Back when I first started traveling, it seemed like all the frequent flyer programs had expiration dates attached to the miles you could earn. Then at some point they all did away with those expiration dates, meaning you could continue to accrue miles until you redeemed them for something.
But somewhere along the way, one of the big US carriers decided to go back down the expiration route – United. So now, the question of how to earn United miles has even greater significance – because if you’re in danger of having your miles expire, you’ll need to do something to keep your account active or risk losing all the miles you’ve accumulated. The good news is that you don’t have to take a flight on United in order to keep your account active. You just need to do one of the things listed in this article (and many of them aren’t even travel-related) and your miles will continue to be good.
(Of course, you might still want to think about redeeming those United miles sooner rather than later, but that’s another article altogether.)
In the meantime, here’s a round-up of the many ways to earn United Mileage Plus miles, whether you’re traveling or not.
United may not be as easy-going on the miles front anymore, but they remain one of the biggest carriers with a vast network of airports served – and the list of airline partners with whom you can also earn United miles is good, too. So chances are you’ll be able to earn United miles pretty easily if you’re a regular traveler, even if you’re not flying on United.
Keep in mind that there are two different groups of airlines with which you can earn United points – those in the same airline alliance as United (the Star Alliance), and those which are just Mileage Plus partners. Also keep in mind that the number of miles you’ll earn will vary depending on the airline and the agreement United has with them. So be sure to read the fine print.
Some of the airlines you can fly to earn United miles are:
- Air Canada
- Air New Zealand
- Continental Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Swiss International Air
- US Airways
- Aer Lingus
- Hawaiian Airlines
- South African Airways
When you fly business class or first class on United (not one of its partners), or you pay full fare for an economy class seat, you earn not only the miles toward your total but also what are called “Elite Qualifying Miles” (EQMs). These are the miles that count toward giving you Elite status with the airline for things like access to the airline’s airport lounges or preferential seating on airplanes – but EQMs aren’t redeemable for travel rewards.
For details on the number of miles each United partner airline awards to travelers, see the United list of airlines and click on the ones you’re curious about.
Like its list of airline partners, United’s list of partner hotels is long – so no matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there, you should be able to earn a few United Mileage Plus points just by checking into a partner hotel. As with the airline partners, the number of points varies (sometimes significantly) depending on the hotel, so do the math before you decide on a hotel.
Some of the hotel partners United works with are:
- Baymont Inn & Suites
- Comfort Inn
- Courtyard by Marriott
- Crowne Plaza
- Days Inn
- Embassy Suites
- Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
- Hampton Inns
- Holiday Inn
- Howard Johnson
- Super 8
- W Hotels
- Westin Hotels & Resorts
Remember to present your United Mileage Plus account number when you’re booking your hotel stay (or when you check in, depending on what the guidelines for that hotel are), and for more details about how many miles you can earn for each hotel – or to see the complete list, which, as mentioned, is long – go to the United site and scan through this list.
Whether you’re the kind of business traveler who more frequently goes by rental car than by plane, or whether you prefer a non-United airline but are trying to keep your United account active with partners, the good news is that United’s got a whole host of rental car partners you can choose from that will help you earn Mileage Plus points to keep your miles from expiring or to get to an award faster. As with hotel stays and airline travel, the number of points earned can vary depending on the car rental company you go with, but in this case most of the companies will give you the same deal on points (so you probably won’t feel like you’re forced to read the fine print quite so much).
The rental car companies that partner with United are:
At the moment, all but Sixt offer 50 United miles per day on qualifying rentals between 1-4 days, and 500 miles total on rentals of 5+ days. With Sixt, you’ll get 500 miles per qualifying rental, regardless of the duration.
In addition to the car rental companies United partners with, there are also a couple of other options for ground transportation which you can book that’ll also earn you United miles – and that don’t involve you driving at all. You can book online with SuperShuttle and earn 50 miles per direction to and from the airport, or book online with ExecuCar and earn 150 miles per direction to and from the airport.
United Airlines has two mileage credit cards you can choose from that will help you earn United miles without even leaving your house, let alone getting on a United flight somewhere. There are also Mileage Plus cards for people outside the United States to earn miles, and you can learn more about those cards here.
