Don’t Redeem Your Points in United’s MileagePlus Shopping Portal
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Do you have a stash of United MileagePlus miles and no immediate plans for travel? Spending your miles on something other than airfare may sound appealing, but while United offers the option to do so, you probably shouldn’t.
Why? It can be a terrible use of miles, especially when doing so at United’s shopping portal. Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look.
What is United’s shopping portal, and how does it work?
United has two forms of shopping portals. The first acts as a tracking service; when you click through United’s website to shop online elsewhere, you’ll earn miles for every dollar you spend.
The second option allows you to redeem your miles in a variety of ways, including for Apple products, gift cards, show tickets and other merchandise.
The first is fine to use if you’re looking to build up your United miles. The second, however, should be avoided at all costs — not just because airline miles can be difficult to earn in the first place, but because the United shopping portal gives you a terrible value for your miles.
» Learn more: The complete guide to United MileagePlus
United’s shopping portal markup
After extensive analysis of actual redemptions, NerdWallet values United miles at 1.2 cents each, which means that in an ideal world you’ll be receiving at least 1.2 cents of value on every mile that you redeem.
In order to figure out how much you’re paying in possible value for an item, you’ll want to calculate how many miles you’re paying and multiply it by our estimated cent per point value.
A closer look at gift cards
For instance, let's say you want to redeem your miles for a $100 gift card, which will cost you 33,333 miles. Effectively, you're spending $333 of value (100x1.2 cents) in United miles for a gift card worth $100.
A closer look at merchandise
The numbers don’t get any better with items, either, with astronomical markups compared with the retail cost of these goods. Keep in mind that the cash price of these items doesn’t take into account any coupons or discounts you may also be using.
Cost in United miles
Cash price of item
Amazon 10.1'' Fire HD 10 Plus Tablet 32GB
CALPAK Ambeur 2-Piece Set
Anchor Hocking 4-Piece Palladian Stainless Steel Cylinder Set
Silver Macbook Pro 14 inch, 16gb Unified memory, 512gb SSD
How free are these products, really, if you're paying exorbitant above-value prices for them?
» Learn more: How to earn and double-dip with online shopping portals
Is the United shopping portal ever worth it?
The short answer to this is: No. However, there are very specific cases where redeeming your miles for products or gift cards via the United shopping portal might be something you would want to do.
Let’s say you have a huge balance of miles, and with continued travel safety concerns, you have no plans of traveling in the future — on United or otherwise.
In this case, redeeming some of those miles may make sense. While you may not be getting the maximized value on those miles, why let them lay dormant when they still have some value and can be redeemed on a variety of products?
You’d still be better off gifting unused miles or booking flights for loved ones rather than purchasing products in the portal.
This can be a useful way to save cash on products or gifts you'd likely be buying anyway.
Another situation in which you may want to redeem miles on the United travel portal is if you have a small business and the United℠ Business Card, which can help you earn millions of miles per year. With such a large point balance, you may be inclined to redeem those miles for gift cards or an Apple MacBook instead.
You can also think about switching your spending to a business credit card that will more adeptly fit your needs. Cards such as the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card will earn you more rewards and give you more value for every point you redeem, even when using them for gift cards.
» Learn more: Best business credit cards right now
How to shop with the United shopping portal if you still want to
To redeem your miles, you’ll first navigate to the United MileagePlus Awards website:
From there, you can search for products by either:
Typing the name of the product you are looking for.
Searching all products available within a specific price range.
Using the topic bars to search by category or brand.
Note that although you can search products without signing in, you will need to be signed-in to make any redemptions.
If you’re looking for other ways to spend your miles, you can navigate to the top of the page where you will find the “other merchandise sites” dropdown menu. This menu will give you spending options such as MileagePlus Exclusives, MileagePlus Event Awards, using miles on Apple products and using miles on gift cards.
» Learn more: The complete guide to redeeming United MileagePlus miles
If you want to redeem miles in the United shopping portal
You really shouldn’t. Your miles are worth far more than what United is willing to give you on the shopping portal. Whether you’re looking at a 556% markup on kitchenware or a comparatively low 233% markup on Apple products, you’ll do your finances a favor by staying away.
If you have United miles to burn, consider gifting flights to loved ones instead — and if you’re generating more United miles than you know how to spend, consider opting for a credit card that better suits your needs.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card