What are the best ways to use United miles? TravelSort reader Pila writes “I have recently signed up for Chase credit cards…My question is where should I redeem my [United] miles?”
I recently covered my thoughts on the best ways to use AMEX points, so this post will focus on United miles, which in general are the best value transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
10 Best Ways to Use United Miles
As in the AMEX points post, I've chosen this ranking based on the ability to fly first or business class, or to get better value from using United miles than another frequent flyer program.
1. Lufthansa First Class
It's increasingly hard to fly first class to Europe without expensive fuel surcharges. One of the best ways, if you can book 15 days in advance or less, is using United miles to fly Lufthansa's New First Class. Taxes on the DC (IAD) to Munich (MUC) flight are $77.50, and you'll have access to the Lufthansa first class lounge, even as an arriving first class passenger, or First Class Terminal if you arrive in Frankfurt. Note that if you need to book Lufthansa first class in advance, you'll need to book via the Lufthansa Group Miles & More program, at much higher cost in both miles and surcharges.
2. First Class to Asia via Europe
You can book a first class award from the U.S. to Asia via Europe for 140,000 miles roundtrip, or 70,000 miles each way. You'll likely have to piece it together, since United.com often gives mixed class awards with one of the legs in business or economy, but if you're booking shortly before departure you have a shot of getting Lufthansa First Class to Europe, then Thai First Class to Bangkok.
3. Thai First Class to Australia from Bangkok
Thai flies a 3-cabin product from Bangkok to Sydney, and is one of the best ways to get to Australia if you're routing via Asia. Note that Thai will be rolling out its new First Class on the A380 later this year, though currently it's the old Royal First Class on the BKK-SYD route.
4. Build in a United Free One Way
Don't forget that if you're booking a roundtrip international award ticket with United miles, you can book a free one way. See Use United Free One Ways to Maximize Your Award
5. Redeem for a One Way Award
A key reason why I prefer United and American miles to US Air Dividend Miles and Delta Skymiles is the ability to redeem for one way awards. Yes, you do give up the chance to build in a free one way, but the flexibility is key when working with limited award availability, especially when redeeming for more than one award ticket per flight.
6. Air New Zealand Business Class (777) to Auckland from Asia
It's become next to impossible to redeem for an Air New Zealand business class award from the U.S., but fortunately it is still possible to redeem for a business class award from Asia, particularly Shanghai and Tokyo. Aim for the full flat bed seats on the 777.
7. Lufthansa New Business Class
While Lufthansa's new business class isn't as private as, say, Cathay Pacific Business Class, it's a lot better than Lufthansa's old recliner business class. Also see Lufthansa's New Business Class Rollout and Routes
8. Singapore Old Business Class to Australia from Singapore
While it's really only possible to book Singapore Airlines' new business class, first class and Singapore Suites using KrisFlyer miles transferred from SPG or AMEX points, you can still book Singapore Airlines old business class from Singapore to Australia using United miles. It's angled flat, so not as comfortable as Air Zealand's 777 business class, but of course the service is excellent and there are low surcharges compared to KrisFlyer.
9. Business Class to Africa via Europe
If you're going on safari in Africa, you can fly via Europe for 120,000 United miles roundtrip in business class, or 60,000 miles each way. While you're unlikely to find business class award availability on Swiss, other options are Lufthansa, South African, Turkish AIrlines, Brussels Airlines, Ethiopian and Egypt Air.
10. Intra-Europe Awards that Would be Expensive Revenue Tickets
I recently was planning a family vacation to Europe, and we needed a short intra-Europe nonstop flight that is served only by Lufthansa and retails at over $800. The United miles award was 12,500, and well worth it to us for the time saved and convenient flight time, even though there were far longer, less convenient flights with 1 or 2 stops that would have been cheaper.
What do you think are the best ways to use United miles?