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United MileagePlus is currently selling miles with a bonus of up to 85% and an annual purchase limit of 175,000 miles. This isn’t the best deal we’re likely to see United offer before the end of the year (we’ve already seen a 100% bonus offer earlier this month) but as the math will show, there are definitely going to be times when miles purchased in this sale will save you money.
As sometimes happens with United’s mileage sales, don’t assume that the best bonus you’re being offered is the first bonus that you see.
The first bonus offer I saw after I logged into my account was for 75%…
…but once I accessed the sale page, that bonus had changed to 85%:
- Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on April 1, 2021.
- You may purchase up to 175,000 miles per account per calendar year.
- Bonus miles count toward the 175,000-mile annual limit per account.
- 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.
- Bonuses will be calculated on a per transaction basis only.
- 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 will be charged to Quebec residents.
Buying Miles – The Math
Here’s the promotion as I’m seeing it in my MileagePlus account:
- Buy 2,000 – 4,000 miles and get no bonus
- Buy 5,000 – 14,000 miles and get a 30% bonus
- Buy 15,000 – 34,000 miles and get a 60% bonus
- Buy 35,000 – 94,000 miles and get an 85% bonus
What that means in more useful terms is this:
- Buy 2,000 – 4,000 miles at a cost of ~3.76 cents/mile
- Buy 5,000 – 14,000 miles at a cost of ~2.89 cents/mile
- Buy 15,000 – 34,000 miles at a cost of ~2.35 cents/mile
- Buy 35,000 – 94,000 miles at a cost of ~2.03 cents/mile
To buy United MileagePlus miles at the best rate you would need to buy between 35,000 and 94,000 miles and, within this band, the cost per mile remains constant (more or less).
If you were to buy the full 94,000 miles allowed in this sale it would cost $3,536…
…and you would net 173,900 miles after accounting for the bonus.
That works out to be approximately 2.03 cents per mile.
Buying just 35,000 miles would still qualify you for an 85% bonus so the cost/mile remains the same – you don’t need to buy the maximum allowable number of miles to get the best rate.
Should You Miles In This Sale?
If you’re planning on hoarding the miles the answer to that question is simple – no!
Assuming you’re not planning on hoarding miles there are a few things to note:
- At 2.03 cents/mile this is not as good as some of the sales we’ve seen in which miles have been offered at 1.88 cents each, but this is still one of the better sales United publishes.
- There’s no scope for earning any extra credit card points/miles here (from bonus category spending) as the transactions are processed by Points.com and will earn just 1 point/mile per dollar.
- I value United MileagePlus miles higher than I value the miles issued by either Delta or American but I still value them considerably lower than the 2.03 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.
My situation isn’t always the situation a lot of people find themselves in as I can be more flexible than most when it comes to booking flights.
This means that I don’t often find myself in a position where I’m forced to purchase fares that cost considerably more than I’m normally happy to pay.
A fact of life is that 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 (as long as you can find award availability that works for you).
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 (2.03 cents), that award would cost between $2,436 and $2,639 (taxes should be immaterial). That’s not a bad price for a Business Class fare outside of a good sale 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.
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 very nice bonus currently available on the Amex Gold 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 with a small number of miles to get you enough miles to book an award.
- You need to book an award to save money over a cash fare that you would otherwise have to buy.
If you fall into one of those two categories then here’s a link to buy some miles, if you don’t then this promotion is probably not for you.
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.