In August 2021, United Airlines announced the concept of Money + Miles awards, giving members a new way to redeem MileagePlus miles. This redemption option has now been rolled out on a widespread basis, so I wanted to take a look at the value proposition.
United’s new Money + Miles awards
United MileagePlus has launched a new Money + Miles ticketing option, allowing members to redeem part cash and part MileagePlus miles to pay for a ticket:
- This is now available on most domestic United Airlines flights, including in both economy and first class
- Customers can redeem as few as 500 MileagePlus miles to reduce the cost of their ticket
- You can only redeem 90% of the MileagePlus miles in your account towards the cost of a ticket, and you can only cover roughly half of the cost of a ticket with miles
- When it comes to earning redeemable miles, members can earn MileagePlus miles for the portion of the base fare paid with cash
- When it comes to earning elite miles, members can earn Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) for the portion of the base fare paid with cash, and will also earn Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs) for each segment
- All MileagePlus elite perks apply on Money + Miles tickets, including early boarding, complimentary upgrades, etc.
Are United Money + Miles awards a good deal?
To book a Money + Miles award, just go through the process of booking a domestic United itinerary as you usually would. When you get to the payment page, you should see the Money + Miles option listed underneath other payment options.
You’ll then be brought to a sliding scale where you can offset the cost of a ticket. For example, I priced a one-way business class ticket from New York to Los Angeles. The ticket cost $594.40, including a base fare of $539.52, and taxes & fees of $54.87 (only the base fare can be offset).
There’s then a sliding scale that lets you decide how many miles you want to redeem towards the cost of your ticket.
For this ticket:
- There’s the option to redeem anywhere from 540 to 27,000 miles to offset the cost of the ticket, in increments of 270 miles
- Redeeming 540 miles would take $3.27 off your ticket cost, while redeeming 27,000 miles would take $229.50 off your ticket cost
- It seems that you get more value per mile the more miles you redeem, and you can get anywhere from 0.6 to 0.85 cents of value per mile; it’s possible that the value will differ based on your status, the itinerary, etc.
- Personally I value MileagePlus miles at 1.4 cents each, so this is a spectacularly bad use of miles, in my opinion
More options are good, the implications are bad
Is this new redemption opportunity good, or should we be worried about the implications? I’m of two minds here.
On the one hand, more redemption options are on the surface a good thing, especially for infrequent flyers. For those who aren’t particularly loyal to an airline (or who don’t want to get involved in the points game), an international business class ticket might seem unachievable. Being able to use your miles to slightly reduce the cost of your ticket might be a worthwhile opportunity. For example, that’s the gist of the new loyalty program Allegiant Air recently launched, and I think it’s brilliant, at least for Allegiant’s customer base and business model.
On the other hand, there’s reason to be skeptical, and not to be a fan of this:
- The redemption value is truly awful here; getting 0.6-0.85 cents of value per MileagePlus mile isn’t great, especially when you consider the other restrictions with these tickets (limits on how many miles you can redeem, only earning miles for the portion of the ticket you paid cash for, etc.)
- With many major frequent flyer programs increasingly adopting a revenue based redemption model, my concern is that this will lead to lower redemption values in the future
- United isn’t the first airline to introduce this general concept, as Delta SkyMiles has the “Pay With Miles” option for co-brand credit card holders, allowing members to reduce their fare by $50 for every 5,000 SkyMiles redeemed; following Delta’s lead on loyalty isn’t great, and the value here is even worse
United Airlines has now rolled out a Money + Miles ticketing option on a widespread basis, allowing members to redeem part miles and part cash towards the cost of a ticket. This can be done on most domestic United flights.
While more redemption options are on the surface a good thing, the catch is that the redemption value here is quite bad. Getting just 0.6-0.85 cents per mile isn’t a rate at which I’d be looking to redeem MileagePlus miles.
What do you make of the concept of United’s Money + Miles awards?