Bulk-buy United miles for huge savings on business, first class flights

By Chris Chamberlin, June 21 2017
Bulk-buy United miles for huge savings on business, first class flights

UPDATE | A new United Airlines 'buy miles' promotion is underway, giving bonuses of up to 75% on MileagePlus purchases through 2:59pm (Sydney time) on July 4 2017 which can then be redeemed for travel on Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, United Airlines and other Star Alliance members.

Buying 5,000-24,000 miles comes with a 35% bonus, while buying 25,000-85,000 miles attracts the full 75% boost.

Your best option for buying in bulk? Pick up 80,000 miles (rather than the full 85,000 miles) at a cost of US$3,010 (A$3,975), delivered with 60,000 bonus miles on top (your 75% bonus) for a total haul of 140,000 United miles.

That's precisely enough for a return first class trip from Sydney to Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong with Thai Airways (80,000 miles), plus a return business class trip to the same destinations with Thai Airways or Singapore Airlines (60,000 miles): two trips up the front for less than you'd pay for one at retail prices, although be prepared to cover taxes and fees of $50-100 per flight when booking using real money.

Or, if you're happy to fly business class on both return flights, you can save some cash by buying a smaller 69,000 miles instead, with 51,750 bonus miles on the side at a total cost of US$2,596 (A$3,429): churning out 120,750 miles in total: more than enough for those two business class return trips.

Just a tip: while business class redemptions are indeed possible on selected Singapore Airlines flights (telephone booking required), look to Thai Airways for first class bookings between Australia and Asia as these aren't available via SQ.

The article below, while written around a previous 25-40% discount promotion, explains more about the process of buying and using United MileagePlus Miles to book flights across the Star Alliance.

PREVIOUS | Want to fly from Australia to Bangkok in Thai Airways' first class cabin for $2,000? How about business class to Singapore with Singapore Airlines for around $1,600, or Sydney to New York for less than $4,000?

Those are some of the amazing deals you can line up courtesy of United Airlines' latest promotional sale of MileagePlus frequent flyer miles.

UA is putting MileagePlus points on the block at massively discounted rates which, when redeemed on award flights with UA or any of its Star Alliance partners, deliver a saving of between 50-70% over regular ticket prices.

But you'll have to move fast: United's promotion closes at 5pm on Tuesday February 18, EST (that's midnight February 17 in UA's home base of Chicago).

So what’s the deal?

Purchase anywhere from 15,000 to 39,000 United miles and you’ll receive a 25% cash discount on the usual asking price.

Pony up for 40,000 to 150,000 miles and the savings escalate to 40%.

(And as UA won't let you buy more than 150,000 miles per calendar year, you may as well max out and grab all of those points while you can.)

Those rates are good enough on their own, but when coupled with the recent Mileage Plus redemption rate improvements for Aussies heading abroad you'll land some incredible discounts at the pointy end – if you know where to look, of course!

While you'll still need to cough up a reasonably small amount for taxes and surcharges, the overall savings from bulk-buying  MileagePlus miles under this promotion speak for themselves.

Here are our five top picks for using your haul of newly-acquired UA miles.

Australia to North America

United Airlines offers one-way redemptions from Australia to anywhere in the United States for 70,000 Mileage Plus miles in business class and 80,000 in first class.

Although that annual purchase cap of 150,000 miles prevents you from buying enough miles for a return journey in first class, you can pocket 140,000 miles for around US$3,160 – enough for a return trip between Sydney and New York in UA business class (below).

$4,000 for Sydney-New York in business class? That'll do nicely...
$4,000 for Sydney-New York in business class? That'll do nicely...

How do those prices stack up against United's regular pricing? Flying that same Sydney-New York business class return trip in May would set you back A$5,558, which is just shy of US$5,000 – so you'll pocket a cool $2,000 by trading your cash for miles and redeeming them for the same flight.

Also read: United upgrades Sydney, Melbourne flights to Boeing 777s in April

Within the USA

International-grade travel between Los Angeles or San Francisco and New York is also yours for a song on United's transcontinental 'p.s' flights, which boast fully lie-flat seats and 16 inch video screens in UA's BusinessFirst cabin (below).

One-way ‘Saver Award’ redemptions are priced at 25,000 miles in BusinessFirst, so under the MileagePlus promotion the 50,000 miles needed for a return flight would cost US$1,129.

