History of United Airlines
In 1926, United Airlines was founded in Boise, Idaho as part of the Varney Air Lines air mail service and flew the first contract Air Mail flight in April of that same year. This was a huge step for American aviation because it was the first scheduled airline service in history. United has grown since then to become one of the major airlines in the U.S. with headquarters in Chicago and destinations covering almost the entire world.
United began as Varney Air Lines but in 1929 when William Boeing founded Boeing Air Transport, he quickly bought Varney Air Lines and merged his company with Pratt & Whitney to create United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC). By 1933, United was using the first all-metal airliner with the Boeing 247 and was able to fly transcontinental routes in 20 hours or less; much faster than other airplanes on the market. In 1934, the Air Mail Act was passed and UATC was split into United Aircraft, Boeing Airplane Company, and United Air Lines.
Over the next 20 years, United took advantage of increased demand for air travel and increased their revenue by five-fold. They took another leap when in 1954, they purchased (for $3 million) the first modern flight simulators with visual, audio, and motion cues for training commercial passenger airline pilots.
At the start of the 60s, United merged with Capital Airlines to create the largest airline in the U.S. and then reorganized to form UAL Corporation. 1970 brought about the acquisition of Western International Hotels (Westin Hotel Company), but industry and economic volatility made United’s next 10 years difficult.
However, 1985 created large changes with the purchase of the entirety of Pan Am’s Pacific Division allowing United access to a hub in Tokyo. With Pan Am taking the plunge for the worst, United was also able to scoop up routes to London’s Heathrow Airport, which made them one of two U.S. airlines permitted to fly to and from Heathrow.
The beginning of the 90s was rough for the airline but in 1994, United became the largest employee-owned corporation in the world by agreeing to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which gave 55% of the company stock to employees in exchange for 15-25% salary reductions. They also started Shuttle by United in ’94 to compete with the growth of lower-cost airlines and introduced the first Boeing 777 into airline service in 1995. United then spent 1997 co-founding the Star Alliance and building up membership.
September 11th brought on a slew of issues from lack of travelers to high-priced oil to increased labor costs and United ended up losing $2.14 billion in 2001. Although they applied for a $1.5 billion loan from the Air Transportation Stabilization Board, United unfortunately was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002; thus ending ESOP. Bankruptcy cost them all of their U.S. ticket offices, downsizing major operations, closing maintenance bays, cancelling routes, and fleet reductions. United also ended up cancelling their pension plan in 2005, which turned out to be the largest default of that type in American history. By the end of 2005, United raised over $3 billion to help them get out of bankruptcy and in 2010, they successfully merged with Continental creating United Continental Holdings, Inc. and the world’s largest carrier.
United received a single operating certificate from the FAA in 2011 and by early 2012, Continental’s and United’s passenger service systems merged along with websites, frequent flyer programs, and the complete elimination of Continental’s name and brand excluding their logo and livery. United would keep their name and operate with Continental’s logo as a part of the merger agreement.
Although United has had several ups and downs over their history, each time they were able to rebuild their brand and status while continuing to serve customers around the world.
United and Star Alliance Members
United is part of the Star Alliance with several other airlines. Recently, U.S. Airways left the alliance but there are still other great airline partners available.
Star Alliance Members:
- Aer Lingus
- Cape Air
- Great Lakes Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Island Air
- Jet Airways
- Silver Airways
United’s Main Hubs and Where They Fly
United’s headquarters are nestled in Chicago, Illinois with several hubs and destinations around the world.
United Offers Service to:
- North and South America
- Chicago-O’Hare, Illinois
- Houston, Texas
- New York/Newark, New Jersey
- Denver, Colorado
- San Francisco, California
- Washington-Dulles, Virginia
- Los Angeles, California,
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Tokyo, Japan
United’s MileagePlus Frequent Flyer Program and How it Works
United’s MileagePlus program is their combination of the Continental frequent flyer program OnePass and the old United program. Although it has consistently been ranked as the world’s best frequent flyer program even after the introduction of irritating changes in 2012 including denying award travel for with a combination of miles and cash, reduction in bonus miles for Premier Gold and Premier Platinum members, substantial changes to the upgrade process, and not allowing Premier silver members to reserve Economy Plus seats until 24 hours before the flight departure.
Each time you fly United, you’ll earn miles by easily entering your MileagePlus number into the registration if you’re booking online or tell the travel agent your number. You’ll earn miles for every flight on United or their partner airlines as well as a wide variety of hotels, car rentals, rail service, cruises, credit cards, the online shopping portal, retail, dining and entertainment, and several other products and services. You can transfer miles between United’s partners so you can get the best value out of all your miles. Many of their miles transfer at a 1:1 ratio but this statistic may vary depending on which partner you’re transferring to. Miles do not expire as long as there is account activity during an 18-month period and one-way award travel starts at 5,000 miles.