The two cards United offers to U.S. members are:
- Mileage Plus Visa – You can get the standard card, a platinum card, or even a debit card to earn United points, all through Chase Bank. With the standard card you’ll get 30,000 bonus miles after you’ve spent your first $250 on the card, and you earn 1 mile for every $1 you spend. With the platinum card, you also get the 30,000 mile bonus after your first $250 charged to the card, but you’ll earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United or Star Alliance airline purchases, groceries, food, gas, and home improvement purchases, plus 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. Platinum members also get a free roundtrip companion ticket on the anniversary of opening their account. You can earn 10,000 bonus miles by opening a Chase checking account and setting up direct deposit, and 5,000 bonus miles for using your Mileage Plus Chase debit card. The debit card gets you 1 mile for each $1 in qualifying purchases. Both the platinum card and the debit card come with annual fees.
- Mileage Plus Visa Business Cards – There are two kinds of business Visa cards United offers, the platinum business card and the business awards card. With the platinum business card you get 20,000 bonus miles after you’ve made your first purchase on the card, 2 miles for every $1 spent on United travel & services, and 1 mile for every $1 spent on everything else. There is a cap on the number of miles you can earn each year, unless you’re an elite member. With the business awards card you earn 20,000 bonus miles after you’ve made your first purchase on the card, an annual award of 5,000 bonus miles, 2 miles for every $1 spent on United travel & services, and 1 mile for every $1 spent on everything else. This card also has a yearly cap on miles you can earn (it’s higher than the other card), unless you’re an elite member. With this card, you can also get additional perks and awards like first class upgrades and passes to the Red Carpet Club. Both business cards have annual fees.
In addition to helping you get from point A to point B, United has a division that will help you plan the rest of your leisure trips. They’re not the only airline with a vacation planning section, but it’s good to know it’s yet another way to earn United miles.
By visiting United’s vacations division at unitedvacations.com, you’ll be able to plan your trip and buy anything you’ll need for that trip – and earn bonus United miles in the process. So if you’re not just looking to redeem your accrued United miles and move on but instead want to start earning miles for your next trip, then this might be a good option.
Dining & Retail
United has its own dining program, through which you can earn 5 miles for every $1 spent at restaurants and bars. Mileage Plus Dining is free to join, and you just register your credit or debit card on the Mileage Plus Dining site and then whenever you use that card at any of the participating restaurants, bars or clubs you’re earning miles. You can start by searching for participating locations around where you live or where you’ll be traveling to see where you can go out to earn miles while you dine.
Are you not already a Netflix member but you’ve been thinking about it? Register for Netflix via the United website and you’ll earn as many as 2,000 bonus United miles (1,000 for becoming a new Netflix member, and another 1,000 for paying for that membership with your United Visa card).
If you’re in the market for a new wireless plan, you can browse your options through United’s Mileage Plus Wirelss program and earn 5,000 bonus miles with every major wireless provider by buying any cell phone and starting any calling plan with them. Other communications services through which you can earn United miles are T-Mobile’s WiFi internet service (get up to 5,000 bonus miles by signing up) and Network Solutions (get miles for domain names, email, and 5-page websites).
United partners with a few flower and gift delivery services, including FTD, Florist.com, and Gift Sense, so you can earn miles and make someone’s day at the same time. You can earn United miles when you do your grocery shopping at Safeway, or your wine shopping with Hartwick & Grove. Get some of those coveted QuietComfort Bose headphones and earn miles. Shop at Neiman Marcus and earn miles. And if you do your shopping online through the United Mileage Plus Mall, you can earn miles with more than 300 different other retailers.
For more information about each of these programs, check the official United Mileage Plus website (listed below).
You can earn United miles when you engage with United’s partner companies for financial services, from mortgages to investments. United works with:
- Chase – Earn 3,500 miles for every $10,000 borrowed in a home equity loan; earn miles for a Chase mortgage; earn miles with a Chase Mileage Plus debit card (details above).
- TD Ameritrade – Earn as many as 25,000 miles when you open an account.
- Fidelity Investments – Earn as many as 25,000 miles when you open an account.
- LendingTree – Earn 1,250 miles for every $10,000 borrowed in a home loan; earn 3,000 miles for every $10,000 of your home price when you buy or sell through LendingTree.
- Sentry Insurance – Earn 1,500 miles when you get a quote from Sentry.
United typically has a couple of special promotions going on at any given time which will either help you earn more bonus points for some of the things already listed above, or are limited time offers on new ways to earn United miles that may not be ongoing. On the United Mileage Plus website (link below) there’s a separate link for each of the categories listed above that says “Special Promotions” underneath it, so it’s a good idea to check those periodically to see if there’s a special bank of bonus miles you can take advantage of.
>> For more details on all of the miles-earning options listed here, and more information in general about the United miles program, be sure to visit the official United Mileage Plus website and consult the list of all the ways you can earn points.
photo by Simon_sees