Since the original publication of this post, United Airlines has changed the look of their Award Availability Calendar. Instead of colors representing the different levels of availability, United has switched to a solid line, dotted line and no graphical image to represent availability. All other aspects of this post remain current and applicable.
This is definitely an entry-level Miles and Points post. If you have more than a basic understanding of the Miles and Points game, this post likely isn’t for you.
However, if you’re like many of our readers, this is the kind of information you’re looking for.
When I started out in the Miles and Points game, it would have been nice to find this basic info. Instead, it took me a lot of reading and some trial and error to figure out how to book my first award ticket.
Which is why I’m providing this award booking outline.
We all have to remember, what is basic knowledge to some, is an algebraic equation to those just starting out.
Here we go.
The very first step to finding award availability is to go to United.com.
Hopefully, you’ve already set up your MileagePlus account and have some miles just waiting to be used. If so, log in to your account (gold box on the left). If not, no problem, you can search for award availability without logging in – you just won’t be able to move past the flight selection phase.
Now, fill in the Book travel section with your trip information, making sure to select the Search For Award Travel box located beneath the number of passengers box.
In this example, I’ve searched for an economy class award ticket from Philadelphia to San Diego, May 7 – 14, roundtrip, for one adult.
The results page shows a two month color-coded calendar of availability. A nice feature to the calendar is that you can move forward or backward to see availability for other months without having to begin a new search.
The colors are a quick way to gauge what availability there is for a specific date.
- Yellow – Saver Award Economy
- Blue – Saver Award Premium Cabin (business and/or first class)
- Green – Saver Award Economy & Premium Cabin
- White – Standard Award May Be Available
Unless absolutely necessary, you never want to book a Standard Award. Finding Saver Award availability that fits within your travel schedule is always the goal.
In this example, I was able to find Saver Award Economy & Premium Cabin availability for the departure date. Now to pick the flight.
Below the Calendar is the listing of available flights. Remember, you’re looking for Saver Award availability, which in this example equates to 12,500 miles one way. If you see higher points levels, that means for that specific flight, there is no Saver availability.
As you can see, the availability screen also shows both First Class Saver and Standard availability for each flight. If there was no availability, the section for that particular flight would be empty, with only the words Not Available showing.
The flight I decided upon was further down the list.
You will notice that there’s Saver Economy award availability, but no First Class Saver Availability on this particular flight. And while Standard First Class availability is showing, I’m most definitely not paying 50,000 miles for a one-way domestic First Class award!
In case you’re wondering, the Mixed Cabin with the question mark means only one of the two flights on this itinerary would be in First Class.
By clicking the Details tab, more specific flight information is shown.
After making sure the details of that itinerary fit what I’m looking for, I click “Saver Award 12.5k miles +$5.60” to select that option.
The next screen shows the flight(s) I’ve chosen, below which is the Return Availability Calendar and below that, the available flights for the selected date. Luckily, again, there’s Saver availability on my return date.
I select the first flight option, even though it requires an overnight flight. I could pick a more desirable itinerary, but would have to pay the Standard Award price of 25,000 miles one way.
Having selected both my outbound and return flight legs, the next screen shows a summary of the flights I’ve selected along with the number of miles that will be redeemed (25,000) as well as the itinerary’s taxes and fees ($11.20) that will need to be paid.
Selecting the Continue button takes you to the traveler information page where you’ll be able to pick your already-entered frequent flyer profile, or add another traveler’s information if the reservation is for someone else. Taxes and fees will also be paid on a following screen.
And that’s a basic overview to finding and booking an award ticket on United Airlines.
Need some miles to book your desired trips?
In my recent Review: Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card post, I covered how you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to various airline and hotel programs, one of which being United Airlines.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is currently offering 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
A more direct route to get United miles would be to sign-up for the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card. It’s currently offering 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in 3 months. However, that sign-up bonus periodically bumps up to 50,000 miles, so you might want to wait for that increased bonus to apply.
If you have additional questions on booking a United economy class award ticket, comment below, or email us using the Contact button at the bottom of the site.