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United is back with another mileage sale and this time it’s a targeted promotion with different bonus offers for different Mileage Plus members. My promotional offer was a 60% bonus and the other accounts I control all got the 60% bonus offer too but the nature of the promotion suggests that there are better (and possibly worse) deals out there too.
My ‘Surprise Miles Bonus’
- Buy 5,000 — 19,000 miles and get a 30% bonus
- Buy 20,000+ miles and get a 60% bonus
Headline Terms & Conditions
Here are the terms for the offer I was given (the numbers will vary slightly if your offer is different to mine):
- Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on May 9, 2019.
- Miles are available in increments of 1,000 up to a maximum of 109,000 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.
- Purchase up to 175,000 miles per account per calendar year.
- Bonus miles count towards the 175,000 mile annual limit per account.
- 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.
Buying Miles – The Math
You’ve seen the offer I’ve been given further up this post but, in more useful terms, this is what it looks like:
- Buy 2,000 — 4,000 miles at ~3.76 cents each
- Buy 5,000 — 19,000 miles at ~2.89 cents each
- Buy 20,000+ miles at ~2.35 cents each
Put simply, to buy United MileagePlus miles at the best rate this sale is offering you would need to buy a minimum of 20,000 miles.
If I purchased the full 109,00 miles I’m allowed to buy in this sale it would cost me $4,101.13….…and I would net 174,400 miles after accounting for the bonus.
That comes out to approximately 2.35 cents per mile and that’s marginally worse than the last promotion United ran back in March.
Buying just 20,000 miles would still qualify me for a bonus of 60% and, as United’s prices don’t vary within each promotion band, this means that I don’t need to buy the maximum allowable number of miles to get the best available rate this sale is offering me.
Is This A Deal Worth Considering?
If you’re planning on stockpiling the miles the answer to that question is simple – no. No one should ever hoard miles.
But, assuming you’re not planning on buying miles just to sit on them here are a few things to note:
- At 2.35 cents/mile this is a pretty weak promotion and United is due a 100% bonus promotion soon.
- There’s no scope for earning any extra credit card points here (from bonus category spending) as the transactions are processed by Points.com and will earn just 1 point or mile per dollar.
- I value United MileagePlus miles higher than I value the miles issued by either Delta or American but I still value them considerably lower than the 2.35 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.
My situation isn’t the situation a lot of people find themselves in as I can be more flexible than most when it comes to booking flights. This means that I don’t often find myself in a position where I’m forced to purchase fares that cost considerably more than I’m generally happy to pay.
A fact of life is that premium cabin fares are usually expensive (often very expensive) so, if you absolutely have to fly when fares are not in your favor, miles may help you save a considerable amount of money (as long as you can find award availability that works for you).
Here’s what I mean:
Roundtrip non-stop Business Class fares between San Francisco and Frankfurt for August (on any airline) are currently starting at a little over $5,000….
…..but, if you can find a Business Class United Saver award for dates that work for you, it would set you back just 120,000 miles + taxes.
120,000 miles in this promotion would cost approximately $2,820 so, even when you add in the taxes that you’ll have to pay out of Frankfurt, you should still be able to make some serious savings.
Business Class fares on United’s Star Alliance partners are more expensive (140,000 miles for a roundtrip booking) so to book one of those with miles bought in this sale would cost ~$3,290….but that can still represent a very nice saving if you can find award availability.
This doesn’t just work for transatlantic routes, the savings across the Pacific can be even better.
If you take the example of a roundtrip non-stop Business Class fare between Chicago
and Tokyo in August the fares start at over $7,000:
If you’re fortunate enough to find a saver award for travel on United it will cost you 140,000 miles + taxes and, base on the offer I’m seeing in my account, the miles would cost ~$3,290.
A Star Alliance award would cost 160,000 miles on this route so an award on one of Untied’s partners would cost you around $3,760.
Taxes on this route would be minimal so the savings could be fantastic….as long as you can find award availability in the first place – that’s key!
I can think of only two scenarios in which buying miles in this promotion may be good idea:
- To top up a MileagePlus account with a small number of points to get you enough miles to book an award.
- To book an award to save money over a cash fare that you would otherwise have to buy.
If you fall into one of those two categories then here’s a link to buy some miles, if you don’t then this promotion is probably not for you.