United Airlines Travel Rewards – Earning Free Travel Even When You Aren't Traveling

It may have felt like 2020 was not the time to be a member of a loyalty program but as states and borders continue to reopen, travel is expecting to bounce back – big time. With many Americans itching to travel it may be time to enroll in a program, especially one like United's, which will give you rewards on more than just travel – you can earn on dining and shopping, as well. But of course, travel is a benefit, and MileagePlus members can use miles to book award tickets on United and other Star Alliance partner airlines, book hotel stays with MileagePlus Hotel Awards, request upgrades, and receive premium cabin travel.
Here, we examine how you can earn and redeem award travel as a member of United MileagePlus.

Earning Miles

Of course to have miles to spend you have to earn them first. This can be done simply by flying on United or United Express, as well as on any Star Alliance airline partner. Stay at hotel partners Marriott and IHG properties and earn more. And, more miles can be gathered by renting a car from Hertz or taking a cruise with a partner.

United Credit Cards

If you open a MileagePlus credit card, whether as a consumer or a small business, you can earn miles every time you spend. There are four different personal credit cards you can have.

United Gateway Card

Offering no annual fee, cardholders who use this Visa receive 2x the miles when spending on United as well as on gas, commuting, and local transit. The card does not have an annual fee. New users can enroll and receive 20,000 bonus miles.

United Explorer Card

This popular travel rewards card gives new users up to 65,000 bonus miles – often enough to take advantage of free travel. Although it has an annual fee of $95 after the first year (it’s free for the first 12 months), users receive up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit, so it pays for itself in that benefit. It also provides 2x the miles on United purchases as well as dining and hotels. Users also receive two free one-time passes to United Clubs found worldwide and one free checked bag.

United Quest Card

You’ll receive many of the same rewards with the United Quest, which has an annual fee of $250. While dining, travel, and streaming services receive 2x the points, you’ll receive 3x the miles on United purchases, two free checked bags, and $125 purchase credit annually. Users also receive two 5,000-mile anniversary award flights credits to earn more miles. It comes with up to 100,000 bonus miles as a signup incentive.

United Club Infinite Card

This black card will provide 75,000 miles as a signup bonus to enroll and from there you’ll continue to add on to the rewards. Try 4x the dollar on United purchases and free United Club membership. Of course, it comes with a hefty $525 annual fee.

Chase credit cards

You can also receive United rewards by using the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and racking up Chase Ultimate Rewards, which can be transferred to United's MileagePlus. The card has a $95 annual fee and provides 2x the points on dining and travel. New users earn 80,000 bonus points – enough for a roundtrip flight – after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months of opening the card.


Rack up miles by shopping at more than 900 stores connected to the MileagePlus Shopping portal. The portal makes it easy for you to earn extra miles on qualifying purchases and see special bonus offerings at nationwide stores like Home Depot, Walmart, and Eddie Bauer. You’ll find yourself earning a mile for every dollar on items you were already planning on buying. New users earn 1,000 bonus miles for trying out the program.


When you dine out and pay using a debit or credit card linked to your MileagePlus account, you can also earn 3 miles for every dollar you spend. If you dine out 11 times using a connected card, you’ll earn a VIP membership which allows you to earn 5 miles for every dollar spent at participating restaurants. There are also more restaurants available to VIP members, which equates to more chances to earn miles. It is free to participate in the program. New users can earn up to 1,500 bonus miles on your first meal and an additional 500 miles for the next three meals using the dining program.
United often promotes featured deals on its MileagePlus page so if you pay attention you may spot ways to nab points faster. For example, a featured deal as of mid-May 2021 provides 2 miles per dollar when you book a United Hotel.
Download the UnitedMileagePluxX app on iOS or Android and earn up to 5 miles for every dollar on online, in-store, and restaurant purchases using the app. You’ll also receive a 25% primary card member bonus.


Beyond the airline miles, earn when you travel:
  • Up to 45,000 miles every time you cruise when booking through United Cruises
  • 1,000 to 10,000 miles per night every time you book a hotel and stay using Rocketmiles (and a 4,000 miles award for your first booking).
  • At least 750 per Hertz car rental

United MileagePlus Premier Status

As with all frequent flyer programs, the more you fly, the higher your status. United's Premier Status is easier to obtain as it altered its requirements for the pandemic. You still need four qualifying flights but through 2022 you will not have any distance requirements. Here is what you'll need:
United Status

Redeeming Miles

Air Travel

United doesn’t offer an award chart to specify the details of how you can redeem, basing it on location, destination, availability, and timing in its dynamic pricing structure. This means you have to search for your rewards availability, which is a bit of a pain considering once upon a time you knew, say 35,000 miles, automatically got you a free domestic flight. The dynamic pricing shows available flights and United MileagePlus miles needed to book each fare class.
Here is an example flight from Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Los Angeles, California (LAX).
And the same dates for a flight to Orlando, Florida (MCO).

Hotel Travel

This pricing works the same way for hotel rewards, which does its search using Hotels.com.

Rental Car Travel

You can also use miles to book rental cars through Hertz, Dollar, and Thrifty.

Cruise Travel

Awards can also be used to book cruises.

Shopping awards

Points can also be redeemed for shopping on United MileagePlus' shopping website. It offers a variety of categories from travel to home and electronics to jewelry. You can search products based on the number of miles you have to spend.
A simple search resulted in the lowest award miles could be used for things like:
  • Faberware 15.5-inch pizza pan for 7,300 miles
  • A Melissa and Doug USA map floor puzzle for 7,400 miles
  • S’well stainless steel straw set of 4 for 7,600 miles
If you are a big traveler with 500,000 award miles, you could purchase:
  • TAG Heuer watch
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 7 or 15-inch Surface Laptop (498,700)
  • Sony 65-inch HDR 4K UHD Smart LED TV (496,300)
Your miles can also be sued to buy Apple products, including an iPad, Apple Watch or MacBook.
If you’d like to gift someone with your miles, of course, you can do that, as well as purchase gift cards to stores restaurants, and online retailers.


As with many rewards programs, United’s program provides “once-in-a-lifetime memories” where your miles can get you into the biggest sporting events, concerts, and Broadway shows, as well as special MileagePlus events. With these, you can buy tickets with your miles or make a bid.
Examples of past VIP experiences included a Red Carpet Experience attending the 71st Emmy Awards, going behind the scenes on a United Flight Simulator (you can “fly” a 787!), and access to hospitality suites at major events, like the New York City Marathon, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.


The benefits of being a MileagePlus member are the small perks that matter when flying. The Last Seat Availability award means you get priority booking for the last seat on a flight – comes in handy when a canceled flight sends you scrambling at the airport and competing for a seat on the next plane.
Of course, upgrades are important and as a member, you are eligible for upgrades to business class or first class. The more elite status you have, the better chance you have of getting an upgrade but members also get discounted rates or free Economy Plus seating, which offers more legroom. These are all dependent on award seat availability and are not guaranteed.

The bottom line

It may seem odd after a year grounded to be thinking of travel rewards but travel will return and so will your chances of earning and redeeming airline miles. United Airlines is one of the three largest airlines in the United States and with its Star Alliance membership it is connected to places around the world. As you venture back out, these little extras earn through the free membership program may save you some money down the road.
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