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Want to sell your airline miles? Here's why it's a bad idea

Sept. 26, 2022
6 min read
United Boeing 787
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Usually, TPG readers are primarily concerned about how to earn more miles or redeem miles for maximum value. But occasionally, we get a reader question about whether you can sell airline miles.

For example, TPG reader Doug F. recently wrote in asking:

"I have been told I can sell my 170,000 United miles. Where can I find if this is true and a reputable company if it is?"

If you search online, you'll find various airline miles brokers and airline points brokers willing to pay you cash for your travel rewards. That said, I don't recommend selling your miles for a multitude of reasons.

Here's what you need to know, including other ways to get value from airline miles you don't want.

Why it's a bad idea to sell airline miles

It's usually a bad idea to sell your airline miles. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

TPG reader Doug F. specifically asked about selling United miles. So, let's look at the United MileagePlus program rules to understand one of the primary reasons it is a bad idea to sell airline miles.

Point 31 of the program rules specifically allows MileagePlus members to book awards "in the name and for the use of any other person." However, there's a section entitled "prohibition of sale or barter" earlier in the program rules that states:

"The sale, barter or other transfer or attempted sale, barter or other transfer of any mileage, certificates, PlusPoints, awards, benefits or status, other than as authorized and/or sponsored by United, is expressly prohibited. Any mileage, certificates, PlusPoints, awards, benefits or status sold, bartered or otherwise transferred is in violation of the Rules and any accounts or Members involved in such sales, barters or other transfers may be subject to United’s Remedies. The acquisition, use, transfer or attempted acquisition, use or transfer of mileage, certificates, PlusPoints, awards, benefits or status that have been acquired by purchase, barter or other transfer in violation of the Rules may result in United’s exercise of United’s Remedies."

So, you can redeem your miles to gift someone an award flight. But selling United miles or awards — and buying United miles or awards — is prohibited except as specifically authorized or sponsored by United.

If you're wondering just how bad it might be if United catches you buying or selling miles or awards, let's take a look at "United's Remedies" in the program rules:

  • Termination of your United MileagePlus account, including any United MileagePlus Premier status or United Million Miler status.
  • Removal or cancellation of any or all accrued United miles, Premier qualifying credits, lifetime miles and any pending or outstanding award redemptions, certificates or benefits.
  • The confiscation of award tickets or denial of boarding at the airport.
  • Loss of other United MileagePlus program benefits.

These remedies might sound terrible if you enjoy United MileagePlus elite status, get excellent value from United miles or have accrued a massive mileage balance with United. If you only have a modest amount of miles and don't plan to use the program in the future, these remedies might sound worth the risk if you can get some cash in your pocket now.

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KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

However, the above remedies aren't the end of the possible negatives that could result from selling or buying miles or awards. In particular, United's program rules go on to note:

In addition to the foregoing United’s Remedies, United may, upon written request, require the Member to repay the value, as determined by United, of the awards redeemed, certificates or benefits acquired as a result of Prohibited Conduct.

The program rules for each loyalty program are different. Most, if not all, major loyalty programs have rules against buying and selling rewards. And many loyalty programs have algorithms and procedures to flag suspicious redemptions.

Although getting caught selling travel rewards might sound unlikely, it's not a risk I'm willing to take. Major loyalty programs have gone after members for selling travel rewards before, and travelers who sold only one or two award tickets may still face severe consequences.

It's also possible that a mileage broker may use your miles and not pay you. In this case, you wouldn't have much recourse since you were going against the loyalty program terms and conditions by attempting to sell your miles.

Related: How 4 TPG reporters would spend 1 million United miles

Other options besides selling travel rewards

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Selling your travel rewards is usually a risky idea. If you're looking to sell airline miles for cash, instead consider the following options that your program may offer:

Some of these options let you give the gift of travel to a friend or family member, while others let you squeeze a bit of value from your travel rewards in a program-approved manner. If none of these options are appealing — or available with your program — consider using your rewards to book a trip with family or friends.

Related: What to do with small points and miles balances

Bottom line

Selling your points or miles is clearly against the terms and conditions of most, if not all, loyalty programs. Although I've booked awards for friends and family as a gift — with nothing given or expected in return — I wouldn't barter or sell my rewards. It's just too risky, especially with many programs monitoring account activity and looking for suspicious redemptions.

In short, the money you might get for selling your points or miles isn't worth potentially losing your account and needing to pay the loyalty program thousands of dollars.

Featured image by ZACH GRIFF/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.

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TPG featured card

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023