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Frequent flyer miles are a valuable currency to have in your travel wallet if you know how to use them properly. Unfortunately, the airlines don’t necessarily make it very easy to use them.
Here are the steps to search for award space on United.com to use your MileagePlus miles as well as some additional tips and tricks to help you use your miles more effectively.
1. Always search for one-way tickets.
With United there’s no penalty to booking a one-way ticket, and even if you plan to book a round-trip, looking one-way at a time can make it easier to find flights that have award space on the dates you want to travel. Just search for your outbound flights first, see if any work, and if they do, search for return flights separately that work after the outbound date.
2. Make sure to select that you would like to ‘Search for award travel.’ For the sake of this guide, we will be looking at flights from New York to Hong Kong in August. We’ll assume that the travel date is somewhat flexible.
3. Search for your initial set of results. When searching with flexible dates you will always see just the flight calendar. If you search for a specific date, you will see results for that date as well as the flight calendar.
4. Let’s assume that you are most interested in traveling in business class. While the calendar is not 100% accurate regarding availability, we will first focus on the dates that display green. Dates that do not display green may have availability in business, and dates that display white could also have availability – this is one of the limitations of United’s calendar view – it tends to under represent what’s available. Let’s assume that traveling on August 29th is ideal. Click on that day on the calendar to get more details about that itinerary.
5. Filter by the kind of award you’re looking for. At first it looks like there is no business class availability, but this is because the site is filtering by lowest price first, and the lowest price is in economy. To see the ‘Business Saver Awards’ – which are the lowest business class prices, click on the column to sort.
6. The awards will display in order of price and increasing travel time. You can see that there are a few options for business class availability, but some of them are “Mixed Cabin” meaning that some flight segments will be in economy. There are also two different prices for business class – 70,000 miles and 80,000 miles – this is due to United’s pricing difference for partner flights. We will give you more details on this later in the award chart, but basically flying United costs less than flying on partners.
7. Pick a flight. In this case, the partner flight has significantly shorter travel time due to the fact that the first flight option has a 15 hour layover in Chicago. Depending on your reasons for traveling, it could be fun to stopover in Chicago for the day, but if you need to get to Hong Kong more quickly, it could be worth paying the extra 10,000 miles for the partner itinerary with a shorter layover. Otherwise, search another day to see more options.
Airlines that aren’t visible on United.com
Note that not every United partner can be found on United.com, but many of them are. Out of the three main American carriers – Delta, United, and American – United has, by far, the best award search engine for flights with their partners, though it does still have a few limitations.
The most noteworthy partner that you will not see on United.com is Singapore Airlines. Singapore is a big deal for flights to and around Asia and especially if you are having trouble finding availability on airlines that do show up on United.com, you should not ignore Singapore even though it requires a little bit of extra searching.
Here are airlines that you won’t see, and also where to search for them.
|Airline||Where to Search|
|Singapore AIrlines||SingaporeAir.com, Aeroplan.com, ANA.co.jp|
|Azul Brazilian Airlines||Call|
|Great Lakes Airlines||Call|
In order to book a ticket on one of the airlines that does not show up in search results on United.com, you will need to call United at (800) 864-8331 from the US or Canada.
United.com is not a perfectly built site, and the award search engine is not perfect either. You may run into problems where a search just doesn’t seem to work. When this happens, double check that you are following all of the steps listed above and move on down the the Advice section to try to troubleshoot the problem if it persists.
Each airline has rules for what is and isn’t allowed for both paid and award tickets, and United is no different. Here are a few of the most important restrictions related to award tickets that you need to know.
United allows one stopover and two open-jaws on round-trip tickets
Certain regions are restricted for transit when flying to another region. The following apply for flights departing from the US:
For all of the details, check out our guide to using United miles.
General Advice – Search One Way and Segment-by-Segment
The easiest way to search for flights is to break your trip up into segments. At the very least, you want to search one-ways only, like we did above. Following that search above, assuming we needed a return ticket, we would have completed another search from HKG – NYC on our desired return date.
If you have a really complicated itinerary or would like a very specific routing, it is advantageous to break down your trip even further and search segment by segment.
For the flights above, if we specifically wanted to travel via Chicago, we could search from NYC – Chicago and separately from Chicago – Hong Kong. If we wanted to travel via Seattle we could do the same thing by replacing Chicago with Seattle, or even adding an additional flight segment from Chicago – Seattle!
If you are looking to book something more complicated, check out our in-depth guide for searching for stopovers with United.
How to know you’re getting a good price
Making sure you’re paying a reasonable price is important, especially if you don’t have a ton of miles to burn. Here is United’s award chart for Saver level awards. Saver level awards are the cheapest awards you can book with United miles, so keep the mileage amounts in mind so you know you’re getting a decent deal.
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