How I Never Spend More Than 2 Cents For United Miles

Feb 3, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Like most other airlines, United occasionally sells miles at a significant discount — in November they were available for 1.88 cents apiece, for example — but there are times when you need to top up your account for a redemption outside of one of those limited sale periods. Is it possible to avoid paying the usual rate of 3.76 cents per mile when a sale isn’t available? It is indeed.

All you need to do is to open one of your existing reservations on United.com and click the option to “Get Extra Miles.” You’ll be presented with two different options — typically paid itineraries that span longer distances offer larger packages — but my revenue tickets always seem to offer miles at a fixed rate of 2 cents apiece, including taxes.

For example, here’s what I see when I pull up my reservation for a round-trip from Newark (EWR) to Taipei (TPE):

Shorter itineraries, such as this one-way to Europe, generate significantly smaller packages — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Award tickets seem to throw off the regular 2-cent rate — this family award trip to Europe only returns small packages, priced at 2.5 cents per mile.

Fortunately, these transactions appear to be processed by United, rather than Points.com, so you should be eligible for credit card bonuses for purchases that code as travel. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, you should earn 3x points on your purchase — though your mileage may vary. Note that these miles don’t count toward status, though you do have the option to add something called “Premier Accelerator” and have have them count as PQMs, at an absurd rate of 13 cents apiece (on top of the 2-cent Award Accelerator rate).

Even though 2 cents per point is a decent rate for redeemable United miles, it’s still far above our valuation of 1.3 cents apiece, so I wouldn’t buy miles speculatively — especially since this discounted purchase option appears to always be available. If you’re just shy of a redemption, however, or if you plan to redeem for a high-value award — say, Lufthansa first class from the US to Asia — it could certainly make sense to go this route.

2018 TPG Award Winner: Mid-Tier Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.