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This post is part of a four-part series. In Part 1, we looked at the mechanics of the United Mileage Plus program. In Part 2, we’ll look at the chart to and rules to find valuable awards. In Part 3, we’ll value specific Mileage Plus awards. In Part 4, I’ll put a number on one Mileage Plus mile.

In this post, I’ll detail what I think are some of the best Mileage Plus awards from North America. Of course if you don’t want to go to the places I’m mentioning, these awards are worthless, so there is a huge subjective component to finding valuable awards. But in this post I’ll focus on objective factors like the quality of the seat, the number of miles needed compared to competitors, and number of cities visited. Here are some particularly valuable United awards in no particular order:

1. Roundtrip business class awards to Europe. I think the roundtrip business class award to Europe is the best value award with United miles for several reasons. While the miles price is the same as competitors’ prices at 100,000 miles roundtrip, United’s award is more valuable in every other category. United allows a double open jaw and a stopover anywhere en route, a combination which no other competitor can match.

This means a person can visit four cities, three in Europe, on one award. For instance, I could fly:

Los Angeles to Frankfurt (1) and enjoy my free stopover.

I could continue Frankfurt to Rome (2) and enjoy my destination.

After traveling on my own dime from Rome to Milan, I can return Milan (3) to San Francisco (4), again getting from San Fran to LA on my own dime.

That number of cities is one huge advantage of the award. The other is the options for flying to Europe. While American has basically three options, American (angled seats), BA (huge surcharges), Iberia (huge surcharges and angled seats!), United miles have a dozen available partners with European flights. And included in the bunch are several with fully flat seats and no surcharges! These include United, US Air, Turkish, and Air Canada.

Add it all up, and you get a high value award that competitors can’t match.

2. Oneway business class to Europe. You give up the stopover, so you lose some value, but the freedom of a oneway award is great. And you still have the same great options to fly in a fully flat bed for a tiny amount in taxes and fees.

3. Other classes to Europe. Any way you get to Europe with United miles is a good deal. Relative to business class, not quite as good of a deal, but still a good deal.

If you fly first class, the award costs 10,000 more miles roundtrip than US Air and American. But you do have the chance to fly Lufthansa First (also available with US Air miles), which is one of the gold standards of first class. And if you fly through Frankfurt, you can enjoy the gold standard of First Class Terminals.

Economy class costs the same amount of miles as with other carriers, but you have the surfeit of partners to choose from with the low taxes and fees that everyone loves about United.

European awards, for many reasons, are certainly one of the best uses of United miles, if not the best.

4. Business class to Africa. United charges 60,000 miles each way from the US to Africa in business class. There are some incredible fully-flat bed options too. United operates flying beds from Washington-Dulles to Accra, Ghana and Houston to Lagos, Nigeria. South African Airways chips in with flying beds from Dulles and New York-JFK to Johannesburg. And of course there are ways to get to Africa connecting in Europe.

The fully flat beds direct from the US, the competitive mile price, and the low taxes and fees make business class to Africa another fantastic award. First class on the United flights and economy class are also solid options.

5. Oceania. United defines Oceania as American Samoa, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Western Samoa.

United is the dominant airline in the area with a hub in Guam that serves several destinations in the region. United charges 32.5/60/75 each way for economy/business/first in a three cabin plane. Not only are those prices very competitive, but the routings on United are excellent because of its strong presence in Honolulu and Guam.

Now let me run through some awards that I would generally not advise booking with United miles. Of course, with your subjective preferences, one of the following may still be a good deal for you.

1. South America. Unless you live in Houston, I think American is better here for two reasons. American charges fewer miles to get to Northern South America, and American partners with LAN.

LAN is great because it offers fully flat business class seats from a number of American cities to several South American destinations. Plus LAN offers connections from South American capitals to dozens of minor airports, whereas United basically just flies to the capitals.

If you just want to go to the capitals, United miles can be OK. But I would generally prefer to use AA miles, especially since I live in LA, so I can get free oneway trips to Hawaii with every award.

2. Australia. I also think American is best here. I would rather fly first class in a Qantas A380 (AA partner) than a United 747. Plus American charges a lower amount in every class, and Qantas has way more flights to and from the US and serves more cities in Australia.

Of course, finding award space to Australia is just tough, so if you can find United space but not Qantas, United can be an adequate option.

3. Domestic and Hawaii. Generally you’ll get more value with an international award. For domestic, you’re probably better off redeeming British Airways Avios, Southwest Rapid Rewards points, or buying the ticket and accruing miles.

 

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