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The current United Airlines targeted mileage sale has been offering select MileagePlus members bonuses of up to 100% since the beginning of the month but with the promotion ending tomorrow night, there isn’t much time left to top up an account if the maths makes sense for you.
This is the offer that I can see in my account:
- Buy 2,000 – 4,000 miles and get no bonus
- Buy 5,000 – 14,000 miles and get a 50% bonus
- Buy 15,000 – 39,000 and get a 75% bonus
- Buy 40,000 – 112,500 miles and get a 100% bonus
Note: As mentioned earlier, this is a targeted promotion so the offer you see in your account may differ from what you see above.
Important to note
When you first access the “buy miles” section of United’s website, you may be faced with a promotion that appears to differ from the one discussed here (I saw a “save 50%” offer when I first logged in) but once you get through to the main sale page, you should see the 100% bonus offer.
- Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on September 21, 2022 (TOMORROW)
- Bonus miles count toward the 175,000-mile annual limit per account.
- You may purchase up to 175,000 miles per account per calendar year.
- Miles will generally be credited to the recipient’s MileagePlus account when the transaction is complete; provided that certain transactions may take up to 72 hours.
- Bonuses will be calculated on a per transaction basis only.
- Transactions may not be aggregated to calculate the bonus.
- The credit card used in the transaction will be billed immediately upon purchase.
- Miles purchased are nonrefundable.
- Purchased miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier status.
- GST/HST is charged to Canadian residents. QST is charged to Quebec residents.
- If you use Powered by Points to purchase United MileagePlus miles. Transaction will appear as ‘Points United Miles’.
- Buying miles counts as a United purchase when made with your United MileagePlus card. You’ll get the miles you buy, plus miles for every $1 spent.
- Pricing is only available for purchases made through buymiles.mileageplus.com.
The full terms and conditions can be found on the promotion page.
United doesn’t play around with the price of its miles within each of the promotional bands that it offers so if you buy 40,000 or 112,500 miles, you’ll still be buying miles at the best rate offered in this sale.
Here’s the proof:
If you were to buy just 40,000 miles in this sale, you would net 80,000 miles (after bonus) and that would cost you $1,505 or ~1.88 cents/mile.
If you were to buy the full 112,500 miles permitted in this sale, you would net 225,000 miles (after bonus) and that would cost you $4,232.81 or ~1.88 cents/mile.
This is good news for anyone who doesn’t need the full permitted amount but needs 80,000 miles or more.
Is this a good deal?
As usual, let’s get this important point out of the way before I go any further – If you have no immediate use for any miles that you buy, you shouldn’t be taking part in this sale. It’s usually a bad idea to stockpile miles so no one should be buying miles that they don’t plan to use in the short term (my golden rule applies).
I value United MileagePlus miles higher than I value the miles issued by either Delta or American, but I still value them at lower than the 1.88 cents selling price we’re seeing here. What this means is that unless I can see a very specific and immediate use for the miles (which would save me money) I wouldn’t buy miles in this sale.
As I often say, my situation isn’t always the situation that a lot of people find themselves in. My schedule usually allows me to be extremely flexible so because I’m often free to choose between a variety of dates on which I can fly, I don’t usually find myself in a position where I’m forced to purchase fares that cost considerably more than I’m comfortable paying.
A fact of life is that outside of sales and the occasional amazing deal that we see, premium cabin fares for departures from the US are usually expensive (often very expensive) so, if you have no choice but to fly when fares are not in your favor, miles may help you save a considerable amount of money if award bookings are available.
Disappointingly, United no longer publishes award charts and awards are now pricing more dynamically (in line with cash fares) but on a good day, you may still be able to snag an international roundtrip Business Class saver award for between 120,000 and 130,000 miles.
If you were to purchase miles at the cheapest rate this promotion offers (1.88 cents), that award would cost between $2,256 and $2,444 (taxes should be immaterial). That’s not a bad price for a Business Class fare but it’s also not fantastic, especially as awards at that price won’t be easy to find. Partner awards cost a little more but, based on my experiences with United, they’re also more likely to be available.
In general, you’ll probably get a lot more value out of any miles purchased in this sale by booking awards for transpacific travel than transatlantic travel (transpacific Business Class cash fares tend to be considerably higher) but when prices are high, miles from this sale can work well for transatlantic routes too.
Things to keep in mind
- International travel is looking healthier now than it has done since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but that doesn’t mean that you should throw caution to the wind. Make sure that:
- Awards are available to book.
- Your chosen destination will allow you to visit.
- Your chosen destination will not impose any sanctions on you that you’re not happy to comply with (e.g. a mask mandate) once you arrive.
- When it comes to award travel, there are a number of other factors that need to be considered other than just the cost of purchasing miles for an award:
- You’re restricted to flights on which United and its partners decide to open up for awards so it’s very possible that you may not be able to fly when it’s most convenient for you;
- By booking an award you’re passing up on the redeemable miles you would earn if you paid cash for your ticket;
- By booking an award you’re passing up on the miles/points that contribute to Elite qualification;
- Convenience, redeemable miles, and elite qualifying points all have a value that you’re not getting when booking an award, so you need to consider all of this when working out the value proposition of an award booking vs a cash booking.
Booking an award flight can be a fantastic deal but you need to weigh up the pros and cons thoroughly before you decide to buy miles in a sale like this one.
Buy miles with a United co-branded credit card
United’s terms and conditions appear to confirm that it continues to sell its miles through Points.com so based on past history, we would expect any miles purchases to code as Points.com purchases which would not earn buyers any bonus points that their credit card may offer for airline/travel purchases.
United’s mileage sales are, however, an anomaly because although the transactions are processed by POints.com, the terms and conditions of the sale also say the following:
“Buying miles counts as a United® purchase when made with your United MileagePlus card. You’ll get the miles you buy, plus miles for every $1 spent.”
I’m not sure how they got around the issue of getting a Points.com purchase to be treated as a United Airlines purchase, but this continues to be great news…especially for anyone who holds the Chase United Club℠ Infinite Card (review) which earns 4 miles/dollar spent on purchases made directly with United Airlines.
As usual, I can think of two scenarios in which buying miles in this promotion may be a good idea:
- You need to top up a MileagePlus account to give yourself enough miles to book an award that you know is available to be booked.
- You need to book an award to save money over a cash fare that you would otherwise have to buy.
If you find yourself in either of these three scenarios then buying miles in this sale is probably a good idea. If not, this sale is probably not one that you should be considering. Most importantly: Do your research before you buy any miles and make sure the award you want to book is actually available before you add more miles to your account.