Our top picks of timely offers from our partners

More details
National Debt Relief
Learn More
Terms Apply
National Debt Relief helps consumers with over $10,000 of unsecured debt and has operated since 2009
UFB Secure Savings
Learn More
Terms Apply
Up to 5.25% APY on one of our top picks for best savings accounts plus, no monthly fee
Freedom Debt Relief
Learn More
Terms Apply
Freedom Debt Relief can help clients get started without fees up front
LendingClub High-Yield Savings
Learn More
Terms Apply
Our top pick for best savings accounts for its strong APY and an ATM card with no ATM fees
Rocket Mortgage
Learn More
Terms Apply
Rates could continue to rise - look into refinancing with one of our top picks.
Select independently determines what we cover and recommend. We earn a commission from affiliate partners on many offers and links. Read more about Select on CNBC and on NBC News, and click here to read our full advertiser disclosure.
Credit Cards

How to book hidden, cheaper award flights with the United Airlines credit cards

You can access more United award seats than other flyers by holding the right credit card.

Share
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

If you fly United Airlines with any regularity, you may be familiar with the United MileagePlus loyalty program. What you might not know is that it offers a unique feature where it reserves some flight award availability for certain customers.

Just as United sells different cash fare levels (such as economy and refundable economy), it also sells different award seat levels:

  • Saver awards
  • Standard awards

Saver awards are the cheapest option and generally the only awards that provide a good value for your miles. Standard awards can cost significantly more, but they are more plentiful. When there are no saver-level awards available on a flight, the remaining seats are sold as standard awards, but they are typically much more expensive and priced based on the cash cost of the ticket.

However, there's a nearly effortless way you can find lots of saver-level award seats which the vast majority of United flyers can't. This benefit is usually only available to customers with MileagePlus Premier elite status— but United Airlines credit cardholders can get it, as well.

Here's everything you need to know about this underrated United Airlines trick that can help you save a ton of miles on your next trip. 

Subscribe to the Select Newsletter!

Our best selections in your inbox. Shopping recommendations that help upgrade your life, delivered weekly. Sign-up here.

Unlocking United's expanded award availability

United Airlines releases "secret," lower-priced economy award availability to the following customers:

This expanded availability is offered on both domestic and international United-operated flights.

If you don't satisfy at least one of the above bullets, you won't even know these extra economy seats exist. Regular United Airlines seats appear as fare code "X," while these hidden awards appear as fare code "XN." You'll only see the hidden seats when you're logged into your United Airlines account, as that's the only way the site can know if you qualify.

Let's view an example by looking at flights from Chicago to Nashville. Here's what someone without a United Airlines credit card sees: Three Saver flights with fare code "X."

Photo courtesy of united.com

Now here's what someone with an eligible United credit card sees: A fourth Saver flight that wasn't offered to the non-cardholder. You'll notice that all these flights appear as "XN" — even the ones that previously appeared as "X" — indicating that the card member is booking from the pool of exclusive seats.

Photo courtesy of united.com

Pro tip: If you're short on United miles, you can dip into your Chase Ultimate Rewards® balance and transfer points to the airline.

United credit cards that offer extra award seats

All United Airlines co-branded credit cards with an annual fee will unlock this expanded award inventory benefit:

These cards come with other great benefits as well, not to mention large sign-up bonuses. Depending on which card you've got, you could get things like preferred boarding, free checked bags, United Club lounge access, annual flight credits and much more. The top-tier United Club Infinite Card even offers an additional 10% discount on United-operated economy saver awards within the continental U.S. and Canada, which can be stacked with the expanded award availability.

United℠ Explorer Card

On Chase's secured site
  • Rewards

    2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases; 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, eligible delivery services and hotel stays; 1 mile earned on every $1 spent on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • Annual fee

    $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    21.99% - 28.99% Variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Member FDIC. Terms apply.

 

United Quest℠ Card

On Chase's secured site
  • Rewards

    Earn 3x miles on United® purchases, 2x miles on dining including eligible delivery services, select streaming services and all other travel, 1x on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • Annual fee

    $250

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    21.99% - 28.99% Variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Member FDIC. Terms apply.

United Club℠ Infinite Card

On Chase's secured site
  • Rewards

    Earn 4 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases, 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel and dining, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

  • Annual fee

    $525

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    21.99% - 28.99% Variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

Member FDIC. Terms apply.

 

Bottom line

Whether you're trying to book a super popular flight that books up fast or a route for which United dedicates far fewer flights (and therefore fewer award seats), having access to an exclusive pool of award seats can come in handy.

If you've already got a United Airlines credit card, this is a great reason to keep it. If this unique perk interests you, it may be reason enough to open a United card and why they are considered some of the best airline credit cards on the market.

Catch up on Select's in-depth coverage of personal financetech and toolswellness and more, and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
Chime
Learn More
Terms Apply
Get paid early with direct deposit and pay no overdraft, transfer, or minimum balance fees