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Last week, United announced that it’s running a pop-up store at Newark Airport where you can earn and redeem United miles when purchasing electronics and other potential holiday gifts. The airline opted to include what looked like a mock-up of the store in its press release, even though the Miles Shop has apparently been open for a few weeks. The press release didn’t have any information about the store’s location, but I found it right away after passing through the security checkpoint at Terminal C — it’s located just to the left of the main United Club. The whole thing seemed a little fishy, so I decided to check it out for myself.
Well, it’s bad. Really really really bad. Like, I’ve seen better-looking setups during New York City street fairs, which typically run for only a few hours and aren’t exactly known for stunning presentation. To add insult to injury, you’ll only be getting about 0.8 cents in value from each mile you redeem at the store — and that’s based on inflated pricing. In reality, you’re getting less than 0.5 cents in value (based on actual “street” prices), which is hilariously bad.
The flagship item appeared to be Parrot Zik 2.0 headphones, which came in a handful of colors for $399 or 49,880 miles. Several customers actually checked these out while I was in the store, perhaps because of the prominent placement on the back wall.
As United points out, you can earn 5 miles per dollar if you purchase these in the Miles Shop, but Amazon is selling them for as little as $238, and you can currently earn 10 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar when you pay with Chase Freedom. In other words, you’ll pay 60% of the in-store price, yet you’ll earn even more United miles (since you can transfer Chase points instantly at a 1:1 ratio).
Just for kicks, I priced out the NYPD 5-Piece Vehicle Gift Set from a company called Daron. In the store, this will run you $18 or 2,200 miles. Somewhat surprisingly, this is also available on Amazon, but for $11.29 — roughly 63% of what United is charging.
Meanwhile, the United EMB 175 for sale, while exciting for a regional jet, isn’t exactly a must-have collectable. It’ll set you back $45 or 5,630 miles. I found this same item on a speciality site for $32.99.
Finally, I did some comparison shopping for the store’s healthy selection of fancy Cross pens. The highest-end pen at the store was something the sign desribed as a “Century II Medalist Chrome with 23K gold Plated Fountain Pen with Medium 23 Karat Gold Plated Nib.” That will run you $125 or 15,630 miles. It’s about $95 on Amazon (76% of the in-store price), so I guess you can say this is the most competitively priced item in the Miles Shop.
There’s a teaching moment here: Not only should you not redeem your miles for products at United’s Newark Airport Miles Shop, you should also avoid using points and miles for merchandise pretty much everywhere else, too. You’ll get the best value from your points and miles for redeeming for travel, but even transfers between programs will get you a better return than burning miles for merchandise.
If you’re in Newark Airport, the Miles Shop is worth a look if you have time to kill, if only because of the store’s lousy execution. If there’s one redeeming factor, it’s that the two staff members on duty during my visit were willing to help answer questions and knew where to find things in the tiny store. Still, if you’re in need of electronics during your travels, you’ll be better off visiting the Best Buy vending machine around the corner, or having Amazon ship them to your hotel.
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