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If you ever want proof that most of the people running airline loyalty programs are just phoning it all in take a look at the mileage promotions they come out with.
Yesterday I posted about the lasted American Airlines AAdvantage mileage sale which turned out to be identical to their Black Friday sale (which in turn was identical to their Black Friday sale last year) and now we have the latest offering from United.
If I’m being charitable I’ll concede that United Mileage Plus has changed its promotion from the flash sale it has a little under two weeks ago….but the changes are so small they’re essentially insignificant.
United MileagePlus Mileage Sale
What you need to know:
- Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CT on December 31, 2017.
- Miles are available in increments of 1,000 up to a maximum of 75,000 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.
- Bonus miles count towards the 150,000 mile annual limit per account.
- Purchase up to 150,000 miles per account per calendar year.
- Credit card will be billed immediately upon purchase.
- Mileage rates and other fees and offer terms are subject to change.
- Pricing is only available for purchases made through buymiles.mileageplus.com
- Miles are nonrefundable.
- Purchased miles do not count toward MileagePlus Premier® status.
- All MileagePlus Program Rules and terms and conditions apply.
- GST/HST is charged to Canadian residents.
- Powered by Points to purchase United MileagePlus miles. Transaction will appear as ‘Points United Miles’.
The Bonus Tiers
This is where things differ from the last promotion – there’s one more tier so the bonuses are slightly different…but the top bonus hasn’t changed.
- Buy 5,000 – 19,000 miles – Get a 25% bonus
- Buy 20,000 – 39,000 miles – Get a 40% bonus
- Buy 40,000 – 69,000 miles – Get a 75% bonus
- Buy 70,000 – 75,000 miles – Get a 100% bonus
Within each bonus band the price per MileagePlus mile remains the same:
- 5,000 – 9,000 miles the cost is ~3.01 cents/mile
- 20,000 – 39,000 miles the cost is ~2.69 cents/mile
- 40,000 – 69,000 miles the cost is ~2.15 cents/mile
- 70,000 – 75,000 miles the cost is ~1.88 cents/mile
The good news here is that within each pricing band the cost per point stays the same – it doesn’t matter if you buy 20,000 or 75,000 United Miles you’ll still pay the same per mile.
Buying the maximum number of miles would get you 150,000 miles after the bonus has been added and would cost $2,821.88:
150,000 MileagePlus miles at a cost of $2,821.88 is ~ 1.88 cents per mile.
Should You Buy United Miles In This Sale?
As I said in the last sale (if United can repeat itself so can I!) 1.88 cents/mile is a low price for United to be selling miles but that doesn’t necessarily equate to this being a great deal.
The fact is that the merits of this offer will vary significantly based on what each person’s needs are and, much more importantly, if awards are actually available to book.
Let’s take a MileagePlus Business Class saver award to Europe as an example:
A roundtrip Business Class saver award for flights to/from the 48 contiguous States and Europe costs 120,000 miles so, if you were to purchase miles at the cheapest rate this promotion offers (1.88 cents), that award would cost ~ $2,258.
That’s not a bad price for a Business Class fare but taxes will need to be added to that and there are a few other things that need to be taken into consideration.
With award travel (as opposed to travel where you pay cash for a ticket) there are a number of other factors that need to be considered:
- You’re restricted to flights on which United decides to open up for awards so it’s very possible that you may not be able to fly when its most convenient for you.
- By booking an award you’re passing up on the redeemable miles you would earn if you paid cash for your ticket
- By booking an award you’re passing up on the miles that contribute to Elite qualification (PQM)
- By booking an award you’re passing up on the Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD) that contribute to Elite qualification
Convenience, redeemable miles, PQM and PQD all have a value that you’re not getting when booking an award so you need to consider this when working out the value proposition of an award booking vs a cash booking.
Yes, You Can Get Value Out Of This Promotion
This latest promotion is only a bad idea if you’re just looking to buy miles in the hope of finding a good use for them at some point in the future.
If you have a specific need for the miles – like for a close-in booking or to top up an account – then a promotion like this can save you quite a bit of cash.
Let’s take an example of a traveler who wants/needs to fly San Francisco to London in Business Class at reasonably short notice.
According to the ITA Matrix search the cost of non-stop flights to London on any airline in January are mostly astronomical:
There are, however, dates in January where you can book a roundtrip Business Class award on the same route for 120,000 Miles & $282.16:
120,000 miles would cost $2,258 (in the promotion) and, when you add on the fees and taxes for the award, that brings the total spend to ~ $2,540.
Clearly that’s a lot cheaper than paying for the flights with cash!
Yes, this is an extreme example but it’s an example that works and it shows how, if you have a little flexibility in your schedule, using miles from a promotion like this can make sense.
I’m not suggesting that you’re going to save $3,500+ each time you use miles from this promotion – that’s definitely not going to happen – but I am suggesting that if you can find award space you can definitely get value here.
If you only purchase miles when you have a solid plan for what you’re going to do with them you’ll rarely go wrong – you can check awards are available, you can check the cost of flights and, by comparing the two, you can make an informed decision.
If, on the other hand, you purchase miles thinking that you’ll find a good use for them in the future you’re going to lose money in the long run. That’s as close to a certainly as you can get in the miles & points world.
Check award availability, do the math and only then should you consider buying miles – it’s simple! 🙂