You can redeem award travel on any combination of United transfer partner flights and Star Alliance members while also having the opportunity to book saver and standard awards. Saver awards are available for travel but only on a random basis. They allow you to use less miles for the same seat to travel to whatever destination you choose. For standard awards, you can only fly United or Copa and theses awards cost about 2-3 times more than saver awards.
Booking award travel with United is as easy as going to their website, sending the MileagePlus Service Center an email, or by calling 1-800-421-4655.
United Airlines First Class and Business Cabins
United’s First Class Cabin
United’s Business Seat
Best United Airlines Flight for Award Travel
- Singapore Suites: Transfer AMEX Points to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (93,500 Singapore Airlines Miles)
- Lufthansa First Class to Frankfurt or Munich One-way for 110,000 Miles
- United First Class to Frankfurt for 67,500 Points
- United: $12,000 Miami to Frankfurt Flight for a Tiny 67,500 Points
- Swiss Air First Class to Europe Round-trip for 55,00-125,000 Miles
How to Book Award Travel With United Airlines
Booking award travel with United Airlines can be done through their website or by calling 1-800-421-4655 but there are some other tools to the trade to help you get the best deal.
With United, you want to book your trip fairly early or book very close to your departure date. When you book early, you can typically find award travel seats because airlines put up their schedules about 330 days in advance. If you choose to wait until the last minute, some airlines add more award travel seats so that the plane flies full. If you’re planning a trip around peak travel times, it could become very difficult to find award travel seats at the last minute or even when you book early.
Being flexible and considering saver awards in business or first class will help you book award travel as well. If your dates aren’t set in stone, then the availability of award seats may increase if you expand your search by a few days. Saver awards in business and first class may be a few more miles but saver awards are typically 2-3 times less miles than standard award rates. You may be able to fly in a better seat for equal or slightly more miles.
Like American Airlines, United also makes it easy for you to book a free stopover. United allows you to search through many of their partners seat availabilities from their website allowing you to book a stopover almost anywhere in the world.
When you visit United’s website, you’ll want to click the Multiple Destinations link instead of round-trip or one-way. Then you’ll type in your destinations and stopover (United allows one stopover and two open jaws for round-trips).
Do not type in segment by segment. Rather type origin to stopover city, stopover city to destination, and destination to origin. There will only be 2 pairs listed so click the Add Another Flight to Your Trip link. (PHX-LHR, LHR-PAR, PAR-PHX) You can have an open jaw where you can fly from let’s say Heathrow to Paris and then Munich back to Phoenix; the flight example was to show how to book a stopover.
When you’re booking award travel, the miles amount won’t post until the end when you’ve selected all of the flight times for all legs of your trip. If you happen to be on several flights with saver awards, those miles will post immediately but standard award travel miles will not. When you get to the final booking page, your miles total will be displayed and the itinerary will note that you’re arriving in one airport and departing from another giving you a free open jaw or stopover. These are great if you want to travel to Europe, run around to several different cities, and arrive and depart from different places. You don’t have to pay for separate flights; just make sure to note all of your stopovers and open jaws when you book your flight. United allows you to book a free trip essentially so why not take advantage of that for a great around-the-world trip?
How to Earn United MileagePlus Miles
There are tons of ways to earn United MileagePlus Miles including credit cards, flying United or their partner airlines, online shopping portals, rental cars, hotels, and other partners. Several of the United credit cards offer significant mile bonuses upon first purchases or spending a certain amount of dollars within the first 3 months. You can also buy miles at discounted rates and earn extra miles on certain trips with United bonus miles. The best way to earn miles on United Airlines is to get one of the credit cards and consistently fly United using the credit card. You’ll rack up miles with your frequent flyer account and points with your credit card. It’s like getting double the credit for the same trip. As long as you utilize United and its partners (airline, hotel, rental car, rail) you can maximize your miles and earn free trips faster.
United Credit Cards
- United MileagePlus Explorer (40,000 bonus mile sign-up)
- United MileagePlus Club Card (Receive $100 statement credit after first purchase)
- United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card (40,000 bonus mile sign-up)
- United MileagePlus Club Business Card (Receive a $100 statement credit after first purchase)
- 20 Other Credit Cards available for International Customers
United Transfer Partners
- Adria Airways
- Aegean Airlines
- Aer Lingus
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air New Zealand
- All Nippon Airways
- Asiana Airlines
- Austrian Airlines
- Brussels Airlines
- Cape Air
- Croatia Airlines
- Ethiopian Airlines
- EVA Aira
- Great Lakes Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Island Air
- Jet Airways
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Scandinavian Airlines
- Shenzhen Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- Swiss International Air Lines
- TACA Airlines
- TAM Airlines
- TAP Portugal
- Thai Airways
- Turkish Airlines
- Marriott Rewards
- Hilton HHonors
- Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)
- IHG Rewards Club
- Club Carlson
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- Choice Privileges
- Wyndham Rewards
- Golden Circle
- Hertz Gold Plus Rewards
- United Cruises
- United Vacations
Get The Best of Reserve First Class
Join our newsletter and get a daily update of everything First Class travel.