United Airlines Promotion – Buy Miles & Get A Mystery Bonus

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The latest mileage sale is out from United Airlines and this time around the airline is offering MileagePlus members a “mystery bonus” when they buy miles. My maximum personal mystery bonus was 50% (as was the bonus linked to the other two MileagePlus accounts I have access to) but others may have better offers.

United Mystery Bonus – Rules In Brief

  • Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on November 20, 2017.
  • Miles are available in increments of 1,000 up to a maximum of 100,000 miles.
  • Bonuses will be calculated on a per transaction basis only. The bonus amount applicable to a transaction is shown in the chart. Transactions may not be aggregated to calculate the bonus.
  • Bonus Miles will generally be credited to the recipient’s MileagePlus account when the transaction is complete; provided that certain transactions may take up to 48 hours.
  • Purchase up to 150,000 miles per account per calendar year.
  • Bonus miles count towards the 150,000 mile annual limit per account.
  • GST/HST is charged to Canadian residents.

Link to full terms and conditions

The Bonuses & Thresholds

In keeping with most of United’s mileage sales this one is straightforward:

As this promotion is supposed to be targeted the bonuses and bands may vary from person to person.

The Math

The lowest rate you’ll find is when you buy enough miles to get the maximum bonus – in my case that’s a minimum of 20,000 miles with a 50% bonus.

Buying 20,000 miles would net me 30,000 miles (including the 50% bonus) at a cost of $752.50 which comes out to ~2.51 cents/mile.

That’s a terrible rate at which to buy United Miles…especially as you can buy United Miles for as little as 1.13 cents each through 10 November.

If that’s not enough to persuade you that this is a poor deal take a look at it this way.

A Saver Business Class award on United Airlines between the US and Europe will cost you 115,000 Miles. If you were to buy all those miles in this promotion that Business Class award would cost you in the region of $2,887 + taxes.

When you add the taxes in to that award it raises the price to over $3,000 and, for about the same price, you can almost always find cash fare available.

As an example, here’s what April availability looks like for Chicago – Paris for a 5 day trip:

The choice of dates is just about as wide as it gets and, on top of that flexibility, those fares will earn you redeemable miles, miles towards elite status and credit towards the minimum spend limits that status now requires.

With an award ticket you’re often very restricted in the dates you can fly (if you can find availability in the first place) and you don’t earn miles or anything towards elite status.

In most cases it simply doesn’t make sense to buy miles to book an award like this one.

Is There A Time When This Promotion Could Be A Good Idea?

If you look hard enough you’ll always find one or two examples where buying United Miles will save you some cash (even at this rate).

There will be times where cash fares are high and, for some reason, United is still prepared to let you book a saver award and, on those occasions, you would save money by buying miles and then booking that award.

But those occasions don’t arise all that often so don’t go buying miles thinking that this will definitely happen for you.

Buying a small number of miles to top up your account to reach and award threshold is also probably ok…..but don’t try to persuade yourself that 50,000 miles is a “top up”. It isn’t.

When I discuss “topping” up an account I’m thinking of purchases under < 10,000 miles.

Bottom Line

if you need United Miles the first thing you should do is make sure you make the most of the promotion I mentioned earlier (the one that lets you buy miles from as little as 1.13 cents each).

Next you should remember that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are coming up this month and all the airlines are bound to have price cuts on mileage sales for those periods – miles will almost certainly be cheaper come the end of November…..so why not wait until then?


  1. my offer was 100% bonus for buying >30K miles … but given the choice option of buying for 1.3 cents i’m not even considering it

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