How to Earn Miles With the United Airlines MileagePlus Program

Dec 15, 2018

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – United Explorer Card;  United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card


United MileagePlus miles are some of the most powerful on the market. Not only can you redeem them with low fees for United flights, but you can also use the miles for flights on United’s many Star Alliance partners without fuel surcharges, including Lufthansa and ANA — airlines with aspirational first and business class products. Even better, there are a ton of simple ways you can earn United miles without ever stepping foot on an airplane, including through shopping, hotels and credit cards.

In This Post

If you’re just getting started in the world of points and miles and have your eyes set on United as your carrier of choice, in this article we’ll show you all the ways you can earn MileagePlus miles to get you closer to that next award trip.

Earn by Flying

In addition to redeeming your miles with United and dozens of partner airlines, you can also earn miles for hopping onboard these carriers. However, the exact way that you earn miles depends on a number of factors: the airline operating the flight, how you booked the flight and your fare class, to name a few. Let’s take a closer look.

Flying on United

Over the years, United has changed how you earn miles when flying on United-operated flights. Instead of earning based on miles flown, you now earn MileagePlus miles based on the base price of your ticket (minus taxes). You’ll also earn additional miles if you have MileagePlus elite status — the higher tier of status, the more miles you earn.

Here’s how many miles you’ll earn per dollar spent based on your level of status:

  • No status – 5 miles
  • Premier Silver – 7 miles
  • Premier Gold – 8 miles
  • Premier Platinum – 9 miles
  • Premier 1K – 11 miles

Here’s an example of how this works. If you buy a one-way United Express ticket from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Des Moines (DSM) with a base fare of $210 and $30 in taxes, you’ll earn 1,050 miles as a MileagePlus traveler without status. However, if you’re a top-tier Premier 1K member, that earning jumps to 2,310 miles. Note that these earning rates apply even if you’re booked into United’s basic economy fare class, though that has several other restrictions of which you should be aware.

While you earn redeemable miles based on the amount you pay, you’ll earn Premier-Qualifying Miles (PQMs) based on mileage flown, with a 500-PQM minimum for elite members. These PQMs can’t be used for award travel; they simply accumulate through the year towards United Elite status.

Flying Star Alliance Partners

Likewise, you can earn United MileagePlus miles when flying any one of United’s Star Alliance or non-alliance partners. Here’s where things start to get tricky, though. If the partner flight is booked through United and is ticketed with a United Airlines ticket number, you’ll earn miles the same as if you were flying on an United-operated flight: based on the base fare of your ticket and your elite status level (as detailed above). However, if the ticket is booked on a partner ticket stock, you’ll earn miles based on your fare class and how long your flight is.

This gets even more confusing when you consider that the mileage earning rates vary from airline to airline, so check your booking class by looking at your eTicket or calling the airline. Then, head over to United’s list of partner airlines, click on your airline and find the corresponding fare class on that list. To figure out how many miles you’ll earn, just multiply the mileage flown by the percentage in the “Award mile earnings” column. As you’d expect, fares booked in premium cabins generally earn more miles than economy tickets.

TIP: To determine the distance between two airports, use and input your departure and arrival airport codes (e.g. ORD-DSM in the above example). It’ll then tell you how far apart the two are.

Earn Through Credit Cards

United has a suite of cobranded credit cards issued by Chase. There are multiple cards available, and each one earns United MileagePlus miles on every purchase, so you can quickly rack up miles by swiping them for your everyday spending. Additionally, each card has a lucrative welcome bonus that can give you a huge amount of miles right off the bat.

Here’s Chase’s portfolio of United cobranded credit cards that are currently offering sign-up bonuses:

  • United Explorer Card: Through Jan. 8, 2019, earn up to 65,000 bonus miles. Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Plus, earn another 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open. The card also allows you to earn 2x miles on United, restaurant and hotel purchases and 1 mile elsewhere.
  • United MileagePlus Club Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Earn 2x MileagePlus miles on United purchases and 1.5 miles elsewhere. The card also comes with United Club membership, though it does carry a $450 annual fee.
  • United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Earn 2x MileagePlus miles on United, restaurant, gas station and office supply store purchases and 1 mile elsewhere. You’ll also take home 10,000 bonus miles if you spend $25,000 on the card in a calendar year.

The information for the United MileagePlus Club Card and United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card have been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

If you’re struggling to decide between the two personal cards, check out Eric Rosen’s comparison guide of the two.

