You can now redeem United miles for onboard food and drinks — but it’s a bad deal

Jan 26, 2022

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“That bottle of wine will cost you either $18 or 2,130 miles.” That might be the phrase you hear the next time you’re feeling peckish or looking for an alcoholic beverage on a United flight.

Whether you’re craving a can of Pringles or a beer, United on Thursday will begin offering the ability to redeem miles for all inflight food and beverage purchases.

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United has already updated its online menu to reflect the prices for those redeeming miles for nosh — and it’s far from a worthwhile redemption.

For reference, I’ve listed some of the items available in the table below.

Item Cost in USD Cost in miles 
Tapas snackbox  $10 1,180
Takeoff snackbox  $10 1,180
Recline snackbox  $8 950
Pringles  $4 480
Tru Fru banana bites  $5 590
Anthem Peppered beef jerky  $5 590
GourmetNut trail mix  $5 590
Beer  $8 950
Spirits  $9 1,070
Wine  $9 1,070
Specialty wine  $18 2,130
Premium spirits  $10 1,180
Bistro on board breakfast  $8 950
Bistro on board lunch/dinner $10 1,180

In fact, the redemption rate is stable across all of the offerings — United is offering its food and beverage selections at a valuation of 0.8 cents per mile. Here at TPG, we value United’s MileagePlus miles at 1.13 cents each, meaning that you’d be losing over 40% of the value from your miles if you choose to redeem them for food.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Of course, some travelers might have just a few orphaned miles in their accounts, in which case a redemption like this could make sense. But for the vast majority of travelers, it’d pay to use cash for inflight food purchases, and save the miles for flight rewards.

You can take a look at some of the best uses of United miles in our comprehensive guide.

Offering the ability to redeem miles for inflight purchases builds on the carrier’s contactless payment technology that first rolled out in late 2020. Until now, flyers needed to store their payment information in the United mobile app or website before boarding in order to take advantage of contactless technology. (Those flyers who are PayPal members could alternatively pay using the financial company’s mobile app.)

(Photo courtesy of United)

While we wouldn’t recommend redeeming your hard-earned miles for a snack item, it is interesting to see United expanding the uses for MileagePlus miles.

For instance, the carrier unveiled a new Money + Miles feature late last year, which allows flyers to use miles to offset the cost of a cash ticket, without outright redeeming for an award seat. (At 1 cent per mile, we’d recommend using Money + Miles before you consider using miles for snacks.)

As United continues to shift away from the historical model of redeeming miles exclusively for award seats, the airline seems to be taking a page from Delta’s playbook.

Delta is unquestionably the leader when it comes to turning miles into a currency that can be used throughout the travel journey. Nowadays, you can redeem SkyMiles for a portion of your flight, an upgraded seat and even a premium beverage from the Sky Club.

In fact, one of the best uses of Delta miles continues to be purchasing a bottle of Dom Perignon in the Sky Club for 13,000 miles. Even though the Atlanta-based carrier recently devalued the redemption from 2 cents per mile to 1.5 cents each, it still remains a lucrative offer for those looking for some bubbly.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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