Comparing American Airlines and United’s New Buy Miles Promotions

Sep 26, 2017

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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. 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 the airline.

Both American Airlines and United have launched new buy miles promotions in the last couple of days. Let’s take a both to see if either is worth considering.

American Airlines

Now through September 30, American Airlines is offering up to 42.5% bonus miles and a 10% discount when you buy miles. Interestingly, you don’t have to buy the maximum 150,000 miles in order to get the best rate. The best cost-per-mile deal is at the 100,000 purchase level.

AA September buy miles promotion

To take advantage of the promotion, follow these steps:

  1. Visit American’s Buy, Gift, and Share Miles page.
  2. Select Buy Miles or Gift Miles (the promotion is not valid on sharing miles).
  3. Log in to your AAdvantage account.
  4. Add your credit card details and click Continue.
  5. Review the information, check the box to agree to the Terms and Conditions and click Pay Now to finalize the purchase.
  6. Your miles should post to the designated account immediately.

Keep in mind that the usual restrictions for purchasing American miles apply to this promotion, including the following:

  • Miles may be purchased in increments of 1,000 miles up to a maximum of 150,000 miles per year.
  • Transactions are nonrefundable and non-reversible.
  • Purchased miles don’t count toward elite status or Million Miler status.

United

  • Lowest purchase price: 2.15 cents per mile (52,500 miles for $1,129)
  • Offer ends: September 29
  • TPG valuation: 1.5 cents per mile
  • Best redemption options: Thai First Class, flights to Hawaii, Lufthansa business class
  • Best credit card: The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express (2x Membership Rewards on the first $50,000 per year; then 1x thereafter) or Chase Freedom Unlimited (1.5x Ultimate Rewards)

Meanwhile, United is offering a 5-day flash sale on miles. You’ll get a 75% bonus when buying just 30,000 miles, making the offer appealing for topping off your account for a specific redemption.

United buy miles September

If you’re planning to utilize this promotion, here’s how to do so:

  1. Visit United’s Buy Miles page.
  2. Click on Buy Personal Miles.
  3. Enter your United MileagePlus account number and last name.
  4. 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.

Comparison

Both new buy mile promotion are well above (>40% higher) TPG valuations. Plus, miles are a bad long-term investment, so you should only consider either one if you have a plan for the miles.

American Airlines offers a lower best purchase rate at 2.02 cents per mile. However, the flat-bonus promotion creates sweet spots at the beginning of each tier (purchases of 20,000; 40,000; 60,000; 75,000; 100,000 and 150,000 miles). This is fine if you’re don’t mind buying a few extra miles. But, say you need 90,000 miles to top off your account for a specific award option: you’re either going to have to buy extra miles or accept a worse rate.

United’s buy miles promotion is better for those that need specific amounts. The optimal purchase rate of 2.15 cents per mile starts at just 30,000 miles, and you can buy at this rate in 1,000-mile increments up from there. This makes the United offer a lot more flexible that the AA offer.

Both United and American Airlines offer 57,500 one-way business class flights to Europe. Using AAdvantage miles, you aren’t limited to AA flights — but United requires you fly on United flights for this rate. So, if you can find award availability, the lower mileage purchase rate and flexibility makes the AAdvantage offer an appealing way of flying to Europe in style for just over $1,100.

Are you going to take advantage of either?

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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