Editor’s note: At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information needed to make educated decisions about travel and rewards-earning strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route networks. But we are sharing this information to provide value for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.
This is a recurring post, regularly updated with the latest promotion.
Right now, targeted United MileagePlus members can purchase United miles with up to a 100% bonus until 11:59 p.m. Central Time on May 14. You can see if you’re targeted for this promotion by heading to United’s buy miles page and logging into your MileagePlus account.
But whether you should buy miles with this promotion is a different story. Here at TPG, we only recommend buying miles if you have an immediate plan to use them. At the time of writing this article, the world is in the middle of the global coronavirus outbreak. While we’ve seen things start to improve, you’ll likely be using miles purchased with this promotion for travel in late 2020 or early 2021 at the earliest.
Regardless, there’s no guarantee that travel will be deemed safe by this time. So, make sure you’re familiar with United’s change and cancellation policies before you buy miles as you may be forced to change your plans if things don’t go back to normal.
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Keep in mind that United isn’t in the best place financially either. Over the past few weeks, the Chicago-based airline has announced massive temporary route cuts, cut 737 MAX orders and requested government money to stay afloat. We’re confident that United will survive the coronavirus downturn, but United miles could be deemed worthless if the airline ended up insolvent in a worst-case scenario.
Finally, United miles have been massively devalued over the past month or so. The airline recently put an end to low-cost domestic tickets and pulled its partner award charts, raising many award prices by 10% in the process. This means that United miles are less valuable than in years past, making them less attractive to purchase during a promotion like this.
United buy-miles promotion details
It looks like United is targeting those with no elite status or mid-tier elites for this promotion. When we polled the TPG team, we found that those with Premier 1K and Million Miler status were not targeted for this buy miles promotion. On the other hand, many TPGers with no elite status or mid-tier Premier Gold status received the full 100% mileage promotion.
If you’re targeted, you can expect to earn the following number of bonus miles:
- Buy 5,000 to 14,000 miles: Receive 30% bonus miles (2.69 cents per mile)
- Buy 15,000 to 39,000 miles: Receive 50% bonus miles (2.33 cents per mile)
- Buy 40,000 to 87,500 miles: Receive 100% bonus miles (1.75 cents per mile)
To purchase miles, head to the United Airlines Buy Miles page and enter your United loyalty number and password. Just remember United’s restrictions for purchasing miles:
- You can only purchase up to 175,000 miles per account per calendar year (including bonus miles)
- Miles may take up to 48 hours to post to your account
- Purchased or gifted miles don’t count toward United elite status
When should you consider buying United miles?
As statd earlier, now is not the time to be traveling. You should only purchase miles through this promotion if you’re confident that United’s financial situation will improve and you have already found a flight you’d like to book for late 2020 or early 2021 with open award space.
Also keep in mind that United miles are some of the easiest to earn. You can earn with a United cobranded credit card or by transferring in miles from Chase Ultimate Rewards. Here are some of the best credit cards to use if you want to quickly earn United miles:
- United Explorer Card: — 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (transfers 1:1 to United)
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. (also transfers 1:1 to United) The information for the Ink Business Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
If you’re ineligible for a welcome bonus or have an immediate need for United miles, though, you may just find that you can travel for cheaper by purchasing miles. TPG currently values United miles at 1.3 cents each — that is significantly lower than the price you’ll pay with this sale, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad deal.
For example, you can book a round-trip ticket from Newark (EWR) to London (LHR) in United Polaris business class for 120,000 United miles on most dates with saver award space. A business-class seat on this route usually costs around $3,500 round-trip on United, but if you were to buy 120,000 miles with this promotion, you’d spend $2,100. This gives you a savings of more than $1,000 when purchasing miles.
So while it’s still a bad idea to buy United miles speculatively, it can make sense if you’re going to otherwise pay for a ticket out-of-pocket for a high-end award ticket or need to top up your United mileage balance for a specific redemption. Just keep in mind that you won’t earn redeemable miles or status qualifying points when you fly on an award ticket.
Use a travel credit card for your purchase
Note that when you buy United miles, you’re actually making a purchase with Points.com. Transactions through this merchant don’t code as travel, so you won’t earn bonus points with most cards. However, some United cobranded credit cards — such as the United Explorer Card — earned 2 miles per dollar in TPG tests.
You should also consider The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express (2x Membership Rewards points per dollar on the first $50,000 per year; then 1 point per dollar, terms apply) or the Chase Freedom Unlimited, with 1.5% cash back — which you can also transfer to an Ultimate Rewards-earning card, effectively earning 1.5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.
The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Featured photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.
Additional reporting by Joseph Hostetler, Carissa Rawson and JT Genter.