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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – United MileagePlus Explorer Card
Earning airline miles via the traditional method (actually flying) is just one way to boost your account balance. Fortunately, airlines make it relatively easy to accrue miles without flying, whether through top credit card offers or by utilizing shopping portals. You can also purchase miles directly from an airline, and United has just announced its most lucrative promotion of the year, offering a bonus of up to 100% when you buy or gift miles.
Here’s how this works. For the next few days (December 15 – 18), you’ll earn a bonus of up to 100% when you buy or gift United miles. You’ll be targeted for a different amount, though if your current account balance is at least 20,000 miles, you should receive the 100% bonus offer. In addition, the bonus percentage will vary depending on the number of miles you purchase, and while you’ll obviously be best off with the 100% bonus, even the low end of the promotion offers a decent discount off the regular buy miles price of ~3.76 cents per mile ($35 per 1,000 miles plus a 7.5% tax recovery fee).
Here’s how to take advantage of the promotion:
- Visit United’s Buy Miles page.
- Click on Buy Personal Miles or Give Miles (both are eligible for the bonus).
- Log in to your United MileagePlus account.
- Select the number of miles you want to buy/give and click Continue.
- 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 but can only purchase 150,000 miles per account per calendar year.
- Miles may be purchased in increments of 1,000 miles up to a maximum of 100,000 miles and in increments of 5,000 miles up to a maximum of 150,000 miles.
- Miles may take up to 48 hours to post to your account.
- Purchased or gifted miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier status.
Is this worth it?
In TPG’s most recent valuations, he pegs United miles at 1.5 cents apiece, but there are definitely ways to get significantly more value out of the program. If you max out the promotion by purchasing 75,000 miles, you’ll take home double that amount (150,000 miles) at a cost of $2,821.88, which drops your cost per mile down to ~1.89 cents apiece. This is obviously a lot of cash to spend, but if you have specific redemptions in mind, it could make sense to purchase specific amounts to top off your account.
For example, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen recently flew Lufthansa A380 first class from Frankfurt to Los Angeles and used 110,000 United miles for the award ticket. If your MileagePlus account balance is zeroed out and you want to purchase miles to replicate this redemption, you’d need to buy 55,000 miles at a cost of $2,069.38. These one-way tickets typically cost much more than that, so depending on your situation, this could represent a good use of the promotion.
Keep in mind too that award flights on United metal require fewer miles in many cases, so that could be a better use of the bonus.
Remember too that United MileagePlus is a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards, so you could use points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Plus Business Card in conjunction with this offer to open up your ideal redemption. You also could consider opening the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, which is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. The card can also open up additional award inventory, which can be a big help for booking free flights.
This promotion likely isn’t for everyone, but if you’re cash-rich and miles-poor or have a specific redemption in mind, it could make sense to take advantage of it. Just remember that United underwent a massive devaluation in early 2014, so you should definitely check the program’s interactive award chart to make sure you know how many miles you’ll need for your redemption.
Will you be taking advantage of this new promotion?
- 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 a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
- 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