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Brand New Way to Earn United Miles!

Nov. 24, 2014
6 min read
Brand New Way to Earn United Miles!
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I love United miles, and am always looking for ways to easily earn more just by leveraging the things we do and buy in everyday life. Today United reached out and told me about a brand new way to earn United miles via their new app called MileagePlus X (see video overview here). It is still in beta (and not yet available to all members), but I was able to try it out today to make a purchase to see if this is really going to be a useful new tool for busy families who want to earn more miles.

Earn Miles When Shopping in Retail Stores and Restaurants with MileagePlus X:

We all already know that there are lots of easy ways to earn miles shopping online, but this app can even be useful when shopping in retail stores, getting an oil change, or eating out at a restaurant. The way it works is you run your errands like normal, but instead of handing over a rewards earning credit card to pay the bill, you turn to the MileagePlus X app to see if the store participates with that program. If it does, you essentially buy a gift card via the app that you then pay with electronically.

That e-gift card purchase will pay out usually 2-4x United miles per dollar, but I saw some as low as .5 miles, and read it goes as high as 24x in the press release. You then show the bar code/e-gift card number to the cashier who enters that as your payment method, and away you go with your errands complete and extra miles in the mileage piggy bank.

So you have to pay with a gift card?

Yes, it seems the business model for MileagePlus X is essentially to award miles for electronic gift card purchases that you then use to instantly pay the bill wherever you are. You can also buy one in advance and save it in the app to use later, or the remainder can be stored to use later. Every store I looked at had its own minimum gift card purchase that often ranged from $5 - $25, so it's possible the smallest gift card you can buy will be larger than you bill you have to pay on that day. In that case you may pass entirely and just pay with a credit card, or you could buy the card and save the rest in the app for your next visit to that particular store.

In a perfect world, you will key in exactly the amount you owe, purchase the gift card, and use it all immediately on the spot. I don't yet know if the bonus that the app pays out will stack with other category bonuses offered by credit cards. My test purchase at Salt Grass Steakhouse did post as Salt Grass Steakhouse on my credit card account, but with a MPX qualifier (MileagePlus X) so it is possible that trigger a dining bonus on cards that pay out a bonus on dining, but it's also quite possible that it will not.

This sounds complicated:

It sounded complicated to me when I was just reading about it too, though the app made the process pretty easy. Of course, there are multiple potential failure points including spotty internet, a cashier/system that doesn't know how to process an electronic gift card, limited participating retailers, and getting stuck with a gift card remainder that you forget to use in the future. The other obvious drawback is you are paying for your purchase with a gift card, so you will lose the protections you may have had with a credit card. This doesn't really matter much for many purchases, like lunch, but would for sure on electronics or other larger purchases where I would not personally be interested in paying with a gift card.

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Participating Retailers:

In my medium-sized town the nearby participating retailers consisted of Jiffy Lube, Panera, Salt Grass Steakhouse, Applebees, Sephora, Kohls, Gap, Sunglass Hut, Domino's, Kona Grill, Papa John's, IHOP, Lowes, AMC Movie Theaters, and Toys R Us.

In other words, these are typically your big chain retailers who often sell gift cards you could purchase at other stores like grocery stores or office supply stores where you could buy them and get a category bonus on various rewards cards. However, I often don't know in advance that I am going to be going to say Kona Grill, so this is good for when you didn't stock up on a gift card in advance.

Experience Discounts and Miles:

One part of the app that I didn't try out seems to involve Groupon-like experiences such as kayaking, spa packages, transportation, etc. There may be some value in that section for those on vacation or similar, but there was nothing in my area to really look at more closely.

Miles Post Instantly:

In an interesting and unusual twist, the miles from this app post instantly to your United account. I made this $20 Salt Grass gift card purchase minutes ago, and the miles are already deposited in my United account. That is pretty awesome! Even miles from United flights take days to deposit, so this is a big change!

Earn a 25% Bonus with a Chase MileagePlus Card:

United MileagePlus Credit Card from Chase cardmembers can earn a 25% bonus on the miles awarded by MileagePlus for purchases made through MileagePlus X.

MileagePlus X Might be a Useful New Tool:

The jury is still out for me on how useful this will be as a routine tool to earn United miles. The biggest issue is likely just to be limited retailer participation, similar to the limited usefulness of the dining plan. Since it isn't something I will be able to use daily, it is totally possible I will forget about it even when I am at a participating retailer, so time will tell how big a role this plays in mileage earning. In the current form it will likely have a very limited role because there are only so many times I visit chain stores around town, but it does happen from time to time, so we'll see.

More importantly, what do you think about MileagePlus X?

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