Buy miles in bulk and get elite status from United


United Airlines is upping the game in selling miles at a bulk rate and they’re now including a few other incentives, too. The latest email I received from them is offering the opportunity to purchase up to 1,000,000 miles in a single transaction. Yup, a million miles. And, as an added bonus, it includes a one-year United Club membership and Platinum Elite status for the 2013 program year. There are other options available, too, for smaller purchases:

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These miles are meant to be used for recognition of employees or as gifts to others, not for personal consumption and not for resale. There is a max of 100,000 gifted to any account in a given year and all purchased miles must be distributed within the year or they are lost. The idea is that the sponsor buying the large block of miles gets a bit of a bonus for themselves while also getting the miles to give away. Not a bad idea, really, but the price point is still a bit steep, especially given that the Mileage Accelerator program sells points at a lower rate pretty reliably, even figuring in the 25% discount option.

At the end of the day, just another way the airlines are working to make money selling their most valuable product: points.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

14 Comments

  1. $37K is not at all a bad price if you work the system correctly. That’s six-ish F awards to Asia, off the top of my head. Go the long way at 140K each and stop in Europe while flying the international partner as opposed to UA metal, and you’re well under the retail cost of those tickets, and probably below the cost of accruing the miles even with credit card help.

    1. It is relatively easy to buy points direct from United at a much better rate than that, Copa. Yeah, it is likely that the awards will get the flights at less than retail, assuming you can find inventory which is rather challenging for F seats on partners especially. But even with that flexibility the fact that I can buy points at 2.1 cents each directly from United. Why would I buy them at 3+ cents each instead??

  2. Given the restriction that you can only give away 100,000mi per person and that they expire in 1yr, this is a pretty awful deal.

    If you could straight-out buy for yourself and there was no expiration attached, one could potentially stretch the redemptions to make it an at-cost deal.

    1. The expiry only applies to when you have to grant them out to a recipient. Once granted they are valid the same as any other points in a member account.

      And you can still buy outright in larger quantities at 30%+ lower rates than this. It is a bad deal. I only posted about it to show the creativity the carriers are coming up with to sell points, not to suggest that anyone buy it.

  3. It’s pretty obvious the niche they are going for… a manager with no status with a spare $10k in budget lying around who has 5 employees that he wants to give spot bonuses to in the form of miles (e.g. “you’ve been working hard during this long project, you all deserve a vacation, here’s 50k miles).

    Manager makes employees happy, gets silver status for himself.

    Now, any employee would obviously prefer the $2k in cash, but they probably would have little idea the cost to obtain the miles. If I randomly got 50k miles from my boss, I’d wonder where they came from, but I wouldn’t feel entitled to say “give me the cash instead”.

    It’s a niche play by United. I doubt they’ll sell much, but I can see them selling a few at the silver level.

  4. You are buying the miles at a premium to get the status which could help you down the road.

    Seems like a good idea from United. I don’t know when they started this promo or if it’s ongoing. Seems like something that should be released in November or December when managers are looking to pad the budget.

  5. I can buy 30K RDMs for $630 plus 30K PQMs for $2550. Then 45,000 additional RDMs cost $945. I need 5 of those to get a total of 255K RDMs and 30K PQMs. The total cost there is $7925 and I have 30K PQMs to work with, not just silver status with zero PQMs in my account. Or you could pay $9400 with this deal.

    If you are looking at it for personal gain this is a bad deal. Very, very bad.

    Also, don’t forget that a bonus paid in cash to an employee is taxable while a gift of miles is tax-free. That does skew the value proposition a bit in this sort of thing if it is used as intended to reward customers.

  6. Been there done that analysis, but not for 1 yr of Gold.
    For that money LT Plat on AA was doable in 2011 for 2.
    I would think a much better use of money for a lifetime of status if one got started early enough.

  7. Seth, in an apples-to-apples you aren’t really buying RDMs at that price (2.1 cents) since there is a cost of acquisition — the actual airfare for each transaction. Granted there are sneaky ways around that but in a fair-to-fair comparison this likely looks much different because there is no apparent acquisition cost on the million miles other than the single transaction cost.

    1. It is incredibly trivial to buy miles in bulk at the discounted price, Randy. For the people looking to buy in bulk that is actually the only way to get that many; you cannot purchase more that 100,000 directly without the loophole.

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