Compared to United's asking price of US$3,572 for a BusinessFirst fare in May, that’s a saving of nearly 70%!

If you'd rather conserve those miles for the long trek between Australia and the USA, you could book an economy seat on the same UA service for 12,500 miles.

Of course, you've got hundreds of other domestic UA routes to choose from. If you regularly do business in the USA we'd suggest seriously stocking up on MileagePlus points ahead of your next trips.

Also read: United Airlines set for US transcon turf war with American, JetBlue, Delta

Australia to Singapore

Closer to home you can use your MileagePlus miles to book some amazing fares with UA partner Singapore Airlines.

A one-way trip from Australia to Singapore with Singapore Airlines is costed at 17,500 miles in economy and 30,000 in business – though you won't be able to luxe it up in a first class suite on SQ's Airbus A380, as these redemptions aren't typically available to MileagePlus users.

As such, US$1,354 sees you settled very comfortably in business class.

These same flights would usually cost around A$4,262 in business on a return journey, using dates in May.

The only catch is that you'll need to call United Airlines to make these particular redemptions, as SQ award seats are not available online.

Australia to Thailand

The same mileage purchase and redemption rates above apply for business class flights between Australia and Thailand.

If you'd rather stump for first class, that's 40,000 miles each way, so US$1,806 would buy enough miles for a return journey in first class.

These same flights would usually cost around AU$5,605 in first class and AU$4,262 in business (using dates in May) – again, a considerable saving over the retail fare.

Based on travel in May, first class on Thai Airways from Sydney to Bangkok would usually set you back A$5,708, with business class (below) hitting A$3,997.

The cost to you if you splurge right now on discounted MileagePlus points? Around A$2,000 for first class return and $1,500 in business class.

Australia to South Africa

Star Alliance member South African Airways flies daily between Perth and Johannesburg, with one-way redemptions available for 85,000 MileagePlus miles in business class and 50,000 miles in economy.

Although you won’t be able to buy enough miles for a round trip in business, this might be an option to consider if you already have at least 20,000 miles in the kitty.

On that basis you’ll be able to grow your balance to 170,000 miles for US$3,386 – enough to take that business class trip. With the cheapest return business class fare showing at AU$5,052 in May, it’s a great find.

But before you buy...

As with any reward program, award availability is never guaranteed on specific flights. It tends to help if you’re a little flexible on dates or have the time to take an indirect flight.

To sidestep this, United’s website can be used to search for flight awards on specific dates before you have the necessary number of miles sitting in your account – so if you can only travel on a particular date, you’ll be able to check that an award is available before shelling out for the miles.

Also, if you’re aiming to attain or retain your Star Alliance Gold or Silver status, be mindful that flights booked with miles won’t count towards your Premier qualifying miles or qualifying segments under the Mileage Plus program.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter – we're @AusBT

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 743

Please note that the chances of *actually* getting suites-class availability on a Singapore A380 using United miles are Buckley's. 

Thai availability is pretty good. Singapore availability on their "regional" planes is good. But A380 suites are almost always blocked off.

25 Jun 2012

Total posts 54

Also something of worth to note is that united release very little premium seats on the Australia - USA route, and getting decent connections through Asia using star alliance can be tricky. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Oct 2013

Total posts 93

Are we talking about limited dates available for award seats, or limited in the sense that seats get snatched up quickly? Was about to book a flight to LAX on QF soon but for savings as much as this I might give UA a try, but now quite discouraged if chances of redemption are slim...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Nov 2011

Total posts 123

If you're going to buy miles and use it towards award travel as discounted first/business, then you'd be better off buying US Airways DM. They're officially liquidating *A inventory...

bmc
bmc

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

22 Aug 2013

Total posts 172

Hugo, is SQ A380 business class generally available?

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 743

Nope, it's just as unavailable.

The "regional" business class (on the A330 and the 777-non-ER) is very comfortable for a daytime flight, mind you, and availabilty on these is quite frequent (at least out of MEL, not sure about the mix of planes going to other cities, but here we get two "long-haul" and two "regional" SQ flights a day because SQ can't decide how far away we are.)

14 Sep 2013

Total posts 14

How does buying miles this way stack up compared if I book a USDM redemption and then buy UA miles using the accelerator feature??

