50% Off, Buy United at Just 1.88 Cents Apiece

Buy United Miles

Through Wednesday, December 30 only United is offering to sell miles at the lowest price I’ve ever seen from MileagePlus — in fact at 1.88 cents apiece it’s the price that US Airways used to sell miles for prior to the merger with American.

I saw this price for the first time ever back in August. They ran this price earlier this month again, but as a 100% bonus rather than a 50% discount.

Here’s the tiered offer:

  • Buy 5,000 – 19,000 miles, save 15%
  • Buy 20,000 – 49,000 miles, save 25%
  • Buy 50,000 – 149,000 miles, save 35%
  • Buy 150,000 miles, save 50%

A 50% discount at the top tier means you’re actually having to spend more to get the best price compared to United’s offer earlier this month. But I haven’t ever seen United sell miles for less.

You can buy up to 150,000 United miles per year. Maxing out this promotion buying 150,000 miles at 50% off gets the cost per mile down to 1.88 cents apiece.

This is a little more than what I value the miles at. But it’s closer than it’s ever been. I’m not going to buy the miles speculatively, but I would certainly buy to top off an account to the level needed for an award that I’d be interested in booking within the next few months.

The value of miles isn’t actually a fixed number.

It depends on how you redeem them. What value are you going to get for your points in terms of the cash they actually save you (what you’d have been willing to actually spend for what you get)? The important thing here is not to use the retail price of a ticket you’re getting, since

  1. with premium cabin rewards you might not have been willing to spend that much cash.
  2. Frequent flyer tickets aren’t necessarily worth as much as a paid ticket. They don’t earn miles. They may not be upgradeable. And you can’t necessarily just pick whatever flight you want, you have to be flexible and worry about award availability.

It depends on when you’re going to redeem them. You don’t earn a rate of return on miles and points like you might with cash in a bank or investment account. And you need to discount to present value if you’re going to use the points later. Plus there’s substantial risk of devaluation with many points currencies.

It depends on how many you already have. The value of points at the margin is different than an overall average value. As you approach having enough points for an award, the marginal value of a few more points goes up substantially — since those extra points are what make the award possible. On the other hand, once you have more points than you’ll redeem in the near-term the value of additional points falls since you may not ever use them, or may not use them under current award charts.

Someone that’ll redeem for a premium cabin award soon and already has a stash of United miles will likely find this an appealing offer. I have more than enough United miles already though.

Terms and conditions:

Minimum purchase of 5,000 miles required for this promotional pricing.
Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CST (Central Standard Time) on December 30, 2015.
Credit card will be billed immediately upon purchase.
Mileage rates and other fees and offer terms are subject to change.
Allow 48 hours for miles to process and post to your MileagePlus account.
Miles are nonrefundable.
Purchased miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier® status.
All MileagePlus Program Rules and terms and conditions apply.
GST/HST is charged to Canadian residents.
Powered by Points to purchase United MileagePlus miles. Transaction will appear as ‘Points United Miles’.

Buy United Miles

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Prolly just splitting hairs but it’s 1.75 cents, no? 150,000 miles for $2625.00 I’ve not seen it priced that low in many years.

  2. Hmm’kay…no. I’m not going to buy. Might be the lowest price they ever sold miles, but the program has gone to #$@!.

  3. Gary — I’m going to disagree with you about mileage tickets on United being worth less than paid tickets. Here’s the two good reasons why:

    1) All mileage tickets are fully refundable with a small fee (or free for elites). Discount coach or even discount business tickets are only exchangeable

    2) Mileage tickets on United offer unlimited date and routing changes, even after you’ve commenced your trip (one or two caveats here but point still stands). I’ve even gotten United to waive fees on origin-destination changes provided it’s the exact same redemption type (e.g., LHR-EWR exchanged for FRA-ORD; the online engine sometimes does this and sometime doesn’t, YMMV).

    So you’re getting a different bundle, but I think even with availability restrictions — and to be fair, if you’re agnostic to routing and live in a city with many *A flights, availability is pretty good — mileage tickets are worth about the same, especially since with promos like this they can cost less than their paid counterparts.

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