The Basics

Why Booking Premium Awards with United Miles is So Frustratingly Easy

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Written by Charlie

United Airlines has many great things about booking awards with them. However, it is actually frustratingly easy to do so – because of how good they are but also because of the increase in miles it costs to book with them.

When it comes to flying business or first class awards between places like the US and Europe, we have some amazing carriers to fly on! I have flown business class on most of them and there are some great options for that hop across the Atlantic. When it comes to actually booking those tickets, United has proven that using their miles is easy – and very frustrating.

Why Booking Premium Awards with United Miles is Frustratingly Easy

We certainly have many options when wanting to book flights with carriers like Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, and Turkish to go to Europe! Here are some of those options for one way travel:

  • Aeroplan – 55,000 miles/57,500 miles (and fuel surcharges)
  • Avianca LifeMiles – 63,000 miles (and no fuel surcharges)
  • Aegean Miles&Bonus – 45,000 miles (and fuel surcharges)
  • United MileagePlus – 70,000 miles (and no fuel surcharges)

As you can see, Aegean and Aeroplan are the cheapest, but you will be on the hook for carrier surcharges on carriers like Lufthansa, Austrian, and Swiss. On the flip side, Avianca and United charge more but you don’t pay for surcharges.

So, why is United so frustrating yet easy to use for such awards?

United’s Award Calendar Just WORKS
united airlines awards

United’s award calendar is excellent!

In this day and age, you may not think that it is a big deal for a major corporation like an airline to have a functional search engine for flights. You would be wrong! Airlines seem to want to make it be as difficult as possible to find flights that work for you!

Yet, United Airlines and their award calendar just works very well. You can view up to 30 days of availability at once, you can search by non-stop, 1 stop or 2 or more stops, you can sort by a variety of factors – it is just easy!

In fact, I always recommend to people that they start their search for award tickets by using United’s engine, even if they are going to book with a different partner.

United Miles Are Relatively Easy to Get

With transfer partner Chase Ultimate Rewards and their great lineup of cards, it can be pretty easy to accrue points that convert to United miles. With business purchases earning up to 5 points per dollar and dining and travel earning up to 3 points per dollar (depending on the card you have), it is pretty easy to start racking up the miles! Plus, you have the fantastic Chase Freedom card with its rotating category bonuses that can help you to pick up an additional 30,000 miles per year on $6,000 in spending in those categories.

So, it isn’t that hard to get United miles which can help to offset the pain of using as much as 25,000 more miles than other partners charge for the same flight.

No Carrier Surcharges!
business class from Europe to the US

The flight from the US to Europe using Aeroplan miles

With surcharges that can run up to around $700 for one way travel (less if you fly this direction), an award program that does not pass those costs along as to be worth sometime! Yes, you will pay 25,000 more miles for that Lufthansa business flight than you would if you booked it with Aegean miles, but you can look at those additional miles as saving you around $700! If you are the type of traveler that likes to run the values, that works out to getting about 2.8 cents per mile in actual value by booking with United instead of Aegean – it is even better when compared to Aeroplan.

United Is Selfish with Availability

This is a United hub (Washington-Dulles) to Orlando NOT SIGNED IN (from earlier this year)

award value

This is the same route SIGNED IN – a lot more award availability!

Finally, the last part is what makes booking with United such a frustrating decision (in addition to the higher mileage costs). I am in the middle of booking awards right now that I would really much rather book using Aeroplan miles but I have to book with United. Why? Because United blocks a lot of their own award availability and only releases some of it to their elites or credit cardholders. That is a great feature for cardholders (like I am) but it absolutely stinks for anyone trying to book with partner miles.

The flights I have been wanting to book are available and just fine – except for the last leg that is a 50 minute regional flight. Even with tons of seats available, United is blocking those awards and only making them available to cardholders/elites. Oh, and there are at least 6 seats available for those passengers as well!

So, United, thanks for the credit card perk, but please stop being so selfish with your restrictive use of that benefit! I honestly think it is more about not wanting partners to have access than making a nice perk for customers anyway.


So, booking premium awards with United miles is easy, thanks to their great award calendar, no surcharges, and easy methods of accruing miles. But, they are also frustrating because of their higher mileage amounts (that are the same if you are booking with someone like LOT or SAS who do no have surcharges) and restrictive award availability that can practically force you to book using United miles.

At the end of the day, I am happy to have the option but I would really prefer to have United open up that availability to partners a little more since those partners can offer other things that United doesn’t – lower mileage requirements and lower change/cancellation fees, chief among them.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • Hi, Charlie. I like your posts. Yesterday, I experienced the “frustratingly” portion of United awards without the “easy.” My award did not ticket from the day prior for international business class (BKK-CDG-DUB-IAD), and I spent almost an hour and a half trying to find an alternative with the United rep. Seems there is some phantom award availability from BKK to the states, which refused to ticket (thanks Thai Airways). I found an alternative through Taipei, which includes a Hello Kitty flight now, which my daughter is excited about.

  • It is worth pointing out that the screenshots you feature from Aeroplan have taxes in CAD. So CAD700 = USD530 in carrier surcharges. Not that this makes it much better, but still…