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

16 Aug 2013

Total posts 8

Will the miles required for these flights continue to be the same?

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

29 Jan 2011

Total posts 159

I was under the impression that UA miles couldn't be redeemed for SQ flights in business or in first class that were operated by A380's or 777-300ER's.

Can someone confirm if this is the case?

11 Mar 2012

Total posts 182

This is a largely misleading article through which Ausbt is trying to draw crowds to their website. SQ F is off limits to other Star Alliance partners, and availability in business is only possible within 14 days. Do NOT buy United MP miles.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

29 Jan 2011

Total posts 159

That's pretty much what I thought was the case with SQ and partner redemptions on their flights.

Mal
Mal

14 Jun 2013

Total posts 360

Edy4eva: please point out the parts of this article that are mislead? The article points out that you cannot get SQ F at least on the A380, and if "and availability in business is only possible within 14 days", well that doesn't make the article misleading in any way at all. I actually found it very useful, especially for TG to BKK because that's a route I expect to be doing a few times in Q2 due to a project I have going on there. So this article has actually saved me a LOT of money!

These flights will not be mileage accruable?

Seems like a waste not to go the whole hog, especially when you're paying $4,000 plus to fly to North America. Think of all thoes points you would have gained had you purchased a ticket outright. It could lock you into Argean Gold for the next three years.

11 Mar 2012

Total posts 182

These are redemption flights. The only program that had a backdoor to it was BMI Diamond Club where it was possible to retro claim on a redemption (some argue it was the reason it ran into losses). And who cares about status or mileage accural when you could in theory fly that cheap in business for that low?!

That's my point though. It's not that cheap in the scheme of things. Seems a waste. Would be worthwhile to use point ex AU then purchase return Business class back to AU, i.e. You'll always have a flight out of AU and by pass the higher prices here.

AlG
AlG

04 Nov 2010

Total posts 674

I read this with interest because I've started flying semi-regularly to Singapore this year for business, and using SQ mainly because of of their choice of flights and because they are a Virgin Australia partner and a few years ago I switched all my domestic flying from QF to VA. Problem is that their business class is great and better than QF to Singapore but expensive but unlike Qantas SQ doesn't have premium economy so I end up in economy.

So the idea of 'bulk buying' UA miles to trade on low-cost SQ J seats really caught my eye, but people saying you can't get J on SQ using redemtpion threw me.

I entered into Google "Can I redeem UA miles on SQ business class" and the first link I got back is from 'Lucky' at One Mile At A Time. Now this is a guy who really knows his stuff, I reckon nobody would know better than him.

Here is his summary of what he has to say:

Anyway, back to redeeming partner airlines miles for travel on Singapore Airlines — there’s a common misconception out there that Singapore Airlines doesn’t release any first or business class award space to partner airlines, and that’s simply not true.

They definitely release much less space to partner airlines than to their own members, but there are many routes on which they do release space.

Singapore Airlines does release saver business class award space to their partner airlines pretty regularly to the following destinations:

  • Intra-Asia routes
  • Australia/New Zealand
  • The Middle East & India
  • Cairo, Copenhagen, and Istanbul

You can read the whole lengthy and detailed post below
https://boardingarea.com/onemileatatime/2013/11/04/redeeming-star-alliance-miles-travel-singapore-airlines-premium-cabins/

But he makes it very clear that SQ J is definitely available for redemption miles.

11 Mar 2012

Total posts 182

It's irrelavant what Ben Schlappig says on his website because what I suggested earlier isn't coming from void either, it's coming from experience. The point of this discussion are the prized premium J/F seats from Australia. SQ makes seats on all of their 'premium J' aircraft available to other partners within 14 days. I have helped many friends book these in the recent past through various partner programs. A couple recent examples are CAI-DXB-SIN-MEL on 1 Jan (when seats were impossible to find), but that seat only came to light 14 days prior to that date. You have to understand that it's going to be a risky business. Having said the above, I truely believe that buying UA miles is poor value for us Aussies because there are a better and cheaper way than guarantee J and F seats on SQ months away.

15 Mar 2011

Total posts 19

Hi - do United miles have any expiry? Or do they remain current as long as there is activity on the account within 18 months?

