Should You Buy United Miles with a 75% Bonus?

Sep 14, 2015

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Through the end of September, United is offering a bonus of up to 75% when you purchase miles. If you maximize this promotion by purchasing 85,000 miles for $3,198, including tax, you’ll receive a 63,750-mile bonus, bringing the cost down to 2.15 cents per mile. Here’s the breakdown:

– Buy 5,000 to 19,000 miles get a 25% bonus
– Buy 20,000 to 39,000 miles get a 50% bonus
– Buy 40,000 to 85,000 miles get a 75% bonus

TPG values United miles at just 1.5 cents each, but in some cases you’ll end up getting more value than that, as we’ll explore below. As always, you can also build your United balance by transferring points instantly from Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can currently earn 40,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 within the first three months with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Earn up to a 75% bonus when you purchase United miles.

Should You Buy?

Last month, United was offering a discount of up to 50% for select MileagePlus members, bringing the cost per mile down to 1.88 cents. Even at that price, it didn’t make sense to purchase miles speculatively, but if you have a redemption in mind even 2.15 cents a piece can be a good deal.

Based on the maximum discount outlined above, the 50,000 miles required for a round-trip domestic business-class award would cost about $1,075, including all fees. Depending on the route, this may be worthwhile, especially on last-minute transcontinental flights such as JFK-LAX, though advanced purchase rates are quite reasonable these days, at $1,200 round-trip. However, you can get much more value on some international routes when traveling in premium cabins.

Newark to Tokyo for 130,000 miles round-trip.
Newark to Tokyo in business class for 130,000 miles round-trip.

Take, for example, a round-trip flight between Newark and Tokyo in United BusinessFirst. You can book the trip for 130,000 miles plus $45 in taxes and fees, assuming you’re traveling on United metal. At 2.15 cents per mile, you’ll pay a total of $2,840 for the trip, including taxes and fees.

Newark to Tokyo in business class for $8,357 round-trip.
Newark to Tokyo in business class for $8,357 round-trip.

The same flights would run you $8,357 if you paid cash, giving you a value of 6.4 cents per mile. Beware that miles can take up to 48 hours to process, however, which might complicate your redemption plans if availability is limited.

Ultimately, if you’re planning to travel on an expensive international business or first-class flight, it may make sense to purchase these discounted miles. However, for domestic travel, even in premium cabins, you’ll probably get a better deal by booking the trip with cash.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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