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When a 75% bonus isn't good enough: 4 better options for getting United miles

Jan. 09, 2020
8 min read
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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

United just launched a new promotion: get up to a 75% bonus when buying United MileagePlus miles. While a 75% bonus might sound great, United miles are typically sold at a laughable rate of 3.76 cents per mile. So, you need a large bonus or significant discount to make buying United miles worth it. And it turns out, a 75% bonus doesn't cut it.

If you need United miles for a redemption, there are better options for getting them than through this promotion. Here are the four alternatives we recommend considering first.

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1. Transfer Chase points

When we need United miles, the first place the TPG team turns is our Chase Ultimate Rewards balance. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United MileagePlus at a 1:1 ratio in increments of 1,000 points, and the transfer is usually instantaneous. And thanks to the 3x points earning on travel and dining on my Chase Sapphire Reserve — which has a current welcome bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening — I've built up quite a points balance.

Related: Maximize your wallet with the perfect quartet of Chase cards

Other great ways to build your Ultimate Rewards balance is through welcome bonuses and meeting minimum spending on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. 2x points on travel and 3x points on dining) and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card (100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months plus 3x points in several spending categories on the first $150,000 in combined purchases each cardmember year).

2. Transfer Marriott points

Another source of potential United miles: Marriott Bonvoy points. You can transfer Marriott points to United miles at a 3:1.1 ratio — which is better than the 3:1 ratio at which Marriott points transfer to other airlines. Plus, you'll score an additional 5,500 United miles (5,000 plus a 10% bonus) for each increment of 60,000 Marriott points that you transfer.

After those bonuses, you'll end up with 27,500 United miles for each 60,000 Marriott point transfer. In TPG testing, transfer times take less than 48 hours.

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You can stock up on Marriott points by applying for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, which is offering a welcome bonus of Earn up to 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus points after your first anniversary of Card Membership. Enjoy complimentary Platinum Elite status with your Card for the 2021 status year. Offer Expires 1/13/2021. ($450 annual fee, see rates and fees). Or you can apply for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which is offering a limited time offer of 100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Related: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?

If you have a small business, you can score another 75,000 bonus points through the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $150 back in statement credits on eligible purchases made within the first three months of card membership.($125 annual fee, see rates and fees).

3. United credit cards

If you're tapped out of Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, you can stock up on United miles directly by applying for a United cobranded card. While these cards have more benefits than just the welcome bonus, here are the current intro incentives for each:

  • United Explorer Card: For a limited time, earn up to 65,000 bonus miles: 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months. Plus, an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open. Offer ends Jan. 22, 2020.
  • United Explorer Business Card: Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles: 50,000 miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. Plus, an additional 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $25,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open.

Related: The best credit cards for flying United

4. Buy points at 2 cents each through award accelerator

Tapped out all of your credit card options? Don't buy miles from quite yet. There's a trick that TPG's United expert Zach Honig shared about how he never pays more than 2 cents per mile for his United miles. Just note that this rate is dynamic and you may see different rates during online check-in and at a kiosk in the airport.

If you're able to take advantage of this technique, you'll pay less than the 2.15 cents-per-mile rate available through the current promotion — and you won't have to buy nearly as many miles to get this rate.

Buy with a 75% bonus

All that being said, if you've exhausted the options above and can get more than 2.15 cents of value from your United miles, it can make sense to take advantage of the buy-miles promotion, which is in effect now through Jan. 31, 2020.

United and are known for sending out targeted offers, so your offer may differ from the one than both Katie and I were targeted for:

  • Buy 5,000 – 14,000 miles, get a 25% bonus (3.01 cents apiece)
  • Buy 15,000 – 29,000 miles, get a 50% bonus (2.69 cents apiece)
  • Buy 30,000 – 100,000 miles, get a 75% bonus (2.15 cents apiece)

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

  1. Visit United’s Buy, Transfer, Reinstate Miles page.
  2. Click on Buy Miles.
  3. Click on "Buy miles for yourself."
  4. Enter your United MileagePlus account number and password.
  5. Select the number of miles you want to buy from the drop-down list.
  6. 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.
  • Members can only purchase 175,000 miles per account, per calendar year, and bonus miles count toward the 175,000-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.

Which credit card to use

United miles purchases are processed by, so you generally won’t get any travel category bonuses from this purchase. But, there are notable exceptions that we found in our test purchases to determine the best credit card for buying United MileagePlus miles.

Both the United Explorer Card and the United Club Card earned 2x miles on United miles purchases. While the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card surprised us by earning 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on the purchase, recent purchases have only earned 1x point per dollar.

The information for the United Club Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

If you don't have one of these cards, make sure to use the best non-bonus category credit card for your situation. Based on TPG’s valuations, you may want to consider The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express (2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x. No annual fee, see rates and fees) or the Chase Freedom Unlimited‘s 1.5% cash back — which you can transfer to an Ultimate Rewards-earning card for an effective 1.5x UR point earning.

For the rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, please click here.
For the rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business card, please click here.
For the rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus card, please click here.

Featured image by United's 3-4-3 economy cabin on the 777-300ER. Photo by Zach Honig.
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.