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TPG Twitter follower @MrBanilla16 tweeted me @thepointsguy about a United buy miles promotion he was targeted with:

“Should I buy united miles? I just got an email about it – 30% discount after I buy more than 10,000. Is it worth the price?”

Long story short, no, you should avoid buying miles when possible. Especially because right now, US Airways – another Star Alliance carrier – has a super lucrative 100% bonus on shared miles, which essentially creates new miles for about 1.1 cents apiece – less than half of what you’ll pay to buy United miles (which will cost you 3.5 cents apiece plus a 7.5% excise tax).

US Airways also actually has a better award chart than United in many respects since certain redemptions provide an amazing value. Some examples include just 90,000 miles for roundtrip business class award tickets from North America to Asia, and 110,000 miles for roundrip business class award tickets from North America to the South Pacific (including Australia and New Zealand) and South Africa (which I actually took advantage of myself to fly South African Airways business class back in January), as well as some great off-peak award values.

United miles are expensive compared to US Airways
United miles are expensive compared to US Airways’ right now!

Now, US Airways miles are definitely not as flexible as United’s in many respects since you can only book roundtrip awards whereas you can book one-way awards with United, and once you start an award itinerary on US Airways you cannot make any changes to it, so you should have firm plans before you book your trip.

In general, if you can leverage those really lucrative buy or share miles promos, or even take advantage of the frequent 100% bonuses that another Star Alliance carrier, Avianca, has been offering over the past couple of years (though that can get a bit complicated in terms of redemptions), you can definitely get some better values than a mere 30% discount on United miles.

So I would recommend against this for you unless you have a very high-priced redemption that you know you can use these miles for or you just need a few to top up for a specific upcoming redemption – and remember, if you have one of the premium Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points – including the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus and Ink Bold – you can always transfer those points to your United account instantly at a 1:1 ratio to top it up for an award.

The best beginner points and miles card out there.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.

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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®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • 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
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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