I won't be travelling on these miles anytime soon, I just want to make sure that the miles I buy won't expire before I get a chance to use them.

British AIrways

08 Feb 2011

Total posts 22

We have some US domestic flights planned and UA flies them direct, about half a dozen flights a day.

I looked the flights with $$ and UA charges $400 for oneway, about about the same for a return.  Ugh.

I looked the same flights as a reward flight and with this promo the miles will cost about the same.  The half mileage saver rewards were available two days in April.

I guess it's the same with the US airlines, one has seriously plan using miles in advance to get any advantage -- even with a great promo like this one.

QFP

22 Jan 2013

Total posts 77

Just tried to buy some points and it told me it could not complete the transaction due to security  reasons

Hi all, hoping you'd be able to help with a question;:

Where I redeem miles on UA for a J or F seat and where I have no status on UA, when I check in at the airport, can I then input my SQ KF #  ( where I am PPS) for status recognition and access to status benefits (although, it  may be arguable that a J or F tix would accord the same bennies anyway), or does the redemption tix need to correspond to the FF program to which it was redeemed from?

Any insights much appreciated!
 

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

16 Aug 2013

Total posts 8

Benefits are never based on how the ticket was purchased. It relies on what card you hold and present at the counter. So travelling with PPS on a UA redemption flight from KF points will still entitle you to all the usual PPS benefits that are carried across Star Alliance airlines. Although, when you're travelling J or F there aren't many more benefits...you have most of them already! :)

P.S. This will apply to most Star Alliance airlines, but we are talking about UA here... who knows what their policies are!! They could be really strict... But I'm pretty sure it'll be fine!

DRW
DRW

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Apr 2014

Total posts 19

Is this a better deal than the Avianca one, for say Australia to South East Asia or US domestic?

Qantas

13 May 2011

Total posts 5

Some questions....

1) How does this deal work for upgrades? I assume United points can only be used for upgrades on United flights (i.e. UE ticketed)... or can you use United Points on Singapore Airline tickted (i.e. SQ) flights?

2) Will you have the availability of seats if you are a UE base-level member (i.e. no gold/silver status)?

Qantas

13 May 2011

Total posts 5

Think I might have answered my own question #1 > https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/mileageplus/awards/upgrade/saua.aspx

Upgradeable booking classes include Business class (C and D) and Economy class (Y and B), as well as the additional fare classes listed below:

Singapore Airlines - S, Z and J class

Except for flights on all A380 and 777-300 aircraft

Qantas

13 May 2011

Total posts 5

Hmm, and the upgrade costs look terrible vs buying the ticket outright according to slide 6 of this guide > https://www.united.com/web/format/pdf/United-Award-Chart-02-01-14.pdf

08 Nov 2014

Total posts 20

agree about TG availability, but this seems to be a bit of a lazy update - SQ availability is harder than QF F imo.

 

Hi Andrew,

We routinely update our 'buying miles' articles with the latest details in a dedicated section at the top, which allows readers to see both the current offer and the in-depth 'how-to' which we've previously published.

Research-heavy articles such as this require a significant amount of time to produce, and if we were to fully re-write the article every time a promotion came along, we'd have less time to create other content.

We feel that the 'update' process provides the best of both worlds – giving readers the latest information while reducing the time required to provide that information.

Regarding award availability, we've noted in the article that this can vary from flight to flight (and thus airline to airline) and that readers should ensure award seats are available on their preferred routes and travel dates before buying miles.

-Chris

08 Nov 2014

Total posts 20

hi Chris,

thanks for taking the time to reply. and yes i understand where you are coming from.

that said, this comment "While business class redemptions are available on Singapore Airlines" is the one i take issue with.

Someone skimming the article might think they're on a great thing, only to be left holding the baby when they realise they can only get to SIN through BKK on an angled flat TG flight. Albeit at a very reasonable 40k miles.

Hi Andrew,

The full quote you've referenced is "While business class redemptions are available on Singapore Airlines, look towards Thai Airways for first class bookings between Australia and Asia, as these aren't available via SQ".

This explains at the onset that miles can be used to book SQ business class where seats are available (but over the phone rather than online, as highlighted in the body), but that they can't be used to book SQ first class to avoid building up false hope.

