Buy United Airlines MileagePlus Miles – Worth It?

Feb 13, 2015

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

United is offering a discount of up to 30% on purchased miles. As with past promotions, it’s a tiered discount that depends on how many miles you purchase. When you buy 10,000-19,000 miles, you get a 20% discount, and when you buy 20,000 miles or more, you get a 30% discount. Note that there are targeted bonuses of up to 50% available, so check your email or log in to your United MileagePlus account using the link above to see if you’re eligible.

Miles are available in increments of 1,000 up to a maximum of 100,000 miles, and in increments of 5,000 up to a maximum of 150,000 miles. This promotional offer is available through February 16, 2015.

United miles normally cost 3.5 cents apiece, but the price goes down to 2.45 cents per mile if you get the 30% discount. To put that in context, if you were to buy 50,000 miles for a round-trip domestic business class award, you’d pay about $1,317 for the points ($1,225 plus a 7.5% Federal excise tax), and $61.20 in taxes and fees when you redeem for a flight, for a total around $1,378.

Depending on the route this may be worthwhile, especially on the ultra-expensive JFK-LAX route or other transcontinental flights. However, if you bought miles for a round-trip domestic economy award, it would be like paying $613 for that ticket, so I highly recommend you crunch the numbers and make a decision based on your specific travel itinerary.

United Fare Calendar
With expensive fares, JFK-LAX is a good use of this promo

I value United miles at 1.5 cents apiece, so you’re paying well above that even at the discounted price. I wouldn’t use this promotion to buy miles speculatively, but if you have a specific redemption in mind and the numbers work out, go for it. Beware that miles can take up to 48 hours to process, which might complicate your redemption plans if availability is limited.

On the positive side, unlike many other mileage purchases, these ones are processed directly by United, so they should count as airfare purchases and qualify for category spending bonuses if you use a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card.

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