How I Never Spend More Than 2 Cents For United Miles

Feb 3, 2018

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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.

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