Travel: How 4 TPG reporters would spend 1 million United miles

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  How 4 TPG reporters would spend 1 million United miles © Provided by The Points Guy
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United MileagePlus has seen changes and devaluations over the years, but MileagePlus miles remain a powerful airline currency for both international and domestic award tickets.

In addition to offering some great redemption options and fun routes (such as the Island Hopper), there’s also the program’s famous Excursionist Perk, which allows a free stopover on round-trip international tickets.

Recently, TPG’s Points and Miles team discussed how we’d spend 1 million of the most popular hotel and transferable points. In this post, we’ll switch gears to airline miles and discuss how the four of us would spend 1 million United MileagePlus miles to book epic adventures worldwide.

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In This Post

Asia and Europe in business class for 2

Andrew Kunesh, Points and Miles editor

As the travel world reopens, I’ve mentally planned countless trips.

One that’s been on my mind for months is booking a tour of Asia when the region reopens, with stops in some of my favorite cities like Hong Kong and Tokyo. I’ve laid out an itinerary that lets me revisit my favorite Asian cities while adding a couple of new-to-me cities into the mix.

The trip would require two separate itineraries, so I can maximize the United Excursionist Perk to build out a multistop itinerary that hits all of my desired cities. Note that I am booking for two passengers and all flights are in business class.

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The first itinerary would get me to and from Asia by way of Japan. United splits Asia up into multiple regions and considers Japan its own region. In order to use the Excursionist Perk, I have to book my transpacific flights in and out of the same region, so I’ll use Japan as my starting and ending point for this one.

The first round of flights consists of:

  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Narita International Airport (NRT) in Tokyo with United.
  • Haneda Airport (HND) in Tokyo to New Chitose Airport (CTS) in Sapporo with ANA.
  • Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka to Newark via Tokyo-Narita with StarFlyer and United.

This round-trip ticket costs 140,000 miles in business class with $65.17 in taxes and fees per person, for a total of 280,000 miles spent for my travel companion and me. It would let me revisit Tokyo, and add Sapporo and Osaka to my list of visited cities.

After this, I’d book an intra-Asia ticket that also takes advantage of the Excursionist Perk. This ticket would take me from Sapporo to Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok. The routing is a little convoluted, but it lets me take advantage of a free one-way flight with the Excursionist Perk.

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  • Sapporo to Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) via Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) with ANA and EVA Airways.
  • Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) to Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Bangkok with Thai Airways.
  • Bangkok to Osaka with Thai Airways.

This ticket costs 94,500 miles and $77.70 in taxes and fees per person in business class, for a total of 189,000 miles spent for two passengers. I’d revisit Hong Kong and Bangkok while adding Singapore to my list of visited cities.

Of course, I’d need to get a ticket from Singapore to Hong Kong. I’d book this as a cheap paid ticket as I cannot book premium-cabin Singapore Airlines awards with United miles, and flights between the two cities are usually cheap. I can book a one-way ticket on Singapore Airlines for $152 per person in economy.

This leaves me with 531,000 United miles left to spend.

Since we’re working with a lot of miles, I’d transfer 100,000 of these to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1 transfer ratio, which I normally don’t recommend doing as you almost always lose value with this transfer. That said, if the goal is to redeem these miles, I’d gladly take a discount on hotel stays. You can transfer up to 100,000 United miles to Marriott every year.

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I’d use these Marriott Bonvoy points to book two nights at The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel in Hokkaido, Japan. This city is a little under 20 miles from Sapporo and is an excellent Japanese ski destination. This would give my partner and me a couple of days away from bustling cities and a chance to hit the slopes.

After this, I’m still left with 431,000 United miles. I would use these to plan my usual winter trip to Europe to visit family in Prague. I’d leverage the free Excursionist Perk to stop in London for a few days to visit my partner’s family in the United Kingdom. Here’s a look at the itinerary:

  • Newark to Heathrow Airport (LHR) in London with United Airlines.
  • London to Prague Airport (PRG) via Frankfurt Airport (FRA) with Lufthansa.
  • Prague to Newark with United Airlines.

