Options To Spend

Options To Spend

This month United Mileage Plus launches its version of the current trend in miles-for-merchandise. Referred to as Mileage Plus Merchandise Rewards, this online catalog of merchandise allows elite members of Mileage Plus to redeem miles for a variety of merchandise ranging from Callaway and Taylor golf clubs to iPods, Canon digital cameras and plasma screen TVs. We found a 12-pack of golf balls for only 4,000 miles, and a large-screen TV for nearly 400,000 miles.

Navigation of the new Web site, http://www.united.com/mileageplusrewards , is fairly simple, requiring elite members to log in with their password to access their current mileage balance to start shopping. Other members of the program are free to browse around window shopping and at least knowing what might be their’s with a few more elite qualifying miles in their future. As with any merchandise catalog, we wrinkle our nose to think that our free flights to points around the globe might be reduced to a paper shredder (true, it’s one of the choices) redemption. But obviously that’s the choice of the member, and since this program is designed for elite members — members who arguably might have more miles than they have time to fly again, this is the perfect complement and a more comfortable environment to enhance your Mileage Plus membership value than bidding your miles with the Mileage Plus auction option.

Categories are easy to navigate through and include Cameras and Optics, Home Theatre, Kitchen, The Great Outdoors, Golf, Jewelry and Watches and even the Home Office. Once inside each catalog, members can then select items at random or sort them high or low based on the required number of miles for the purchase.

Two other features we liked were “low prices,” which highlights merchandise for smaller amounts of miles, and “top sellers,” which seems to rank merchandise by the popularity of the sales. When we visited the test launch, Kitchen Aid appliances, Taylor Made drivers, Sony PSP and Coach sunglasses were the top sellers.

Given that home theatre items may likely be among the best sellers over time, and that Mileage Plus has its share of mileage millionaires, let’s give you a chance to decide if you’d part with miles for this merchandise: A 42-inch HD Plasma TV with integrated tuner from Samsung for 350,500 miles; a Harmon Kardon home theatre system for 147,500 miles; or a 62-inch integrated HD DLP television from Toshiba for 393,500 miles.

As “kevinsac” posted on FlyerTalk, “But……let’s see…….a 3-piece set of luggage (even if it is Hartman)……..or 3 first-class tickets to Europe? A man’s Concord watch……or a first-class ticket to BKK? A treadmill (which I’d probably only use as a clothes rack) or 2 first-class tickets to SYD? A new HD TV or 2 first-class tickets to South Africa (with miles left over for domestic travel while there)”. Given that Mileage Plus has an above-average reputation for managing award availability for its elite members, we don’t suspect that this will replace more than 7 percent of normal award redemption and will be seen as an added benefit, rather than a substitute for travel awards, as other travel reporters seem to think. Also, we think that once the novelty of this wears off, redemption of this type of merchandise will become seasonable, with most redemption coming in the fourth quarter of a year during the holiday period.

By and large we have not tried to place a value per mile on these types of transactions, since among the elite members of Mileage Plus, the value of their miles becomes relative to their “bank account.”

A plus for anyone considering using this program: You can keep a straight face when telling the spouse that you didn’t spend “any money” on the new beer keg tap.

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