When Should You Buy United Miles Without a Bonus?

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United's latest buy miles promotion ended on May 29, 2020. This promotion offered targeted MileagePlus members the option to purchase miles with up to a 75% bonus. At the cheapest, members could pay as little as 2¢ per mile. Currently, there's no buy miles promotion for United MileagePlus miles. However, you can buy United miles at the standard rate.

When Should You Buy United Miles

If you've read any of our latest posts regarding mileage sales, then it should come as no surprise that we do not recommend buying miles without a specific plan to use them. This is particularly true now while the world sits in anticipation of when we'll be able to travel again, and financial uncertainty affects many of us—United included.

However, there are a couple of exceptions. Buying miles can make sense if you have a specific redemption in mind, and it would cost less to buy the miles than it would cost to buy the flight.

There are a lot of situations where the cost to buy a ticket could be far more expensive than buying miles at the standard rate. This is especially true with one-way tickets that often cost more than half the round-trip price. However, just because it's cheaper than the cash price doesn't necessarily make it a good deal for your situation. It's going to be much better to earn United miles through a credit card sign-up or by transferring Ultimate Rewards to United MileagePlus.

Other Ways to Get United Miles

If you're not in a bind for time and looking to build your stash of United miles, a better method might be through earning a sign-up bonus on a United co-branded credit card. The United℠ Explorer Card (full review) currently comes with a signup bonus of 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Additionally, don't forget that United is a 1:1 transfer partner for Chase Ultimate Rewards. This means that points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card can be converted to United miles if you need a top-up for a redemption.

United Buy Miles History

United often runs buy-miles promotions. So, unless you need United miles immediately, it's going to be best to wait for another promotion to launch. Here's a selection of the United buy miles promotions that we have seen over the past few years:

Promotion EndedMax BonusMin Cents Per Mile
05/29/202075%2.00
05/14/2020100%1.75
01/31/202075%2.15
12/31/201985%2.03
12/19/2019100%1.88
12/02/2019100%1.88
07/11/201975%2.15
06/13/2019100%1.88
06/01/201975%2.15
04/12/2019100%1.88
03/25/201967%2.22
03/01/201985%2.03
02/01/201970%2.2
12/19/201885%2.03
11/20/201875%2.15
09/06/2018100%1.88
07/26/2018100%1.88
06/19/2018100%1.88
06/11/201850%
03/09/201875%2.15
09/12/2017100%1.88
05/27/2016100%1.88

Sample Redemptions

Even without a buy miles promotion, you could potentially save money by purchasing miles for a trip you would otherwise have booked as a paid ticket. United recently eliminated its award chart, so the number of miles you need will now vary from one day to the next. We've published an unofficial guide to United's new award pricing to help you sort out the costs.

Let's take a look at one-way flights between San Francisco (SFO) and Tokyo (NRT) to see where it makes sense to buy United miles.

  • 38,500 miles in economy class
  • 88,000 miles in business class
  • 121,000 miles in first class

Without a bonus, here are the costs to buy the miles for each class of service:

  • $1,348 in economy class
  • $3,080 in business class
  • $4,235 in first class

ANA is currently only charging $596 one-way in economy, so it wouldn't make sense to buy United miles for this redemption. However, a one-way business class flight costs $5,452 (from $7,051 round-trip) and a one-way first-class flight costs $12,391 (from $19,699 round-trip):

So, buying miles can present incredible savings compared to the cash price for the same flight. But of course, that savings is only realized if you would have otherwise purchased a very expensive ticket!

Maximize Your Purchase

United miles purchases are processed by Points.com, so your purchase will not qualify for any standard travel category bonus. However, if you happen to hold a United co-branded credit card, purchasing miles will qualify as a United purchase, earning the appropriate multiplier. Just make sure to select the “MileagePlus Visa” option from the dropdown list.

If you don't hold a United co-branded card—or you'd simply prefer to collect another award currency—then your best options are to use the purchase to meet a minimum spend requirement, or use a card optimized for everyday spending. Two of our favorite everyday spending cards include the The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express and Citi® Double Cash Card.

Final Thoughts

For the vast majority of people, buying miles without a bonus doesn't make sense. However, the option is there if you need to top off your account and don't have another way to generate the miles—such as transferring Ultimate Rewards.

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Comments

  • Glad to hear that the United Miles don’t expire anymore, I’m a hoarder!

  • They very much need the extra cash, so I wonder why they launched a targeted offer.

  • One would assume UA would sell miles at a cheaper rate than usual these days, but selling them at a higher price is quite puzzling.

  • This is a good way for United to store up some more cash to weather the Covid slowdown. Hope this works.

  • Not even interested this time around! Just too much hassle with United over getting my last tickets during pandemic refunded and reimbursed!

  • With the difficulties I’m having getting a refund for a united ticket… no thanks!! How an airline treats a customer during these difficult times is very telling of where my first choice for travel partners will be… and it’s NOT united. There is NO WAY i’m giving United more $$ for them to hold with devaluing mileage as it is. I moved my primary mileage earning to Alaska Airlines 5+ years ago and haven’t looked back since.

  • I wouldn’t purchase any airline miles speculatively in this situation. No one knows if these airlines will survive.

  • Juan Ignacio says:

    Great opportunity, more than ever when UA miles doesn¡t expire anymore.

    Hope all airlines do something similar… so they could store up some money.

  • Maryjane says:

    I agree that I would not give United my money at this time. (Despite the fact they need it.) I’m going to keep earning Chase UR points and use those if I have an opportunity for a miles redemption on United.

  • Karina Cesar says:

    Normally I wouldn´t recommend to buy miles, but with a 75% bonus it could be a good deal

  • Florencia says:

    It is sad, but in this context I would not buy tickets or miles from any airline. many do not survive the covid crisis.

    • I would be blown away if any of United, American, Delta, or Southwest didn’t survive all of this. Airlines are kind of like truckers, without airlines America stops.

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