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There are numerous ways to use United miles, and you can do some really fun stuff with stopovers and open-jaws.
For the purposes of this post I’m going to keep it simple and highlight the one-way prices for some of the “sweet spots” in the United award chart, along with a couple of regions where I find United miles to be particularly useful.
Mainland U.S./Alaska/Canada to Peru | 20,000 in economy, 35,000 in business
Hiking in to Machu Picchu
United considers “Northern” South America to be a separate region, with Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela all requiring fewer miles than the rest of the continent.
Paid tickets to Peru especially can be pricey, but award availability to Lima on Star Alliance partner Copa Airlines is generally quite good. Copa serves 14 cities in the U.S. and Canada, so while they don’t have lie-flat seats (few routes to this region do though), you can typically find a one or two stop routing rather easily.
If you want to go directly to Cuzco, check space on Avianca as well. Space is more rare, but that can be a great option for a business class itinerary from Los Angeles.
Europe without surcharges | 30,000 in economy, 57,500 or 70,000 in business
11 of the 28 Star Alliance carriers are based in Europe, so there’s a wide variety of flights and schedules to choose from. If you stick to United, you’ll pay fewer miles for business class, but given the great availability on partner carriers it can be worth it to spend a few more miles.
The other nice thing is that there aren’t fuel surcharges on any United awards. If you were to book through Air Canada Aeroplan, for example, you can avoid some fuel surcharges by selectively choosing carriers like Swiss and Turkish. If you want to fly Lufthansa or Austrian, however, you’ll pay several hundred dollars in surcharges.
American passes along fuel surcharges on British Airways (which is almost all the oneworld availability to Europe), and Delta levies fuel surcharges for travel from Europe. A good strategy is to use Delta miles for the outbound, and United miles for the return to keep the cash outlay to a minimum.
Intra-Africa | 17,500 in economy, 35,000 in business
Beach in Mauritius
While United divides Africa into two regions, the price is the same whether you’re going within or between them. That means you can fly between Morocco and South Africa (or even the Seychelles) at these rates.
Africa isn’t that well-served by SkyTeam or oneworld, so this can be a great option for those looking to pair a safari with a beach getaway.
Take the family to Asia | 35,000 – 40,000 in economy, 80,000 in business
EVA Hello Kitty business class
If you’re looking to travel as a group, United miles can provide a fantastic option for travel to Asia. Star Alliance partners like Air China, Asiana, and EVA have lie-flat seats in business class, and frequently offer availability for four people or more.
Connections within Asia are typically wide-open, making it easy to connect to non-hub destinations.
Southeast Asia to Australia/New Zealand | 30,000 in business, 40,000 in first
Finding award space to Australia can be extremely tough, so combining with a trip to Southeast Asia can make sense (or even just be fun!), and this is a bit of a sweet spot with United miles.
Business class is still a fair price, but if you can find first class availability on Thai, 40,000 miles is a bargain! Flying Thai out of Bangkok gives you access to their incredible ground services, including a spa with complimentary treatments.
Getting United Miles
You can transfer points to United from Chase Ultimate Rewards:
United is also technically a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, but the transfer ratio is horrible. You can also theoretically transfer points from Marriott Rewards at a decent rate, but it does take some time, and you can’t place flights on hold in the interim, so make sure you have a backup option.
You can also buy United miles if you need just a few more for an award. They don’t seem to be offering any kind of promotion at present, so miles purchased this way will be pricey. But if you’re just a bit short it may still be a good option.
United miles are very useful, and while I am annoyed with how they’ve bungled their pricing for complex itineraries, there are still some fantastic values.
Most itineraries can be booked online, the fees are very low, and you can get super creative with the new Excursionist Perk.
Have you booked a United award lately? Where to?