United: the More People Who Get Snookered into a Bad Buy Miles Deal, the Less Bad it Gets

This is, I suppose, United’s attempt to raise money by being ‘social’. But the Groupon phenomenon of getting your customers to make your offers go viral in order to be eligible for an exciting offer (“The Deal is On!”) seems so two years ago.

Through October 19 you earn a minimum of 30% bonus when purchasing miles from United, but the more people who buy the higher your bonus will get – up to 60%.

Here’s the chart showing how many people buying into the offer it takes to yield each level of higher bpnus:

As of this writing, 27 people have made purchases. But they dropped an email to a large member file, they do have about 90 million members, I imagine they can find 4000 people to buy most anything.

At a 30% bonus, miles cost about 2.9 cents apiece. That’s way over what I’d consider reasonable unless a very small number of miles are needed to top off towards a specific award that you plan to redeem right away.

At a 60%, miles still cost about 2.2 cents apiece.

I’m even on the fence at 1.8 cents per mile from US Airways when they’re running a 100% bonus, I much prefer the penny and a half from AviancaTaca which can be combined with an even lower per-mile cost through their cash and points awards. And routing rules aside, United, US Airways, and AviancaTaca as Star Alliance members have access to essentially the same inventory. There are different sweet spots on the award charts of each, of course.

Even at the maximium 60% bonus if 4000 people get pulled into this offer, I’m not a buyer.

United allows purchase of up to 100,000 miles per account per calendar year, and while the initial purchased miles will post within 48 hours the bonus miles post 7 days after the end of the promotion.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Such a bad deal in general considering US Airways promotion on sharing miles with 100% bonus ends this month ( at 1.1 cent per mile)

  2. Agree that buying miles in general is bad. That said, each of the Star Alliance airlines book slightly different than the rest with different sweet spots. The value of any miles purchase really depends on the market value of the trip taken with the miles. The value can range from about -1 times purchase price (you lost money there) to 3 times purchase price.

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