In late January, United Airlines began testing a new mobile app called MileagePlus X that is now available to the public. It’s a shopping tool that helps you earn more miles on everyday purchases, and it’s fairly simple to operate.
- Register your credit card with the app. You’ll need it to make purchases.
- Visit a participating merchant. MileagePlus X will show you nearby locations on a map.
- When you are ready to pay, enter the dollar amount in the app. United will automatically charge your credit card and issue an electronic gift card.
- A barcode will appear on the screen for the merchant to scan and pay for your purchase.
- You earn miles in two ways: (1) the miles you would ordinarily earn for the purchase of the gift card and (2) bonus miles for purchasing that gift card through MileagePlus X. If you have a MileagePlus credit card to pay, you’ll also get a 25% bonus. (You don’t necessarily need to use it.)
Check out the math on this example of a $100 purchase at OfficeMax, which offers 4 miles per dollar:
|Gift Card Purchase||MileagePlus X||MileagePlus Cardholder||Total|
The result is effectively the same as shopping online through a shopping portal, but it can be far easier sometimes to just visit the store and buy what you want. I live three blocks from the Nordstrom flagship, for example, and I get frustrated when I have to go to the store to find what I like, order it online for the bonus points, and then go back to pick it up or wait for them to deliver it.
On the other hand, MileagePlus X has some serious limitations.
First, your purchase will be made with a gift card, not a credit card, so any warranties or protections you’re normally entitled to as a cardholder will be waived. If you want to return an item, credit will be provided in the form of another gift card. This is not a major issue for me as I don’t use these warranty services and rarely return things. Others find those benefits valuable.
Second, you are limited to participating merchants, most of which are chain stores that may not be conveniently located. That is more a problem in some cities than others. In downtown Seattle, I only found three stores in a five-mile radius that I’ve actually visited in the last year: OfficeMax, Banana Republic, and Amazon.com (online). But I have a Banana Republic card that offers better rewards, and I prefer to use my Ink Plus business card to shop at OfficeMax (and buy Amazon gift cards) to earn more points that I ultimately transfer to United.
Third — and this is more annoyance than a limitation — not all the earn rates are very good. They advertise it as offering “up to 2, 3, or 4 miles” per dollar so why not just say “up to 4”? Some offers are as low as 0.5 miles per dollar. Remember to look at what you would earn from traditional online shopping portals using a comparison service like evreward.com.
I think it’s undoubtedly an innovative idea. United has done some really interesting stuff to expand the breadth of its loyalty program, including an investment in Rocketmiles and launching its own online media store. But I would be more excited if it worked at more of the small, local merchants I often frequent.
But I suppose more than anything I wish they would focus such creative efforts on improving their program’s ability to earn and redeem miles when flying. Instead it seems to be looking more like Avios or Aeroplan — a generic rewards program that just happens to have an airline as a major partner.