United and Singapore. Whatever the reason, don’t forget about it. This is one of United’s best partners in terms of quality, and they offer service throughout Asia as well as a couple routes to Frankfurt and Moscow.
In cases like this, the absence of award space on United’s website doesn’t mean that award space is not available. Instead, you must call an agent to book these flights. Be warned that, unlike some other programs, United has stated hat it will not provide a waiver on the additional fee for manual reservations.
An agent can also help you find award space, but it may be easier to search for award space on another website first, especially if booking premium cabin awards that are more scarce. In general the same award space is made available to all partners — if another partner displays it on their website, then United’s agents should be able to pull it up. Be sure to record the date and flight number to assist the agent.
TIP: United has several phone numbers for countries around the world. In the United States and Canada, call (800) 864-8331. For numbers in other countries, check United’s website.
I cover the nuances of each site below and provide links to more detailed walkthroughs on using them to find award availability. Remember, if you use another site to find award space you will still be subject to the prices set by United MileagePlus once you call to book. The only reason to use another site is because of limitations in United’s own search tool.
Learn more about how to search for award space on the United Airlines website.
Find Award Space Using Aeroplan
Aeroplan (Air Canada) offers one of the more comprehensive and user-friendly tools for finding award space on other Star Alliance partners — everything in the left column of the table, and including Singapore Airlines. You might also find that some awards are more attractive when booked with Aeroplan instead of United.
Learn more about how to search for award space on the Aeroplan website.
Find Award Space Using ANA
The ANA website is a good backup to Aeroplan, and some believe it to be more authoritative. However, recent changes to the website have left it with some bugs, and it still isn’t convenient to use. (I’ll grant it is easier than before. That doesn’t mean it has managed to become easier than United or Aeroplan.) One of the biggest limitations is that you cannot search for most flights departing within 3-4 days. Again, you should be able to search for every Star Alliance partner, including Singapore Airlines.
ANA has some other non-alliance partners that are shared with United, including Jet Airways. I’m not actually certain that you can use ANA to search for these carriers’ award space online. United will let you mix and match carriers, but ANA restricts this option when booking travel on non-alliance partners. Since ANA also requires that you book round-trip travel, that would make it more difficult to search for award availability. So far I haven’t found an example of non-alliance award space on ANA’s website.
Learn more about how to search for award space on the ANA website.