We can't be held responsible if a reader chooses to skim through the article without reading it properly and misses a key piece of information that has been provided, although this is again flagged in the body which gives people a second chance to spot it:

"... though you won't be able to luxe it up in a first class suite on SQ's Airbus A380, as these redemptions aren't typically available to MileagePlus users."

And again, there's the catch-all at the end that encourages readers to only buy miles where there's an opportunity to actively redeem them.

-Chris

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 369

Hi Chris:

I think what Andrew is getting at, is that SQ business class from Australia is very rare now. Since Dec last year, it seems SQ has blocked all the business class seats departing from Australian east coast to their partners, not just A380. There are occasional seats available from PER at T-14, but virtually nothing from SYD/MEL/BNE. Kris Flyer is the only way to redeem those seats. Economy class is wide open though, but it might be cheaper to buy revenue ticket if you want economy. 

While I agree it is the readers' responsibility to ensure flight is available before they purchase miles, I feel it is also important to update the readers (mostly will be Australian) that buying miles to redeem business class on SQ is virtually impossible now if departing SYD/MEL/BNE. The same applies to lifemiles. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Sep 2015

Total posts 14

Hi Chris, 

I just rang united AUS number to try to see if i can get SQ business ticket for two adults SYD SIN for april 2017. I was advised that SQ dont give out business class on award ticket for long haul. They have short haul business within Asia available however.  Long haul economy is widely available. 

Otherwise, as you said, it will be a good deal for AUS traveller into Asia.

Hi Khendy, that's incorrect and I suggest you hang up and call again (and if they say the same, insist that they actually perform a search) – awards are available on all SQ aircraft apart from the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300ER (granted, however, that's what usually flies to Sydney). Aim for an Airbus A330 or Boeing 777-200 flight where available, or consider flying from another city.

Personally, I've used United miles to book SQ from Brisbane to Hong Kong in recent months and did so without incident over the phone, but called United MileagePlus in the USA to be on the safe side (aircraft types were A330 from Brisbane and Boeing 777-200 from Singapore to HK).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Sep 2015

Total posts 14

Hi Chris, 

I did ring back the AU number and US number and ask them to search different days. Found one afternoon flight on Friday! The AUS did it (Singaporean accent - maybe diverted there), then tried my luck with US call centre and ended up the same day for biz tix.

I requested the booking and purchased the miles on the spot. It takes 48 hours to get the miles processed so hopefully the seats still available because award booking need to be issued right away.

Thanks for the tip! US$1128 incld tax  for two pax biz one way SYD SIN JKT if seats still avail in two days.

Great to hear you were able to find an award that suits! Also remember that Thai Airways flies to Jakarta, so just in case the SQ award disappears and you're stuck with the miles, try doing a search online as availability on Thai is usually quite good out of Australia.

17 Apr 2016

Total posts 4

Hi Chris.

According to the update in this article (April 2016), another United Miles promotion is underway.

Can you please confirm that there is indeed a United Buy Miles promotion currently on. I have looked and cannot find the promotion anywhere.

Hope to hear back soon!

Regards,

Aleks.

Hi Aleks, you will need to login to your account on United's 'buy miles' page to see the offer appropriate to you. It's also possible that as part of the targeting your account has been excluded from this particular offer.

17 Apr 2016

Total posts 4

Thanks Chris. Sadly I don't see an offer. I also FB'ed United and they were not aware of any offers in their reply to me. Oh well, hopefully something will come along soon

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Sep 2015

Total posts 14

I just signed up with united mileage plus and can see the offer under buy,transfer, and give miles option. 

 

Pip
Pip

11 Jul 2016

Total posts 1

Hello, I bulk bought 75000 mileage plus points which gave me 150,000 with their current deal,  but may have acted hastily. I'm looking to fly from Melbourne to Memphis return next year, ideally business. Can you tell me if United are likely to drop the points required for such a flight. At the moment they're 175000 miles one way business. Thanks 

Hi Pip, United has not announced any upcoming changes to its redemption rates.

Asiana Airlines - Asiana Club

09 Feb 2017

Total posts 42

I read that they have done these discount promos several times a year albeit at different rates.


I presume that the award flights we buy won't generate status/elite credits for us working towards status / lifetime status? If so I might just pay for economy flights and just use miles to upgrade ... but in this case, can we spend UA miles but earn miles with another *A carrier?


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