This ticket costs 120,000 miles and $140.07 per person, for a total of 240,000 miles spent. All flights, including the short-haul connections, are booked in business class. Note that the order of flights is important here as beginning my time in Europe via London costs hundreds less in taxes and fees than if I departed back to the U.S. from London due to the U.K.’s Air Passenger Duty fees.

I’d save the remaining 191,000 miles for booking domestic flights around the U.S. on an as-needed basis. United often has solid award prices on domestic tickets, so I can book flights home to Chicago and flights to visit friends in San Francisco, Austin and other major cities.

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Related: How to spend a million Marriott points for an epic post-pandemic trip

Australia, India and Oktoberfest

Benji Stawski, senior reporter

Although United moved away from published award charts and devalued its MileagePlus program several times over the last couple of years, one standout sweet spot remains: the Excursionist Perk.

As discussed, at its most basic level, it allows you to add a one-way flight to a round-trip award ticket to another geographical region for no additional miles. With a million United miles, I’d book several United Excursionist redemptions and transfer any remaining miles to Marriott Bonvoy to book hotel stays.

First, I’d want to cross India off my bucket list.

I’d fly from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM) in Mumbai, India, in business class for 93,500 miles. Then, I’d fly from Mumbai to Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) in New Delhi in business class for free, and then head back to New York for 85,000 miles.

The intra-India flight that I’ll be getting for “free” is just over two hours long and usually costs around $300 each way. The taxes and fees would come out to just $97 total for the three segments. Air India isn’t known for offering the best business-class product, but I’ll be able to book either one of United’s direct flights to India or a connecting flight with another Star Alliance carrier. At the time of writing, United has scaled back its flights to India.

Next, since Australia recently reopened, I’d book a trip to the Oceania region. First, I’d fly to Sydney Airport (SYD) with a layover in my favorite city, Tokyo. I’d then fly from Sydney to Auckland Airport (AKL) for “free,” and return to New York with a layover in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

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Altogether, this itinerary would come out to about 88,000 miles in economy. Given how long the flights are, I’d ideally like to fly business class, but unfortunately finding saver business-class availability on these routes is virtually impossible. What’s nice about the long layovers in Tokyo and Los Angeles is that I’ll essentially be tacking on additional stopovers to my trip for free.

Finally, I’d plan a trip to Germany later this year to visit family in Frankfurt and cross Oktoberfest in Munich off my list. And because fancy flights and liters of beer are more fun when enjoyed with a friend, we’ll make this part of the trip for two.

I’d book Lufthansa first class for the transatlantic legs for around 121,000 miles each way and Lufthansa business class for the “free” flight from Frankfurt to Munich. Even better, Lufthansa’s first-class awards are now bookable 30 days out, up from the old normal of 14 days.

For my return, rather than flying straight to New York, I’d end my Excursionist itinerary at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD). There’s no price difference to end in a different city so I’ll just need to pay around 5,700 miles for the flight back to New York — not a bad price to add another stop to my trip. Plus, based on my experiences, it’s typically easier to find Lufthansa first-class award availability to Chicago than New York.

When booked for two, that trip would use up a little under 500,000 of the miles.

I’ll then have about 250,000 miles remaining, which I’d transfer to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1 transfer ratio over time. This normally isn’t the best use of United miles since Marriott points are generally less valuable, but with so many miles left over, I am OK with giving up some value in exchange for some free hotel nights. You can only transfer up to 100,000 United miles to Marriott each calendar year so I won’t be able to transfer them all at once, but could use 100,000 this year and 100,000 the following year with some to spare.

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I’d use these points to book hotels such as the following:

  • ITC Maratha, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Mumbai — 20,000 to 30,000 points per night.
  • Le Meridien New Delhi — 20,000 to 30,000 points per night.
  • Pier One Sydney Harbour, Autograph Collection — 30,000 to 40,000 points per night.
  • Residence Inn Frankfurt City Center — 20,000 to 30,000 points per night.
  • Moxy Munich Messe — 15,000 to 20,000 points per night.
  • W Chicago – City Center — 30,000 to 40,000 points per night.

