Through October 26, 2015, you can buy United Airlines miles for as low as 2.09 cents each. I consider this to be a pretty good deal, especially since the usual rate is 3.76 cents.
Like yesterday’s post about buying American Airlines miles, United is offering tiered bonuses. However, they are percentage bonuses rather than fixed amounts. This means there is no advantage to buying the minimum number of miles to qualify for that bonus. The top bonus of 80% applies equally well when purchasing 30,000 miles or 80,000 miles. You have much more freedom to buy the actual number of miles you need for an upcoming award.
|Purchase Amount||Bonus Rate||Cost per Mile|
|5,000 to 19,000||25%||3.01 cents|
|20,000 to 29,000||50%||2.51 cents|
|30,000 to 80,000||80%||2.09 cents|
I would not recommend buying miles at 3 cents, and at 2.5 cents you should have a compelling reason, like topping up your account for an award. At 2 cents it becomes reasonable to consider buying all the United miles you need for an award because it could be cheaper than a paid fare.
Some have criticized United for devaluations to its award chart, especially partner awards. That does not mean it has lost all good award redemptions. There are still many redeeming qualities about United that make it my second favorite award currency, after Alaska Airlines miles. (Learn more about United’s award routing rules.)
- No fuel surcharges on any awards
- One free stopover on round-trip awards
- Open jaws permitted at both origin and departure
- No maximum distance rules
What about the award chart devaluations? There are some awards you would not want to book with United miles — pretty much anything in first class on a partner. Now that United has two award charts for itself and for partners, it charges some ludicrous amounts for first class partner awards. I’m also not sure that United’s own first class is good enough to be worth the extra miles. Many people will be satisfied by a good lie-flat business class seat.
Business class awards on partners still cost more, but they are not ridiculously priced. Here are some examples for round-trip awards in business class, starting in the contiguous United States:
- Southern South America: 110,000 miles (United & partners)
- Europe: 115,000 miles (United) or 140,000 miles (partners)
- Middle East: 140,000 miles (United) or 160,000 miles (partners)
- Japan: 130,000 miles (United) or 150,000 miles (partners)
- North Asia (incl. China), South Asia, and Central Asia (incl. India): 140,000 miles (United) or 160,000 miles (partners)
Paying an additional 20,000 or 25,000 miles is annoying but does not seem ruinous to me. This is only ~14% more than the normal rate for United-operated flights in the case of Asia. And as long as you fly on United over the ocean, you can still connect on a partner to reach your final destination.
Award space can be pretty good, too, depending on your route. Asiana has two or more business class seats available to Seoul from Los Angeles on almost every day of the year, and from there you can connect on Singapore Airlines or other carriers to reach the rest of Asia. Want to take the whole family? Here’s an example of searching for FOUR business class seats at once on LAX-ICN.
With all opportunities to buy miles, know what you want to do with them before you buy. In certain situations — like traveling longer distances from the West Coast, or trying to book complicated itineraries with stopovers and open jaws — they can be more valuable. Other times a simple round-trip flight over a shorter distance, like East Coast to Europe, would be better paid for with cash.
What are your favorite uses of United miles? Do you plan to take advantage of this promotion?