The only times that I have ever advised someone to purchase airline miles are if they are only a few hundred miles short of a big award ticket (i.e. San Francisco to London, U.K.) or if there is a significant sale going on.
This time it’s the latter.
United Airlines has a limited time promotion going on where they are selling United MileagePlus Miles for 20% off if you buy up to 29,000 miles (in a single transaction), and for up to 40% off if you buy 30,000 miles or more.
That means you can buy 2,000 United miles for $60.20 right now at the cost of $0.03 per mile, instead of the normal rate of $35 per 1,000 miles. So normally 2,000 miles would cost $75.25.
Or in order to get the 40% off, you can purchase 30,000 United Miles for $677.25, which comes out to $0.023 per mile.
Now, the question today is: is it worthwhile to participate in this sale?
Well, it depends.
- Where and when do you want to travel to?
- How many miles are you away from getting to an award ticket for your trip?
- Do you foresee yourself earning enough miles between now and your trip?
Personally, I value United miles at $0.02 each mile. Getting 40% off the regular purchase price for miles brings each mile pretty darn close to how much I value each mile. However, while I value each mile at $0.02 each, I always try to earn miles for less than $0.02/mile in order to actually be getting the best bang for my buck.
Let’s look at an example. SFO to MAD (Madrid, Spain) via United (or its partners) is 60,000 United miles roundtrip if you book with a Saver Award ticket in economy. (It’s 100,000 miles for a roundtrip Saver Award ticket in Business class.) The sample dates I’m using is July 5, 2013 to July 11, 2013. That same flight is $1,394 USD in economy roundtrip. That comes out to $0.0232 per mile if you are comparing the 60,000 miles roundtrip economy ticket vs the $13,94 roundtrip economy ticket. Notice that the cost per mile actually comes out to about what you are paying if you purchased United miles right now at 40% off.
So in this particular case, it makes more sense to actually just put your cash in the bank until you are ready to just make a cash purchase of the airline ticket, rather than purchase miles right now and hold onto those miles to book. There is always more flexibility with dates and travel when you are purchasing by cash, and you also earn miles for cash bookings, as well as earn elite qualifying miles.
Of course, also keep in mind that the summer is the peak travel season to the mediterranean countries, so by using your miles for award travel during the summer, you are leveraging your miles even further. There are also other times and other destinations where the cash cost would be higher for a ticket, and you could leverage your miles more. At the same time, there will be times of the year when a particular destination will be cheaper to travel to via cash than to use your miles.
The ultimate answer is still that it depends. It depends the factors mentioned earlier. Overall, I would say that this sale is not worth going out of your way to buy United miles right now. If you need some extra miles for an upcoming trip and you were already planning on purchasing miles to top off your account, then this is a good way to just save some cash. If you do your research for a particular travel you want to do in the future, and *buying* miles right now makes more sense for you (i.e. business and first class tickets get a much higher value for your miles) then go for it!
Just make sure to purchase via the promotion page link below in order to get in on the sale.
Here’s a link to the promotion page. It should be noted that United is being a little bit tricky, and you actually cannot get to this promotion page from their main site for some reason. Instead, their main site still lets customers buy at the regular price.
Promotion Offer details:
- To take advantage of this offer, you must use the order links on the promotion page.
- For a limited time, save 20% off the regular price on purchases of less than 30,000 award miles, save 40% off the regular price on purchases of 30,000 award miles or more
- Buy Personal Miles or Give Miles for less – only $28 per 1,000 miles when buying less than 30,000 award miles or only $21 per 1,000 miles when buying 30,000 or more award miles (normally $35 per 1,000 miles) plus a 7.5% excise tax for a limited time
- 2,000 mile minimum purchase required and after that miles are available in increments of 1,000
- Discount can be used multiple times while the promotion is valid
- Promotional offer valid until 11:59 p.m. CDT on September 19, 2012
- Purchase up to 100,000 MileagePlus Personal miles or Give Miles per account per calendar year
- Credit card will be billed immediately for purchase
- Program fees and mileage rates subject to change
- Discounted pricing will automatically display when using the links on this page
- Allow 48 hours for miles to post to MileagePlus® account
- Personal Miles and Give Miles are non-refundable
- These miles can only be used for awards and do not count toward Premier® status
- If you have questions or concerns about this offer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance
- All MileagePlus Program Rules and terms and conditions apply
Once again, you MUST use the links on the promotion page to purchase the miles in order to get this promotional rate.
Tip of the hat to wiiwinners over at Slickdeals.