AVOID: United’s New Points Sale Is Terrible

a plane parked on a runway

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United Airlines has launched its latest points sale/promotion and its one that just about everyone should be avoiding. This is one of the weakest promotions United dares to put out and is only worth considering if you absolutely have to top up and account.

a pair of shoes and sunglasses on a wooden surface

Don’t believe me? Ok, let’s take a look…

The Promotion

  • Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on July 11, 2019.
  • Miles are available in increments of 1,000 miles for the first 35,000 miles and in 5,000 mile increments up to a maximum of 100,000 miles.
  • Bonuses will be calculated on a per transaction basis only. The bonus amount applicable to a transaction is shown in the chart. Transactions may not be aggregated to calculate the bonus.
  • Bonus Miles will generally be credited to the recipient’s MileagePlus account when the transaction is complete; provided that certain transactions may take up to 48 hours.
  • Purchase up to 175,000 miles per account per calendar year.
  • Bonus miles count towards the 175,000 mile annual limit per account.
  • Credit card will be billed immediately upon purchase.
  • Mileage rates and other fees and offer terms are subject to change.
  • Pricing is only available for purchases made through buymiles.mileageplus.com
  • Miles are nonrefundable.
  • Purchased miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier® status.
  • All MileagePlus Program Rules and terms and conditions apply.
  • GST/HST is charged to Canadian residents.
  • Powered by Points to purchase United MileagePlus miles. Transaction will appear as ‘Points United Miles’.

This is the promotion I see when I log in:

  • Buy 5,000 – 14,000 miles and get a 30% bonus
  • Buy 15,000 – 29,000 miles and get a 60% bonus
  • Buy 30,000 – 100,000 miles and get a 75% bonus

A 75% bonus isn’t really worth getting excited about, as the math is about to show.

an airplane with seats and windows
United Airlines Polaris Business Class

The Math

To purchase miles at the best rate per mile you will need to buy between 30,000 and 100,000 miles in this sale.

In this example, if I was to purchase 100,000 miles, it would cost me $3,762.50…

a screenshot of a number of miles

…which would net me a total of 175,000 miles (after applying the bonus) at a cost of 2.15 cents per mile.

If you’re based in the UK the cost/mile is actually worse.

This is the best UK flyers will do in this promotion:

a screenshot of a phone

175,000 United miles at a cost of £3,114.28 comes to ~1.78 pence per mile and, at the current exchange rate (approx. 1.27 $/£) that equals around 2.26 cents/mile.

Should You Buy United Miles In This Promotion?

I value United miles higher than I value miles from the other two legacy carriers (not as high as I value Alaska Miles) but I still don’t value them anywhere near as high as 2.15 cents.

Aside from buying an insignificant number of miles to top off an award or to keep an account active, I can’t think of any reason why you should be buying miles at this rate.

United’s international premium cabin saver awards have been getting harder and harder to find so the most likely awards you’ll be booking are United partner awards….and they’re not great value when you’re buying miles at 2.15 cents each.

Here’s an example to prove my point.

San Francisco to Zurich on SWISS will cost 70,000 miles and $5.60 in taxes on the outbound flight…a screenshot of a computer screen

…while, on inbound, it’s another 70,000 miles & $53.46 in taxes:a screenshot of a screen

To buy the 140,000 miles you’d need for this award you’d have to spend $3,010 in this promotion…..and then you’d have to find award availability that works for you.

Finding Business Class cash fares to Europe for under $3,000 is not difficult at all so why would you buy miles to book this fare?

If you can find Saver tickets on United’s own aircraft (good luck!) a round trip Business Class flight to Europe will cost considerably fewer miles (57,500 each way)….but that would still set you back $2,472.50 (+ taxes and fees)

Sure, that’s not a bad Business Class fare to Europe…but it’s still nowhere near good enough to warrant buying miles to book it.

Don’t forget that when purchasing an award ticket you may have the benefit of flexibility but you’re giving up a host of miles, and progress towards elite status.

These things have value.

An award that costs $2,472.50 to book with miles purchased in this sale isn’t equivalent to a cash fare that costs the same amount as the cash fare also earns you redeemable miles and will help you with your progress to elite status.

a seat in a plane
SWISS 777 Business Class

Bottom Line

The conclusion here is simple – this is a very poor promotion.

Please don’t buy United miles for 2.15 cents each unless for some reason buying miles and booking an award online (which you can see is available right now) saves you quite a bit of money.

I can’t imagine too many people will find themselves in that situation so, for most, this is definitely a promotion to pass on.


  1. Hey, it’s United. You better believe they know terrible on an intimate basis. They hired Scott Kirby, didn’t they?

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