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United is back with another mileage sale and this time it’s offering MileagePlus members an impressive-sounding 100% bonus on purchases of 40,000 miles or more but it has also brought back the 7.5% federal tax which had been absent for most of 2020 so the cost per mile in this sale isn’t quite as good as the price we saw United charging in December (when it also offered a 100% bonus).
This is the offer that I can see in my account:
- Buy 2,000 – 4,000 miles and get no bonus
- Buy 5,000 – 14,000 miles and get a 30% bonus
- Buy 15,000 – 39,000 miles and get a 60% bonus
- Buy 40,000 – 87,000 miles and get a 100% bonus
Note: United has been know to vary promotions slightly from customer to customer so the offer you see in your account may differ (slightly) from what you see above.
The Key Terms & Conditions
- Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on January 31, 2021.
- 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.
- Transactions may not be aggregated to calculate the bonus.
- 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.
The full terms and conditions can be found on the promotion page.
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 40,000 or 87,000 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 40,000 miles in this sale, you would net 80,000 miles (after the 100% bonus is factored in) at a total cost of $1,505:
This works out to a cost per mile of approximately 1.88 cents.
If you were to buy the full 87,000 miles permitted in this sale, you would net 174,000 miles at a total cost of $3,273.38…
…and, once again, this works out to a cost per mile of approximately 1.88 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?
Let’s get this important point out of the way before I go any further – If you have no immediate use for any miles that you buy, you shouldn’t be taking part in this sale. It’s a bad idea to stockpile miles at the best of times, so a full-blown travel crisis isn’t a great time to be stocking up on miles that you don’t plan to use short-term (my golden rule applies).
At 1.88 cents/mile this is not the best sale United has run in recent months but as the airline now appears to have brought back the Federal Excise Tax, and as we don’t generally see United offer higher bonuses than the 100% bonus on offer in this sale, there’s a good chance that this will be the best price/mile that we see in 2021.
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 1.88 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.
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 when I’m choosing when fly – I’m at the mercy of the pandemic right now but I’m rarely at the mercy of airline pricing – so 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 that 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 an international roundtrip Business Class saver award for between 120,000 and 130,000 miles.
If you were to purchase miles at the cheapest rate this promotion offers (1.88 cents), that award would cost between $2,256 and $2,444 (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 cost a little more but, based on my recent experiences with United, they’re also more likely to be available.
Things To Keep In Mind
- We’re still in the middle of a global pandemic so you’d have to be very sure that:
- Awards are available to book
- Your chosen destination will allow you to visit
- Your chosen destination will not impose any severe sanctions on you (e.g. long quarantine period) once you arrive
- 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 and its partners decide 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/points that contribute to Elite qualification
- Convenience, redeemable miles, and elite qualifying points 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.
Booking an award flight can be a fantastic deal but you need to weigh up the pros and cons thoroughly before you decide to buy miles in a sale like this one.
United Airlines 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 very nice bonus currently available on the Amex Gold 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).
I can think of two scenarios in which buying miles in this promotion may be a good idea:
- You need to top up a MileagePlus account to give yourself enough miles to book an award that you know is available to be booked.
- 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 either of these three scenarios then buying miles in this sale is probably a good idea. If not, this sale is almost certainly not one that 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.