Don’t Swap Gift Cards for United-Continental Miles

February 23, 2012 Budget Traveling
Gift-Card-Exchange

United-Continental Airlines recently rolled out a gift card exchange program that allows MileagePlus members to trade unwanted gift cards for frequent flyer miles. While novel, the transfer program is far from ideal. Better gift card exchange options exist. To receive the greatest value for your gift card, steer clear of the MileagePlus gift card exchange and check out more favorable alternatives.

What’s the problem?

Simply enough, United-Continental doesn’t offer a competitive exchange rate. Unfortunately, with the program being brand spankin’ new and failing to disclose rates to non-MileagePlus members, exchange rate data is limited. But Darren Booth of the Frequently Flying blog ran an experiment with a $25 Target gift card. Trading it through MileagePlus, Darren received 670 miles, which works out to 26.8 miles per dollar. Each mile is worth 1-2 cents apiece, depending on how you redeem. That means each gift card dollar translates to 27-54 cents. For a $25 Target gift card, United-Continental will award a sum of miles worth $6.75-$13.50 (trending toward the lower estimate). Ouch.

What are the alternatives?

Rather than throwing your gift cards at flyer miles, we recommend trading for cash. Not only will you get a better value, but you’re not locked into redeeming strictly for MileagePlus options. A number of gift card exchange websites will be more than happy to buy your cards. Here’s a comparison of the top gift card exchange sites and how their Target exchange rates compete against MileagePlus.

 Website  Target Exchange Rate  Reward for $25 Target Gift Card
Plastic Jungle up to 96.6% $24.15
Cardpool 92% $23.00
 Monster Gift Card 88% $22.00
GiftCards.com 91% $22.75
Card Cash 91% $22.75
Gift Card Rescue 85% $21.25
MileagePlus 24-54% $6.75-$13.50

 

As you can see, Target gift cards are eligible for rewards up to 69% larger through a gift card exchange site. Once you cash your check, you can put the money toward airfare, or, if you change your mind, you can use it for anything your heart desires.

Again, we don’t, at this point, have access to MileagePlus exchange rates for other gift cards trade-ins. But if a Target card is purchased for a mere 670 miles, we can venture a guess other rates will be comparably unfavorable. We’ll give them credit: United-Continental came up with a laudable idea with potential to be a real boon for frequent flyers. But, as with most first attempts, the program isn’t exactly flawless. Until better gift-card-for-miles programs begin to sprout, keep cash your king and stick to popular exchange sites.

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