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Now through Thursday September 5, 2013, United is offering a buy miles promotion, where depending on the number of people who partake in the deal, the higher the bonus will be for everyone.

Earn up to a 60% bonus on purchased United miles.
Earn up to a 60% bonus on purchased United miles.

It starts out at a minimum of a 30% bonus, and could go as high as a 60% bonus if more than 1,500 people buy miles through this offer. They offered a similar promotion last year, which was like a Groupon-style promo where if enough people buy in, everyone gets the bonus.

Basically United is hoping to incentivize possible purchasers into encouraging other members to purchase and drive that bonus higher. As of Tuesday night, the bonus was at 40%, which means at least a few people have started buying, so it might reach the full 60% bonus by Thursday.

The more people who partake in this offer, the higher the bonus percentage for everyone.
The more people who partake in this offer, the higher the bonus percentage for everyone.

Everyone starts at a 30% bonus. After 250 people buy miles, that bonus goes up to 35%. Here’s how it breaks down:

Number of purchasers Bonus %
1-250 30%
251-500 35%
501-750 40%
751-1,000 45%
1,001-1,250 50%
1,251-1,500 55%
1,500+ 60%

Here are the rest of the offer details:

  • To take advantage of this offer, you must use the order links on this page.
  • Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT (Chicago local time) on September 5, 2013.
  • For a limited time, get a minimum of 30% bonus award miles and a maximum of 60% bonus award miles when you purchase miles via the above links.
  • Allow 48 hours for purchased miles to process and post to your MileagePlus account. Bonus miles will post up to 7 days after promotion ends.
  • Displayed price includes all taxes.
  • Minimum purchase of 5,000 miles required for this promotion.
  • Miles are available in increments of 1,000 miles.
  • Purchase up to 100,000 miles per account per calendar year.
  • For Give Miles transactions, both purchased miles and bonus miles will post to the recipient’s MileagePlus account.
  • Credit card will be billed immediately upon purchase.
  • Mileage rates and other applicable fees are subject to change.
  • Miles are nonrefundable.
  • Purchased miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier status.
  • All MileagePlus Program Rules and terms and conditions apply

The minimum purchase is 5,000 miles, so no just topping up your account with a 1,000-mile purchase for $35. Miles are normally sold for 3.5 cents each plus a 7.5% excise tax. Even with the full possible 60% bonus, the per-mile cost breaks down to 2.4 cents, which is by no means amazing, and you’d need to find some fairly expensive tickets – high-priced business or first – on which there was award availability to compensate for it. For example, you can redeem 60,000 United miles for South Africa- US one-way plus $86 in taxes. At 2.4 cents a pop, that would be like “buying” that ticket for ~$1,500, which is a pretty good deal. However, at 2.4 cents a mile a 25,000 mile roundtrip domestic ticket would cost $600- probably not a good deal unless you’re flying last minute/ on a super-expensive route.

I’m personally going to stay away from this promo and would suggest you do the same unless you’re in a bind for miles for an imminent award booking, I’d wait to see what other buy and share miles bonuses United might offer in the future, and to take advantage of truly lucrative ones that are in the 100% range instead. I also don’t like the unknown nature of the promotion- with millions of members, it is somewhat disingenuous that United would try to “force” groups of people to buy so they get the max bonus. Just offer a deal or not- don’t base it on something you have no control over.

If you’re looking for cheap Star Alliance miles, it’s better to take advantage of US Airways’ 100% buy miles bonuses – though the last one just ended August 31, and I’m not sure we’ll see another before the merger proceedings with American get back underway, at which point there might not be another one at all.

Another great, easy way to rack up a ton of United miles quickly is to apply for one of the Chase credit cards that accrues Ultimate Rewards points, which transfer at a 1:1 ratio to United. The Chase Ink Bold and Ink Plus both currently offer 50,000-point sign-up bonuses for spending $5,000 in 3 months, while the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 40,000 points for spending $3,000 in 3 months when you sign up. For more ideas on meeting minimum spending requirements, check out this post.

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