As earning frequent flyer miles becomes increasingly unrelated to actually flying, I want to take a look at a couple of “opportunities” that United Airlines has in the market now to pick up some MileagePlus miles.
Buying MileagePlus Miles
I guess that this purchase offer qualifies as both winning and buying miles, although it is clearly oriented toward the latter. Airlines are almost always willing to sell you miles directly, but they run frequent promotions to sweeten the deal. United currently has a promo that offers up to a 100% bonus on purchased miles, maxing out at 75,000 (or 150,000, after the bonus). And while I have softened my stance that you should never buy miles directly from the airline, my general rule of thumb for anything except tickets is that, if the airline is selling it, you probably don’t want to be buying it. That’s probably what I would say about this particular sale. Even with the 100% bonus, the price of the miles comes pretty close to two cents per mile, at best. Anything less than a 100% match gets you a much weaker rate.
The Award Chart
Chances are, if you are buying miles from the airline, you are looking for an international premium class ticket. United’s award chart makes that difficult to pull off entirely through a mileage purchase, however. Looking at US to Europe, even a Saver business class award will use up almost the entire purchase, and good luck getting one during high season. Want a standard premium-class award? Be ready to shell out 300,000 miles. You may get better value to Asia on a mileage value basis, but you’re still going to be shelling out thousands of dollars and even more miles. And, of course, if you use miles, you don’t earn miles.
Bottom Line: Any deal is workable, but it’s going to be tough to find more than a few redemptions where the numbers work in your favor. Of course, you could be the big sweepstakes winner if you turn out to be the only one who bought in. But I wouldn’t count on it.
Winning MileagePlus Miles
You’ll have to wait a few days for this contest, since it starts on Monday, but put it in your calendar. United is offering over 100,000 prizes, ranging in value from 5,000 miles to a cool million for a lucky 100 entrants. Even better, they will throw in cash to cover the inevitable taxes on the miles. And you may not need to do anything to enter. If you have a MileagePlus Chase Card, every purchase through September 30 will get you an entry into the drawing. But if you don’t have a card, you can still enter at the site on August 1. You can enter as often as you like, but each entry will have to be manually keystroked. Ouch.
I wouldn’t rush out and get a United card now, though, unless you can find a link for 50,000 miles. The current sign-up bonus is 30,000 and the extra chances of winning simply aren’t worth the incremental 20,000 miles.