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United just launched a new “buy miles” promotion with an eye-catching headline number: up to 85% bonus United MileagePlus miles. Sounds great, but United miles are typically sold at a laughable rate of 3.76 cents per mile. So, you need a large bonus or discount to make buying United miles worth it, and an 85% bonus just doesn’t quite cut it.
If you need United miles for a redemption, there are better options for getting them than through this promotion. Here are the alternatives we recommend first.
When we need United miles, the first place we at TPG turn to is our Chase Ultimate Rewards balance. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United MileagePlus at a 1:1 ratio in increments of 1,000 points, and the transfer is usually instantaneous.
Thanks to the 3x earning on travel and dining on my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (current sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months), I’ve built up quite a balance of points to have available when I need them.
Other great ways to build your Ultimate Rewards balance is through sign-up bonuses and meeting minimum spending on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (50,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months, 2x on travel and dining) and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card (80,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $5,000 in the first three months plus 3x in several spending categories).
Another source of potential United miles: Marriott points. You can transfer Marriott points to United miles at a 3:1 ratio. However, you’ll score an additional 5,000 United miles for each increment of 60,000 Marriott points that you transfer, meaning that you’ll end up with 25,000 United miles for each 60,000-point transfer. In TPG testing, transfer times take less than 24 hours.
You can stock up on Marriott points by signing up for the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card or Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express — both of which are offering 75,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first three months.
Credit Card Sign-Ups
If you’re tapped out of Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, you can stock up on United miles directly by signing up for a United co-branded card. While these cards have more benefits than just the sign-up bonus, here’s the current sign-up incentives for each:
- United Explorer Card: 40,000 United miles after spending $2,000 within the first three months plus 25,000 bonus United miles for spending a total of $10,000 in the first six months after opening the card
- United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card: 50,000 United miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months
- United MileagePlus Club Card: 50,000 United miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months
Buy Points at 2 Cents Each
Tapped out all of your credit card options? Don’t buy miles from Points.com quite yet. There’s a trick that TPG‘s United expert Zach Honig shared about how he never pays more than 2 cents per mile for his United miles. If you’re able to take advantage of this technique, you’ll pay slightly less than the 2.03 cents-per-mile rate available through the current Points.com promotion — and you won’t have to buy nearly as many points to get this rate.
Buy with an 85% Bonus
If you’ve exhausted the options above and can get more than 2.03 cents of value from your United miles, it can make sense to take advantage of this buy miles promotion, which is in effect through December 19, 2018.
This 85% bonus doesn’t seem to be targeted, but your exact offer may vary. Here’s how both my wife Katie’s and my offers are set up:
- Buy 6,000 – 15,000 miles, get a 30% bonus (2.89 cents apiece)
- Buy 16,000 – 24,000 miles, get a 50% bonus (2.51 cents apiece)
- Buy 25,000 – 81,000 miles, get a 85% bonus (2.03 cents apiece)
If you’re planning on utilizing this promotion, here’s how to do so:
- Visit United’s Buy Miles page.
- Click on Buy Miles.
- Enter your United MileagePlus account number and last name.
- Select the number of miles you want to buy and fill in the required information to finalize your purchase.
Keep in mind that the usual restrictions for purchasing United miles apply to this promotion, including the following:
- You must purchase at least 2,000 miles. Miles may be purchased in increments of 1,000 miles.
- Members can only purchase 150,000 miles per account, per calendar year, and bonus miles count toward the 150,000 mile annual limit.
- Miles may take up to 48 hours to post to your account.
- Purchased or gifted miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier status.
Which Credit Card to Use
United miles purchases are processed by Points.com, so you generally won’t get any travel category bonuses from this purchase. But, there are notable exceptions that we found in our test purchases to determine the The Best Credit Card for Buying United MileagePlus Miles.
Both the United Explorer Card and the United MileagePlus Club Card earned 2x miles on United miles purchases. In addition, the Ink Business Preferred surprised us by earning 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on the purchase.
If you don’t have one of these cards, make sure to use the best non-bonus category credit card for your situation. Based on TPG’s valuations, the Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express’s 2x Membership Rewards (on the first $50,000 per year; then 1x thereafter), or Chase Freedom Unlimited’s 1.5x Ultimate Rewards points would be the most rewarding choices.
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page about poor value United Airlines’ “buy miles” promotions, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for the latest offer. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older deals below.