My FTU presentation: Maximizing United’s MileagePlus program

As part of the FTU event last weekend I presented a session on maximizing United’s MileagePlus program. I don’t think that there is anything particularly groundbreaking in the content, but I do think that it is a good reminder of how their award chart works (or doesn’t in some cases) and how a bit of thought can help you book some pretty incredible awards for the same price (or less!) as a more traditional award.

At the beginning of the session I asked the crowd what they were in the program for. I was quite surprised – and pleased – that domestic upgrades were at the bottom of the list. That’s a good thing in the United program as those upgrades are less forthcoming than with other airlines. Most people were interested in the awards and routing rules and I think that is still an area where United shines. Maybe too much, and I don’t expect it to last forever, but for now the opportunities truly are grand.

I’ve posted the slides online here. I’m not entirely sure that they’re actually going to be completely useful without the conversation as they’re more of an outline than a detailed analysis of what to do and how to book the awards. But I do think they can get you started on where some of the sweet spots are in the awards and how to think about the travel options so that you can get more from the trips you’re taking. If nothing else, they’re a good way to start a conversation on just what can be done.

Give them a look if you’re interested and let’s have that conversation, either in the comments here, on FlyerTalk, on MilePoint, via email or however else works for you.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Would you please clarify the post which includes a route from US to Asia via Europe (if I am reading it correctly).

  2. I have a USA-Europe-Hawaii itinerary myself, but didn’t know about the S.E. Asia-USA- Caribbean one. Thanks for info.

  3. Is it possible to route from US/Canada to Hawaii (for a layover/open jaw) enroute to a destination in either Asia or Europe?

    I have a ticket booked from SE Asia to Canada via Europe, but wondered how throwing Hawaii in there worked.

    For Example – YVR-OGG-Open Jaw-HNL-NRT-IST and so on

    Also, has any indication been hinted or given as to when United’s award rules and charts may change?

    1. @Thomas: Via Hawaii to Asia is OK. To Europe, not so much. And no indication of when changes might come to the charts. I think that they’ll shore up holes before they change the award prices, but that’s really just a guess.

      @Steven: United allows for travel via Europe to pretty much all of Asia. And with the stopover permitted that means you can basically get two trips for the price of one, assuming you have the time to do it.

      @Laura: There really was too much discussed to write it all out in the slides but if you have specific (or not-so-specific) questions I’m always happy to help where I can.

  4. This was a great talk! It was awesome to hear from Seth who has tremendous knowledge as well as a fun, laid-back presenting style.

  5. @Seth: Thanks for the slides. Quick question on S.E-Asia – USA – Caribbean. Do you mean on “return” segment by counting on stop-over in USA the price is 32.5k instead of “32.5k+17.5k”?


  6. I mean that, in some instances, you can price SE Asia to USA (including a stopover in Europe) plus the “return” part of the trip where it does not return all the way to the originating region. Such awards can be less expensive than a one-way which doesn’t include the final segment.

  7. The most useful session for me, thanks.

    I thought you mentioned something about elite qualification issues with partners, I am looking at the charts, they do not seem nearly so bad as post-March 1 Delta, am I missing something or did I mishear?

    1. I don’t remember mentioning elite qualification with partners, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I did. For premium cabins there are a number of partners who now only earn 100%; no more class of service bonus there. And there are a lot of discount fare classes which UA doesn’t list on the site for partners which also do not earn. Both of those are pitfalls worth keeping an eye on but overall the partner situation isn’t horrid, especially if you aren’t only ever flying cheapest fares.

  8. Thanks for the follow up! Good information 🙂 Would have loved to heard the presentation. If there is an audio version that comes available, please let me know.

  9. Hello Seth – Very kind of you to post your slides from the conference. I am interested to learn more about your Europe – Europe for 12.5K. The slide starts or ends at ARN and starts or ends at IST, one way and you can stop at all of these destinations along the way for 12.5K?
    I am also interested in several other of your examples
    Thank you

  10. In the case of the intra-Europe award, cowsrus, I stopped at each of the spots the colors change, but for less than 24 hour each time. That makes it a connection, not a stop, in the fare rules. And it is amazing just how much fun you can have in ~18-22 hours in a city. I certainly didn’t see everything, but I saw a lot.

    You can read about that trip, including details of how I booked it and many of the things I saw along the way here:

  11. Hello Seth – Thank you for the fast response. Is there a way to contact you directly or can you contact me. I have been registered and paid for FTU but unable to attend. Regards

  12. Did anyone record audio available for download? I’d be willing to pay/donate a small fee for the audio download… If not, perhaps a thought for next year?

  13. Are you able to book US-Asia awards via Europe online? I haven’t had any luck with that yet.

    1. Sometimes it works online, Brennan. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you have to force it with a multi-city search so that the site will figure it out (e.g. EWR_ZRH + ZRH-BKK + BKK-EWR). And sometimes you simply search the segments one-by-one yourself and then call it in, feeding the itinerary to the agent. Even if they won’t waive the $25 phone booking fee I consider that a reasonable price to pay to get the award you are looking for.the way you want it.

  14. Hi Seth, I have an interesting issue trying to do a multi-segment trip from SFO to BON, BON to SFO, stopover followed by SFO to EWR. If I do a regular roundtrip between SFO and BON, I can get saver awards (both in coach and Business), but if I do a multi-segment, it doesn’t even show the same number of flights and definitely not the saver award for the BON to SFO segment and SFO to EWR.

    I am wondering if there is something I am doing wrong here? I would really appreciate your help with this – thanks in advance.

    1. It is not uncommon for the system to show fewer options when doing a multi-city search. In such cases calling in the award to book it is usually the reasonable course of action.

  15. Thanks, Seth. Would they waive the phone booking fee because it’s a glitch on their site? I am a “premier gold” member.

  16. Seth, any idea if the following is valid routing?

    CAI-PEK/ICN-JFK on the return leg of an award ticket?

    I have the following booked, but am hoping to maximize the return on some new airlines for me:

    EWR-LIS (23 hour connection)
    LIS-NAP (stopover)
    NAP-CAI (destination)

    Hoping to change the return leg. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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