Buy United MileagePlus miles with an up to 75% bonus: flash sale until Friday

How to buy United miles for cheap Star Alliance Business & First Class flights

GUIDE: Buying Points
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 6 minutes
POSTED: September 7, 2017
UPDATED: September 26, 2017
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: United MileagePlus

United Airlines’ frequent flyer program MileagePlus is offering an up to 75% bonus on miles purchases until 29 September, which is good for cheap Star Alliance redemptions to Asia and beyond.

This guide covers MileagePlus’s redemption opportunities and shows how deals like this are good for First and Business Class travel to Asia.

Do note that MileagePlus is devaluing its award chart effective 1 November.

If you do have a specific redemption in mind (which really should be the only time you buy miles anyway), whether for travel before or after the devaluation, as long as you book the ticket before it comes into effect, you’ll access the cheaper rate.

An example redemption

Based on the lowest price available in this promotion, you can fly First Class between Australia and South or Southeast Asia for $860 USD + taxes.

For 40,000 MileagePlus miles, Point Hacks Managing Editor Matt just last week completed one-way First Class redemption on THAI from Hong Kong to Sydney with a four-hour stopover in Bangkok and complimentary one-hour massage in the Royal Orchard Spa.

THAI 747 First Class, flying between Sydney and Bangkok

His taxes were ~$60 AUD, making the total cost of this redemption just over $1000 AUD, less than a third of the cost of the retail fare – that’s great value for 12 hours in the air and an excellent experience on the ground.

Note that this sweet-spot redemption will increase to 65,000 miles after the devaluation.

Buy United MileagePlus miles with an up to 75% bonus: flash sale until Friday was last modified: September 26th, 2017 by Todd

The current United Airlines ‘buy miles’ promotion

This promotion is tiered, meaning each member may have different bonuses but everyone should get a 75% bonus for purchases over 30,000 miles.

Here are the tiers Matt received:

  • 5,000 to 19,000 miles: 25% bonus
  • 20,000 to 29,000 miles: 50% bonus
  • 30,000 to 85,000 miles: 75% bonus

Buying the maximum 85,000 MileagePlus miles would yield a total of 148,750 MileagePlus miles including the bonus for $3,198.13 USD including taxes, equating to a cost of ~2.15 USD cents per mile.

The maximum number of miles you can buy per year is 150,000, including those offered as part of a bonus promotion.

Offer history

DateDiscount/BonusNotes
September 2017up to 75% bonuscurrent offer, flash sale
July-September 2017up to 100% bonus
July 2017up to 67% bonus
June 2017up to 75% bonus
May 2017up to 50% bonus
March 2017up to 75% bonus
February 2017up to 67% bonus
August 2016up to 67% bonus
July 2016up to 100% bonus
February 2016up to 75% bonus
December 2015up to 100% bonus
November 2015up to 80% bonuspossibly targeted
October 2015up to 80% bonus
September 2015up to 75% bonus
17 August 2015up to 50% discountend of summer sale
11 August 2015save 20% on transfer miles
28 July 2015up to 50% bonusflash sale
6 July 2015up to 30% discount
June 2015up to 30% discount
April 2015up to 30% discount
March 201520%, 30% or 50%mystery offer
February 2015up to 30% discount

Example uses of United Mileage Plus miles

Flights to/from Australia on the MileagePlus award chart are costed as follows:

DestinationCabinCurrent pricingNew pricing (from 1 November 2017)
New ZealandBusiness Class30,000 miles25,000 miles
OceaniaBusiness Class40,000 miles40,000 miles
South AsiaBusiness Class30,000 miles50,000 miles
First Class40,000 miles65,000 miles
North AsiaBusiness Class40,000 miles55,000 miles
First Class50,000 miles75,000 miles
JapanBusiness Class40,000 miles50,000 miles
First Class60,000 miles65,000 miles

Guide to buying and redeeming United Airlines Mileage Plus miles

With the cheaper airlines spending their ad budgets to follow you around the internet, you may begin to think that your only gateway to the kingdoms of the East will ensue hard seats, leg cramps and a deliciously hot, plastic-wrapped container labelled ‘gourmet chicken’. Or, perhaps you ponder ‘maybe there is a better way?’

United Airlines aren’t regarded as one of the world’s best airlines — far from it. My wife and I flew from Singapore to Hong Kong in their First Class cabin and it was, well, nice but that was it.

It wasn’t out of this world (like the Singapore Airlines Suites Class), or even a warm and delightful experience like THAI Business Class. However, this isn’t a guide about flying United Airlines, rather it’s a guide to using United Airlines miles to fly on their three strategic partners in our region — Singapore Airlines, THAI and Air New Zealand.

Transfer, bonus and discount miles

The cynical part of me wants to say that airlines try to confuse people with a bait and switch of good promotions with bad promotions. Maybe this is true, maybe it’s not. What is certain is that they run a lot of promotions and they vary greatly in value. Let’s look at the three types and how they work.

Transfer miles – When you can transfer miles from one account to another (like a partner or friend) and you get a discount on the transfer price. This can have it’s own benefits but we’ll leave it out of the analysis for this article.

Bonus Miles – When you buy a certain number of miles and you get some percentage extra, usually tiered where the more you buy the higher percentage you get.

Discount Miles – When you buy a certain number of miles at a discount – it becomes cheaper than if you bought them during a non-promotion period.

