Best Partner Awards Using United Miles
United MileagePlus has long been one of my favorite frequent flyer programs. United transfers are one of my primary uses of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, along with World of Hyatt transfers. These have historically been the my most common uses of UR points.
United makes is extremely easy to use their miles on their website. Their search engine is robust, and searching and finding awards is a cinch. In general, their pricing is middle of the road among programs, but they do have some sweet spots. This is what I want to explore in this post, highlighting some of the best partner awards using United miles.
One of my favorite features of MileagePlus is their lack of fuel surcharges on award tickets. In some cases, they aren’t the cheapest option when strictly comparing the number of miles required between programs. But if booking certain partner awards using United miles saves you $100s in fees and surcharges, they suddenly become competitive again.
I wanted to share the seven of the best partner awards you can book using your United miles. Be sure to take advantage of these before the prices possibly go dynamic.
How To Earn United Miles
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves we should discuss the best ways to rack up United MileagePlus miles. The quickest and easiest way is to transfer Ultimate Rewards points over the United. They transfer to United MilagePlus miles at a 1 to 1 ratio. Here are the best cards for racking up Ultimate Rewards points:
These cards earn fully transferable Ultimate Rewards points.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points with a $95 annual fee after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months. The perfect starter card and it offers a ton of value the first year.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points with a $450 annual fee after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months. The best perks card in the Chase program and a great card for road warriors.
- Ink Business Preferred– 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points with a $95 annual fee after spending $5,000 within the first 3 months. The largest UR points offer Chase has
No Annual Fee Cards
You need to carry a Chase premium card listed above to unlock these points and allow them to be transferable points. Otherwise they are only worth 1 cent a piece in cash.
- Chase Freedom – 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points with no annual fee after spending $500 within the first 3 months. A card that rotates 5% back categories each quarter. The points become a Ultimate Rewards if you have a Chase premium card otherwise they are worth 1 cent each in cash back.
- Chase Freedom Unlimited – 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points with no annual fee after spending $500 within the first 3 months. A great everyday card since it earns 1.5X in everything. The points become a Ultimate Rewards if you have a Chase premium card otherwise they are worth 1 cent each in cash back.
- Ink Business Cash – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points with no annual fee after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months. This may be the best way to rack up UR points with its 5X earning potential. The points become a Ultimate Rewards if you have a Chase premium card otherwise they are worth 1 cent each in cash back.
- Ink Unlimited – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points with no annual fee after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months. A great everyday business card since it earns 1.5X in everything. The points become a Ultimate Rewards if you have a Chase premium card otherwise they are worth 1 cent each in cash back.
Lufthansa/Austrian Business Class to Europe
United charges 70,000 MileagePlus miles for partner business class flights to Europe, a 10,000-mile premium over awards on their own metal. This might not sound like a fantastic deal, but for a few of their partners, it actually is. Lufthansa and Austrian are two of the carriers where I would look to United MileagePlus to book an award.
Several other loyalty programs offer Lufthansa and Austrian business class for fewer miles (check out the best partner programs for business class to Europe). However, they all hit you with enormous fuel surcharges. Personally, I can’t deal with $400 in fees in addition to the miles. I’d simply wait for a sale and buy a $400 round-trip in economy.
If you want to fly Lufthansa or Austrian business class, United miles are an excellent way to pay a reasonable number of miles while cutting the fees. The only other program where fuel surcharges aren’t passed on for these carriers is Avianca LifeMiles.
Thai First Class To Australia
Thai first class used to be one of the most amazing sweet spots on the entire United MileagePlus award chart. Even though you now pay 65,000 miles for Thai first class instead of just 40,000, this is still among the better partner awards using United miles. It didn’t make the cut of cheapest first class flights bookable with miles, but it’s not far behind some of the other options out there.
Technically, Avianca LifeMiles rings in slightly lower with a price of 60,000 miles. But you do have the hassle of dealing with LifeMiles. United partner awards are easy to search and book, and if you have a lot of miles (or Chase UR), this is a great option for a first class experience.
One of the best parts of Thai First Class is having access to their swanky lounge in Bangkok. Or so I hear, as I’ve yet to fly Thai.
Expensive Flights Within Africa
Africa is a tough continent to get to from the United States. Cash fares are generally expensive, and the prices in miles are generally high as well.
Once you get there, it makes sense to maximize your time seeing multiple places or countries. However, unless you’re hopping around South Africa on a low-cost carrier, intra-Africa flights can be expensive.