You might be surprised to hear that United has a cobranded prepaid card too. The United MileagePlus GO card is issued by Netspend and earns a simple 1 mile per $1 spent. Unfortunately, though, the card has very limited earning potential: you can only earn up to 2,500 miles per month, and it offers no sign-up bonus. With an $85 annual fee, I’d strongly recommend that you look at the Explorer Card to boost your account instead.

Earn Through Partners

While flying with United and its partner airlines along with the carrier’s cobranded credit cards being the primary methods to quickly earn United miles, there are many additional MileagePlus partners to investigate, covering a wide variety of industries. Let’s dive in to see the myriad of ways you can pick up additional miles.

MileagePlus Shopping

Like most airlines, United operates its own shopping portal (MileagePlus Shopping) where you can earn miles for making everyday purchases online. Just sign up for an account and find your merchant on the mall before making a purchase. Starting at this site rather than the specific retailer’s site will give you extra miles on your purchases in addition to the points you’ll earn using your credit card of choice Do note that every merchant offers a different amount of miles per dollar spent, and the number of miles fluctuates frequently, but this can be a great way to earn 1, 2 or even 5 additional miles when shopping online.

In addition, MileagePlus Shopping frequently runs holiday and seasonal promotions. For example, the portal recently ran an offer for 1,000 bonus miles for spending $250 or more on Macy’s purchases.

MileagePlus X app

If you want the ability to earn United miles without the hassle of your computer, you’ll want to download the MileagePlus X app. Simply put, you use the app to buy gift cards to select merchants. The gift card is available immediately and can be purchased in any amount, so you can use them right away. When making a MileagePlus X purchase, you’ll earn a select number of miles per dollar spent, sometimes climbing as high as 10x!

Some included merchants are Amazon, Walmart, Staples and Panera Bread. There’s a ton on the app, so make sure to give it a look before you make your next purchase. One of the best things about the MileagePlus X app is that miles are awarded instantly, so if you’re ever a few miles away from a redemption, just buy a gift card to a store or restaurant you frequent.

MileagePlus Dining

Like most other domestic carriers, United has its own dining program that’s part of the Rewards Network: MileagePlus Dining.

In short, this is a shopping portal for eating out. Just sign up for an account and link the credit cards you use for dining. Then, you’ll earn up to five miles per dollar spent when you swipe a linked card at participating restaurants. These earnings are in addition to the standard rates on the credit card you use, so be sure to swipe one that offers a category bonus on dining purchases.

To maximize your earnings with this site, you’ll want to get online status and then try to snag VIP status. Becoming an online member is easy: just sign up for the program and enable email alerts. This will get you an earning rate of three miles per dollar spent. Then, one you’ve made 11 dining purchases in a twelve-month period, you’ll reach VIP status and start taking home five miles per dollar spent. If you don’t choose to receive emails from MileagePlus Dining, you’re considered a basic member (and will only earn 1 mile per $2 spent).

Even better? United Dining has a sign-up bonus. You’ll earn 1,000 bonus MileagePlus miles after spending $25 at a participating restaurant within 30 days of opening your account and another 500 miles for your first three $25 purchases at participating restaurants within 90 days.

Transfer Points from Marriott

CANADA - 2018/04/21: Sing and logo of the Marriott Hotels and Resorts. The chain is repeatedly voted as one of the best places to work. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Marriott and United’s partnership represents another way to boost your MileagePlus account balance. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Marriott has 44 airline transfer partners, and the vast majority of them transfer at a 3:1 transfer ratio, meaning that three Marriott points equal one airline mile. However, United gets a preferable transfer rate due to the airline’s RewardsPlus partnership with Marriott. As of the time of writing this article, Marriott points transfer to United MileagePlus at a 3:1.1 ratio. And don’t forget: you get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred, so transferring 60,000 Marriott points to United would result in 27,000 United miles.

Transfer Points from Chase Ultimate Rewards

Have a nice stock of Chase Ultimate Rewards points from a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card? You can transfer them at a 1:1 ratio to United. In most cases, it’s actually more lucrative to spend on your Ultimate Rewards-earning credit cards and transfer to United versus putting spend on your United co-branded credit card. Most United cards only earn 1 mile per $1 spent, while many Ultimate Rewards earning cards have multipliers for certain types of purchases. For example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve in your wallet, you’re better off swiping that at restaurants to earn 3 points per $1 spent over the United Explorer Card at 2 miles per dollar spent.

Bottom Line

As you can see, there are many ways you can earn United miles, but the most powerful approach is to use the above methods in tandem. Don’t just pick one of them; every one can unlock some terrific earning rates and get you within striking distance of that next award trip.

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