Some links to products and travel providers on this website will earn Traveling For Miles a commission that helps contribute to the running of the site. Traveling For Miles has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Traveling For Miles and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. For more details please see the disclosures found at the bottom of every page.
United seems to be running back-to-back mileage sales right now with very little difference in what they offer. The latest 5-day sale (which ends today) is a copy of the sale that ended on 25 October so we’re again seeing United Airlines offering MileagePlus members the opportunity to buy miles at just 1.88 cents/mile. That’s the lowest cost per mile that we usually see from United but there may be a reason to hold off buying miles for now.
This is the offer that I can see in my account:
- Buy 2,000 – 4,000 miles and get no bonus
- Buy 5,000 – 34,000 miles and get 25% off
- Buy 35,000 – 49,000 and get 35% 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 from what you see above.
- Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on November 4th, 2021 (TODAY)
- Promotional offer not applicable to past transactions.
- 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.
- The bonus amount applicable to a transaction is shown in the chart.
- Transactions may not be aggregated to calculate the bonus.
- The credit card used in the transaction will be billed immediately upon purchase.
- Mileage rates and other fees and offer terms are subject to change.
- Miles purchased are nonrefundable.
- Purchased miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier® status.
- GST/HST is charged to Canadian 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.
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 60,000 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 $1,128.75 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 50,000 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 a bad idea to stockpile miles at the best of times so while travel to many parts of the world is still constrained, buying miles that you don’t plan to use in the short term isn’t a great idea (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 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 to fly 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 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 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 looking much healthier now 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 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.
An interesting development
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.
For the first time, however, the terms and conditions of this 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 have got around the issue of getting a Points.com purchase to be treated as a United Airlines purchase but this is great news.
Presumably, if the purchase of miles will now code as a United Airlines purchase, anyone buying United Miles should now not only be able to use their United cards to get boosted earnings, but they should also be able to use cards like the Platinum Card® From American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and the Citi Premier Card to get bonus points too. That’s excellent news.
A possible reason to delay a purchase
The Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are just a few weeks away and United will have a promotion to cover those two events. While it’s unlikely that we’ll see United selling its miles any cheaper than it’s selling them in this sale (although anything is possible), we may see the airline copy what it did last year and offer MileagePlus members a higher purchase limit.
If you’re happy buying miles at ~1.88 cents each and don’t need more than 175,000 of them, this sale should work for you. If, however, you think that a higher purchase limit may be useful, waiting to see what sale United publishes for Cyber Monday may be a good idea.
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.