united.com

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Until August 31, 2015, United is selling miles up to 50% off.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 2.54.36 AM

The exact maximum discount is targeted, so you have to sign in to see your discount. My maximum discount is 50%.Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 2.55.14 AM Even if you get the 50% discount, it only applies to purchases of at least 50,000 miles. United miles normally cost 3.76 cents each, so with a 50% discount, they cost 1.88 cents each.Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 2.55.42 AM

After the 50% discount, 50,000 miles cost $941. The maximum number of miles you can buy in a year is 150,000 miles, which cost $2,822 after a 50% discount.

Is It a Good Deal?

The cheapest miles cost 1.88 cents each during this promotion, and that requires shelling out $941. If your targeted discount is only 40%, the cheapest miles are 2.25 cents each. Smaller discounts result in even pricier miles.

I value United miles around 1.5 cents each, so there is no way I would buy these miles speculatively for 1.88+ cents. The only way it could possibly make sense to buy miles at these prices is if you had an immediate high value use for them.

In general, the highest value uses for United are international economy awards, United BusinessFirst and Global First awards, and these Six Under-Priced Awards on the United Chart. Check out my Basics of United MileagePlus post for more info.

Conspicuously absent from that list are most partner Business and First Class awards. That’s because in February 2014, United jacked up the prices of those awards substantially.

To figure out if the award you’re thinking about is a high value use, use this simple expression:

(A – B) / (C + D)

  • A: Value of the award. Important: this is the lesser of the cash price and your subjective value.
  • B: Taxes on the award
  • C: Miles used on the award
  • D: Miles you would earn if you purchased the award ticket with cash

This will spit out the dollar value you are getting for your miles. If that number is greater than 0.0188, and you can book the dream award now, buy during this promotion. Otherwise, don’t buy.

Bottom Line

You can buy 50,000 to 150,000 United miles for 1.88 cents each if you were targeted for a 50% discount through August 31, 2015. That’s way too high to buy speculatively, but this is tied for the cheapest I’ve seen United sell its miles, so jump on the sale if you have a high value use for the miles.

United miles are sold by points.com, so purchasing them will NOT trigger category bonuses on cards that bonus airline or travel purchases.

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Brussels Airlines award space now displays on United.com! Brussels award space was previously bookable using United miles (and other Star Alliance miles like US Airways), but no Brussels flights would display when searching United’s site.

SN Award Space

This development should make getting to Europe on United miles much easier, but might degrade the once reliable award space since it’s now much easier to find and book.

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Brussels Business Class

What does availability look like on the transatlantic routes? What is flying Brussels like? Why is Brussels such a valuable Star Alliance partner?

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Here’s how I got United to “manually sell” me award seats for an itinerary. While this technique is not possible in most circumstances, in my case, it turned no award into my dream award!

I was in the midst of constructing a simple roundtrip itinerary from the US to Europe when I ran into some big trouble.

United’s online award calendar displayed Austrian award space on the only day I could return to the States. Unfortunately, when I clicked to select those flights, I was met with a message saying the seats were no longer available.

Rapid Partner Availability

I used other Star Alliance search tools to discover that the seats were actually available to all partners, but United agents simply couldn’t see them.

The only thing left to do was request that United ask Austrian for the seats directly, often called a manual sell. Agents are extremely hesitant to do this, and often cite the company rule book in declining to do so. It usually takes some serious convincing to pull it off, but if you are calm, confident, and polite, it can be done. It’s critical to know how to pull this off, especially if you think your preferred flights have award space while a phone agent insists they don’t.

After a lengthy call, I finally convinced a United agent to manually request the unavailable seats. By requesting the manual sell, the flight I wanted instantly became bookable with my United miles. The segment was added to my itinerary, and I got the perfect set of flights for a summer trip to Europe.

How did this problem occur? Is this a phantom award space issue, or something completely different? What is a “manual sell”? How do you get a United agent to manually sell partner award seats?

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Don’t believe the award calendar on united.com!

The calendar should show you for an entire month whether any given day has Saver award space in economy, in a premium cabin, or in both. But the calendar is currently showing no Saver award space on days where there is Saver award space.

July-14 (PDX-ORD)
Don’t believe the calendar. Some of those white days do have award space.

This is very inconvenient for award bookers. And it’s the opposite problem of United.com’s infamous phantom award availability issue where award space that doesn’t really exist displays as available.

What’s the problem with United’s award calendar? What kinds of examples are we seeing of this? How do we overcome the issue?

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Per this thread on Flyertalk, United.com no longer displays Singapore Airlines award space. This abrupt announcement might seem like terrible news to award bookers, but it’s more of an inconvenience than anything else.

UA Insider Flyertalk

United.com is the easiest way to search for Star Alliance award space. It’s far from a perfect booking tool, however. The site displays phantom award space, doesn’t show partner availability on Brussels Airlines or LOT Polish Airlines, and will often spit out horrible itineraries with long layovers when better ones are available.

With Singapore award space being removed from United.com, the site becomes a slightly less useful tool in constructing Star Alliance awards.

What does the announcement mean? Can you still book Singapore award space with United miles? What’s the best way to search for Singapore award space now?

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United.com has one glaring flaw in the way that it was programmed that you can correct to become a better award searcher than united.com.

This is the ultimate trick when united.com tells you there is no Saver Award Availability on the route you want on the date you want.

How can you be better at award searching than united.com?

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