Required Reading for Frequent Flyers
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United MileagePlus Merchandise and Auction Awards
09/11/2012
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United MileagePlus has been putting an effort into introducing new ways for members to spend down their mileage balances. You can now spend your miles on music downloads and other digital awards and members have been able to spend miles at a merchandise award site since last year. The program also features a mileage auction.

We recently took a look at the offerings available through the MileagePlus Merchandise Awards. These types of awards are rarely ever a cost-effective way to spend your miles but some members appreciate the flexibility when it comes time to use their miles.

There are many merchandise choices to choose from including such popular items as a Barnes & Noble NOOK Simple Touch. You would need to redeem 15,500 award miles to get this item. You can purchase the same NOOK at barnesandnoble.com for $99 with free shipping, so that means that your 15,500 miles will be valued at $.006 per mile, or just over half a penny per mile, a far cry from what most savvy frequent flyers would say is good mileage value. But if you have the miles, and you want the NOOK, it just might be worth it to you.

If you’re looking for something a bit more practical, you might be interested in using your miles for a Norelco SensoTouch Electric Razor. One can be delivered to you for 22,200 miles. When we searched for the same razor on Amazon.com it became apparent that it’s difficult to be sure that what you are seeing is the same item as what you can find on the MileagePlus Merchandise site. We found the item we think matched the description for $99.95—that means the mile value would a dismal $.0045. But we’ll assume it’s another very similar razor—perhaps the one for $120.95, which brings the amount up to $.0054 per mile (still not a great deal). This exercise pointed out a flaw with the MileagePlus site. The descriptions of the items are not very thorough so you can’t always tell exactly what you are comparing.

The merchandise site allows you to search by the amount of miles you are willing to spend—this will come in handy when you have a few orphan miles to spend and want to see what you can get. We started low in our search but found that you would need to spend at least 14,000 award miles because there were no other merchandise awards below that redemption amount. You can spend 14,000 miles to get a Nambe Lounge Illume, a three tea-light candle votive, which we found for sale on GILT for $50 (down from $100).

When you search by mileage amounts, you will also see current auctions and several options displayed with bid amounts as low as 5,000 miles, but these were auctions with several days left for bids.

Auctions are much more difficult to pin down a cost per mile because they often have a “wow” factor that you just can’t buy—like “insider access” to the Primetime Emmy Awards, a current available auction. With 20 days remaining, the bid was at 50,000 miles. Sports auctions ruled the day when we were accessing the site. One auction in particular caught our eye—a chance to throw out the first pitch at a major league baseball game and then enjoy the game from behind the first-base dugout with three friends. With 15 days remaining, there were only two bids, and the highest bid was 11,000 miles. We suspect the bid would have been higher if it had been for a team other than the last-place Astros. But still, for a baseball fan, it doesn’t get much better than that and any miles you spend for a once-in-a-lifetime experience are miles well spent.


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