American Express started opening the gates by offering to let their customers use Membership Rewards to pay for their meals at McDonalds. Now, United is launching a program to let customers use their United miles to pay for meals in airports.
United is setting up 6,000 iPads at airports throughout its network to allow their customers to use their miles in exchange for food and drinks. The exchange is not fixed but is said to be 143 miles per dollar. In other words, you will get about .7 cents per mile in value on your food.
Some of the examples given by Bloomberg are: a seared salmon dish that costs $29 at Saison (restaurant in Newark airport) will cost 4,150 miles while a $2.99 bottle of Fiji water will set you back 430 miles. That means that if you were to treat your family (of 5) in such a fashion with the items listed, you will be out just under 18,000 miles. For one meal. At an airport. Using airline miles.
To put it in perspective, if you received those United miles by transferring them from your Ultimate Rewards account, you could have instead transferred them to British Airways and received a one-way, short-haul award ticket on American Airlines instead of a $30 airport meal! If you really want to use your miles for food and drinks at airports on a regular basis, you would probably be better served by burning 65,000 miles for a United Club membership. Granted, they are not going to be serving you salmon dishes, but at least you can get something to eat and drink each time!
Undoubtedly, people will taken United up on this – and I hope they do! The more people that
waste use their miles in fashions such as this should balance out the value we all get from our United miles and will hopefully stave off more devaluations, at least for a while. United is definitely invested in this as they are distributing 6,000 iPads for this specific ordering purpose. Please, just don’t ever do this!