Longtime members of the United Mileage Plus frequent flyer program are no strangers to auctions. Who could forget in 1997 when Mileage Plus joined the Star Alliance to auction off 50 pairs of business-class around-the-world tickets with five stopovers? And the online Ski Auction using miles in 1999? The FIFA World Cup mileage auction of 2002? And earlier this year, members with more than 300,000 miles could bid their miles on a trip to the Nimmo Bay Resort in British Columbia, Canada, as part of a fundraiser for charity partner Conservation International.
On Nov. 2, United launched its latest auction using miles, and this time it appears they have a wide variety of items for just about every type of member — including members with a whole lot of miles. Take, for instance, the leading item in this series of auctions — a Chrysler Crossfire automobile. At press time the car was bidded up to 1,125,000 miles. Yes, that’s is over 1.25 million Mileage Plus miles. It ranks at or very near the highest bid ever for any auction item offered by a variety of frequent flyer programs.
The current auction, which seems set up to handle an ongoing number of promotional items, has new features that have been lacking in prior auctions — features such as a “watchlist” that will track the items you are interested in, and even a “maximum proxy bid” tool which is very similar to bidding on eBay.
In researching this story, we ventured out with our own Mileage Plus account and found the process quite easy once registered. (The nicknames of members seem to say a lot about who they are — many are similar to the user names of members of the FlyerTalk.com Web site: SpacemanSpiff, madnessman, oraclewhiz and jkm.)
We also were fascinated by what the popular items in the current auction were, given the stereotype of a Mileage Plus member as the proverbial business traveler. After the car, it was almost a tie between a shark diving experience and a few hot laps around a track in a real NASCAR hot rod. Hum, risk takers and gearheads? As we have learned, NASCAR is no longer just for the redneck racer, but appears to appeal very much to the Mileage Plus member. Both these items were bidding around 125,000 miles — about the same as five coach-class awards here in the U.S. or two business-class tickets to Hawaii. Other items included golf lessons at Pebble Beach, and something unique — a chance to experience what it’s like to be an Olympian. For four days, Olympians and Team USA hopefuls will instruct the winner in biathlon, bobsled, curling, hockey, skiing and speedskating at the same venues used during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
While these and other similar items will be gone by the time you read this, it is apparent that Mileage Plus intends to continue to add items, making this an ongoing auction. Read our special “60 Seconds” interview with the auctionmeisters of Mileage Plus elsewhere in this section.