United Airlines is hawking a truly terrible monthly mileage deal

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I’m going to have to hold my hands up and admit that I had no idea that United Airlines had a program that allows MileagePlus members to subscribe to a monthly purchase of miles. Now, however, I’m all caught up, as United has been emailing the various accounts that I control to see if anyone behind them is uninformed enough to think that what’s on offer is anything but terrible value for money.

United’s Miles by the Month program

In all the emails that I’ve seen, United refers to its Miles by the Month program as a “new feature”, but when you look into the program’s terms and conditions, the phrase “[t]he Miles by the Month from MileagePlus® is available from United commencing on 12:00am CST on August 24, 2021” let’s you know that United is playing fast and loose with the word “new”.

The program itself is pretty simple:

  • Buy 3,000 miles/month and get a 10% discount and 20% bonus miles
  • Buy 5,000 miles/month and get a 20% discount and 20% bonus miles
  • Buy 8,000 miles/month and get a 25% discount and 25% bonus miles

Unfortunately for United, the simplicity of the program makes it nice and easy to see just what a rip-off this can be. United even shows you what your yearly mileage earnings will be just to make sure that the true awfulness of this deal is easy to see.

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The bit that’s a little deceptive is that the table (above) doesn’t include the “tax recovery fee” that you’ll also be charged.

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Once the tax is factored in, this is what the numbers look like:

  • Buy 43,200 miles at ~2.82 cents each
  • Buy 72,000 miles at ~2.51 cents each
  • Buy 120,000 miles at ~2.26 cents each

Why would you agree to buying United miles from 2.26 cents each when United frequently sells them for considerably less?

Right now, for example, you can head over to United’s “buy miles” page and pay approximately 1.88 cents for every miles you buy (as long as you buy at least 50,000 miles).

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This is still far from a great deal, but it’s a lot better than the garbage that United is trying to pass off as a good idea via its Miles by the Month program.

Sure, if you don’t have $1,881.25 going spare right now, you can’t buy United miles at 1.88 cents each, but if you can’t afford to buy miles at this rate, can you really afford to overpay just so you can spread the cost over time?

This isn’t an asset that you’re being offered. This isn’t something that’s going to appreciate in value or help you bring more money in. This a currency whose value will only go down and whose value is controlled entirely by the entity that’s selling it. That makes buying it in installments and at a poor price a very bad idea.

Interestingly, British Airways recently launched a similar scheme, but where United’s program is very clearly a bad idea for consumers, there are some tempting aspects to what BA is offering.

That’s not to say that BA’s program is a great idea and that everyone should dive in. Far from it. But it’s interesting to see that United appears to be relying on its customers to be uninformed and a little foolish, while BA’s program appears to rely on being tempting because, for some people, it’s offering a genuinely decent deal.

I know which airline’s approach I prefer.

Bottom line

United is sending out an email to select MileagePlus members that’s promoting its Miles by the Month program. Unfortunately, this isn’t a program that looks to offer flyers a new and useful option in the miles and points world. It’s just another scheme to try to part customers from their money in return for very little real value. Stay away.