United Airlines Mileage Plus

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United's Mileage Plus program isn't the most generous for very frequent flyers keen to maximize their elite status benefits, but those who travel within the United States, and only on occasion, do well. Miles are easy to earn and, with the most destinations of any U.S.-based airline, there are plenty of places to go with an award ticket.

Our United Mileage Plus review found many attractive program components and a few new elements that up the ante for elite frequent flyer status. In 2014 United Airlines followed Delta Air Lines' lead and introduced a minimum spend on airfare with United and some partner airlines as a condition of elite status. United also has increased the redemption requirements for international flights, especially for business and first-class tickets, and for flights to Alaska and Hawaii. According to United Mileage Plus reviews, these two changes have prompted some grumbling among members. Still, the program shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

For starters, neither of the changes affects the average flyer; that is, one who isn't likely to reach any elite status levels and typically flies within the continental United States. For these travelers, United's redemption requirements are on par with other legacy carriers. One-way "saver" tickets start at 12,500 miles while standard award seats go for 25,000 miles each way. Mileage Plus also offers a 10,000-mile option for flights of 700 miles or less. This is one reason the 2014 FlyerTalk Awards (bestowed by members of a prominent frequent flyer review forum) assigned United's Mileage Plus a second-place berth in the Americas category. At forums such as MilePoint, travelers' reviews of the program cite reasonable award-space availability and awards pricing and an extensive web of redemption partners as positives, among others; the critiques seem relatively minor.

Moreover, program members can earn miles in many ways. Flying, of course, is one. Travelers can earn 1 to 2.5 miles for each mile flown depending on the ticket class, and there are more than 350 destinations to choose among -- the most of any airline we researched. United also maintains partnerships with 35 airlines, which extend its reach worldwide, and Mileage Plus members can earn miles by flying with the partners. Miles accrue by using the co-branded Chase Visa Signature card, as well as by booking at partner hotels and taking advantage of partnerships with retailers, restaurants, and the like. Note that miles expire after 18 months of inactivity.

Passengers who want to earn elite status on Mileage Plus can aim for any of four levels. The lowest rank requires 25,000 Premier-qualifying miles or 30 Premier-qualifying segments (both based on paid flights on United or select partners) and spending of $2,500 on base fares and surcharges. The highest level requires 100,000 qualifying miles or 120 segments, plus $10,000 in spending. Benefits of elite status include complimentary upgrades, free bag check, bonus miles toward award flights, and more, depending on the tier. A United Mileage Plus review at Million Mile Secrets is a more complete guide to earning and using miles with this carrier.

The reworked United Mileage Plus frequent flyer plan turns elite status into a more exclusive club. The most frequent flyers will no doubt enjoy the perks, but even casual flyers still have something to gain with this program.

Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer who specializes in credit, debt, and practical money-saving tips. He loves stacking savings opportunities to get amazing deals, traveling for free using credit card rewards, and teaching others how to do the same. Connect with Louis by visiting louisdenicola.com.

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