How many miles does it take to fly free on United?

United Airlines operates one of the largest frequent flyer programs in the world, called MileagePlus. This program allows members to earn miles when they fly with United and partner airlines, as well as through everyday purchases and hotels. These miles can then be redeemed for free flights and upgrades on United and its partner airlines. One of the top questions frequent United travelers have is just how many miles it takes to get a free flight. The answer depends on a variety of factors, including your destination, cabin class, time of year and more. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of how MileagePlus miles work, how many you need for different types of free flights, and tips for maximizing your United miles.

How MileagePlus Miles Work

MileagePlus miles are earned based on how far you fly and what fare class you book. When flying with United, members typically earn 5-11 miles per dollar spent on airfare, with more miles earned for higher class fares. Miles can also be earned by booking with United’s hotel and car rental partners and through everyday spending with the MileagePlus credit card. Once earned, these miles do not expire as long as there is account activity at least once every 18 months.

MileagePlus has two different types of miles – Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM) and Redeemable Miles. PQM count toward Premier elite status, while Redeemable Miles can be used to book award flights. This article focuses on Redeemable Miles.

When it comes time to use your MileagePlus miles, United uses variable award pricing. This means the number of miles needed for an award flight depends on the route, demand, time of year and more. Generally, flights within North America start at 15,000 miles each way in economy class, while long-haul international flights can be 70,000 miles or more roundtrip.

Now let’s take a closer look at how many miles you need for different types of free flights on United.

Free Flights Within the Continental US

For flights within the continental United States, the number of MileagePlus miles needed for an award ticket on United ranges from 15,000 to 35,000 miles each way in economy class based on destination and time of year. Here are the mile ranges required for different regions:

  • California and Nevada: 15,000-22,500 miles
  • Midwest and Southern States: 15,000-25,000 miles
  • Northeastern States: 17,500-30,000 miles
  • Northwestern States: 20,000-35,000 miles

You can expect to pay on the lower end of these ranges for flights booked well in advance and/or for travel in shoulder and off-peak seasons. The higher mile ranges are applicable for peak summer and holiday travel.

For example, a roundtrip flight from Denver to San Francisco could be 30,000-45,000 miles in economy for off-peak dates. A New York to Los Angeles roundtrip might be 50,000 miles or more during summer.

Upgrading to United’s Premium Economy product for domestic flights costs 5,000-10,000 additional miles each way. Business class awards range from 25,000 to 60,000 miles each way depending on the route.

Tips for Booking Domestic Awards

Here are some tips for getting the best domestic redemption value from your MileagePlus miles:

  • Book as early as possible – award space is limited
  • Be flexible with your dates and airports
  • Avoid peak summer travel if possible
  • Connect through United’s hub cities to maximize award availability
  • Use miles to book premium cabins and get more value

Free Flights to Hawaii

As an idyllic vacation destination, Hawaii awards are very popular with MileagePlus members. Here is a breakdown of the typical number of miles needed for roundtrip economy flights on United from the mainland US to Hawaii:

Route Miles Needed
California cities to Hawaii 40,000-50,000
Denver, Seattle, Phoenix to Hawaii 50,000-60,000
Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis to Hawaii 60,000-70,000
East Coast cities to Hawaii 70,000-80,000

These mile ranges are for roundtrip economy awards for the high season from June through August. Booking in shoulder season can reduce the miles needed by 5,000-20,000 in some cases. Upgrading to business class will require 80,000-140,000 miles roundtrip.

Due to high demand, Hawaii awards often require booking well in advance, having flexible dates, and using more miles. Connecting through United’s West Coast hubs can sometimes help find availability.

Tips for Booking Hawaii Awards

Strategies for booking award flights to Hawaii with MileagePlus miles include:

  • Book 10-11 months in advance when schedule opens
  • Travel in shoulder season if possible
  • Connect through LAX, SFO or SEA hubs
  • Consider island-hopping itineraries
  • Pay more miles for premium seats

Free Flights to Europe

As an international carrier, United flies to many destinations across Europe. Flying from the East Coast, expect to pay the following number of MileagePlus miles for a roundtrip economy award:

Destination Miles Needed
U.K. and Ireland 65,000-80,000
France, Germany, Spain 70,000-85,000
Italy, Switzerland 75,000-90,000
Eastern Europe 80,000-100,000

From the West Coast, you can take off 5,000-10,000 miles from these amounts. Traveling during off-peak fall and spring shoulder seasons can also reduce miles by 5,000-10,000. Upgrading to business class will range from 115,000 to 160,000 roundtrip.

Tips for Booking Europe Awards

Here are some tips for getting to Europe with your MileagePlus miles:

  • Book early – 11 months out is ideal
  • Use miles for business class if possible
  • Connect through United’s East Coast hubs
  • Consider open-jaw itineraries
  • Travel in shoulder season for better value

Free Flights to South America

As one of the top airlines serving South America, United offers ample award seats and decent mileage requirements for flying to this region. Here is an overview of the roundtrip economy miles needed for flights from the US:

Destination Miles Needed
Colombia and Ecuador 55,000-65,000
Peru, Chile, Argentina 62,500-75,000
Brazil 70,000-85,000

Factors like peak holiday travel and connecting versus nonstop flights impact the mileage ranges. Upgrading to United’s Premium Economy cabin will add 12,500-20,000 miles roundtrip, while business class awards jump up to the 110,000-160,000 mile range.

Tips for Booking South America Awards

To maximize your redemption value in miles per hour, consider these tips:

  • Book far in advance
  • Fly during shoulder season
  • Connect through United’s Houston or Newark hubs
  • Redeem miles for premium seats when possible
  • Use Excursionist Perk to add free stopovers

How to Earn Miles Quickly

Hopefully these mileage ranges give you a better sense of United’s sweet spots and what it takes to earn free flights. The fastest way to earn a large stash of MileagePlus miles quickly includes:

  • Getting approved for MileagePlus credit cards
  • Shopping through the MileagePlus shopping portal
  • Buying miles during bonuses
  • Transferring from Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Matching status from another airline
  • Redeeming miles from Marriott/SPG

Focus on these mile-earning methods that work for your lifestyle and redemption goals.


In summary, flying free with United miles is attainable for common destinations by opening credit cards, flying frequently, and partner bonuses. While the exact amount varies, expect to pay around the following for roundtrip economy awards:

  • Domestic US: 30,000-70,000 miles
  • Hawaii: 50,000-80,000 miles
  • Europe: 65,000-100,000 miles
  • South America: 55,000-85,000 miles

Booking premium awards in business, Polaris business or first class will require substantially more miles. But you may find it well worth it to fly long-haul flights in lie-flat comfort. The key tips are earning miles rapidly through credit cards and bonuses, booking early, and being flexible with routings and dates. Following these best practices will keep you traveling for less with United MileagePlus award flights.

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