This week, both United Airlines and American Airlines announced promotions that make it cheaper to buy miles. I don’t always recommend it, but it can sometimes be a good deal. This is most likely if you were looking at purchasing a business class or expensive economy class fare. Then the cost of buying miles might be less, especially if you can add them to miles you already have. Do remember that award availability can be a concern, so if you have very specific dates in mind it might make more sense to buy a ticket.
For travel on American Airlines and its partners, I recommend using American, Qantas, or British Airways to search for award space. For travel on United Airlines and its partners, I recommend using United, Aeroplan, and ANA to search for award space. Award Nexus is a paid search tool I like to use that can make repeated searching less time-consuming.
Up to 36% Bonus Miles + 15% Discount from American Airlines
American Airlines is offering the more generous offer of a 15% discount on all purchases plus an additional amount of bonus miles that ranges from zero to 27,500. The best deal is if you purchase 76,000 miles since if you buy more (up to 100,000) you get the same 27,500 bonus miles — the size of that bonus decreases as a percentage the more you buy.
|Purchase||Discount + Bonus||Total Miles|
|1,000 - 15,000||15% + 0||1,000 - 15,000|
|16,000 - 30,000||15% + 5,000||21,000 - 35,000|
|31,000 - 45,000||15% + 10,000||41,000 - 55,000|
|46,000 - 60,000||15% + 15,000||51,000 - 75,000|
|61,000 - 75,000||15% + 20,000||81,000 - 95,000|
|76,000 - 100,000||15% + 27,500||103,500 - 127,500|
For a total of 103,500 miles, you’ll pay $1,905.70, $142.93 in taxes, and a $30 processing fee. That works out to $2,078.63 or an average of just over 2 cents per mile. This is one of the lowest offers to buy American Airlines miles.
If I were to take advantage of this offer, I’d combine it with miles I already had for a first class ticket to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, for 135,000 miles round-trip. Check out the American Airlines award chart for other ideas.
Up to 40% Bonus Miles from United Airlines
United Airlines is making targeted offers, and I received the option to earn up to 40% bonus miles (but no additional discount). Because the bonus isn’t a fixed amount, you could purchase between 41,000 and 105,000 miles and still get a good deal. There’s still tax but no transaction fee.
|5,000 - 15,000||20%||6,000 - 18,000|
|16,000 - 40,000||25%||20,000 - 50,000|
|41,000 - 105,000||40%||57,400 - 147,000|
For a total of 57,400 miles you would pay $1,542.63 including tax. For a total of 147,000 miles you would pay $3,950.63 including tax. Both work out to 2.69 cents per mile. It’s a higher price, but worth considering if you read my explanation below.
Which Offer Is Better?
Don’t forget that in addition to considering the cost of miles, you also have to look into their utility. Cheap miles that don’t get you where you want to go or that have high fees associated with them aren’t such a good deal after all.
American Airlines tends to have cheaper award prices, especially for travel on its partner airlines. United has different prices for its own flights and its partners’. That said, American is ripe for a devaluation and still imposes fuel surcharges for travel on British Airways, it’s main partner for travel to Europe. United makes it easier to transfer additional miles from a credit card partner like Ultimate Rewards and has no fuel surcharges on any awards.
As far as routing rules, I think United is a clear winner. They’re very flexible and include the option of a stopover if you book a round-trip ticket. American allows no stopovers and requires that the overwater carrier publishes a fare between your two cities (though this has yet to be a problem for me). You can read more about the award routing rules for United Airlines and the rules for American Airlines awards in earlier posts.