The Basics

Buying United Miles

Written by Charlie

Buying United Miles

When does it make sense to buy miles? Typically, miles cost around 3.5 cents per mile which really negates the actual value you get from those miles (I peg United miles at being worth around 1.7 cents per mile). Granted, you can redeem 70,000 United miles for a one-way business class ticket that might cost over $4,000 if purchase with money. That puts the variable value of the miles at 5.7 cents per mile, but it is not actual or realistic because you would never pay that much for a ticket. So, it is not really a good deal to purchase 70,000 United miles at the regular price.

What situation should you buy miles? The best reason is to top off your account if you are saving your miles for a particular award. It is never a good idea to purchase the miles speculatively because airline award programs may shift their redemption methods or you may not be able to find the award you are looking for when you need it.

How Much Do United Miles Cost?

United Miles Promotional Purchase – This Promo is Expired

Buying United Miles

Until June 30th, you can purchase United miles at a promotional discount of 20% (when purchasing less than 25,000 miles) and 40% (when purchasing more than 25,000 miles). Obviously, purchase miles at the 20% discount is not a great deal unless you were going to have to buy a few thousand anyway to top-off your account. The 40% is a better deal but that is still a lot of money to spend to get “free” tickets. These prices are inclusive of the 7.5% excise tax. Let’s see how it breaks down by typical amounts:

  • 2,000 miles (minimum amount) – $60.20 (3 cents per mile)
  • 10,000 miles – $301 (3 cents per mile)
  • 25,000 miles – $564.38 (2.25 cents per mile)
  • 50,000 miles – $1,128.75 (2.25 cents per mile)
  • 60,000 miles (amount required for coach ticket to Europe) – $1,354.50 (2.25 cents per mile)
  • 100,000 miles (amount required for business class ticket to Europe) – $2,257.50 (2.25 cents per mile)

As you can see, it is still very expensive. You would not want to purchase 60,000 miles for a coach class ticket since you will more than likely be able to find a better deal to Europe than paying $1,300, not to mention the miles you would earn on a paid ticket. But, if you were going to buy some to help bridge the gap for a ticket, this might be a way to do it. To purchase these miles, go here.

Buy Ultimate Reward Points to Transfer to United – No Longer Works

Buying United MilesYou can actually purchase Ultimate Reward points through their portal at a rate of 2.5 cents per point and then transfer these points to United at a 1:1 ratio. The only bad part about this is that you cannot purchase more than 5,000 points per month. To purchase these points, login in to your Ultimate Rewards account and purchase them there.

Buy United Miles with Award Accelerator 

Buying United MilesIf you already have a United reservation (award or paid), you can purchase extra miles based on the distance of your trip. For example, I have an upcoming trip to Europe and they were offering 5,185 award miles for $125 (2.4 cents per mile) and 10,370 miles for $249 (2.4 cents per mile). This works out to be a better deal than purchasing the miles through the promo above because you have to purchase at least 25,000 miles to get below this. This also works out to be a better deal than purchasing Ultimate Reward points if you need more than 5,000 miles (monthly purchase limit with Ultimate Rewards). This amount of miles and cost varies slightly according to destination and what time of year (towards the end of the year, it can be more expensive). This is something that I was potentially considering because I was in need of about 10,000 miles for an award that allows me to move from economy to business. I would definitely value the change in cabins over $250 because of the cost of the luggage if I were to have to pay for the luggage vs the free luggage allowance for business class. Not to mention the comfort level. 🙂

Buying United Miles

The nice thing about this option is that you can actually purchase a ticket (for example, from NYC – Singapore) and cancel it within 24 hours. While you hold the ticket, you can use the Award Accelerator and keep those miles even when you cancel the ticket that you used to purchase the miles off of. The miles you purchase through this method are non-refundable, so they are yours!

Currently, the last option (buying miles through the award accelerator) is the best option. Other promos may come (as they seem to come every few months or so), but you will need to weigh the overall cost against your potential redemption value to determine if it is a good deal. Hopefully, you will never need to pay for miles, but if you find yourself short the required amount of miles, now you at least know the best option for picking them up at the best prices.

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.