When an 85% Bonus Isn’t Good Enough: 4 Better Options for Getting United Miles

Aug 14, 2019

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United just launched a new promotion: Get up to a 85% bonus when buying United MileagePlus miles. While an 85% bonus might sound great, United miles are typically sold at a laughable rate of 3.76 cents per mile. So, you need a large bonus or significant discount to make buying United miles worth it. And it turns out an 85% bonus doesn’t cut it.

If you need United miles for a redemption, there are better options for getting them than through this promotion. Here are the four alternatives we recommend considering first.

1. Transfer Chase Points

When we need United miles, the first place the TPG team turns 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. And thanks to the 3x points earning on travel and dining on my Chase Sapphire Reserve — which has a current sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months — I’ve built up quite a points balance.

Other great ways to build your Ultimate Rewards balance is through sign-up bonuses and meeting minimum spending on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (60,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months, 2x points 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 points in several spending categories on the first $150,000 in combined purchases).

2. Transfer Marriott Points

Another source of potential United miles: Marriott Bonvoy points. You can transfer Marriott points to United miles at a 3:1.1 ratio — which is better than the 3:1 ratio at which Marriott points transfer to other airlines. Plus, you’ll score an additional 5,500 United miles (5,000 plus a 10% bonus) for each increment of 60,000 Marriott points that you transfer.

After those bonuses, you’ll end up with 27,500 United miles for each 60,000 Marriott point transfer. In TPG testing, transfer times take less than 48 hours.

You can stock up on Marriott points by signing up for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, which is offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. Or you can sign up for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card , which is offering bonus of 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

If you have a small business, you can score another 75,000 Marriott points through the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card after your business spends $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.

3. United 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: For a limited time, earn up to 65,000 bonus miles; 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months. Plus, an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open.
  • United Club Card: 50,000 bonus United miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months

4. Buy Points at 2 Cents Each Through Award Accelerator

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. Just note that this rate is dynamic and you may see different rates during online check-in and at a kiosk in the airport.

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 miles in order to get this rate.

Buy With a 85% Bonus

All that being said, 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 the buy-miles promotion, which is in effect now through August 27.

United and Points.com are known for sending out targeted offers, so your offer may differ from the one I was targeted for:

  • Buy 5,000 – 29,000 miles, get a 40% bonus (2.69 cents apiece)
  • Buy 30,000 – 94,000 miles, get a 85% bonus (2.03 cents apiece)

If you’re planning on utilizing this promotion, here’s how to do so:

  1. Visit United’s Buy Miles page.
  2. Click on Buy Miles.
  3. Enter your United MileagePlus account number and last name.
  4. 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.
  • Members can only purchase 175,000 miles per account, per calendar year, and bonus miles count toward the 175,000-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 Club Card earned 2x miles on United miles purchases. While the Ink Business Preferred surprised us by earning 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on the purchase, recent purchases have only earned 1x point per dollar.

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 $150 after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.
would be the most rewarding choice.

This is The Points Guy’s permanent page about poor-value United Airlines’ “buy miles” promotions, so you can bookmark it and check back for the latest offer. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older deals below. Post last updated on August 13, 2019.

United℠ Explorer Card

The United Explorer card recently got some enhancements like 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants and on hotel stays and a Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check Fee credit (up to $100). The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited time offer! Earn up to 65,000 Bonus Miles.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $120 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
17.99% - 24.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 Intro for First Year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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