Warning: Stay Away From United’s Latest Mileage Sale


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I really dislike United Airlines right now. The way the airline has been refusing to refund customers when their flights have been canceled is unconscionable, and the games it has been playing with its rules governing what length of delay justifies a refund have shown United to be a self-serving entity that doesn’t deserve respect or sympathy during these troubled times.

Right now United is trying to bring in some cash by hawking discounted miles on the open market and it’s trying to make the sale interesting by offering MileagePlus members a mystery deal. Newsflash – this a terrible, terrible sale.

Ordinarily, I would include one or more affiliate links in a post on a miles or points sale but this post will not include any such links. You won’t even find a regular link to the United website in this post because I genuinely don’t want anyone participating in United’s latest sale – it’s really not a good deal.

For the sake of completeness here’s what my targeted offer looks like:

  • Buy 2,000 miles  – get no bonus
  • Buy 3,000 -19,000 miles – get a 30% bonus
  • Buy 20,000 – 109,000 miles – get a 60% bonus

Using these bonuses the best cost/mile I’m being offered is ~2.19 cents/mile…which is a terrible deal.

I’m led to believe that some may be seeing targeted offers of up to 85% bonus miles but that would still see travelers paying over 2 cents per point and that’s still a terrible deal.

One of the bigger myths I see repeated over and over again is the one which says that United’s premium cabin saver awards aren’t particularly hard to find and that the airline does a better job than Amerian Airlines (the industry benchmark for poor premium cabin saver award availability) at releasing premium cabin saver award space….but this isn’t really true.

Finding premium cabin saver award space on United Airlines flights is harder than it has ever been, finding premium cabin saver awards on United’s partner airlines isn’t exactly easy and with United now using dynamic pricing for its awards it’s tougher than ever to use MileagePlus miles economically.

At over 2 cents/dollar…

  • A transatlantic roundtrip Business Class saver award on United (assuming you can find one) would start at over $2,400 + taxes, and the same award on a partner airline would cost over $3,000 + taxes.
  • A domestic roundtrip transcontinental Business Class saver award would cost over $2,000
  • A transpacific roundtrip Business Class saver award on United would start at over $3,200 + taxes

…and none of these are deals that people should be jumping to book because a lot of cash fares are cheaper right now.

Why buy miles and struggle to use them economically when you can pay in cash and have a much broader choice of travel dates (and earn miles and status credits too)?

Bottom Line

I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t been caught up in any of United’s customer-unfriendly nonsense but I genuinely feel for any traveler who has had to deal with the airline of late and I don’t want to see any more people ripped-off by the airline…and this sale is a rip-off for most.

If you buy miles in this sale you had better be 100% sure that you can use them economically and in the near term because otherwise you’re just giving the airline an unsecured interest-free loan…and why would anyone want to do that?

4 COMMENTS

  1. You are clearly pi**ed at only being offered a 60% bonus rather than 85% which is more common! The ‘Mystery’ is why they are coming up with less than 100% or higher IMO!
    The glory days of partner awards on good airlines (better than UA) with good routings are gone, with many long-hauls including an unwelcome sector routing through China, including Wuhan, amusingly.
    How’s that working out for you in 2020 United? ROFL.

    • Not annoyed about the bonus I was offered at all – I would have written the same post had I been offered the 85% bonus because the (a) it’s still a terrible deal and (b) the nature of the bonus doesn’t alter my opinion of United right now.

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