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Earning airline miles using the traditional method (actually flying) is just one option for growing your account balance. While it’s increasingly harder to earn miles from flying, airlines make it relatively easy to accrue miles without flying — whether through top credit card offers or by utilizing shopping portals and dining rewards programs. If these methods leave you short of your travel goals, you can also purchase miles directly from an airline.

If your United MileagePlus account is looking a little thin after the holidays, United just launched its first mileage purchase offer of the year. Now through January 23, you can purchase United MileagePlus miles with up to a 75% bonus. While the standard offer is up to a 50% bonus, some lucky MileagePlus members are getting a targeted 75% bonus when logging into the buy miles page.

The regular price for buying United miles is 3.76 cents per mile ($35 per 1,000 miles plus a 7.5% Federal Excise Tax). But, this promotion will drop the price down to 2.51 cents per mile under the standard offer — or 2.15 cents per mile if you’re targeted for the 75% bonus.

Unfortunately, I was only targeted for the 50% bonus.
You’ll likely see the 50% bonus listed on the main page, but your bonus might jump to 75% when you log in.

Here’s how the standard promotion is set up:

  • Buy 5,000-24,000 miles (25% bonus) at 3.01 cents per mile
  • Buy 25,000-100,000 miles (50% bonus) at 2.51 cents per mile

If you’re targeted for the 75% offer when logging into the buy miles page, it seems you’ll have the following offer:

  • Buy 10,000-14,000 miles (25% bonus) at 3.01 cents per mile
  • Buy 15,000-29,000 miles (50% bonus) at 2.51 cents per mile
  • Buy 30,000-85,000 miles (75% bonus) at 2.15 cents per mile

And, here’s how to take advantage of the promotion:

  1. Visit United’s Buy Miles page.
  2. Click on Buy Personal Miles.
  3. Enter your United MileagePlus account number and last name.
  4. Select the number of miles you want to buy and fill in the required information to finalize your purchase.

Keep in mind that the usual restrictions for purchasing United miles apply to this promotion, including the following:

  • You must purchase at least 2,000 miles. Miles may be purchased in increments of 1,000 miles.
  • Members can only purchase 150,000 miles per account per calendar year.
  • Miles may take up to 48 hours to post to your account.
  • Purchased or gifted miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier status.

Note that the purchase is processed by Points.com, so you won’t get any travel category bonuses from this purchase. Make sure to use the best non-bonus category credit card for your situation. Based on TPG’s valuations, the Chase Freedom Unlimited‘s 1.5x Ultimate Reward points would be the most rewarding choice.

Is It Worth It?

Buy enough miles for seven luxurious hours on-board the Thai Airways A380 for just over $1,000.
Buy enough miles for seven luxurious hours on board the Thai Airways A380 for just over $1,000.

In his latest valuations, TPG pegs United miles at 1.5 cents each. However, if you’re looking to redeem for business or first-class awards, you can certainly get better value out of these miles. For example, you can get up to 3.25 cents per mile in business class between Newark (EWR) and Los Angeles (LAX). Redemption on partner airlines — such as Thai Airways — can provide even more value.

If you wanted to try first class on the Thai Airways A380 from Tokyo (NRT) to Bangkok (BKK), you could buy enough miles to book this award flight for just $1,016 (27,000 + 13,500 bonus). Without this bonus, the standard cost of buying these 40,000 miles would be $1,505. The cash price is even worse, starting at $1,990 one-way.

Fly United Polaris First to Auckland for under $2,000 one-way.
Fly United Polaris first to Auckland for just $1,731 one-way with the 75% bonus.

If you’re itching to try United’s Polaris first-class product, you can snag a one-way award flight to Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) for 80,000 United miles. If you’re targeted for the 75% bonus, purchasing 46,000 + 34,500 bonus would get you enough miles at a cost of $1,731. If you have the standard 50% bonus, it’ll cost $2,032 to buy the same amount of miles. While that might sound steep, a one-way revenue flight is pricing no lower than $7,890 on the nonstop from San Francisco (SFO) to AKL.

Generally, though, it’s going to be difficult to find many award options that top the purchase rate. If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards, transferring UR points to United is another appealing option. Taking TPG’s miles and points valuation as a guide, utilizing Ultimate Rewards valued at 2.1 cents each would be better than buying United miles — even at the targeted rate of 2.15 cents each. Plus, you’re likely to have the miles immediately after transferring instead of having to wait for “48 hours for miles to process and post to your MileagePlus account.”

If you’re considering purchasing United miles but don’t have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card yet, you’ll be much better off earning these miles through that card than buying them. Buying 100,000 United miles at the 50% standard bonus rate would cost $2,521. But, you can earn 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points by signing up for the Sapphire Reserve by tomorrow, paying $450 annual fee and then spending $4,000 on the card in the next three months.

Bottom Line

While even a 50% bonus sounds great, United’s typical buy miles rate is so high that it takes a significant bonus to make a mileage purchase worth considering. Unfortunately, this promotion doesn’t quite cut it for most travelers. However, it may make sense to consider purchasing miles if you’re looking to redeem for high-value first or business-class award flights or need to top off your United balance and don’t have Chase Ultimate Rewards points to transfer.

Will you be taking advantage of this promotion?

Featured image courtesy of United.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
5.00%
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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