What’s the best use of 20,000 United Mileage Plus Miles?

Posted on May 11, 2013 by in United Mileage Plus

Perhaps you're satisfied with redeeming for mostly economy awards.

Or you're paranoid about devaluations and like to burn them as soon as you earn them.

Or you just have an odd assortment of mileage balances from various airlines that doesn't really equate to getting any kind of aspirational award and your mild level of OCD compels you to clear your balance to zero every time.

Whatever your affliction, I've compiled a list to easily guide/inspire you to reset your balance.

Personally, I've found 20,000 United Miles to be a lifesaver at times. Here is how I have and would use them in the future.

1. Booking Costly Last Minute Travel

Last summer after hanging out in Zagreb, Croatia for a few weeks, I decided to break routine and accepted a volunteer position in the arctic north of Norway. Because I was needed in such short notice with little flexibility, the cheapest flight I found was $650 and only 1 of 3 legs credited to UA. 500 miles for $650 would mean it'd be a run of 130 cpm. The high cost and inability to credit miles was not ideal so I looked to drain my UA balance.

I searched and had the option of burning 12,500 miles and ~$66 in economy or 20,000 miles and ~$73 in business (mixed cabin).

I opted to burn 12,500 miles and flew ZAG-FRA-OSL-ALF.

2. Booking Not So Last Minute Travel but Travel Still Costly

The summer before that, I already had flights to Central America. I was meeting my Dutch friend and we wanted to maximize her time out there by squeezing in Machu Picchu since she had never been and the flight is a relatively short skip away. After searching, we found SJO-CUZ flights cost almost as much as the flight from AMS-PTY. We couldn't justify the costs but we also didn't drive our hopes up only to give up.

So again, I looked at our options and found that burning 20,000 UA miles and $34 each for SJO-LIM-CUZ RT was more ideal.

3. Hotel Stays
In honor of TJ, who is in Kuala Lumpur right now, I've searched for hotel options there as an example. You can stay at 5* hotels like Le Meridien, Sheraton Imperial, Hilton Pejalin Jaya, Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur, etc. for one night for under 20,000 miles.

If that's too schmancy for you (just kidding), there's also the option of staying at 1* and 2* hotels for 4 nights at ~3,000 miles per night.

Now that you've seen both extremes, I'm confident you'll find a hotel under 20,000 miles that meets your needs.

4. Car Awards

I searched for Car Awards in random pick city, Billings, MT for sometime in the middle of August and found these options for a 1-2 day car rental. You can opt for a bigger car for a 1-day rental, or an economy/compact for a 2-day rental. Whatever your preference is, you know there's a vehicle within reach to help you better explore Calamity Jane and Sitting Bull's origins, all thanks to your small bank of UA miles.

5. That Mileage Run You Booked Several Months Back but Took a Bump and the City You're in Makes You Feel Uncomfortable so You Squeeze an Award in Between Before Your Flight Back (Or Some Other Variable Similar To This)

So perhaps you took one of those mileage runs to Lagos but overslept and missed your return leg home, completely losing your entire itinerary. With your extra time and sudden desire to explore other parts of Africa (after absorbing the vibrant culture in LOS airport, that is), you just may be inspired to burn 12,500 miles for a trip down to Johannesburg to experience Ethiopian Air's 777 and Dreamliner in coach. Sure you can probably figure out a way to scrounge up an extra 5k and fly in business, but your curiosity and sense of adventure, overwhelms your desire for luxury.

LOS – ADD – JNB for 12,500 miles +$70 in Economy

6. Shopping

Cash in for Magazine/Newspaper Subscriptions
– 51 issues of The Economist for 3,200 miles
– 12 issues of Diabetes Forecast for 600 miles
– 7-day, 24 week delivery of the LATimes for 3000 miles

Dining Gift Cards
– Restaurant.com Gift Certificates – $25 for 500 miles

Flowers/Gift Baskets
– If you've got an extra ~5,000 miles laying around from all those surveys and sign-ups you once completed, there's no excuse to not send a Mother's Day Gift. Go love your Mother.

