How much is a United Airlines Mileage Plus mile worth?
I thought I would take a look at another airline rewards program. This time it is the United Airlines Mileage Plus Program. After doing some calculations I valued one of the United Airlines Miles to be worth 1.28 cents or $0.0128 when you redeem your miles for flights and up to 5 cents or $0.05 when redeeming for restaurant certificates. I know that seems like a small number especially with how many decimal places I have gone to, but they add up when you are talking tens of thousands of miles to fly somewhere.
Keep in mind when I say the 1.28 cents/mile is for flights that is a rough estimate based off of one flight I found. Using it for other rewards will also change its value. I find travel is one of the worst uses for it in terms of monetary value. Entertainment rewards are usually the largest value/mile (probably because of the high markup). Using mileage plus miles for restaurant certificates on Restaurant.com, it appears that you can get anywhere from 2.5 cents/mile to 5 cents/mile. That is a much better deal.
I was not able to check electronics as they are not immediately accessible anyways until you reach Elite status.
The ultimate resource for the Mileage Plus Program is the United Airlines Mileage Program page itself. There are lots of links on how to redeem for rewards and earn miles by traveling or using a Mileage Plus Visa Card.
What Is The Value Of A United Airlines Mile?
I priced out a flight from New York to Los Angeles and back using Mileage Plus miles and just paying for it regularly. To try and be a bit more fair, I found the cheapest flight I could for a one week round trip as well.
The price to leave 2 weeks ahead was US$318.80 for a round-trip. The price in United Airlines Miles was 25,000 miles and no booking fee because I booked far enough in advance.
If you do a bit of math you find the $318.80 divided by 25,000 will give you the price per United Airline mile (I will just say price per mile from now on.
This number if US$318.80/25000 = $0.0128/Mile. This is rounded to the nearest 100th of a cent.
Keep in mind this is the value of an Mileage Plus Mile for this specific flight. You can calculate the value for any flight or any other products by taking the amount of money that would have come out of your pocket that you have saved by using the miles and dividing it by the number of miles you used. This will tell you the value per mile on that product. Some flights are better than others. Electronics are typically a lower rate of return for you mileage plus miles, but entertainment is better.
Advertised on the website are restaurant certificates from Restaurant.com. These are gift vouchers for partnered restaurants that you can search for on their website.
The gift vouchers are $25 for 1,000 miles or $100 for 2,000 miles. $25 divided by 1,000 and $100 divided by 2,000 give you 2.5 cents and 5 cents per mile. That is a very good return compared to the flight, but you have to remember you are getting food and that’s it. Depending on what you are looking for, you are going to spend your miles on what you want.
If you like eating out and like traveling, it tells you to use your miles for eating out and just pay for your plane tickets out of your own pocket.
How To Earn United Airlines Miles
There are lots of ways to earn these United Airlines miles, but please note that they all involve spending money. There is no way around it, these programs are to encourage spending. The good thing is, you have to spend to live, so why not take advantage of by signing up for free programs like this.
Current methods of earning United Airlines Miles are:
- Booking flights with United Airlines. They are a member of Star Alliance as well. This is a group of airlines all over the world, so it opens up the possibilities of flying to a number of locations.
- Spending money using the United Airlines Mileage Plus Visa Card.
- Spending money at United Airlines Mileage Plus Partners. These include Safeway, NetFlix, Neiman Marcus, and variety of other stores and restaurants.
Mileage Plus Visa Card
Just a note about using the Mileage Plus visa. For me, credit cards are the quickest way to earn miles. Unless you travel a lot on business, it is probably the same for you. Currently there are 4 cards featured on the United Airlines Visa Card page. What visa card should you pick? Good question.
Let us get one thing out of the way. If you carry a balance on your credit card…THEN STOP IT!. These cards do not have a very good interest rate on them (still over 18%), so if you can find a credit card with a better rate, it will still save you more money (you might as well pay for the flight yourself).
Each card offers varying features, but they all have an annual fee (as far as I can tell). Keep in mind that you need to spend enough money on the card to get enough miles to pay for the annual fee. If you do not spend at least that much money, then you are better off getting a no fee credit card somewhere else.
An example of this is if I plan on using my Mileage Plus miles for travel then I will value them at around 1.28 cents per mile like I stated above. The lowest fee card that is available is $25/year. To recover that $25, I need to at least get that money miles. $25 divided by 0.0128 (price per mile) is around 1,953 miles. That many miles will get you around $25 worth of flights. Now, to get that many miles with the $25/year card (the Mileage Plus Visa Check Card) you need to spend around $3,906 because you only earn 1 mile per every $2 put on the card.
That was assuming the 1.28 cents/mile value I feel I am getting from booking a flight as well. Let’s say that I plan on using my miles for eating out at restaurants that are affiliated with Restaurant.com. Now I can max out my value at 5 cents/mile. $25 divided by 0.05 comes out to $500. That is a far lower amount of money to be spent to break even.
That is just that card and using the value per mile from the example flight above. Each one has its own perks (for higher fees of course). Some pay 1 mile per every $1 spent, some pay 2 miles per every $1 spent on a United Airlines product (flight, etc). Except for the Platinum Visa card, they limit to how many mileage plus miles you can earn in one calendar year (60,000 or 100,000 for the Gold card). These can all play a factor.
I have done a chart for each Mileage Plus Visa card. In the chart I show the name of the card, the yearly fee, the dollars needed to be spent to earn 1 mile, how much spending it would take to pay off the annual fee when using the miles for travel and then for restaurants, what the yearly limit is on how many you can earn, and other notes. Keep in mind I am not factoring in the bonus miles for signing up, earning bonuses for buying certain products, or other factors. This is a worst case scenario for uninfluenced spending on each card. You might have spending patterns that cater to using a card and earning even more miles at a better rate.
|Visa Card||Annual Fee||To Earn 1 Mile||To Break Even Travel||To Break Even Restaurants||Yearly Earning Limit||Other|
|Mileage Plus Visa Check Card||$25||$2||$3,906||$500||60,000|
|Mileage Plus Visa||$60||$1||$4,688||$1,200||60,000|
|Mileage Plus Gold Class Visa||$53 *($85)||$1||$4,140||$1,060||100,000||Fee is $85, but you get 2,500 miles for free every year (worth $32).|
|Mileage Plus Platinum Class Visa||$140||$1 or $0.50||$10,938 or $5,468||$2,800 or $1,400||Unlimited||A lot more opporunities to get 2 miles per $1.|
As you can see there are a lot of options. Basically the higher the fee the quicker you can earn miles, but you need to spend the minimum amounts listed to get your money back on the annual fees themselves. They also give you more bonus miles on the higher fee cards, which gives you back some of the money, but remember that you are getting back miles and not real cash. Bonus miles are like “gift cards” for their own store, which will makes sure they get the money back anyways.
Using United Airlines Miles
United Airlines Miles can be used for a variety of options. Most common are flights or travel.
There can be some extra monetary fees with travel bookings depending on how far in advance you do it. Here are the rules currently:
- Award travel ticketed six days or less prior to departure $75.
- Award travel ticketed 7-13 days prior to departure $50.
- Award travel ticketed 14 days or more prior to departure $ 0.