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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – View the current offers here.
Earning airline miles using the traditional method (actually flying) is just one option for growing your account balance. While it’s increasingly harder to earn miles from flying, airlines make it relatively easy to accrue miles without flying — whether through top credit card offers or by utilizing shopping portals and dining rewards programs. If these methods leave you short of your travel goals, you can also purchase miles directly from an airline.
United just launched a new “mystery bonus” and — depending on your offer — it might be worth jumping on. Now through April 20, you can purchase United MileagePlus miles with up to a 80% bonus. The regular price for buying United miles is 3.76 cents per mile ($35 per 1,000 miles plus a 7.5% Federal Excise Tax). But, if you’re targeted for the 80% bonus, this promotion will drop the price down to as little as 2.09 cents per mile.
If you got the 80% bonus, here’s how the promotion is set up:
- Buy 5,000-14,000 miles (30% bonus) at 2.89 cents per mile
- Buy 15,000-29,000 miles (60% bonus) at 2.35 cents per mile
- Buy 30,000-80,000 miles (80% bonus) at 2.09 cents per mile
If you’re like me and got the 50% bonus, you probably got this offer:
- Buy 5,000-9,000 miles (20% bonus) at 3.14 cents per mile
- Buy 10,000-19,000 miles (35% bonus) at 2.79 cents per mile
- Buy 20,000-100,000 miles (50% bonus) at 2.51 cents per mile
And, here’s how to take advantage of the promotion:
- Visit United’s Buy Miles page.
- Click on Buy Personal Miles.
- Enter your United MileagePlus account number and last name.
- Select the number of miles you want to buy and 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. Miles may be purchased in increments of 1,000 miles.
- Members can only purchase 150,000 miles per account per calendar year, and bonus miles count towards the 150,000 mile annual limit.
- Miles may take up to 48 hours to post to your account.
- Purchased or gifted miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier status.
Note that the purchase is processed by Points.com, so you won’t get any travel category bonuses from this purchase. Make sure to use the best non-bonus category credit card for your situation. Based on TPG’s valuations, the Chase Freedom Unlimited’s 1.5% cash back would be the most rewarding choice. Or, if you’re looking at charging over $5,000, you can charge it to your Business Platinum® Card from American Express to earn 1.5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent.
Also, note that through April 20, you can also get a 25% discount when you gift or transfer miles to another MileagePlus member. Unlike the promo above, this offer doesn’t appear to be targeted; everyone should get the same 25% off when they purchase a minimum of 2,000 miles or transfer a minimum of 500. This promotion drops the cost of gifting miles to as low as 2.82 cents per mile vs. the standard 3.76 cents per mile. For transferring miles, you can get the cost as low as 1.13 cents per mile. However, beware that a flat $30 processing fee makes transfers of small amounts of miles more expensive on per-mile basis.
Is It Worth It?
In the latest valuations, TPG pegs United miles at 1.5 cents each. However, if you’re looking to redeem for business or first-class awards, you can certainly get better value out of these miles. For example, TPG testing shows that you can get up to 3.25 cents per mile in BusinessFirst class between Newark (EWR) and Los Angeles (LAX). TPG Points & Miles Editor Sarah Silbert likely got an even better rate from her 50,000 United miles when flying first class between Newark (EWR) to San Diego (SAN) over the holidays. You can even get over 2.5 cents per mile on expensive short-haul United flights in economy, which cost just 10,000 miles each way.
Generally, though, it’s going to be difficult to find many award options that top the purchase rate. If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards, transferring UR points to United is another appealing option — especially if you need the miles immediately after transferring. Unless you’re able to get more than 2.1 cents per UR point, you’re better off transferring UR points to United than buying United miles at the lowest rate of 2.09 cents per mile.
If you’re targeted for the 80% bonus, you might be tempted by the allure of all those bonus miles. However, United’s standard buy miles rate is so high that it takes a significant bonus and the promise of a lucrative redemption to make a mileage purchase worth considering. At the 80% bonus, buying miles makes sense if you’re going to get a lot of value out of your miles — likely through premium cabin travel. However, economy flyers and/or those targeted for lower bonuses are going to have trouble justifying the high purchase rate.
What was your bonus promotion structure?
Featured image courtesy of United Airlines.
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