Related: 3 ways to spend a million Capital One miles traveling the world

South Africa, island-hopping and Oceania

Katie Genter, senior writer

You’ve heard it mentioned multiple times now, but I’m also a fan of the United Excursionist Perk, having used it myself many times over the years. Here’s how I’d leverage that program benefit to redeem 1 million United miles.

I flew the United Island Hopper back in 2017. I enjoyed it so much, I want to do it again. So I’d start by booking a multicity United award from Atlanta to Majuro, Marshall Islands; Majuro to Koror, Palau; and Guam to Atlanta. Here’s an example itinerary that would cost 70,000 miles per person in economy.

Related: Maximizing the United Island Hopper using United’s Excursionist Perk

Then, I’d book flights to see a few other islands, including Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, and Pohnpei, Micronesia. The flights start at just 8,000 miles in economy.

From Oceania, I could nest another United Excursionist award. For example, I could fly from Pohnpei to Okinawa, Japan; Okinawa to Sapporo, Japan; and Tokyo to Kosrae, Micronesia. If I fly on dates with saver availability, I should only need to redeem about 33,000 miles per person in economy. However, United’s website gave me a consistent “There was an error loading the award calendar” message when piecing this award together, so it may not be bookable.

Related: Your guide to the best seats on United’s Honolulu-to-Guam Island Hopper

Either way, I could presumably find an Excursionist Perk award from Oceania to Japan to book on United’s website if I was serious about booking this trip. Then, I could redeem as few as 5,000 United miles per award to fly on ANA in economy within Japan. I’d likely book flights to Nagoya and Tokyo.

This fantastic trip would let me see Majuro, Koror, Kosrae, Saipan, Guam, Pohnpei, Okinawa, Sapporo, Nagoya and Tokyo. I could book all these awards for two people for about 313,000 miles. Since I still have plenty of miles left to spend, I’d also book a trip to South America.

South America is another appealing region for the United Excursionist Perk. And since I’ve always wanted to visit the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, let’s consider a trip to Baltra. However, I might as well add a few other northern South American destinations to my trip, including Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; and Bogota and Medellin in Colombia.

So, I could book a United Excursionist award with the following legs: Atlanta to Seymour Ecological Galapagos Airport (GPS), Galapagos to Old Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) in Quito and José María Córdova International Airport (MDE) in Medellin to Atlanta. I priced this award as low as 84,000 miles.

Then I could book the other legs within northern South America for as few as 8,000 miles in economy. As such, my South America trip for two could cost around 132,000 miles.

However, since I still have about half a million United miles to use, let’s consider a final United Excursionist trip I could book to Africa.

I’d book a business-class award for this one using the Excursionist Perk from Atlanta to Cape Town; Johannesburg to Dakar, Senegal; and then Zanzibar, Tanzania, to Atlanta. Here’s an example of such an award that costs 316,000 miles for two travelers.

Then, I’d use most of the remaining miles to travel within Africa. United has a generous central and southern Africa award region. And you can redeem as few as 8,000 miles for economy awards and as few as 30,000 miles for business-class awards within this region. So, I’d likely add on visits to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Nairobi, Kenya; Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe; and Accra, Ghana.

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Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey and Portugal

Kyle Olsen, Points and Miles reporter

In all honestly, I wouldn’t want to burn through a million United miles right away. But I would start by using United’s partners in Asia, which are known for having the best business-class products. I would fly from San Francisco to Bangkok via Tokyo on ANA, which is one of the routes with the new Room business class. I would stay for five nights at the Conrad Bangkok, which would only require as little as 50,000 Hilton points for a five-night stay, thanks to the fifth night free. But the real highlight of the trip would be the Philippines.

Using the Excursionist Perk, I would fly for “free” on the lie-flat Royal Silk business class with Thai Airways on the Airbus A350-900 to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) in Manila. In the Philippines, I would visit my friends in Quezon City, and if time permits, I would go back to Palawan before returning home to San Francisco on ANA’s business class through Tokyo.

