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Here's why it matters which card you use to pay in the United MPX app

March 3 2020
6 min read
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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

One of the easiest ways to increase the amount of miles you earn in your day to day life is by looking for opportunities to "stack" or "double-dip," i.e. earning multiple different sets of miles on a single purchase. You can do this by taking advantage of an online shopping portal, but another popular option involves using the United MileagePlus X app to purchase gift cards at participating retailers and earn bonus miles. TPG reader Kyle wants to know if he can earn category bonuses (i.e. triple points on dining) on his MPX purchases ...

[pullquote source="TPG READER KYLE"]If you make a purchase through the MileagePlus X app for a gift card at a restaurant, it seems to code as "shopping" and not as "dining." Is there any way around that, and if not what's the best card to use with MPX?[/pullquote]

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This is a great question Kyle, with a surprisingly simple answer that's worth bookmarking for future use. If you're not familiar with the United MileagePlus X (MPX) app, it's quite simple. You download the app on your phone and link it to your MileagePlus account. Then when you're shopping at one of their partner retailers, you log into the app and buy a gift card, usually in the exact amount of the purchase you're making (the gift cards are available for immediate use). In addition to the charge on your credit, card, you'll earn a certain number of bonus miles for every dollar you spend.

Related: New way to earn bonus United miles in MileagePlus X app

While most merchants set their own identification codes (telling credit card companies if they are a restaurant, hotel, grocery store, etc.) there's definitely variation in how different issuers process those codes and identify transactions. This has led to some issues in the past with cards not earning bonus points the way they should.

For example, the American Express® Gold Card earns 4x points at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1x), but many readers have reported issues when dining at smaller restaurants that use payment processors like Square to process transactions. By comparison, the Chase Sapphire Reserve also earns 3x points on dining and travel, and it seems to do fine at restaurants that use Square.

But what does any of this have to do with the MPX app? The simple answer is that when using Amex cards, you won't receive any additional category bonuses (travel, dining, etc.). Since you're technically buying a gift card, you won't have any luck calling Amex and asking them to manually fix it either. Meanwhile, for reasons I honestly can't explain, Chase does give you category bonuses for United MPX purchases.

This matters most for dining purchases, as a large portion of United MPX partners are restaurants. Normally, the Amex Gold offers a better return than the Chase Sapphire Reserve. TPG values American Express Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points evenly at 2 cents each, meaning the Amex Gold's 4x comes out to an 8% return while the Chase Sapphire Reserve's 3x comes out to a 6% return. However, when you factor in the bonus points you'd only earn if paying with the Sapphire, that can easily push it into the lead.

Related: Which purchases count as dining with Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve?

For example, if you spent $100 at PF Changs through the MileagePlus X app and used the Chase Sapphire Reserve for the purchase, you'd earn points and miles worth a total of about $12.50:

  • 5x United Airlines miles = 500 miles (worth $6.50 based on TPG valuations)
  • 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points = 300 points (worth $6 based on TPG valuations)

But if you used the Amex Gold through the MileagePlus X app, it would code as shopping rather than dining and you'd only earn 1x Membership Rewards points on top of the United miles, or effectively $8.50 worth of points and miles:

  • 5x United Airlines miles = 500 miles (worth $6.50 based on TPG valuations)
  • 1x Amex Membership Rewards points = 100 points (worth $2 based on TPG valuations)

If you skipped the MileagePlus X app altogether and paid directly at PF Changs, you'd earn 4x Membership Rewards points or 400 points, worth $8.

Of course, if you don't have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card this discrepancy is much less important. In that case, you should focus on a card that offers a great return on everyday spending, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

Related: The best credit cards for dining out — and ordering in

Bottom line

If you're using the United MPX app, you already have the right idea. This can be a great opportunity to rack up bonus miles on purchases you already planned to make, but paying with the right travel rewards credit card can supercharge your returns even more. If you're buying a gift card for any type of restaurant, you'll want to try and pay with a Chase Sapphire card to make sure you get your dining category bonus in addition to the extra United miles.

Thanks for the question, Kyle, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo by Carina König
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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Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

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  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
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  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees