United Airlines’ frequent flyer program MileagePlus is offering an up to 70% bonus on miles purchases until 2 May, which can be used for cheaper Star Alliance redemptions to Asia and beyond.
We’ve also picked up that the cost per mile has also dropped, so this sale actually works out to be better value than the last one which was a 75% bonus.
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 devalued its award chart in late 2017.
An example redemption
Based on the lowest price available in this promotion, you can fly Business Class between New Zealand and Southeast Asia for $1,128.75 USD + taxes.
For 50,000 MileagePlus miles, you could make a one-way Business Class redemption on Singapore Airlines from Wellington to Singapore with a 1.5 hour layover in Canberra (or Melbourne come May 2018).
Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class. Photo courtesy of Citizens of the World.
The taxes on this route are about ~$140 NZD, making the total cost of this redemption around $1700 NZD. A one-way ticket on this route retails at about $2,720, so purchasing miles would save you about $1,000, not accounting for loss of mileage earn from a paid ticket.
The current United Airlines ‘buy miles’ promotion
This promotion is tiered, meaning each member may have different bonuses. Here are the tiers Point Hacks Team Member Daniel received:
- 5,000 to 14,000 miles: 25% bonus
- 15,000 to 29,000 miles: 50% bonus
- 30,000 to 88,000 miles: 70% bonus
Buying the maximum 88,000 MileagePlus miles would yield a total of 149,600 MileagePlus miles including the bonus for $3,311.00 USD including taxes, equating to a cost of ~2.21 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.
Note: United MileagePlus miles expire after 18 months of inactivity in your account, make sure to keep your account active by earning/redeeming miles regularly.
|April 2018 (current offer)||70||Better value than 75% bonus, due to drop in price of miles|
|February 2018 (current offer)||75|
|November 2015||80||possibly targeted|
|March 2015||50||mystery offer|
Example uses of United Mileage Plus miles
Business Class flights to/from New Zealand on the United award chart are priced as follows:
|Australia||Business Class||25,000 miles|
|Oceania||Business Class||40,000 miles|
|South Asia (including Hong Kong)||Business Class||50,000 miles|
|First Class||65,000 miles|
|North Asia||Business Class||55,000 miles|
|First Class||75,000 miles|
|North America inc. Alaska |
and Canada on United Airlines
|Business Class||80,000 miles|
The miles above are one-way, per person, not including taxes/fees.
Guide to buying and redeeming United Airlines MileagePlus 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 labeled ‘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 Airways 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 Airways 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, including Air New Zealand for Star Alliance Awards) use a location-based (sometimes called a distance-based) award chart. That is, that New Zealand to South Asia is the same price, regardless of city.
If you’re looking to explore the closest neighbours to 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, including places further afield like Palau and Guam
- ‘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 and Mongolia are not included in this and are a little more expensive. Japan strangely enough is the same price as ‘South Asia’.
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 US$75 – $125, 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 $3000+ fare for less than $1500 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 ‘Everyday’ 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 online, United will show you THAI, Air China, Singapore Airlines (via Wellington), and Air New Zealand.
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 promotion 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, while honouring the discount.
Supplementary images courtesy respective airlines and frequent flyer programs.