United now lets you redeem miles for one-way trips

Don’t have enough miles to book that free ride? United is the the latest airline to let frequent flyers redeem their hard-earned points for one-way trips. United’s One-Way Awards program, which was announced today, mimics American Airlines’ One-Way Flex Awards, which were introduced in May 2009.

Under the One-Way Awards program, you can now book a Mileage Plus award trip starting at just 12,500 miles–or half of what a domestic round-trip flight requires. Even if you don’t travel very often, this increases your chances of racking up enough miles for an award ticket, especially if you use a credit card to earn even more points.

Frankly it has always annoyed me that the major carriers penalized you for buying a one-way ticket by jacking up the price. Low-cost airlines, on the other hand, are great for booking one-way legs. I’ve flown from New York to San Francisco on JetBlue but then I’ve booked my return on Virgin America. I’ve found that by mixing and matching, the schedules can be more convenient if I pair the low-fare carriers.

If a free round-trip ticket still eludes you, try cobbling together an itinerary using a one-way award ticket on United or American, plus the affordable one-way prices on airlines like JetBlue, Virgin America, and Southwest.

Personally, the One-way Awards program now gives me an incentive to use up my remaining United points, which lately has fallen short of the 25,000 round-trip benchmark, before they expire.