Through Sept. 30, 2007, United Mileage Plus elite-level members and Mileage Plus Visa cardholders can spend their miles in ways they never could have imagined when racking up their miles at 33,000 feet. Following in the footsteps of several other programs seeking to offer a variety of award redemption options, this special award catalog, available online only, has something for just about everyone and you don’t need a million miles to start spending.
While the award catalog is not perfect, it does offer an easy way to shop, starting with a front page featuring 12 items from the catalog. We found it strange that some of the items featured on the front page did not include pictures of the items offered, posting a “no image available” in a large white space. In fact, only two of the 12 items featured actually had pictures associated with them. But no worry, once members click into the product offering there was a picture of the item, but with rather limited descriptions and in most cases, cameras were not even listed with the model number. If you are shopping for specific items or want to learn more, our advice is that Google is your friend and a simple copy and paste into Google (it pays to have a second screen open) will be the best workaround for learning more about your potential purchases.
There are 12 distinct merchandise categories, ranging from TVs (Home Theater) to Jeep Wrangler mountain bikes (The Great Outdoors). In addition, there are two additional categories you’ll be sure to want to visit: New Items and Low Prices.
Now, being the shoppers we are, we clicked around the catalog comparing prices with the miles required. The overall general return on your miles varies in value between a half penny per mile to more than an eighth of a penny per mile with the average being around .0065 pennies per mile. Here are a few examples: A Nikon 10.2 megapixel camera that sells for $1,000 will cost you 187,000 miles. A Sharp plasma 52 inch TV selling for $2,686 will mean forking over 443,000 miles. Another item that is a best seller is the Callaway X-20 graphite irons set which sells for $899 and is priced in miles at 108,000. Other popular items include the Apple iPod nano selling for $235 going for 36,000 miles. Okay, so you’re a mileage miser. Well, in the low prices section, we found a Black & Decker Bullseye level which sells for $50 at Sears for only 7,500 miles and a 12-pack of Callaway HX Hot golf balls for only 4,000 miles (sells for $25).
Bottom line: While not the most glamorous award catalog among frequent flyer programs, the skeptical InsideFlyer staff did find several things worth spending the miles for. The plusses of these Merchandise Rewards is that unlike in other frequent flyer programs, you don’t have to be an elite member to trade miles for merchandise. As noted, it is open to Mileage Plus Visa cardholders and if you are earning your miles that way, it means you’re likely to be earning just over a half percent rebate. Our advice, tour the catalog and shop when the merchandise appeals to you. While you can no doubt earn a better value using your miles for air awards and upgrades, we’ve found spicing up your redemptions with a few items from this catalog is actually quite nice.