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United has launched a flash mileage sale which lasts through to the end of the day on 16 September and as the sale is offering the highest bonus we generally see United publish, and as United has increased the number of miles you can buy to 225,000 (from 175,000), this may be one of the better times to top up an account if the math works for you.
Don’t be put off by the United website. When I access the “buy miles” area of the site before logging in, the page suggests that the best offer available is one with a 75% bonus…
Headline Terms & Conditions
- Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on September 16, 2020.
- You may purchase up to 225,000 miles per account per calendar year.
- Bonus miles count toward the 225,000-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.
Full terms and condtions can be found on the promotion page
The Bonus Tiers
There are four tiers in this flash sale:
- Buy 2,000 – 4,000 miles – Get no bonus
- Buy 5,000 – 14,000 miles – Get a 30% bonus
- Buy 15,000 – 39,000 miles – Get a 50% bonus
- Buy 40,000 – 112,500 miles – Get a 100% bonus
Within each bonus band, the price per MileagePlus mile remains the same which means that whether you buy 40,000 miles…
…or the full 112,500 miles…
…you’ll be buying miles at the lowest cost available which, in this sale, is 1.75 cents/mile.
Should You Buy United Miles In This Sale?
1.75 cents/mile is just about as low as we ever see United selling its currency but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a fantastic deal.
How good or bad this flash sale is will vary significantly based on what each person’s needs are and much more importantly, if awards are actually available to book.
United no longer publishes award charts (because, apparently, customers love an opaque loyalty program) and awards are now pricing dynamically 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 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 considering we have been seeing a number of transatlantic cash Business Class fares that are cheaper than this.
Better value may be found when buying miles for transpacific travel (routes which are usually considerably more expensive in Business Class than transatlantic routes) or, considering how few international options are open to US travelers right now, when booking domestic premium cabin fares on traditionally expensive routes (e.g. to/from Hawaii).
United 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 100,000 point offer on the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless 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).
If miles and points aren’t what you’re looking to earn right now and cash back is more appealing, the excellent Citi Double Cash Card (2% back) is probably the card to pay with.
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 have the patience to look for them.
If, on the other hand, you purchase miles thinking that you’ll find a good use for them in the future you’re going to lose money in the long run. That’s as close to a certainty as you can get in the miles & points world.