United has you covered, though. Awards start at just 17,500 miles one-way in economy, and you have both the Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways to work with, allowing you to travel practically anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa cheaply.
A round-trip from Dakar, Senegal to Cape Town, South Africa runs ~$700 in economy. You can score this for just 35,000 miles round-trip. Getting 2 cents per mile for economy flights is pretty solid.
Pro tip: cut the cost of intra-Africa flight even further through savvy use of the United Excursionist Perk! If you followed the Frequent Miler 40k to Far Away challenge, you’ll know Greg pulled out all the stops when it came to Excursionist Perk hacks.
Caribbean/Central America to Northern South America
While flying coach with Avianca or Copa might not sound like the greatest thing ever, there is a ton of value if you want to plan a multi-stop trip to Latin America. The trick is to get yourself to/from the Caribbean before you start the trip.
Flights on United (and partners) in economy between the U.S. and Northern South America cost 20,000 miles. However, this drops to just 12,500 miles each way in economy if you start in either the Caribbean or Central American zones!
If you can fly cheaply (think Avios on AA, or Spirit) from the Eastern or Southern U.S. to a Caribbean destination served by COPA, you can start spend a few days at that destination, and then embark on a separate United itinerary to northern South America. Even toss in an extra stop using the Excursionist Perk for good measure. Here is an example:
- Get yourself to Punta Cana
- United Outbound: Punta Cana to Bogota via Panama City (12,500 miles)
- Excursionist Perk: Bogota to the Galapagos via Guyaquil (0 miles)
- United Inbound: Galapagos to San Juan, Puerto Rico via Quito, Bogota and Panama City (12,500 miles)
- Get yourself home from San Juan
I’m not gonna delve into any more detail here on all the potential variations to these tickets. This should be enough food for thought.
Business Class Between Australia and Europe
Business class awards between Europe and Australia can be pricey. Not to mention it is a very long haul. We’ll see if Qantas’ Project Sunrise ever comes to fruition, with nonstop service between Sydney and London (as well as New York City).
United may not be the very best option for business class between Europe and the land down under, but it is still among the better options available. You can spend quite a bit of time in business class for just 90,000 United miles one-way.
There are also plenty of Star Alliance carriers that connect the two continents, including Air India, Air China, EVA, Thai, ANA, and Asiana. The latter four are your best bet and are known to offer a solid business class experience.
Short-Haul Awards Outside the U.S.
One bright side to the most recent changes to the United award chart was the addition of short-haul pricing for nonstop routes under 800 flown miles. In some cases, these represent an amazing value, if the cash cost is otherwise very high.
Here are some of the best places to look for short-haul partner awards using United miles:
- Central America on Avianca/COPA
- Central and Southern Africa on Ethiopian and South African Airways
- Awards on lightly-served routes in Asia regions that have high cash cost
- The occasional award within Europe (although generally taxes kill these)
Business Class Between South Africa and South America
There is one more little-known sweet spot on the United award chart: direct flights between South Africa and South America on South African Airways. The business class price for these is just 50,000 miles. If you transit anywhere else, including Addis Ababa on Ethiopian, the price balloons to an insane 102,500 miles.
If you need to transit these continents, consider United MileagePlus one of your best options.
Short on United Miles?
If you are in need of United miles, you can always transfer Ultimate Rewards to top off your account. If you’re under 5/24, consider picking up the United MileagePlus Explorer card or the United Business card. The latter currently has an elevated sign-up bonus of 100,000 miles!
You could also consider picking up any Chase UR-earning card. The final option for accruing United miles is transferring Marriott Bonvoy Points to MileagePlus. Due to the partnership between the two programs, you’ll actually net 10% more United miles than with other partners.
Final Thoughts on Booking Partner Awards Using United Miles
Booking partner awards using United miles can offer excellent value, as we’ve seen with these various options. This is by no means an exhaustive list of some of what’s available, but it should cover some of the best sweet spots.
Finally, United has been making changes to their own awards and awards on their partners. So far, I am still seeing partner awards at the same historic prices (even into 2020). But…things may change anytime, and I don’t expect for the better, especially for premium cabin partner award.
If you’ve been looking to book any of the above sweet spots, it might be better sooner rather than later! This is one of the frustrations of United following Delta’s lead and moving away from an official award chart.
Have you booked any excellent partner awards using United miles?