July 10, 2016

A Trick to Buy United Miles on the Cheap

Buying miles can be a great way to acquire the incremental miles required for an award.  In that sense, they can unlock a ton of value"given that without the purchase of incremental miles, you'd be unable to redeem for the desired award ticket.

In planning our upcoming trip, we were short 1,500 United miles to book the final segment.  While I could have easily transferred 2,000 (you can only transfer in increments of 1,000) Chase Ultimate Rewards points,  I opted to buy some extra miles for exactly 2 cents each.

United's current "buy miles" promotion
United typically sells miles for 3.5 cents plus at 7.5% tax.  That amounts to 3.76 cents per mile.  United's pretty much always having a sale on miles including right now.  The sale is tiered and you can bring down the cost from 3.76 cents a mile to 1.88 cents a mile by buying 150,000 miles for $2,821.

But there is another way to consistently buy miles for 2 cents including tax.  United allows you to buy miles post booking on the reservation page.  This seems to be a targeted thing - I don't have it on every reservation at the 2 cent price but I've typically seen it on international award reservations.

The "buy extra miles" button
Click on an international reservation.  Under "recommended add ons" click on "buy extra miles."  In our situation, we've already made the purchase on Emily's account and cannot make it again (at least when clicking through from this specific reservation).  There are two options - 12,500 miles for $250 or 25,000 miles for $500.  That includes tax thus the price is 2 cents per mile all in.  In this case, I put the $250 charge on Emily's Barclays Arrival Card which will earn 2.1% cash back on travel.  Once she receives the signup bonus, we'll use those points to wipe out the $250 charge.

Buy United miles for 2 cents a piece
I could have purchased more miles through the current promotion to bring down the cost further but the difference between 2 cents and 1.88 cents isn't enough to justify the large gap in expense.  For comparison sake, if you wanted to purchase the same amount of miles (12,500) through the promotion, it would cost $376.  That's 50% more!!

I value United miles at essentially 2 cents a piece so picking up ~10,000 extra miles at that rate makes sense for my particular situation.  Next time, you're looking to pickup some extra miles, check your reservations to see if you can acquire them at this great rate.

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