United Is Selling Miles Again…And This Time They May Be Worth A Closer Look


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United is back with another short-term mileage sale in which it’s offering MileagePlus members bonuses of up to 85% through 27 August. Compared to some of the airline’s more recent sales this is a definite improvement (and may offer good value for some) but it’s not the best deal we’ve seen this year.

Link to the promotion page

The Offer

The Headline Terms & Conditions

  • Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on August 27, 2019.
  • Miles are available in increments of 1,000 up to a maximum of 94,000 miles.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bonus miles count towards the 175,000 mile annual limit per account.
  • Purchase up to 175,000 miles per account per calendar year.
  • Credit card will be billed immediately upon purchase.
  • Mileage rates and other fees and offer terms are subject to change.
  • Pricing is only available for purchases made through buymiles.mileageplus.com
  • Miles are nonrefundable.
  • Purchased miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier® status.
  • All MileagePlus Program Rules and terms and conditions apply.
  • GST/HST is charged to Canadian residents.
  • Powered by Points to purchase United MileagePlus miles. Transaction will appear as ‘Points United Miles’.

For the full T&Cs please use this link and have your MileagePlus number to hand

The Math

As usual, United hasn’t played around with the price of its miles within each of the promotional bands it offers so if you buy 30,000 or 94,000 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 30,000 miles in this sale, you would net 55,500 miles (after the 85% bonus is factored in) at a total cost of $1,128.75:

This works out to a cost per mile of approximately 2.03 cents.

If you were to buy the full 94,000 miles allowed in this sale, you wold 173,900 miles at a total cost of $3,536.75…

…and, once again, this works out to a cost per mile of approximately 2.03 cents.

This is good news for anyone who doesn’t need a colossal number of miles and just wants to top up an account.

Is This A Good Deal?

At 2.03 cents/mile this is not the best sale United has run this year…but it’s pretty close and this is still one of the better deal United is likely to offer this year.

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 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.

However…

As I find myself typing quite often, my situation isn’t always the situation that a lot of people find themselves in as my schedule (usually) allows me to be extremely flexible with when I fly – I’m not often at the merch of airline pricing and 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, outside of sales and the occasional great deal we see, 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 if award flights are available.

Annoyingly, 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 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 (2.03 cents), that award would cost approximately $2,436 (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 for travel between the US and Europe cost a little more but, based on my recent experiences with United, they’re also more likely to be available.

At 140,000 miles (+ taxes) for roundtrip travel it would cost you approximately $2,842 to buy enough miles in this sale to book such an award and, although that’s not what I’d call a good deal for travel to Europe, this could still, be a cheaper/better option than whatever cash fares are being offered for the same dates.

United Polaris Business Class – Image United Airlines

Things To Bear In Mind

It’s worth noting that, 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 decides 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 that contribute to Elite qualification (PQM)
  • By booking an award you’re passing up on the Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD) that contribute to Elite qualification
  • Convenience, redeemable miles, PQM, and PQD 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.

Remember

Points.com processes all of United’s mileage sales so you won’t earn an airline/travel bonus though your credit cards – make sure to use the card whose points you value most or a credit card on which you have yet to hit a sign-up bonus target.

Bottom Line

I can think of three scenarios in which buying miles in this promotion may be a good idea:

  1. You need to top up a MileagePlus account to give yourself enough miles to book an award.
  2. You need to top up a MileagePlus account to prevent your existing miles from expiring.
  3. 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 one or more of these three scenarios then buying miles in this sale is probably a good idea (here’s a link to buy some miles) if not, this sale is almost certainly not one 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.

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