United Airlines frequent flyers can build miles and redeem rewards through the airline's MileagePlus Awards program – and those rewards aren't limited to United flights alone. MileagePlus awards are also valid with 11 other airlines across the globe through United's partnership program. It also partakes in the Star Alliance Network, which comprises 29 airlines worldwide that participate in an agreement to include all other member airlines in their individual rewards programs.

MileagePlus Awards Program

United MileagePlus program members build miles based on the amount of money they spend on flights through United or any United Airlines partner, not based on the distance they fly. Members can redeem these miles for award flights and earn additional miles by spending money on a United partner airline or by using a United credit card. United MileagePlus miles generally expire after 18 months, unless you hold a MileagePlus credit card.

If you purchase your ticket through United, the number of MileagePlus miles you earn depends on your status level with the rewards program and the amount you spend on airfare. The rewards break down as follows:

  • MileagePlus basic members:‌ 5 miles per $1 spent
  • Premier Silver members:‌ 7 miles per $1 spent
  • Premier Gold members:‌ 8 miles per $1 spent
  • Premier Platinum members:‌ 9 miles per $1 spent
  • Premier 1K members:‌ 11 miles per $1 spent

United partner airlines, on the other hand, award MileagePlus miles based on the class and price of the ticket and the distance of the flight.

United's Partner Airlines

United Airlines is a Star Alliance member airline, which means the miles you rack up with United can apply to rewards programs with other Star Alliance network members, and vice versa. Member airlines include:

  • ADRIA Airways
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana
  • Austrian
  • Avianca
  • Avianca in Brazil
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Airways
  • Juneyao Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • TAP Portugal
  • THAI
  • Turkish Airlines

These airlines combine to offer more than 1,000 destination options and over 20,000 flights daily. Combine airlines at your own discretion, and even fly one-way.

Outside of the Star Alliance, United Airlines partners with other companies, so you can build and redeem reward miles with them as well. These airlines include:

  • Aer Lingus
  • Aeromar
  • AirDolomiti
  • Azul
  • Boutique Air
  • Cape Air
  • Edelwiss
  • Eurowings
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Olympic
  • Silver Airways

Other Ways to Earn MileagePlus Miles

United Airlines frequent flyers can also build up their miles by opening a United-branded credit card account or by shopping, dining or booking accommodations through United partner companies. United's credit cards operate through Chase, and they award users with miles for every purchase, plus give extra miles for purchases on hotel stays and United products. The airline offers four credit card options, with perks as follows:

  • United Explorer Card:‌ 2 miles per dollar spent on United purchases, hotel stays and restaurants, and 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases
  • United MileagePlus Club Card:‌ 2 miles per dollar spent on United purchases, 1.5 miles per dollar spent on other purchases and United Club membership
  • United Explorer Business Card:‌ 2 miles per dollar spent on restaurants, gas stations, office supplies stores and United purchases. One mile per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • United MileagePlus Club Business Card:‌ 1.5 miles per dollar on all purchases and 2 miles per dollar spent on United ticket purchases

United's hotel partners award miles when you book stays with them. Dozens of hotel companies participate in this program, including:

  • Best Western
  • Comfort Inn
  • Days Inn
  • Eaton HK
  • Four Points by Sheraton
  • Grand Hyatt
  • Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts
  • Marriott Hotels & Resorts
  • Radisson
  • The Ritz-Carlton
  • Travelodge
  • Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

United partners with several transportation companies as well, and if you enter your United Airlines MileagePlus number when purchasing from one of these partners, you can build miles with United. To build MileagePlus rewards, consider renting a car from United Airlines partners Hertz, Thrifty Car Rental or Dollar Rent a Car. Car service GroundLink also partners with United, as does SuperShuttle, ExecuCar, Carmel, Bandwagon and Amtrak.

With a United co-branded credit card, you can link your account with MileagePlus Dining and build miles when you use your card to pay at a member restaurant, bar or club. More than 10,000 establishments participate in MileagePlus Dining deals. Other than dining, you can build miles by shopping online through MileagePlus Shopping, which includes more than 900 member stores. Participating retailers include:

  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Groupon
  • Macy's
  • Shutterfly
  • HP
  • New Balance
  • Bergdorf Goodman

Redeeming MileagePlus Rewards

You can redeem your MileagePlus miles for flights through United Airlines or any of its partner airlines. To redeem through United, book through the airline's website, and flight prices will appear in terms of miles as well as in cash. If you pay for a flight with rewards, you do not earn miles for that flight.

United values MileagePlus miles at about 1 cent per mile. Using that logic, if you book a flight that would normally cost $400 for 40,000 rewards miles, you'd be breaking even. Aim to make the most of your miles when redeeming them; for example, if you booked a $400 flight for 25,000 miles, that would provide a valuation of 1.6 cents per mile, a particularly good deal.

You can also purchase upgrades using MileagePlus rewards miles. Bump up your seat to premium class, for example, or to business class (though some of these upgrades require a co-payment in cash along with miles' redemption). Other options for miles redemption include hotel stays, car rentals, gift cards and cruises, though NerdWallet recommends against these options, because they tend to offer a value lower than one cent per mile.

Status Levels for MileagePlus Program

As previously mentioned, your rewards miles build depending on your status with the United Airlines MileagePlus Awards program. Basic membership is free, and it essentially functions as an account in which your miles accumulate on a 5-miles-per-$1-spent basis. If you obtain Premier status with MileagePlus, however, you can build miles more quickly by earning more miles per dollar spent.

United Airlines frequent flyers achieve Premier status by flying often with United and its partner airlines. You must earn the required number of Premier qualifying miles (or Premier qualifying segments) and meet a minimum annual spending level to achieve Premier status. Once you reach Premier status, you can move through four tiers: silver, gold, platinum and 1K.

Qualify for Premier status tiers by reaching the following thresholds:

  • Premier Silver:‌ 25,000 miles or 30 segments and an annual spending minimum of $3,000
  • Premier Gold:‌ 50,000 miles or 60 segments and an annual spending minimum of $6,000
  • Premier Platinum:‌ 75,000 miles or 90 segments and an annual spending minimum of $9,000
  • Premier 1K:‌ 100,000 miles or 120 segments and an annual spending minimum of $15,000

Each Premier tier comes with new perks, such as complimentary upgrades and checked bags, which build as you move through the status ranks. Perks per status include:

  • Premier Silver:‌ One free checked bag with an economy ticket
  • Premier Gold:‌ Two free checked bags with economy ticket, same-day flight change discount and lounge access for international travel
  • Premier Platinum:‌ Three free checked bags with economy ticket, discounts on United Club membership rates and phone service charges
  • Premier 1K:‌ Eligibility for global Premier upgrades

Check out important info about these partnerships, like annual fees and the number of miles earned through each program, to figure out which one might be right for you. Traveling can really add up, so keep your eye on opportunities for travel credit whenever you can!