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United launched a flash mileage sale yesterday and, to be completely honest, I wasn’t planning on giving it much attention because all the headlines I saw suggested that the sale offers a bonus of just 85% (which isn’t very good). However, in a moment of boredom, I decided to check what prices United had set for this sale and, to my surprise, I discovered that the best bonus on offer is actually 100%…and that makes the sale considerably more interesting.
The first thing I should point out is that you can probably disregard what the promotion’s login page may tell you. My login page shows that the best offer is a bonus of 85%……but after I log in to the promotion, this is the actual deal I’m presented with:Just because the first headline you see suggests the best you can do is an 85% bonus doesn’t mean that’s actually the case.
Headline Terms & Conditions
- Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on July 16, 2020.
- 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.
- 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.
- Miles purchased are nonrefundable.
- Purchased miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier® status.
- GST/HST is charged to Canadian residents.
The Bonus Tiers & Pricing
In the sale that I can see in my account, there are just four tiers:
- Buy 2,000 – 4,000 miles – Get no bonus – cost/mile = 3.50 cents
- Buy 5,000 – 14,000 miles – Get a 30% bonus – cost/mile = ~2.69 cents
- Buy 15,000 – 39,000 miles – Get a 50% bonus – cost/mile = ~2.33 cents
- Buy 40,000 – 87,500 miles – Get a 100% bonus – cost/mile = ~1.75 cents
The good news here is that within each pricing band the cost per point stays the same so, for example, it doesn’t matter if you buy 40,000 or 87,500 United Miles as you’ll still pay the same per mile.
Buying the maximum number of miles would get you 175,000 miles after the bonus has been added and would cost $3,062.50:
175,000 MileagePlus miles at a cost of $3,062.50 is ~ 1.75 cents per mile.
Should You Buy United Miles In This Sale?
1.75 cents/mile is the lowest rate at which we see United Miles on sale and that’s in no small part down to the fact that, for the time being, US taxes are not being imposed on the sale of airline miles. Make no mistake, we’re unlikely to see United Miles sold cheaper than this any time soon so if this cost/mile doesn’t work for you it’s unlikely any upcoming sale will work for you either.
Note: As always, my golden rule surrounding miles and points sales comes into play so no one should be buying miles in this sale unless they have a short-term use for them and have checked that awards are available to book.
United no longer publishes award charts and awards are now pricing dynamically (in line with cash fares) but, on a good day, you may still be able to snag a roundtrip Business Class saver award for travel between the 48 contiguous States and Europe (for example) for around 120,000 miles. If you were to purchase miles at the cheapest rate this promotion offers (1.75 cents), that award would cost ~ $2,100.
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. A partner award for travel between the US and Europe costs a little more but, based on my recent experiences with United, it’s also more likely to be available.
For anyone who just needs to top up a MileagePlus account with fewer than 40,000 miles, this is a sale to avoid as there’s currently a way of generating low numbers of United Miles for just 1.86 cents each. Compared to the 2.33 cents/mile that United is charging for purchases of under 40,000 miles in this sale, 1.86 cents/mile is a bargain.
Use The Right Credit Card
Hilton Honors Points sales are processed by Points.com so that eliminates the scope to earn a travel/flight/airline bonus by using a credit card that offers bonus points for shopping in one of those categories (e.g. the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card). This makes a points sale like this a good opportunity to use a credit card on which you’re working towards a welcome bonus – like the current good offer on the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express.
If you’re someone who prefers to earn cash back over miles and points, the Citi Double Cash credit card (2% cash back) is a strong option to use.
If you only purchase miles when you have a solid plan for what you’re going to do with them you’ll rarely go wrong – you can check awards are available, you can check the cost of flights and, by comparing the two, you can make an informed decision. At 1.75 cents/mile there will be some good deals on offer…you’ll just have to look for them.