Having used less than 20% of my 1 million miles, I would then bring two family members to the Mediterranean region. I’ve been eager to visit Istanbul, and with flights from San Francisco on the new Turkish Airlines business class on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, I would likely also head south to check out the Bodrum Edition. As my colleagues have mentioned above, you can transfer up to 100,000 United miles to Marriott every year, which could be enough for up to two nights at the Bodrum Edition.

After staying in Turkey, I would use the Excursionist Perk to fly for “free” on the nonstop Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Lisbon in business class. Although their A321 business class doesn’t offer a state-of-the-art lie-flat product, it’s arranged in a comfortable 2-2 configuration — similar to domestic first class on any of the U.S. airlines. For a four-hour daytime flight, it would be more than acceptable.

There are some great places to check out in Portugal and numerous points-friendly hotels like Pine Cliffs, a Luxury Collection Resort. I stayed here in November, and its beachfront location makes for the ultimate spot for a family vacation.

Flying back from Lisbon or Faro, most of the flights go through Frankfurt on United’s partner, Lufthansa. Lufthansa’s 2-2-2 business-class product isn’t the most luxurious way to get back to the United States, but its ample award availability makes it a natural choice for the flight back.

Three seats on this multicity Mediterranean sojourn would require a total of 441,000 miles and about $330.

With the remaining 365,500 miles, I would try to secure two round-trip business-class seats to South Africa. Of course, if there was 70,000-mile one-way business-class space on the route from Newark to Cape Town or Johannesburg, I would immediately book it. This would mean that two round-trip tickets would cost 280,000 miles. When TPG reviewed this product, we were very impressed. And of course, there’s a lot to love about the Polaris lounge in Newark.

Without nonstop award space, most of the United business-class award space goes through Ethiopian Airlines.

Related: TPG staffers reveal how they’d spend 1 million Hilton Honors points

How to earn 1 million United MileagePlus miles

There are a variety of ways to earn United miles, with the easiest being spending on a credit card.

The team’s favorite way to earn United miles is by spending on credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These points transfer instantly to United MileagePlus at a 1:1 transfer ratio, so 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points are equal to 100,000 United miles.

We prefer earning Ultimate Rewards points over United miles because of the flexibility they offer. You can transfer Chase points to a number of different points programs, including World of Hyatt and Air France-KLM Flying Blue. This gives you plenty of options when it comes to redeeming your points.

You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points with these credit cards:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: 100,000 bonus points after spending $15,000 in the first three months after card opening.

Alternatively, you can earn United miles directly with a United cobranded credit card. Here’s a look at some of our favorites:

  • United Explorer Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
  • United Quest Card: Earn 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
  • United Club Infinite Card: Earn 120,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • United Business Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.

Related: Quick Points: How to earn more United miles on the run

Bottom line

United MileagePlus miles have been devalued over the years, but it remains a powerful mileage currency for those who live near United hubs and frequent Star Alliance airlines. Plus, United miles are easy to earn since you can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards and earn with cobranded credit cards.

Here, we showed you how to redeem 1 million United miles. Even if you don’t have a million miles in your account, you can use this guide as inspiration for future redemptions. Plus, make sure to read our full guide to redeeming United miles and the best United sweet spots.

Additional reporting by Benji Stawski, Katie Genter and Kyle Olsen.

Featured photo of Prague’s Old Town Square by Pauline Lewis/Getty Images.

SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.

And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free.

These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

How (and why) to calculate award redemption values .
Editor’s note: This guide has been updated with the latest information. Consider two scenarios for booking an award flight to Europe: In the first, you pay 60,000 miles for a round-trip United award in economy class. In the second, you pay 70,000 miles for a one-way United award in economy class, and you still have …Consider two scenarios for booking an award flight to Europe: In the first, you pay 60,000 miles for a round-trip United award in economy class. In the second, you pay 70,000 miles for a one-way United award in economy class, and you still have to sort out how you’ll get home.

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