MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program run by Star Alliance member United Airlines. In this guide, we will take a look at the opportunities for Australian based frequent flyers (or anyone for that matter) when it comes to buying United miles.
United Airlines, among many others, sells frequent flyer miles to its program MileagePlus. From time to time they even run a sale which presents an excellent opportunity for savvy travellers.
Buy United miles for cheap business/first class flights
Here's how: buy United miles during a sale and redeem them for business or first class flights on any (except Singapore Airlines for the time being) of the Star Alliance network partners (we're NOT talking about upgrades but rather, outright redemptions).
Essentially you're buying premium class tickets at highly discounted prices by using your miles to book them.
Current United Buy Miles Promo – 100% Bonus Flash Sale (Ends September 10)
Right now you can buy miles for United with a 100% bonus until September 10, 2019. This flash sale is the best bonus United offers on purchasing miles.
The current offer works in tiers, here's how many miles you need to buy to access each bonus tier:
- Buy 5,000-14,000 miles, get a 40% bonus
- Buy 15,000-39,000 miles, get a 60% bonus
- Buy 40,000+ miles, get a 100% bonus
If you plan to max out this bonus during the flash sale, you can get a total of 175,000 miles for US$3,292.19. This means you're paying 1.88 cents ($US) per mile/point.
Update: This offer looks like it's targeted to accounts with a USA based address. If you want to get around this restriction you can simply open a new account.
How To Buy United Mileage Plus Miles
United Airlines sell miles via this website (although it's managed by points.com – who handle most of the airline's mileage sales). When there's no sale on, buying miles doesn't make sense unless you're just a few short.
The minimum amount you can buy is 2,000 miles, and the annual limit is set at 175,000 miles which includes any bonuses. If you have a United account you're eligible to purchase miles; there are no waiting periods like you encounter buying Alaska Airlines miles. However, bonus points can be targeted from time to time so when a sale is on, check if you're eligible for a better offer here.
United runs promos every 2-3 months, and the highest offer we've seen is 100% bonus miles.
How To Redeem United Miles
United Airlines has one of the best websites to search and book awards. Savvy frequent flyers often use the United Website when researching award space with other programs so booking an award flight is pretty straight forward. Since United is a Star Alliance member, you will be able to book flights on member airlines except for Singapore Airlines (for the time being). In addition to the Star Alliance partners, United also partners with Eurowings, Azul and Aer Lingus which might be handy for some.
Keep in mind that not all routes offer great value so make sure you research the cost before buying any miles.
United award seat types
United Airlines offers 2 types of outright redemption rates. What I mean by outright redemptions is that you don't use points to upgrade but rather redeem a "free" (you still need to pay for taxes) flight using your miles.
This is the ideal redemption level since it's the lowest price you will pay by using your miles. Saver Awards are also harder to find since only a limited amount get released on each flight.
These types of awards are a lot more expensive and might not make financial sense, especially when you're using purchased miles. Personally, I would avoid them, but they are more readily available compared to Saver Awards.
Avoid these redemptions
When you're buying miles, the last thing you want to do is redeem them for less than what they are worth or at a break-even price. Therefore you should always compare outright cash fares vs the cost of purchasing points. When buying outright cash fares, you will also earn miles and status credits so factor this into your calculation. In most cases, redeeming your miles for economy class is a bad choice, unless economy cash prices for your particular dates are insanely high (this can happen during certain events like a sports match for example)
|Star Alliance Partners||United Partners|
|Adria (Slovenia)||Aer Lingus (Ireland)|
|Aegean (Greece)||Aeromar (Mexico)|
|Air Canada||Air Dolomiti (Italy)|
|Air China||Azul Brazilian Airlines|
|Air India||Cape Air (U.S.A. regional carrier)|
|ANA (All Nippon Airways, Japan)||Edelweiss (Switzerland)|
|Asiana Airlines (South Korea)||Eurowings (Germany)|
|Austrian Airlines||Great Lakes Airlines|
|Avianca (Brazil)||Hawaiian Airlines|
|Brussels Airlines||Silver Airways (Florida)|
|Copa Airlines (Panama)|
|EVA Air (Taiwan)|
|LOT Polish Airlines|
|SAS (Scandinavian Airlines)|
|Shenzhen Airlines (China)|
|South African Airways|
|Swiss International Airlines|
|TAP Air Portugal|
|Thai Airways International|
Best redemptions for Australian/Asian Based Frequent Flyers
United Airlines uses a region based award chart. This means award prices aren't calculated based on the actual distance but rather the pre-defined zones. United has a handy interactive map which can quickly show you the amount but at the time of writing it's still displaying the old award prices (which are cheaper than the new ones) so it's not ideal to rely on: https://www.united.com/web/en-US/apps/mileageplus/awards/travel/awardTravel.aspx
- Australia to Japan: 50,000 miles one way + taxes
- Australia to South Asia: 50,000 miles one way + in taxes
- Australia to China: 55,000 miles one way + taxes
- Australia to Europe: 90,000 miles one way + taxes
- Australia to North America (East and West Coast): 80,000 miles one way + taxes
- Australia to Canada: 90,000 miles one way + taxes
- Sydney to Bangkok First Class: 65,000 + taxes
- Sydney to Hawaii via Japan one way: 60,000 + taxes
United Mileage Plus Conclusion
United Airline's frequent flyer program is definitely one to keep in mind, especially when there's a high bonus sale on offer. However, it's always worth checking revenue airfare prices as sometimes it's actually cheaper than buying miles. For example, you could buy a return first class ticket from Sydney to Bangkok with Thai Airways for $4708, the same ticket with purchased miles would cost you $4989 when you factor in the taxes and cost of buying United miles.
If you're flying from Australia's East Coast, you can often find a reasonable price, especially to Japan. Considering retail airfares in business class usually go for around $7,000 return, by buying United miles you could score the same ticket for half the price or even less when there's a 100% bonus sale on offer.