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United has launched a new flash sale in which it’s offering MileagePlus members the opportunity to buy miles with a 50% discount which sees the airline’s currency costing just 1.88 cents/mile. That’s the lowest cost per mile that we usually see from United although there’s currently a way to generate up to 72,000 miles for slightly less.
This is the offer that I can see in my account:
- Buy 2,000 – 4,000 miles and get no bonus
- Buy 5,000 – 49,000 miles and get 25% off
- Buy 50,000 – 175,000 miles and get 50% off
Note: United has been known to vary promotions from customer to customer so the offer you see in your account may differ (slightly) from what you see above.
The Key Terms & Conditions
- Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on August 18, 2021.
- Purchase up to 175,000 miles per account, per calendar year.
- This is an exclusive, non-transferable offer for the intended recipient only and may not be forwarded.
- Credit card will be billed immediately upon purchase.
- Mileage rates and other fees and offer terms are subject to change.
- Allow 48 hours for miles to process and post to your MileagePlus account.
- 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.
- QST is charged to Quebec residents.
- Powered by Points to purchase United MileagePlus miles. Transaction will appear as ‘Points United Miles’.
The full terms and conditions can be found on the promotion page.
As usual, United hasn’t played around with the price of its miles within each of the promotional bands it offers so if you buy 50,000 or 175,000 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 50,000 miles in this sale, it would cost you $940.63 which comes to ~1.88 cents/mile.
If you were to buy the full 175,000 miles permitted in this sale, it would cost you $3,292.19 which also comes to ~1.88 cents/mile.
This is good news for anyone who doesn’t need the full 175,000 miles but needs over 72,000 miles (if you need between 8,000 and 72,000 miles, there’s a limited-time opportunity to generate them at just 1.86 cents each).
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 a bad idea to stockpile miles at the best of times so while the world is still in the midst of an ongoing travel crisis, buying miles that you don’t plan to use in the short term isn’t a great idea (my golden rule applies).
At 1.88 cents/mile this is not the best sale that United has run in the past year but as there’s very little chance that the Federal Excise Tax that’s levied on mileage sales will be suspended again, this is almost certainly the best price/mile that we see offered by United in 2021.
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 that’s on offer right now. 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 find myself typing quite often, my situation isn’t always the situation that a lot of people find themselves in. My schedule usually allows me to be extremely flexible when I’m choosing when fly – I’m at the mercy of the pandemic right now but I’m rarely at the mercy of airline pricing – so I don’t often find myself in a position where I’m forced to purchase fares that cost considerably more than I’m usually comfortable paying.
A fact of life is that outside of sales and the occasional amazing deal that we see, premium cabin fares 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 booking awards for transpacific travel than transatlantic travel with miles purchased in this sale (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 still very suppressed so you should make sure that:
- Awards are available to book.
- Your chosen destination will allow you to visit.
- Your chosen destination will not impose any severe sanctions on you (e.g. long quarantine period) 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.
United Airlines sells its miles through Points.com so there’s no scope to earn a travel/flight/airline bonus by using a credit card that offers bonus points for shopping in one of those categories. What this means is that this is a good opportunity to use a credit card on which you’re working towards a welcome bonus (like the amazing bonus currently available on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card) or to use the excellent Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express which will earn you 2 points/dollar (up to $50,000 in spending per year).
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.