United Airlines has a new contest--well, one with only a few days left--and even the most cynical business traveler might admit it's prompted some beautiful and inspiring entries.

This one has two two things going for it, unlike a lot of other contests I've seen recently.

First, the prizes are legitimate: three awards of 1 million MileagePlus miles, which should be enough to take you just about anywhere. United pegs these at a value of about $27,000 each. But what I like most is that they're the kind of thing most people would never think of just buying for themselves. 

Second, the contest rules make the entries worth your time. To enter, you have to dig through your travel photos and videos, and post the best ones on either Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtag #unitedjourneycontest.

This isn't a random contest, however. It's judged--and as a result people are putting some good thought into what they post ,and coming up with some truly inspiring and beautiful images.

As far as I can tell they are mostly true amateur photographs, but that's part of the charm--that they include personal trips to the most exotic places on earth, along with compelling personal moments at some of the most ordinary places. We'll include a handful of these at the bottom of this story.

    The judges are five otherwise ordinary United passengers who have traveled around the world on United Airlines:

    • Miles Chamley-Watson: "a British-born, American-made fencer" 
    • Hannah Jesus: "Oregon-based high school art teacher." 
    • Marc Marrone: "corporate executive chef."
    • Shauna Wade "freelance photographer."
    • Tim Landis, also "a freelance photographer."

    And, the criteria they'll be using to judge the photos, straight from United's description, include:

    • Inspiration (40%) - highlighting a personal moment of discovery; the ability to tell a story and inspire others through travel,
    • Creativity (30%) - ability to convey an original and imaginative idea, and
    • Uniqueness (30%) - capturing a unique element of a specific destination.

    You only have a few more days to enter if this interests you--the deadline is August 28. (You can read the full rules here.) But it's worth doing a quick search for the hashtag #unitedjourneycontest. 

    Actually, when you see the competition, you might wonder if you still have a shot at winning. But if you do win--and especially if you heard about the contest here first--be sure to let us know!

    Here are a handful of the entries that I enjoyed the most. Think of these the next time you're on a redeye from LAX to Newark.

    The entries

    A broad overview...


    A parent visiting her daughter in the Marines...