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TPG reader Vishal tweeted this week asking:
“@thepointsguy is it worth purchasing airline accelerator miles? United offered me 3,000 miles for $63. Are such offers worth it?”
I generally don’t recommend buying frequent flyer miles unless there’s a valuable promotion going on. At regular prices, you’re looking at spending 3-4 cents per mile or point, when generally you’re going to get a lot less than that when you redeem. If you need points or miles right away to top up your balance for a specific redemption, then purchasing is acceptable. Normally when you buy miles, they’ll post to your account within a couple of hours, if not instantly.
The ratio that Vishal was offered, $3,000 mile for $63, is actually not that bad. In that case you’re basically buying United miles for about 2.1 cents apiece. Depending on how you use your miles and if you’re able to get more than 2.1 cents in value out of each one, that’s not a terrible ratio. To figure it out, you would multiply the price you’re paying ($63) by 100 (cents per dollar), then divide by however many miles you’re getting (3,000), and that will give you the cost in cents per mile. Anything over 2-2.5 or 3 cents per mile is not going to be worth it.
A lot of times airport kiosks will offer you an awful price, so if you really want to buy airline miles I’d recommend waiting for sales. United, American, and US Airways frequently hold buy miles promotions, and you’ll be able to get a much better rate, since there can be up to 100% bonuses.
In general I say no, don’t buy accelerator miles. However, there is one extra perk when it comes to buying United miles, in that they also let you buy Elite Qualifying Miles. If you’re running short at the end of the year, this can help you attain or maintain status, or bump you up to the next level. EQMs are much more expensive, and you may see offers for 20 cents or more to buy them at the end of the year, but usually you can find them cheaper early on.
As always do the math to see what makes the most sense for you, there’s no one right or wrong answer. If you have other questions, feel free to tweet me at @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.