The biggest mistake you can make is accidentally thinking that a 50% bonus promotion is the same as a 50% discount promotion. I’ve been caught out on this before and paid much more than I should have.

To be clear, only 100% bonus is equal to a 50% discount promotion. That is you are buying 2 for 1 at normal rates or paying half the price for the number of miles you need.

The Star Alliance region-based award chart

Different airline mileage programs work differently. Some like Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Velocity offer a ‘distance-based’ award. This means that each trip fits into a distance ‘bucket’. Sure enough, most places fit just inside the more expensive bucket than you would like — the loyalty programs are operated at a huge profit.

However, United Mileage Plus (and others) use a location-based (sometimes called a distance-based) award chart. That is, that Australia to South Asia is the same price, regardless of city.

If you’re looking to explore the closest neighbours to Australia/New Zealand there are only three things to remember:

  • Australia and New Zealand are in the same area
  • ‘Oceania’ covers all of the Pacific Islands
  • ‘South Asia’ covers the main hubs of Singapore and Bangkok and will finish west at Bangladesh (but not India) and north up to Hong Kong. China, South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia and Japan are not included in this and are a little more expensive.

The full United award chart can be found here.

Skip Page 2 and head straight down to the ‘Star Alliance/Partner Awards Chart’ on Page 3.

You can also look into Upgrade Awards — those where you have purchased a ticket and use your United Miles to upgrade the ticket. There are strategies to take advantage of the upgrade awards but in my experience, there are too many moving parts for most people’s travel hacking appetite. Aim for full award tickets but in the ‘saver’ category for best value.

Purchasing and booking

You can buy a maximum of 150,000 Mileage Plus miles per account, per year. If you need to cancel or change your booking, you’ll be in for a fee of between $75 and $125 USD, depending on how close the change/cancellation is to your departure date. Full details of change fees here.

Researching award availability – as you should do before you purchase any miles – can easily be done over at united.com, with United’s own site being one of the best in which to look for Star Alliance award availability.

Flight availability and ‘Saver Awards’

When you hack a $2000+ fare for less than $800 you might need to negotiate something. Flexibility. Unfortunately, it can be common that the destination you want to go to, at the time when you want to go is simply unavailable. This happens.

United Mileage Plus has ‘Saver’ and ‘Standard’ (changing to ‘Everyday’ from 1 November 2017) Award tickets. As you can imagine, it costs more as you progress past ‘Saver’. A word of advice: only ever book ‘Saver’ award tickets unless you are in a situation with a lot of points and you must fly on certain dates.

If you search in Asia, United will only show you THAI, Air China and United Airlines. They also can offer you Singapore Airlines but don’t show this online so when you’re researching, ensure you give them a call to confirm if there is a Singapore Airlines flight on the day you want to book. They do have a phone booking fee and can be a little pushy to try lock you in.

Firstly, if they tell you about a flight that wasn’t online, tell them you don’t want to pay the fee because you would have chosen this flight online if they showed it – their fault, not yours. Secondly, if they try and make you commit, feel free to say you have to speak to your partner/lawyer/dog before you commit.

My First Class hack

A ‘First Class Saver’ fare from Singapore to Sydney (via Bangkok) is 40,000 points per person (increasing to 65,000 miles from 1 November 2017.) However UA has an unofficial policy that if there isn’t availability for all legs of the trip in the desired class, you get a reduction in the points required. In our case, it was 35,000 points.

A word of warning: when booking it will tell you if part of the trip is flown economy or business (if booking first class). You will find that this trip will cost 35,000 points even if you fly economy from Sydney to Bangkok and then first class to Singapore. If this was business/first it would be okay…but economy wouldn’t be worth it.

Our trip was Singapore – Brisbane (Sydney was unavailable for the dates we needed) and we had two choices:

  • Singapore – Bangkok – Brisbane (Business for all legs)
  • Singapore – Hong Kong (First) – Bangkok (First) – Brisbane (Business)

UA Example Map

If we were travelling with kids then maybe the additional stop in Hong Kong wouldn’t be an ideal transit, however, we managed to fly on the United First Class, Thai Airways A380 First Class (wow!) and finally a Thai Airways Business Class back to Australia.

Adding the extra flight to Hong Kong was only an extra 5,000 points per person, and we had two first class flights replacing a single business class flight. Why not?

For two people, this entire flight cost 70,000 points + $100 USD, and I bought those points for $1,446 AUD.

Expert tips

When you first buy miles there is a chance that you might have the transaction blocked or ‘on hold’ until they verify your account. The email I received said: ‘Please note that because your account is new, a member of our corporate security team may contact you to verify the order.’ A quick email fixed the problem.

With this disruption during my first United points purchase I accidentally purchased the wrong number of miles — only enough for myself and not for my wife. Whoops.

Unfortunately, the program had ended and there was no more discount. I emailed United Airlines ([email protected]) and explained that I meant to buy 80,000 miles instead of 40,000 (total) and that I’d like to take advantage of the discount because they blocked my transaction. No problems here, they let me make another purchase as an honoured the discount.

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Buy United MileagePlus miles with an up to 75% bonus: flash sale until Friday was last modified: September 26th, 2017 by Todd

Supplementary images courtesy respective airlines and frequent flyer programs.

Buy United MileagePlus miles with an up to 75% bonus: flash sale until Friday was last modified: September 26th, 2017 by Todd