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What to Do With 5,000 or Fewer United MileagePlus Miles

Feb. 08, 2019
6 min read
United Boeing 777 aircraft at Newark EWR
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United MileagePlus miles are a great way to get around the world, but what if you have 5,000 or fewer miles in your account? Are they doomed to go waste if you have no plans to use them? In theory, yes, since United miles will expire after 18 months of no activity. However, if you're left with a small number of miles, there are many ways to put them to use.

In this article, we'll show you a handful of ways to use 5,000 or fewer United MileagePlus miles. These should be seen as a last-ditch way of using these miles, as they will give you less value than if you redeemed them for flight awards. That being said, they're still better than letting the miles expire in your account.

Redeem Your MileagePlus Miles For Merchandise

Using MileagePlus miles for merchandise

United has long run a merchandise store where United frequent flyers can exchange their MileagePlus miles for electronics, luggage, home products and more. While this almost always gives you less value than a flight reward, there are some sub-5,000 mile redemptions in the Kitchen, Sports & Recreation, Home & Living and Office sections.

For example, you can use 3,700 MileagePlus points to purchase this BonJour® 3-Cup Ami-Matin French Press. This costs $18 at Target, giving you a redemption value of just 0.5 cents per point. Clearly, this is less than ideal (TPG values MileagePlus miles at 1.3 cents apiece), but again, it's better than letting your mileage expire.

Redeem Your MileagePlus Miles For Magazines

Another way to redeem small balances of MileagePlus miles is by redeeming for magazine subscriptions. While this is generally frowned upon in the points and miles community, it provides a surprisingly good value. For example, a 54-issue, year-long subscription to People magazine ordinarily costs $59, but you can pick it up for just 2,200 MileagePlus miles. This gives you a valuation of 2.4 cents per mile, 1.1 cents more than TPG's valuation.

Just be sure to read the terms and conditions of the redemption before you complete it. These subscriptions are generally just for a single year, and the credit card you provide when you redeem the miles will typically be charged for year two and beyond. If you don't want to continue the subscription beyond the first year, be sure to cancel before the fee kicks in.

Buy Gift Cards On United MileagePlus

United's MileagePlus X app lets United flyers buy gift cards to everyday stores on their smartphone. Generally, this app is used to earn MileagePlus miles, as you earn a set number per dollar spent. However, you can also use your MileagePlus miles to cover the cost of your gift card purchases. The amount of miles required depends on the merchant you choose, so play around with the app to find a redemption that works for you.

Donate Miles to Charity

You can also donate your MileagePlus miles to one of United's supported charities, though you do need to donate a minimum of 1,000 miles in this case. Donating miles to one of United's many supported charities can have a real impact on the recipient organization, so definitely consider using this pathway instead of letting them expire.

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Earn More Miles

If none of these redemptions sound good to you, consider keeping your MileagePlus miles from expiring by earning more. There are a plethora of ways to accomplish this, but her are my four favorite (and likely the easiest to boot):

  • Open a credit card: Signing up for a new credit card can be a simple way to reset the expiration clock on your miles and take home a windfall in the process. For example, the United Explorer Card is currently offering a limited time sign-up bonus of up to 65,000 bonus miles; 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in 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. It also includes a number of perks like a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit, a 25% in-flight discount and enhanced saver award inventory, all for just a $95 annual fee (that's even waived for the first year).
  • Transfer points: United is a partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards, and this allows you to transfer points from cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve directly to the MileagePlus program at a 1:1 ratio. The carrier also partners with Marriott Bonvoy, and through the RewardsPlus partnership, it offers a standard 10% bonus when transferring Marriott points to United (plus 5,000 extra miles for every 60,000 points you transfer). Either of these actions will boost your account balance and ensure the clock for expiration of your miles is reset.
  • Shop online: If you make purchases online, there are two additional ways to add miles to your United MileagePlus account. The first is through the carrier's online shopping portal, a site that awards bonus miles when you shop at hundreds of merchants. Alternatively, you could shop through the MileagePlus X app. In both of these cases, any miles you earn will be in addition to the points or miles you earn on the card itself, and both types of activity will extend the expiration date of your miles.
  • Dine out: The third strategy for earning additional miles involves dining out and leveraging the Dining Rewards Network. If you sign-up for the MileagePlus Dining program and link your preferred credit card(s) for restaurant purchases, whenever you swipe one of those cards at a participating location, you'll earn bonus United miles. Since you'll also earn points or miles on the credit card, this is a great way to "double dip" and ensure that your miles won't expire.

Check out our article on earning MileagePlus miles for your full list of options.

Bottom Line

If you recently redeemed your United miles for a dream trip, you may be left with a small balance and have no idea what to do with it. Fortunately, the carrier provides a number of ways for you to put those remaining miles to use. While none of the above redemption options will give you as good of a value as you'd get by redeeming for flight rewards, it's certainly better than letting your miles expire.

Featured image by United Boeing 777 aircraft at Newark (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)
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.