Exchange your unwanted gift cards for United miles

Dec 28, 2019

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Did you receive gift cards for the holidays that you aren’t too excited about? Well, we have some good news: you can turn those unwanted gift cards into United Mileage Plus miles through United’s Gift Card Exchange.

Here’s how it works:


On the Gift Card Exchange landing page, United notes that there are “over 100” types of merchant gift cards that are accepted. At the bottom of this page, there’s a link to a list of the merchants whose gift cards it’ll accept such as Best Buy, Home Depot, Sears, Starbucks and Walmart.

However, there are some merchants on its list that aren’t available for exchange on the website — such as Target — while there are plenty of other merchants available for exchange that aren’t on the list (i.e. North Face and HP).

If your family didn’t know you were loyal to United and gave you an American Airlines or Southwest gift card, you can trade these in for United miles. However, the gift card exchange doesn’t buy gift cards from Alaska, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Spirit or Sun Country.

Redemption Rate

United has a chart listing the “minimum miles awarded,” which would indicate that some options offer more miles than these rates. But, I checked dozens of different merchants and the mileage offer was the same for every single one.

Also, you aren’t limited to just $25, $50 and $100 gift cards. You can exchange any gift card with at least a $15 minimum balance. From what I can tell, the calculation works out to be the gift card value times 26.6, rounded up to the nearest 10 miles. This rate imputes a value on the United miles of between 3.70-3.76 cents per mile depending on how much you’re trading in. For example:

  • $15 gift cards = 400 United miles (3.75 cents per mile)
  • $20 gift cards = 540 United miles (3.70 cpm)
  • $25 gift cards = 670 United miles (3.73 cpm)
  • $30 gift cards = 800 United miles (3.75 cpm)
  • $40 gift cards = 1,070 United miles (3.74 cpm)
  • $50 gift cards = 1,330 United miles (3.76 cpm)
  • $100 gift cards = 2,660 United miles (3.76 cpm)

This rate is much higher than our valuation of 1.4 cents per United mile, meaning that you’re not getting a good value from your gift cards. But, if you’d rather have the miles than the gift card, it may be worth taking advantage of this way of offloading them.

Also, at least United is being consistent. When United isn’t running a buy miles promotion, you can buy United miles at a rate of $35 per 1,000 United miles. After taxes and fees, this rate is effectively 3.76 cents per mile.

Limitations to keep in mind

In order to sell gift cards through the United Gift Exchange, your MileagePlus account must have been open for at least 90 days “and have a positive account balance.”

Although United will give you a quote for $10 gift cards, the terms & conditions state: “Gift cards accepted must have a $15 minimum balance on the card and may have a maximum imposed.” From what I could sell, the exchange will only accept gift cards up to $100.

Bottom Line

While you’re not going to get a very good rate from trading in unwanted gift cards, it’s nice to have an option to liquidate these gift cards for something that you might actually want. That said, it might be worth checking online for another gift card exchange program that may give you a better rate.

The only use I can imagine for this if you need United miles for a redemption, have tapped out your Chase Ultimate Rewards points and have a qualifying gift card. If your only other option is to buy United miles, you might as well liquidate the gift card — especially if it’s one that you wouldn’t plan to use soon anyway.

Featured image by AntonioGuillem via Getty Images

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