United Airlines’ frequent flyer programme MileagePlus is offering a 30-85% bonus on miles purchases until 11 December US time. They can be used for cheaper Star Alliance redemptions to Asia and beyond.
This is an above average price for United miles.
It must be noted that buying MileagePlus miles for travel on United itself is no longer good value. That’s because MileagePlus has introduced dynamic pricing for travel on United from 15 November 2019. Therefore, the best-value redemptions for MileagePlus miles are for travel on their Star Alliance partners, for whom pricing has not changed (though there is now a small mileage surcharge for flights booking within an immediate 30 day window).
This guide covers MileagePlus’s redemption opportunities and shows how deals like this are good for First and Business Class travel to Asia.
An example redemption
One of the best uses of United MileagePlus miles from New Zealand is to fly Air New Zealand Business Class to Japan for only 50,000 miles one-way.
If you are departing from Auckland, you’ll enjoy complimentary access to Air New Zealand’s International Koru Lounge.
The current United Airlines ‘buy miles’ promotion
The promotion I’ve been offered is tiered as follows:
- 5,000 to 19,000 miles: 30% bonus
- 20,000 to 34,000 miles: 50% bonus
- 35,000 to 94,000 miles: 85% bonus
Buying the maximum 94,000 MileagePlus miles would yield a total of 173,900 miles including the bonus for US$3,536.75 (includes taxes), equating to a cost of ~US 2.03 cents per mile.
The maximum number of miles you can buy per year was recently boosted to 175,000, 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.
|November 2019||100||highest, four-day flash sale|
|September 2019||100||highest, one-day flash sale|
|September - October 2018||70|
|April 2018||70||Better value than 75% bonus, due to drop in price of miles|
|November 2015||80||possibly targeted|
|March 2015||50||mystery offer|
Example uses of United MileagePlus 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) and Japan||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 (until Mid-November 19)
|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 — Air China, Thai Airways and Air New Zealand (noting that Singapore Airlines flights cannot currently be booked).
The Star Alliance region-based award chart
Different airline mileage programmes work differently. Some like Air New Zealand Airpoints, 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 programmes are operated at a huge profit.
However, United MileagePlus uses a location-based award chart for Star Alliance partner flights. 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, Guam and French Polynesia
- ‘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’.
The full United award chart for partner redemptions can be found here, in interactive form.
From 15 November 2019, United no longer have a published award chart for flights on their own metal.
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 175,000 MileagePlus miles per account, per year.
If you book within 30 days of departure, you will incur a small miles surcharge on top of the ordinary redemption amount. Make sure to take this into account when planning ahead.
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 MileagePlus 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 online for flights in Asia, United will show you THAI, Air China, Singapore Airlines (sometimes), 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 as an honoured the discount.
As always, it only makes sense to buy miles (in any program) when you have a specific redemption in mind and have found award availability.
If so, then buying United miles for travel on one of their partners could be of value. However, pricing for travel on United itself is dynamically-priced.
It is worth taking a minute to see if Avianca LifeMiles is offering a bonus, or checking the Air New Zealand’s partner reward chart, to see if purchasing Airpoints Dollars outright may offer better value.
Not yet a member of United MileagePlus? Sign up for free here.
Supplementary images courtesy respective airlines and frequent flyer programmes.