Whatever your mileage goals are, aspirational or not, leisurely spend or an emergency bank for crisis aversion, you know there are useful ways to get rid of your miles. Evaluate your choices and do what makes sense for you.

How have you used 20,000 or less United Mileage Plus Miles to your advantage?

Note: I forgot to include United's $75 fee for awards ticketed within 21 days of travel. This fee is waived or reduced for elites (non-elite: $75, premier silver: $50, and premier platinum+: $0). Take this into consideration while evaluating options. HT to reader Stephen.

Here's a link to United's award chart but I've also tediously typed all options under 20,000 miles out for you.

Travel within the Caribbean and the Americas

Within Mainland USA/Alaska/Canada
– 10,000 Economy One-Way Saver
– Only itineraries 700 miles or less each way only operated by United/United express with no stop-overs permitted.
– 20,000 Round Trip Economy Saver
– Only itineraries 700 miles or less each way only operated by United/United express with no stop-overs permitted.
– 12,500 Economy One-Way Saver

Mainland USA/Alaska/Canada to Hawaii
– 20,000 Economy One-Way Saver

Caribbean to Mainland USA/Alaska/Canada
– 20,000 miles Economy One-Way Saver

Caribbean to Hawaii
– 20,000 miles Economy One-Way Saver

Caribbean/Central America to Mexico
– 10,000 miles Economy One-Way Saver
-routing must be direct or via Central America only
– 17,500 miles Economy One-Way Saver
– 20,000 miles Economy Round Trip Saver
– 20,000 miles First/Biz One-Way Saver
– routing must be direct or via Central only

Central America to Hawaii
– 20,000 miles Economy One-Way Saver

Central America to Mainland USA/Alaska/Canada
– 17,500 miles Economy Saver

Northern South America to Mexico
– 10,000 miles Economy One-Way Saver
– routing must be direct or via Central America only
– 20,000 miles Economy One-Way Saver
– 20,000 miles Economy Round Trip Saver
– 20,000 miles First/Biz One-Way Saver
– routing must be direct or via Central only

Northern South America to Mainland USA/Alaska/Canada
– 20,000 Economy One-Way Saver

Southern South America to Mexico
– 20,000 Economy One-Way Saver

Travel within Europe, Africa, and the Middle East

Europe to Europe
– 12,500 Economy One-Way Saver
– 20,000 First/Biz One-Way Saver
– except when both First/Biz offered then add 10,000 for First

Europe to North Africa
– 17,500 miles for Economy One-Way Saver

Europe to Central/Southern Africa
– 12,500 Economy One-Way Saver

Europe to Middle East
– 17,500 Economy One-Way Saver

Middle East to Central Asia
– 20,000 miles for Economy One-Way Saver

Within North Africa
– 15,000 miles Economy One-Way Saver

Within Central/Southern Africa
– 12,500 Economy One-Way Saver

Within Middle East
– 15,000 Economy One-Way Saver

Travel in Asia, Oceania and Australia & New Zealand

Within North Asia
– 12,500 Economy One-Way Saver
– 20,000 First/Biz One-Way Saver

North Asia to Japan
– 10,000 Economy One-Way Saver
– 20,000 Economy Round-trip Saver
– 20,000 First/Biz One-Way Saver

North Asia to Oceania
– 20,000 Economy One-Way Saver

Within Central Asia
– 15,000 Economy One-Way Saver

South Asia to Oceania
– 15,000 Economy One-Way Saver

Within Japan
– 6,000 Economy One-Way Saver
– 12,000 Economy Round-trip Saver
– 15,000 Economy One-Way Standard
– 15,000 First/Biz One-Way Saver
– except when First/Biz both offered, then add 7,500 miles for First

Japan to Oceania
– 12,500 Economy One-Way Saver
– 20,000 First/Biz One-Way Saver

Japan to South Asia
– 15,000 Economy One-Way Saver

Within Oceania
– 12,500 Economy One-Way Saver
– 20,000 First/Biz One-Way Saver
– except when both First/Biz offered then add 15,000 for First

Oceania to Australia & New Zealand
– 17,500 Economy One-Way Saver

Within Australia & New Zealand
– 17,500 Economy One-Way Saver


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